Saturday, December 28, 2013

HOW TO MIX ROCK / METAL DRUMS (a guide for dummies) PART 4/4




Hello and welcome to this week's article! We have finally approached the end of the year and to the end of this long tutorial on the many ways to mix a rock / metal drumset!
The snare is the focus of the album, along with vocals, and the equilibrium among vocals, snare and kick it's the axis of the mix, the one that sets the mood of the song (higher kick and snare and lower vocals for death metal, higher vocals and lower drums for soft rock): long story short, we need to get the volume and the tone RIGHT, otherwise the whole album will sound cheesy.

If we have just the snare top track, we can start by using a gate, to take out at least part of the cymbal bleed (not too strong, or we'll take away also some of the good harmonics of the snare), then a hi pass filter up to around 70hz and finally a low pass one down to 12khz, to cut away some of the left cymbal bleed.
Now we need to take away the low-mid "mud", which lies among 200 and 500hz: just find the right frequences and take them slighly down, without taking away too much body from the sound (you can use a frequency analyzer to locate exactly where most of the energy lies).
Now if the snare needs some low-end boost we can lift with a medium-width boost the area around 125hz, but beware because we risk to end up by adding again the "mud" we have just taken out.
The last and trickiest thing to do to enhance the tone with an equalizer it's to boost the highs: if we feel that the snare sounds too dark we can try boosting somewhere between 2'000 and 6'000hz: this is the most delicate moment of all, because now we are defining the colour of the tone that will hit the ear of the listener first, so we must not overdo and be aware that the higher the frequences that we're boosting are, the louder will be the cymbal bleed.

Once we have found the right tone for our snare top track we can compress it at a ratio up to 8:1 (we must choose the ratio according to the dynamic range of the track: if we have many low energy snare parts like press rolls, flams etc, we need more compression or they will disappear in the mix, while if there are not and the strenght of the hits is consistent, we can lower the ratio).
The attack should be around 10ms, and as always we should set the release at a level that the compression can go back to zero or almost, between a hit and the other.
If we feel that by compressing we have lost part of the transient we can use a Transient Shaper to bring back some of the snap of the snare, usually avoiding cymbal bleed, but don't overdo because too much transient enhancement can make the snare too much "in your face" and unpleasant: we must always look for that euphonic "sweet spot" :)

If we need to transform the snare sound too much to get a decent tone, then we have a problem: an excessively processed snare it's a snare that sounds fake, therefore it would be a good idea to record it again. If we can't record again and we need a way to add some punch on the snare we can mix one or more samples with the original sound, and if we're good, we will find a sample that compensates the lack of frequences of our original sound.

Another way is to Double the snare track: we can process the first one like explained above, and use the second one just to add the "snap". We can gate the sound until we have only the snare snap, then we compress it very heavily, use some frequency exciter and eq to make the "snap" very strong, similar to a fingersnap, and then we can mix this sound with the regular snare to get the same effect we would obtain by using a sample, with the difference that this way the sound comes all from our drumset.

Finally, if we have recorded the snare with 2 microphones, top and bottom, we're gonna have a second track recorded pointing to the snare wires in order to give some sizzle to complement the top snare tone. This track can be also very useful to add some body to the top snare tone: instead of boosting around 125hz on the top track, we can boost the same area in the snare bottom track and see if it sounds better. About the hi pass filter, we can take out a bit more, even up to 90hz if we want, the important thing is to take a look at the phase: we must try inverting the phase to see the version that produces less frequency canceling, and use that one.

On the compression side, if we use more than one snare track (top + sample, top + bottom, top + top copy), my suggestion is to route them into a group track and compress that one, with the same settings suggested for the snare top.
If we need it, we can also set a clipper at the end of the snare chain: this is sometimes useful because, during the mastering phase, the limiting traditionally takes out part of the snare transient, but if we use a clipper (with very soft settings) we can recover part of that lost transient (it's not easy to explain how a clipped sound helps recovering its transient while it should actually work exactly at the opposite, but it works: the software recreates part of the transient).
It's interesting to notice that unlike for other instruments (e.g. hi gain rhythm guitar), in which the compressor should be as transparent as possible and the moment you notice it, it means that is damaging your sound, compression for the snare is a real tone shaping tool, and if used without exceeding it can bring up the wires of the snare bottom, and enhance the sound with an explosivity that cannot be obtained otherwise.

About the Reverb: if our drumset sounds a bit dry (or we like a big '80s style snare) we should create an fx track with the best reverb that we have and set it in order to make it sound similar to a studio room.
Then we must equalize it with a high pass filter that takes out everything up to around 200hz, and send it to our snare track (or group), to our tom group and to our cymbal group track, from there we can decide the amount of effect sent to each track according to our taste.

I hope that this long drum mixing tutorial was helpful, and by the way the song is mixed and mastered by me for my band, Strider. Contact us if you want a copy of our latest Ep "The Black Lotus", also to support my work with this blog!

Happy New Year from Guitar Nerding Blog!




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Saturday, December 21, 2013


Matt Backer is an American guitarist and songwriter, which has played with some of the best bands and single musicians in the world, including Joe Cocker, Sinead O'Connor, Cher, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Bob Geldof and many others.
He also composes music for ads and soundracks, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". 
Here's our interview! 

GuitarNerdingBlog: Hello Matt and welcome to Atoragon's Guitar Nerding Blog!

Matt Backer: Hi Atoragon!

GNB: Tell us about your career. By visiting your website ( ) it appears that you've already had an impressive career, and have played with a lot of stars, included Alice Cooper (which is one of my all-times favourite artists), Elton John, Sinead o'Connor, Joe Cocker and many more.
Which are the ones that you consider your career highlights? Which are the artists that influenced you the most? Is there still some collaboration that you'd wish to do?

MB: I've enjoyed working with them all in different ways - you'll get different inspiration from Tony Hadley and Martina Topley Bird and ABC, but all good. I'd love to collaborate
with Bowie!

GNB: I've heard that you are a guitar collector! Tell us about your love for this instrument and about your favourite models!

MB: I'm in the studio playing my 50's Les Paul right now. I have a 1963 Stratocaster that I love, a 1933 National, a 1946 Gibson LG 1 and many others.

GNB: What do you think about the state of the music business? What are your thoughts about today's underground and mainstream music scene? 

MB: There will always be good independent music. I think the mainstream business is struggling.

GNB: What do you think about the digital music distribution? And what about the file sharing? How do you think the music business will evolve in the future?

MB: Digital is the future, but if we don't find a way to reward creators, there will be no future of the music business.

GNB: Let's talk about live music! Which have been the best gigs you have ever played? Do you consider yourself more a live musician or a studio one?
MB: There have been many. From Perugia at midnight with Sarah Jane Morris to Primo Maggio with Julian Lennon, Singapore Grand Prix with Banarama... all good. Live and studio feed each other.

GNB: Tell us some funny story: which one has been your best/funniest experience as a musician? And your worst one?

MB: One and the same. The time when I was joking with the singer, Suzanne Rhatigan by playing the guitar behind my head. She pulled my trousers down... And took my
underwear as well!

GNB: Since many readers or our blog are interested mainly in the technical side of the guitar world, can you tell us your studio and live equipment? Can you tell us about the recordings of your latest album?

MB: It varies enormously. As airlines have made it more difficult to travel with equipment, I've had to scale things down. When I flew to Key West the other week, I threw a Boiling Point and a T.RexReptile 2 in my suitcase because I knew the lovely Darryl Brooke at The Grateful Guitar was going to lend me his beautiful 1957 Telecaster. The cost of flying my GigRig pedalboard would be prohibitive, so I can only use that when things are being trucked. In those situations, I like to use
two amplifiers, particularly if there is 80's splang involved. I use an old Boss GT 5 - I have 4 of them with specifically whooshy 80s-tastic sounds programmed in. 
I normally have an early 90's Fender Vibroverb and late 60's Vox AC30 for those gigs - they warm up the digital side of things. 
I have a Fender Master Built Custom Shop Strat which lives in the truck (with a Flying V as a spare)

The nature of the gig determine the nature of the gear. 
I used my 50s Les Paul through a TwoRock amp I have under the stairs (like Harry Potter, only different) the other night. 
I used a 1950s Maestro amp (with a 4x8 cabinet) on stage and in the studio with Rumer. 
Most of that stuff was done with the 1959 Gretsch Jet Firebird or 1963 Fender Strat that are pictured on the front and back cover of "Idle Hands" I used the Strat and my 1933 National Steel on Laura Mvula's album.

Most of "Idle Hands" was recorded in London. 
We had a variety of amps and guitars - my Matchless Chieftain, Ian Shaw's Blackstar Artisan and 1970s Marshall Combo, my 1949 Fender Deluxe. 
Ian's Gretsch Electromatic got used a lot, as did the old Strat and the 1963 SG you can see in the "Man Who Stole My Life" video. 
Acoustics include Taylor 6 and 12 strings, my 1957 Martin 0017 and Ian's Guild whatever it is.
"I've Fallen" was recorded in LA. 
I had my Bastardcaster, and Gibson kindly lent me an arsenal of acoustic and electric guitars. 
Phil Jameson lent me a Matchless combo - I can't remember which model. 
"All That You've Wanted" was recorded in Julian's studio in France using...gasp...a Line 6 guitar through a Pod! Just goes to show. 
Ian, Julian, Grant Ransom, Julian Simmons and Tom Weir all make me sound good.

GNB: Is there any advice that you'd like to tell to our fellow guitar players?

MB: Play what you feel.

GNB: What does the lyrics of your songs talk about? Do you think that on a song it's most important the lyrical side or the musical one?

MB: I like both live and studio, one serves the other.

GNB: The interview is over! Tell us about your latest album, projects and tours! 
Thank you very much and we hope to see you soon live!

MB: I've just been nominated in four catagories by the Independent Music Network.
Favourite Single for Let's Art, Favourite Video for Let's Art, Favourite Male Artist and Favourite International Artist. 
Awards will be announced the second week of January 2014.

I contributed to Everything Changes by Julian Lennon. I spent eight years as Julian's band leader and he and I are good friends. I also contributed to his new video project "Through the Picture Window".

I'm finishing a new blues record with my producer Ian Shaw at Warmfuzz Records in Key West Florida. Hopefully be putting the finishing touches on it January 2014.

I'll be touring in 2014 with ABC and doing solo shows in and around London. You can keep up with me via facebook at twitter at @mattbackerworld,
reverbnation at and my website is now being update very regularly at
Thank you!

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

HOW TO MIX ROCK / METAL DRUMS (a guide for dummies) PART 3/4




Once we have analyzed how to treat the room, cymbals and toms, it's time to talk about the kick.

Let's start by saying that there are different ways to work a kick effectively, according on if we want to preserve the acoustic sound or, at least, part of it:

Assuming that we have tracked a good sound, we must first do a high pass filter, cutting everything below about 35hz, then we can scoop an area that may vary from 150hz to 400hz: this is where the "mud" lies, but beware because if we take out too much energy from here, the kick will lose its body, especially on the cheapest speakers.
Once we have tamed the frequences where most of the energy lies, we can boost if we need some more "thump"  in the 50hz-80hz area, and some high end between 2'000hz and 10'000hz, depending on the type of coloring that we want to give to our kick.
On the compression side we can compress at a ratio around 8:1, with a fast attack and a release speed that should be set according to the song's speed.
Just remember that a too hard compression can ruin the sound's transient, so if we need to apply so much compression that the sound becomes dull, it's better to stack 2 compressors with lower settings, and/or try to reconstruct the lost transient with a transient shaper.

If we have a sub kick microphone too, we can consider our kick sound splitted in 2 tracks,  one for the lower frequences, one (with a high pass filter at around 500hz) for the higher ones: this way we can compress the low end more and the higher end less (thus preserving the transient), and maybe do some sidechain compression with the bass, so that the bass sound is slighly compressed when the sub kick track kicks in, which may be crucial when dealing with death metal speeds, to preserve clarity and separation.

Even if we are tracking our drums just with one microphone, we can always double the track and do the same as if we had 2 microphones: the result will be less complete, but always more flexible than dealing with one single track.

Finally, we can obviously use a sample: usually pre-processed samples tends to be oriented to the high frequences, so when we blend them with our acoustic sound, it's often a good idea to treat the acoustic track as the "sub kick one", and use it to emphasize the lower region.




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Saturday, December 7, 2013


Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today's post is an addition to our Project Preparation article: we talk about an alternative way to mix an album, that is possible only with the latest computers, now that ram and cpu are commonly enough to manage a high amount of tracks and plugins.

Instead of creating a single project for each song, we can create a big project in which record (or import) the takes for all songs.
Obviously the amount of tracks will be much higher (I have finished mixing a 10 songs / 101 tracks project just a few weeks ago), but this will also give us the advantage of setting levels that will affect the whole album and give to all songs a homogeneus feel.

First off we must se the Tempo Track, since our songs will probably not be all on the same click (here is a dedicated article about the tempo track).

Dealing with so many tracks forces us to organize the workflow in the most rational way possible, which means that the channel routing becomes crucial: we'll need to reduce as much as possible the processing of the single track, and focus in dividing the tracks in group channels, e.g. we have 8 rhythm guitar tracks, we can route all of them to the same "rhythm guitar" stereo channel, same for the 6 vocal tracks, and so on, so that in the single tracks we only set the volume level, the panning and load in the insert (only if strictly needed) the plugins that are specific for that single track (e.g. a "lo fi" eq effect).
Sub groups (like for example "rhythm guitars" and "lead guitars") can also be routed to another stereo group ("all guitars") for further common processing, like adding a compressor: we could surely use the compressor in the 2 sub group track inserts, but if we use it only in the "all guitars" group track, we will run just one instance of the plugin instead of 2 with the same result, saving some cpu.

Now it's time to think about the effects: we must rely as much as we can on the Fx Tracks (click here for a dedicated article), which are crucial to save cpu and ram. The Reverbs, in facts, especially the convolution ones, are some of the single most cpu hungry processors around.
We should find a few good effects (delay, reverb) and use them, when needed, on the fx sends of all the tracks of our project that needs some, instead of opening a new instance of each effect in the insert of the single tracks.

Last, once all levels of the tracks are stable, the editing phase and the sound sculpting one are over, we will find that we're still gonna have to do some adjustment in terms of volumes in the single songs, for example on a ballad the drums should probably be less violent than on an uptempo, therefore we will need to Automate the tracks in order to fit them better in the mood of each song.

Once we have done we'll be probably ready for the Mastering Phase, with a bunch of coherent songs and having spent less time than mixing each one on a separate project.

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