I have always planned to write a Production Advice post about how to achieve clean, powerful, natural-sounding bass in your mix.
This is not that post.
This is a post to give you ideas on how to achieve monstrous, un-natural, trouser-wobbling bass like the band Pendulum – bass that goes against nature and puts you in fear of your life, bass that endangers the structural stability of your home and gently eases the fillings from your teeth.(*)
(*) Some of these claims may be slightly over the top.
Using compression in your mixes is essential – and you need to use it right.
OK, maybe not if you play classical harp or Polynesian nose-flute – but in most genres, using compression to control the dynamic range of instruments in the mix is fundamental.
The problem is, learning to use compression isn’t easy. And it’s not helped by the fact that most explanations start out saying something like “a compressor reduces the dynamic range of it’s input by attenuating signals that exceed a pre-defined threshold”.
Personally I don’t find this kind of description very intuitive, so this post will try and keep things straightforward. So before we go to much further:
At first sight there’s something deliciously ironic about the fact that fans of Heavy Metal music – in particular the “Death” and “Thrash” varieties – are the ones who complain most bitterly about the loudness wars.
Most notable of course is Metallica’s infamous Death Magnetic, but consistently I see more and more comments by fans of the loudest, most aggressive styles of music who hate the damage done by excessive compression and brick-wall limiting.
But why is this ? These people are all deaf to begin with from attending too many loud gigs and constant head-banging, right !?!
Well, no. In fact, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense, because without quiet, there can be no loud. And the whole point about metal is that it should be played – and listened to – loud. (Well, one of the points, anyway !)
But a recording that has no dynamic contrast left in it doesn’t sound loud (ie. punchy, hard-hitting, aggressive) when it’s been crushed to death – it just sounds “wimpy loud” instead.
I didn’t make the video above, but it illustrates the point perfectly, and proves yet again that there’s more to metal (and metal fans) than just moshing and \m/ emoticons.
Hats off to them, and let’s hope the bands, labels and producers are listening…
(And, if you’re making music and want to know how to make your recordings sound loud without crushing it to death, click here.)
There are plenty of moments to enjoy in this video with veteran mastering engineer Howie Weinberg – not least, proof that mastering engineers really do have a sense of humour !
I want to pick up on just one thing he says almost in passing though, and amplify it. People are always asking “What is mastering”, and it’s a question that lots of people have tried to answer, including me:
But Howie’s analogy is short, sweet, and very, very, deep. He says that a mastering engineer is like a photographer who specialises in retouching images in the darkroom to get the very best out of them.
I want to make that statement simpler, and explore the idea in a little more depth:
It’s hard to write something that does this video proper justice, to be honest.
Watch it, and you’ll see what I mean.
I came across it by chance, following a link in my Twitter stream. I don’t want to spoil it by saying anything in advance, really – if you read either of my blogs you’ll find all kinds of things to interest you, but there’s more to it than first appears, and if you’re like me the real message will shock, surprise and move you.