Prescription Plugs: Dan McKie’s dynamic processing delights

Ibiza’s in-house doctor offers some remedies to treat poor four-to-the-floor rhythms and clotted low-end frequencies.

Dan McKie studio

London, Barcelona, Andorra and Ibiza resident Dan McKie has been researching house, disco and techno for over a decade now. His work has been peer-reviewed by respected dance doctors across the globe, including Rob Da Bank, Monki, B-Traits, Richie Hawtin, Carl Cox, Vanilla Ace, Roger Sanchez and many more. Although he’s been keeping the crowds of Ibiza happy since 2013, he’s also top doc at his labels, 1980 Recordings and 33 Music, on which he recently released No Fear. We made an appointment with Doc McKie to find out the cure for weak drops and brittle bass.

Dan, I know I should be using dynamics processors to help my kicks cut through, but I’m not sure which. What would you prescribe?

I have a few dynamic plug-ins I use on my productions but my essential go-to plug-ins are compressors. Boring? Maybe not. One of my favourite compressors is Cytomic’s The Glue compressor. I first saw Chris Lake use this many years back and I instantly loved it. It looks good, it sounds good and the presets are good. There are plenty of presets which you can easily tweak to perfect your sound. It can also mix the original signal into the same track which can add a little more weight.

Dan McKie plug-ins

I’ve been using my DAW’s stock EQ. If I go for a well-known third-party EQ, will it make a difference?

I recently bought a couple of plug-ins after watching a video of Chus & Ceballos in the studio and two plug-ins jumped out at me. The first was the FabFilter Pro-Q3. After trying the demo, I was blown away by how awesome this plug-in is. I don’t think I’ve ever had an EQ that is as powerful. The standard Logic Pro EQ is nice but the Pro-Q3 is the dog’s bollocks.

MT Pharmacist’s Note: Pro-Q3 is, in fact, a dynamic EQ, allowing you to selectively compress frequency bands, depending on frequency content. Apply liberally to cut annoying resonances. 

When I try to make my kicks and bass big, my mixes feel bloated and unwell. What can you recommend?

I now use Wavesfactory Trackspacer on my bass parts to give the kick some room and to give the bass its own space. This plug-in helps me achieve that by ducking the bass but without having too much of a dramatic effect. It works similarly to a sidechain but, for me, it gives a warmer and rounder sound than a normal sidechainer. I use this and the Pro-Q3 on all productions now.

MT Pharmacist’s note: Carving out the right frequencies can make a world of difference in the low-end. Apply Wavesfactory Trackspacer sparingly to the affected area.

Doc, my drops have been flopping. Any quick fixes?

My guilty pleasure for this has to be Dada Life Endless Smile. It’s cheeky and can be silly, but it gives your drops the impact it needs. You can overdo it or you can use it subtly. I use it quite a bit now when I need those tense sounds to echo into the breakdown or to create a big lift effect after a breakdown.

MT Second Opinion: Endless Smile adds filtered noise, reverb and delay. By building a chain of effects, you can achieve similar results. Apply liberally in build-ups.

Do you ever self-prescribe? What can’t you live without?

My track Orch wouldn’t be complete without the H-Comp from Waves Hybrid Line. I use it on most productions to give space in the mix using its side-chain function. I don’t use the side-chain as an effect but more as a tool to let the kick breathe and drive the track, especially on a club sound system. It has this great function where you can sync the release to the host BPM in 1/32, 1/16, 1/8 or whichever you choose.

Dan McKie plug-in

Before I go out and buy a new plug-in, what are some home remedies for shaping my sound and creating space?

I use Logic Pro’s PlatinumVerb on an effect send with a compressor, and Channel EQ with a slight low-cut curve. All those are standard Logic Pro X plug-ins. PlatinumVerb is hidden in Logic Pro X, you have to hold the alt key when you click on the Audio FX dropdown then it’s in the Legacy list. Or, if you have Logic Pro pre-X version, you can save it as a channel strip setting, as I have. I use it on all my tracks. If there is a breakdown you are probably listening to me automating a send to it.

Dan McKie Logic Pro plug-ins

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