In order to stay competitive with modern rock and metal (heck, even today’s pop music), you need your mixes to get LOUD.
Unfortunately, the loudness wars aren’t going anywhere fast – everything today is compressed to have that crispy, glistening shine that listeners expect every song to have. If you don’t get your mix loud on your own, you can bet iTunes, Spotify & Facebook are going to crush it for you to get your mix to a level that’s on par with everything else on their platform.
It’s not all bad news though, because there are ways to retain dynamics and punch without driving your mixes off of a cliff. Loud doesn’t have to equate to red meters and digital overages that sound harsh and unnatural.
Loudness can be achieved with a few smart mix decisions; some digital recording innovation & the same attention to detail you’re likely already putting into each and every mix you work on.
Identifying The Clipping Content
Even if you’ve already mixed a song to near completion – there are going to be some obvious offenders when it comes to clipping. Identify where your overages might be coming from, whether it’s an exceptionally transient snare or a high note sung by the vocalist.
There’s a high and a low point to every mix, and identifying them early on will set you up for success when mixing for loudness. The minimum level is going to tell your how loud you need to push something to be heard, and can be identified at an individual or group level.
By finding the low point first, you can use that as your baseline for the mix. Even in a quick static mix, ensuring you hear those low points means you can bring down the peaks without losing something like you would by just turning it down.
Once you’ve set your lowest points to an audible, balanced level, analyze your peaks. Especially dynamic content may need to be compressed if the range is to out of hand.
Identifying what is and is not needed on a particular track might be guess and check at first for some engineers, but over time you’ll develop an intuition for where things need to sit to sound good.
Now what about those peaks…
Digital Clipping vs Intentional Clipping
Digital clipping is never something desirable. When your tracks are too loud, the computer (and your DAW) can’t understand how to proceed, and they end up lopping off a bunch of audio without any rhyme or reason to how it’s done.
Not only do you lose content, but also digital clipping can introduce artifacts to your sound with the potential of making your track unusable if printed down during the mix.
Intentionally clipping with tools like JST Clip are a completely different ball game though. By using a clipper designed to handle the high volume peaks, we’re able to more accurately cut into the higher decibel content and fold it back under for a meatier, punchier sound.
For common instruments that suffer from digital clipping like snare drums, this can add a very desirable, fattened tone.
For other instruments like a lead vocal, it can impart a crisp, radio-ready sound free from artifacts and unnecessary damage to the audio file when printed in-the-box.
If you’re new to the concept of intentional clipping, check out our Beginner’s Guide To Clipping Correctly.
Obey Your Master
Clippers don’t just stop at a single instrument. Just like setting your minimum levels, clipping can be performed at a group level.
Some engineers choose to clip their entire drum busses, adding that same raw energy that comes from clipping to the kit as a whole.
Still more will use a clipper as part of their mastering chain – applying the processing of the clipper to the entire song before outputting it.
Clippers are completely source-agnostic, meaning they’re going to perform just as well regardless of the track you put them on. The algorithm behind any good clipper will work flawlessly on any source, thanks to the design and care taken to round off clipped audio accurately.
Where Does JST Clip Sit In Your Mix?
If you’re using JST Clip in your sessions, where are you putting it? Do you tend to lean toward multiple instances? Groups? The Master Fader?
Share your clipping experiences with thousands of other engineers in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook.