FX: Is less always more?

Recently I’ve been working exclusively on the TR8S to make some tunes for a particular project. A friend commented that the mix on a demo sounded really great and it got me thinking that one major change to what I normally is that I’m using way less FX on each instrument than normal. Basically just using the filter options to sculpt samples.

I know that the obvious things like reverb and delay can be problematic as far as getting a good mix go, but I also tend to pile on the distortions, bitcrushers and chorus et al I’ve gotten into the habit of going 30% wet or less on most things.

I’m also limited to 11 instruments/channels on the TR8S, but I can muck up a mix in my DAW pretty quick with fewer channels than that.

I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve got pretty good ideas for the kind of music I"m trying to make (chunky House music, maybe ranging into techno ish tendencies at times), but my mixes usually aren’t there.


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Just some quick thoughts - not using any hardware apart from controllers, so maybe a bit biased towards digital world :wink: :

Imho, for sound design, the less is more thing makes not much sense. More can be so much more, or it can be less, only depending on the specific settings imho :wink:

But for mixing, it can be different. There is a huge temptation in digital world to pile on “betterizing” stuff without any real reason, just because it’s easy and a few more premium effects can’t hurt, or so one thinks… So getting back to basics and doing only necessary stuff with limited tools can make a difference.

But with regard to using specific tools, if you are using internal samples or stuff like that, some stuff has been time-proven, used a lot and just feels right, listeners might be already kinda used to that sound and evaluate it as better than some new or different stuff cooked up from synths or field recordings in the DAW, so that might be an aspect for feedback, too.

Also, I think we get more professional with every track and progress is not always linear but can take steps, and changing tools from time to time can contribute to that - so if you make the next track in your DAW, it might turn out much better sounding, even if you use more effects. ^^


Less isn’t ALWAYS more, but I think it is a lot of the time. From a technical perspective, you’re doing math and making changes to your audio samples/signal every time you process it. But every time, even with the cleanest digital processors you can get in your DAW or the most insane mixing board money can buy, you’re going to have some amount of unwanted and unintended side effects. Whether that’s a D/A process or the audio gets re-qunatized on the way in and out, or a dozen other little things. It adds up. We shouldn’t notice if we’re using decent tools, but we might start to notice if we’re using 8 tools on every channel when 5 would do.

So for mixing, I try to keep it as simple as I can, and I do tend to find that I like just a saturation on the way into an EQ and some volume ducking. Sometimes I add a second EQ stage, or I might add mid-side or stereo control if I need it. But for mixing, that really is it.

Now, I absolutely have more than 3 plugins on most channels of my mix, but effects are another thing. When you want to change the sound, what is “technically correct” goes out the window. I might add compressors to give a different feel to my ducking or delay to mix things up a bit. I usually prefer onboard synth FX for making stuff sound different with FX though, so my channels end up looking a lot cleaner than they might actually be. I have at least two or three busses in most mixes as well, but those are ussually a compressor for my drum buss and then a reverb and possibly a delay or another reverb. The drums bus doesn’t do much, the compressor really just gets to where the needles are wiggling, the reverb is just one reverb plug and a HP filter on the output. Same for if I had another reverb or delay.

I find what has helped though is doing all my effects and sound designy stuff first, ideally in/on the instrument itself, and then just mixing that with as few tools as possible. I know a lot of pros recommend bouncing the whole thing out and doing a complete mix project from scratch separate from the songwriting so that there’s no temptation to add junk to the mix.


I should have clarified, I think my issues are in the creative stage. I’m super low-tech when it comes to mixing. I rely on simple EQ, gain staging and compression (very little of this as I don’t find I need working with synth sounds that don’t have dynamics like instruments recorded in a real space).

Great answers so far.

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I dont know what your current project sounds like, but based on what i know of your more lets say, “throwback” tastes less is going to sound good based on the fact that the music you like comes from an era when people had less to work with vs now’s kitchen sink approach where your CPU is the limit. Some cleverly chopped samples and jacking percussion will get you most of the way there.

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No, less is never more. That’s, like, the definition of those words. Duh. :stuck_out_tongue:

But seriously, it’s not. It’s a hacknied answer, but it’s all about how you’re using them. The key, and I’m convinced this is the difference between professional and amateur productions, is the precision with which those effects are used. It’s totally ok and common to stack a ton of effects on a single channel to affect a small 1-2k range. That range ends up being super important and you need to make it fit or not fit or do whatever, so you line up the effects necessary to do so. Use them surgically in conjunction with other effects that limit the scope of effect.

When you just slather effects all the fuck over everything like some dumb redneck dumping ketchup over their meatloaf is when tracks turn into shit. Be mindful and aware of how and why you’re using effects, and keep using them until you get the desired effect, but no more.

tl;dr - there’s no such thing as too many effects, just too much effect


Nailed it. This, SO hard.

For me I think of the signal, and what sort of sound it should convey.

If it is meant to have a acoustic feel, less is more. Just so that things like string noise, breaths, and so on can be heard as they naturally are.

But let’s say we want to isolate a particular voice in a crowded group of people. Then we will need to work by creating multiple layers. Sometimes it’s the same sample/signal re-processed with different eq’s.

While on the ideal of layering the same signal. Some often find that since we are in a digital age (god bless the times and not having to cut tape!!!) re-sampling parts, and placing them on multiple channels, with different effects that can be automated, and muted and so on. Allows them the space to preserve the original signal, and have it not be effected, but use the duplicates to create cross fades into sections where and when fx overlay occurs.

With all of that said… take the “sculpted sounds” and duplicate them. Freeze/Mute/Put em in a separate folder/Have your dog eat em and poo em out, put it in a bag and freeze it for later? Ok last one is a bit far, but play with the “resampled” parts to see if adding “More” to any element accentuates the harmonic development of the song, or if the signal is as it should be intended.

That’s sort my approach sometimes.

Less is always more because the finer detail are hidden underneath things. Or something like that haha not meant to be a serious statement


@chasedobson absolutely still working in the realm of my throwback taste, so that is an excellent point. And recently being super limited has made it really apparent that if I want that sound I need to back of the modern production methods and keep it simple.

@Artificer I’ll admit I’m guilty of often slathering on FX during the sound design stage just trying to find cool sounds and probably don’t take them off when I should. Like, shit will sound cool, but I’m not paying enough attention to what it is doing frequency-wise. Going forward, I’m going to be much more mindful of that and take the time to listen and look at an EQ to A/B what is going on.

@TvMcC I’m big on working with audio versus MIDI or “live” plug ins. So resampling, yes, absolutely. It has been a minute since I’ve taken a track far into completion. Not since the Dark Techno comp this time last year (and I wasn’t super happy w/ that track). Right now I’m working with a middle of the road laptop that I got through a job. So some of the issue has been working on a single sound with lots FX/multiple channels has been a challenge–but I’m not currently making music that is terribly focused on sound design. When I get back to this kind of work, I will keep this in mind : )

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Yeah, I think it’s totally fair to jack everything to 10 and get inspired. Effects are cool, and can make boring stuff sound awesome. But ten tons of reverb never sits well in the mix, so you need to tame it down and shape it so it’s not fucking up your bass and kick or whatever.

Case in point, almost every time I use a reverb, I EQ before and after it. That’s three effects - one to make an effect, two to sculpt it. I never get worried about how many effects because there’s usually only a couple of Effects, and a bunch of utility stuff like EQ and compressors and filters that you never really hear but make that Effect work in the mix.

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Yea, I guess it is more that I’m not doing enough to control the “fun stuff”, rather than it is that I am using “too many FX” --a subtle, but important distinction!


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I’ve also noticed that I use less and less effects nowdays, especially what comes to wet/dry ratio. First: Filtering, EQ:ing and slight compression. One or two reverbs/delays 5-30% wet. Sometimes I use chorus effects subtly, usually 5-20% wet. Use of distortion(s) need more development at the moment. I’d rather move towards subtle use instead of shoving fuckton of different tubes and saturation plugins on a track&few more on the master channel.

I’m not sure is less always more, since I have made pretty cool stuff back in the days too, when I used to pack every track full with FX…

I’m sure that less is less tweaking though and I am lazy. Maybe that spare time means more bangers!


The comment I think is a bit less song and genre dependent here is that, with distortions and bit crushers, you are adding upper frequency content. So if I thought a particular track needed that, eh which I often do, I love me some clipping and crushing, I consider what else is living up in the high frequencies.

I visualize every arrangement and mix in dimensions. Transparent solid you have dynamics. Grayscale you have frequencies. Then you have your literal dimensions of near far left right sound placement.

For frequencies and dynamics, both of which can be affected by those fx…
Is there enough negative space?
Is the contrast right? Can I clearly see the blacks, whites, and important grays?


Interesting way to mentally visualize things. And I probably don’t worry about the high end enough, as I’m usually concerned (making house-y type music) in getting the kick and bass to play nice. I’ve never had anyone say I’ve got to many highs going on, but that could certainly be blurring my mixes.

I typically think of a track in 3 dimensions: frequency, volume (gain), and time. As in there can only be so much of a certain frequency at any given time.


I also have synesthesia so I quite literally see this stuff :upside_down_face:. But Ive talked like that with bandmates a lot over the years regarding arrangement and effects and it seems to be clear enough for them too.

And despite actually seeing it, since it is my absolute “normal” I still need to do the critical focused thinking process about it.

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its like how some sounds can only be achieved using extreme amounts of compression but when it comes to the final overall mixdown less is best when mixing the dry/wet signals together into one cohesive sound,

also i don’t always use macros but when i do my daw crashes…
(and this is why I never automate buffer override lol)…

and it usually is because of the amount of cpu usage do to extreme routing…so yea if your gonna use a lot of effects, bounce and freeze the sound (both the dry and the wet version) to save cpu usage and make it easier to mix


Depending on the music you’re trying to make it can benefit from a lot of effects or it can be detrimental to it. With your hardware its probably not possible but you can, in addition to the earlier posts by Chase and Art, eq the fx only and get rid of a ton of junk noise in frequency areas that fx tend to generate, which ends up masking the important stuff.

Im at a funeral so forgive the conciseness.


I appreciate it! Concise is good and the post makes 100% sense. I’ve just been away from my DAW too long and am not doing the due diligence in my sound design and mixing.