The Beginner’s Guide To Clipping Correctly

If you’re looking to find out how and why you should be clipping your drums, vocals, and more, you’ve come to the right place. The fundamentals of clipping are enough for any engineer, novice to expert, to dive into and start using immediately. Much like good compression technique, clipping takes time and experimentation to perfect.

Stop Going Into The Red

Clipping is something we’ve been conditioned to avoid. Years of analog recording taught us that clipping caused tracks to physically spill over into one another, making it a nightmare to work with.

By the time digital took over, things got much, much worse. Digital clipping was harsher than analog clipping, and while we didn’t have to worry about bleeding between tracks, digital clipping left most of our audio virtually useless.

Jumping forward into the golden age of digital recording (right now), clipping in the digital realm has been minimized by the improvements made to many DAWs in recent years. With more headroom than ever, we’re much less likely to clip due to a spike in volume during tracking.

On the mix side, digital clipping is more frequent, as mixers will often push their clip gain or signal processing into the red. Due to how audio is routed through your plugins and busses, your metering may not even show you something’s clipping until you reach your Master Fader. The worst part is that by that point, it’s anyone’s guess where the clipping is occurring.

So If Clipping Has Always Been Bad, Why Would I Want To Do It?

The single greatest problem with clipping comes down to the science behind it: clipping your audio source is not harmonically pleasing.

You’ve got peaks that hit their ceiling and end up spreading out linearly to compensate. Under the extreme compression caused by digital clipping, your audio can sound scratchy and harsh. Ever turned up a radio way louder than it’s intended to go? It’s the same concept; the overages become tonal chaos.

But what if we could apply specific algorithms, telling the audio exactly what to do when there’s an overage? That’s where peak clipper plugins come in. We define the parameters that lead to a pleasant sounding clip, shaping the frequencies to reinforce and support the original audio.

The result is amazing – a sonically even overdrive of sorts, without changing the output level of the track. The harmonic saturation can be subtle or in your face, and it’s all controlled by something as simple as a single drive knob.

What Other Benefits Do Peak Clippers Offer?

A good peak clipper does just as much to keep your audio sounding the same as it does to change its harmonic makeup. What does that mean?

It means that a peak clipper plugin should not sacrifice your transients while increasing the harmonic saturation of the track. Peak clippers would be worthless on drums if you lost the initial attack of the hit (something that happens way to often with regular compressors).

Your clipping should make your source stand out more in the mix, but shouldn’t overpower it. It should make your track more aggressive while keeping its balance in the song.

What If I Want To Use a Clipper For Mastering?

Do it!

We’ve used tools like JST Clip as part of the mastering chain in the past, and it always adds a bit of a push, driving the song in the right direction. The awesome part about mastering with JST Clip is the ability to:

  1. Control the mix of clean signal and clipped signal using the Mix knob. This is a huge help by saving me the hassle of setting up an extra bus for parallel processing.
  2. The Trim knob allows me to match the incoming level to the output of the plugin. This means whatever comes after JST Clip in my mastering chain isn’t reacting differently just because of a volume shift.

Have your own clipping examples?

If you’ve got any good use cases for JST Clip or any other clipper, let us know in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook. Post a clip of your clipper clipping, or just tell us what you’re doing differently.