The Ultimate Guide to Clipping Drums

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If you’re looking for a creative way to toughen up your drum tones, there’s no approach quite like clipping. No, not recording so hot that your meters stay red. Not maxing every output of every plugin in the drum mix.

Intentional, harmonically-sound peak clipping can make or break an aggressive drum mix in a way that few other mix techniques can provide. So where do you start?

Drum Clipping Tools

There are several ways that you can start using peak clipping in your drum mixes. My usual approach requires using a dedicated clipper like JST Clip. There are several benefits to using a dedicated clipper including:

  • More control over dedicated parameters
  • Processing has been optimized for clipping
  • Flexible positioning in your chain

When I’m specifically looking to add some aggression to my drums, a dedicated clipper gives me tons of flexibility. Don’t wanna clip the entire drum bus? Clip the snare and toms while leaving the rest of the kit unaffected. Better yet – you’ll be able to clip each one independently. Try dialing in a bit more aggression on your snare than your toms to help it really pop in the mix.

Other Clippers 

There are some very convenient alternatives when using a dedicated plugin isn’t the easiest solution. Other major drum processors like Transify, which has a main purpose of multi-band transient control, have begun introducing integrated clip circuits into the signal path.

You might see where the opportunities are with integrated clippers: they can act in unique ways that can’t be done with dedicated plugins. Let’s continue with the Transify example. Inside Transify, you’re not just adding a clipper to the track, you’re adding it to a specific frequency band.

Imagine all of the other applications where an integrated peak clipper can perform.

Knowing Where It's Needed 

Just listening to a mix, you might not have any immediate indication that a clipper is needed. As we already touched on, there are dozens of ways to add aggression to a mix. You could use a limiter, compression, and even overdrives & distortions to achieve similar results. Obviously there are varying levels of effort for each method and the results will differ, so how do you know which approach to choose?

For simple, transparent processing, compression is usually your best bet. For something that needs a bit more aggression and color, limiters like Finality can add that to the mix. If you’re looking to add more color to your sound (to the point where it becomes a dedicated, noticeable part of the sound) overdrives and distortions can do that for you.

Then come the clippers: the tools that bridge the gap between the transparency of compressors/limiters and the aggression of overdrives/distortions. They start out smooth at low levels, similar to what you’d get out of a limiter. As you turn up the amount of clipping, you can drive your plugin harder and harder until you get something noticeably processed. Best of all, it still sounds harmonically complex and saturated.

The Clipping Process 

Clippers aren’t hard tools to dial in. If you’re new to them, starting with a “less is more” approach is an easy path to start down. Start with your clipper zeroed out, then slowly increase the amount. For drums that you know are going to need an extra push, you can start with “2x” enabled in JST Clip.

Once you’re comfortable with how to clipper is coloring your sound, you can begin to experiment with things like parallel processing using the Mix knob, or processing stereo sources and busses.

Finally, you’ll want to keep an eye on your levels while using a clipper. While the processing is creating peak clipping intentionally, it can result in an output level too significant for your DAW to handle properly. Using the Trim feature in JST Clip, or having some type of level-setting plugin after your clipper makes sure you’re not getting an unwanted result.

Are You Clipping Your Drums?

If not, what are you waiting for? It’s a quick and easy process, but the results are staggering. Very few tools can operate in a single-knob capacity, but clippers do it with ease. The reason? They’re working based on your source audio more than the settings themselves. They serve a single, dedicated purpose.

If you are using a peak clipper on your drums, come let us know how and where in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum. We’re always on the lookout for new and creative uses of our plugins.

 

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