A giant of the industry, Mark Isham’s contributions to soundtracks — both feature films and television — are immense. His musical signature is evident in memorable scores for such Oscar-winning films, as Crash and A River Runs Through It. Isham has also composed for a number of Golden Globe-winning films such as Reversal of Fortune and Short Cuts. For his work on the film, The Black Dahlia, the International Film Music Critics Association awarded Isham with “Best Score” honors.
Here, Isham details his favorite UAD plug-ins and why he finds them to be an indispensable ingredient in his sonic recipes.
The ongoing battle in my studio is “audio fidelity vs. time constraints.” Believe me — if I could run everything through the myriad of UA outboard gear I have at my disposal, print new stems, and experiment with no concern for time, I would. But the reality is, I’ve got hard deadlines that don’t leave much time for outboard experimentation. UAD Powered Plug-Ins have given me a welcomed solution — all of the sonics of my outboard gear with the recall ability and workflow ease of plug-ins.
For the record, choosing just five plug-ins was terribly difficult. On the whole, a variety of anywhere be 10 and 20 UAD plug-ins occupy my main template — and the count can go up from there depending on the project! But, keeping it simple, here are my five desert island plugs. This desert island has power, right?
On action-oriented film sequences where drums play a major role, I don’t know what I’d do without the 1176 Plug-In Collection. The new AE version is so spectacular. The 2:1 ratio gives me options I didn’t have before, and when you want a bit more distortion and rock, the A Bluestripe version is perfect — an incredible emulation. As a side note, I have two hardware LA-2A’s, and an original 1176, and I could not be happier with the sound from this plug-in collection.
This plug-in has forever changed my recording templates. At my studio have a lot of great sounding outboard reverbs and plug-ins — with some nice sounding impulse response libraries— but the Aux 1 in my Logic template will forever have the Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb plug-in cued up.
I’m going to date myself a bit here, but there’s something so lovingly familiar and comfortable about those six faders that makes getting great sounds just seem so easy. Whether it’s sizzle on a percussion element, getting half-wet on a lush hall to get that cinematic piano feel, or wrapping some strings in one of the infamous Hall programs, I haven’t been this in love with a reverb — digital or not — in quite a long time.
This may seem like an odd choice for a film composer, but this set of plug-ins are on the menu, every day, and here’s why. When I’ve written a cue, it has to receive at least director approval, and more often than not, several other approvals as well. And if we’re all honest with ourselves, sometimes those approvals are being made while listening on a laptop, earbuds, or any other number of less-than-ideal listening situations. I don’t fault directors and producers for this. Often times their schedule is even worse than mine. From reshoots to ADR (additional dialog recording), they just don’t have the time.
The UAD Precision Mastering plug-ins give me a quick and effective means to get demos to punch the way they need to in rough listening environments, while allowing me to keep my session dynamics intact. In other words, I can leave a healthy amount of peaks and valleys on the composition side of things, and rely on the Precision Mastering plug-ins on my printed stereo demo to help “sell” the piece. Invaluable.
First off, two knobs and three buttons — it’s remarkable the range of tones you can get out of two knobs and three buttons! I treat this plug-in like a lot of the guitar pedals I would buy in the 70s. I don’t want to know what the knobs do, and I don’t want them labeled — I just want to start turning them and find some magic.
The Little Labs VOG is the ultimate kick drum shaper. I find whatever is the “time keeper” in my sequence, and once I’ve written the bulk of the track, I slap the VOG on it and begin tweaking. In about 30 seconds I can find a sweet spot that really provides the right level of punch for any given low-end percussive sample. But it’s not a “one trick pony” in that regard, as recent experiments have led to great results reshaping thick, bass-heavy synth patches as well. The VOG can take organic sounding Omnisphere and Trillian patches and slide them right into place amongst string ensembles and other orchestral elements — a truly beautiful shaping tool.
Ok, I have a vintage hardware Roland Dimension D unit. I also have what I consider relatively decent ears. But I cannot hear the difference between the hardware and this plug-in — aside from the fact that I don’t have to take the plug-in for repairs every 18 months!
I used to think this plug-in was too subtle, that in order to really have it do anything it had to be all buttons in. But not long ago, I started strapping it across most of my synth patches — pads, ARPs, basses — all of my “support” team — the sounds that give shape and shimmer to an orchestra, and that also provide uniqueness to any given project. And as an experiment we bypassed all 12 instances on a particularly heavy sequence. The result was stunning. It lost its motion, feel, and width. Sure, it’s sort of “one trick” plug-in, but wow — it’s a nice trick!