How to get Heavy and Crushing Metal Guitar Tone starting from Guitar DI and into Mix-Ready Sound. I cover Cab Impulse Response IR Selection, Amp tone block, corrective and colouring EQ, dynamic EQ, multiband EQ, saturation, compression and lack of it, guitar reverb, and how to fit this all into the mix to obtain heavy, clean and crushing Metal Guitar Sound and Tones.
Editing Heavy Metal Guitars. I show how simple editing should be, and how fast you can get tight sounding heavy guitars (with decent performance in the first place). Manual editing, no auto-aligning or flex-editing needed. Edit your guitars based on DI tracks.
Written by Doctor Mike – Rock and Metal Producer, Guitarist, and Mix Engineer at EOL Studios. Published in a collaboration with Sonimus Audio – https://sonimus.com/blog/info/compression-modern-heavy-music-production.html
Compression in Heavy Rock and Metal has become a cornerstone of Modern Music Production Techniques. As mixes become denser and denser and each instrument fights for its space in the Heavy mix, they require more and more compression. On the other hand, if compression is applied incorrectly or excessively, it becomes incredibly easy to destroy the dynamics of mix elements and just come to blatant and static mixes that don’t sound exciting to the listener.
In this article, I would like to focus on some ways to prevent over-compression and loss of dynamics and still create the desired effect of heavy compression for a firm and solid modern sound.
I. The selection of Attack and Release times.
There is so much confusion about choosing the correct Attack and Release settings for compression. I can only suggest that this comes with experience, and experimenting and listening to your choices and their impact on the final sound will go a long way to discovering your take on compression.
There is, however, a simplistic approach to finding the Attack and Release settings suitable for the material, and that has been developed by Michael Stavrou in Mixing With Your Mind Book. In short, one calls for extreme compression settings to really hear their effect. Set up your ratio to the maximum. Attack and Release to the shortest. Adjust the Threshold so that you get a healthy amount of gain reduction. Now, start slowing the Attack down, and listen to the transient. Find the setting where the transient comes through. Next, adjust the Release time to suit the tempo of the chosen track.
II. Common Attack and Release Settings.
This approach allows to discover the compressor timing settings that would suit your musical material and leave the transient less affected, hence creating less of unwanted compression artefacts. Find some common compressor timing settings below applicable to Heavy material.
Drum Overheads – Slow Attack, Slow Release. Smooth out and glue drums together, without impacting the attack envelope.
Kick – Slow to Medium Attack, Medium to Fast Release, depending on the material. Leave the attack intact and adjust the release to not interfere with the next note. This varies depending on the part, for instance, a drum part consisting of predominately 16th note double kicks would require a faster release than 4th or 8th notes.
Snare – Slow Attack, Medium to Fast Release. Snare compression may be a bit tricky, and would largely depend on chosen production style. Fast release time would provide a more aggressive punch, medium release times would give more sustain to the snare. Slow attack is preferred to leave the transient intact, however, this depends on how the drum was recorded in the first place.
Toms – Medium to Fast Attack, Medium to Fast Release. Toms are compressed rather aggressively to cut through a dense mix.
Drum Parallel Compression – Fast Attack, Fast Release. Settings are adjusted to match the tempo of the track.
Bass – Fast Attack, Fast Release. Bass is one of the most dynamic instruments in the mix, and it hence requires a significant level of evening to stay prominent. Attack may remain as fast as possible until the distortion artifacts occur.
Guitar – None! Although many producers prefer the compressed guitar sound with slow Attack and fast Release, I would recommend against it since heavily distorted guitar is already significantly compressed by definition. I would recommend using extra saturation layers instead, see below.
Vocals – Medium to Fast Attack, Medium to Fast Release. For heavy screams or growls, aggressive compressor settings suit the material, hence fast attack and release. For cleaner singing, you may want to explore the infamous Dr. Pepper settings, with Medium Attack and relatively Fast Release.
III. Compression in Series versus a single Compressor.
Most of the Modern Rock and Metal Producers work in the box and rely on plugins heavily, and I have been no different until recently. The important thing of note is that outboard analog compressors are a little more transparent and forgiving in general, and hence allow more gain reduction to be done (up to 10 dB!) without providing excessive artefacts. Digital plugins aim to emulate this behaviour, and we’ve been fortunate enough to live in the era where these software products come closer and closer the their analog brothers, and sometimes even exceed these in the state of convenience, recallability, and the sound itself once not trying to emulate a specific piece of gear.
As a general rule of thumb, however, I recommend avoiding pushing plugins to their extremes especially if the goal is to achieve clarity and transparency. The answer to firm and solid compressed sound desired by heavy musicians and producers then is – serial compression.
Instead of using a single instance of a plugin and taking down 10 dB of the signal, consider going milder with that original compressor, maybe 3-4 dB of GR, and then using a different model with a different sound, complementary to the first compressor, taking additional 2-3 dB. This results in a cohesive and diverse sound that is still firmly compressed, yet remain more transparent. The second compressor settings are also likely to be milder, letting the transient through and emphasizing the action of the first compressor as well.
Few examples here. Once I compress the individual microphones for my Kick drum with the settings pictured above, I next travel to the Kick Buss. I insert an additional compressor of a different style (the modern metal genre craves for SSL-style compressors) and tweak its settings to the program material. Normally slow attack and fast release work very well for emphasizing aggression, and slow attack and medium release for additional punch and sustain. I approach snare similarly.
For Bass, I like to glue the buss together with a Fairchild-style medium or slow compression, adding thick harmonics and rich bottom end without impacting the attack already smoothened out on the previous step of compressing the individual tracks.
Vocals may benefit from a finishing polish of LA-2A or even API 2500-style compressor, taking out no more than 1 dB of gain for subtle evening and thickening.
Similarly, my mix bus itself goes through a series of hardware and software compressors, and that does quite a heavy lifting to the signal. I take out 2-3 dB of the mix bus with my Rupert Neve 5043, which then goes to Louder Than Liftoff Silver Bullet and Rupert neve 542 Tape Emulator for harmonic coloration and emphasis. Back into the box, I additionally compress the mix bus with API-style, SSL-style, or unique and transparent digital tools that further glue the mix together. The closer to the finish line, the less compression is required; I may barely move the needle of the final compressor in the chain and still hear a significant impact.
IV. Compression layering.
Additionally to serial compression, layering compression in parallel is a fantastic idea to thicken sounds up and create an aggressive feel to these, without destroying the original feel of the part.
One may get very creative on this stage, combining the flavours and unique action of all the software and hardware tools at hand to come up with a vibrant and strong combination of firm compressed signal.
I reach for 3-4 different parallel layers for drums, ranging from a classical 1176-style compression for grit and punch, as well as Neve-style glue and thickening for the entire drum kit, to very aggressive digital plugins on Kick, Snare and Toms only to let them cut through a dense mix.
I parallel compress the Bass, too, with 1176-style limiter acting very aggressively.
I started to parallel-compress the mix bus itself as well, strictly in the digital realm, blended subtly. This creates an additional layer of aggression, once again, without impacting mix transparency and fullness.
V. Multiband Compression and side-chain Compression.
A more utility-based approach is multiband compression, and that is a superior way to further clean things up in lieu of heavy compression. The approach is well applicable for instruments that are dynamic only in the specific frequency range. Heavy guitars are very prone to uncontrollable low end movement on the palm mutes. Bass guitar may move significantly in the sub-bass region. Vocals may have quite an uncontrollable low-mid and mid frequency range, prone to increased dynamics. All these instruments may additionally benefit from multiband compression on their buss, focusing on the problematic area and subtly evening it out without impacting the rest of the instrument. This provides more transparency, clarity, and control to the mix.
Finally, once one reaches the stage of mixing where all the instruments are incredibly dense and thick, it gets progressively more complex to let each instrument have its full space without compromises. Until recently, engineers didn’t have access to modern digital tools and hence had to carve room for instruments with the EQ, for instance, significantly high passing the additional lead guitars, synths, or extra vocals in order for these to sit in the mix nicely. As a result, the mix certainly felt balanced and rich, yet just these extra elements may have sounded thinner than desired.
We are blessed with technology in the modern days, and it gets infinitely easier to befriend the elements of the mix with multiband compression that is side-chained to the instrument of need.
For instance, vocals and guitars almost always fight for the common space in the mix – the midrange. Instead of trimming that midrange out and sacrificing the sonic character of one of the mix elements, one may perform the following trick.
Select a multiband compressor for the guitars. Create a band that sits in the conflicting midrange region. Side-chain it to the vocals. Set the attack and release to taste, so that the reduction is transparent. As a result, your guitars are going to become more “scooped” once vocals are active, leaving room for these and not interfering with the frequency distribution. However, once vocals are not present in the mix, the guitars return to their full-sounding state. The listener would appreciate both the massive guitar sound, and room for vocals where required.
Similar approaches are well applicable for synths in strings in heavy music that occur episodically and need to retain their power, as well as additional lead guitars – or any other element of the mix that is difficult to fit into a busy canvas.
As much as compression remains an area of music production that requires lots of experience from the producer to achieve transparent and solid results, the modern tools available at our disposal make the job easier and easier. By following the approaches described in this article, one would minimise the artefacts of over-compression and achieve massive and solid-sounding Modern Heavy Records with great deal of clarity and separation – a true staple of the Modern Sound.
A common myth about mixing heavy rock and metal is that instruments in solo / isolation sound thin, brittle, or plain wrong, and only when combined they complement to each other. While it may be true to some extend (high pass filters, etc), I show that instruments need to sound big and full on their own, as well as combined together. Have a listen with me on my recent mixes for The Archanan, Sliimak, and The Overcoming Project.
Here’s a little documentary on how I was recording guitars for my Psychedelic Metal The Overcoming Project, where I work with Mike Heller from Fear Factory and Jon Howard from Threat Signal. I hope that you enjoy my approaches and some raw Heavy Metal Guitar footage and headbanging!
Resonances in Recording Heavy Metal. In this video, I demonstrate how the phenomenon of resonance is relevant in recording and processing Heavy Rock and Metal Guitars, Bass, Drums, Vocals, as well as on the mixing stage. I explain the way to take these resonances under control, too.
I hope that this video resonates with you 😉 Let me know if this was helpful!
▶ Schedule a free first coaching session with me: https://eolstudios.as.me/free-consultation
Hey Rock and Metal Musician!
I see a lot of horror studio stories, projects that never get finished, or just don’t sound 100% amazing.
And this may be the final nail in the coffin of your band trying to stand out in the saturated heavy market.
Studio recording in Rock and Metal genre requires a lot of preparation from a musician. Without knowing certain hidden details of the process when recording Heavy Rock and Metal Guitars, Drums, Bass, Vocals, Keys, one may easily fall into the trap of over-analysis, self-doubt, and just average heavy records.
To solve this, I created this comprehensive checklist for you in order to avoid pitfalls, save studio costs, and navigate the process of creating your next release with ease and efficiency. This works both for studio sessions, as well as DIY home recording.
These recording tips and tricks are based on years of my own experience as a Metal Guitarist, Composer, Producer and Mix Engineer. I hope you find it useful and if you have any questions or clarifications, never hesitate to get in touch with me.
In this video, I compare Heavy Rock and Metal Guitar Recording Technique: Double Tracking vs Quad Tracking. I demonstrate how Double Guitars display maximum tightness, and Quad Guitars make material more blurred and atmospheric.
5 Things I wish I knew when I first started playing Guitar/Music
This is a bit of a tricky article to write because it means getting stuck into some frustrations or regrets in my 20+ year playing journey and looking at some of the mistakes or set backs that have happened along the way. The goal is to try and set you guys up with some knowledge so that you can reach your musical goals FAST and quicker than I could. So lets get stuck into it
1 – Don’t suppress your dreams, goals, desires
This was a big one for me. I was always kind of scared of music in a weird way. I had a natural talent and ability with it during high school and the music teachers and staff at the school could see that, but me being young couldn’t.
I did well in school in general and thought that I could suppress my love and desire for music and choose a safer and more traditional path. This led me to a few careers I came to hate and burn out in and this constant battle to keep music alive in my life.
Now you don’t have to be like me, dedicating your life to music and doing it professionally. But if you genuinely love music, you genuinely want to play guitar and have goals that are creative or musical, you have to listen to it and see them through. Its the only way you will know if its for you or not. Don’t suppress this stuff, the more you suppress, delay, put off, procrastinate, the more it builds up and yearns inside of you to come out, and often it just comes back stronger at some point and can cause damage in doing so because it has to fight you and that internal suppression to be heard.
I see this a lot with people wanting to learn the guitar. They go through a battle early on where they try and learn and teach themselves, they hit a big brick wall, emotions kick in and they hit what I call “the dip” in the playing journey where things become challenging and not so easy for a bit.
If you get through the dip, you’ll play for life, if not, you’ll keep bouncing back and forth. throwing the guitar down and back in its case for weeks, months, years in frustration and anger, then come to regret it only to pick it up again realising it was a mistake and then having to work harder (particularly emotionally) to get back to where you were and then try and break through the same barrier that got you last time.
Don’t suppress! It creates twice the work!!!
2 – Don’t ever be afraid to invest in your playing
This was a big one for me at certain points of my journey. I strongly believe in continually investing in myself. Its what I call a “professional” behaviour and if I ever see a “pro” not doing it, it makes me want to steer clear of them because a true master knows that the more he knows, the less he knows.
Continually investing in yourself, continually challenging yourself keeps you grounded and humble. It keeps you hungry. It keeps the spark, joy, inspiration and innovation in you.
There are many different ways to invest in yourself and your playing. Here are a few examples:
-Environment. Where you play guitar is important. Are you practicing in a messy bedroom with heaps of stuff lying around, or are you investing in the space in which you perform and actually feel comfortable and enjoy spending time in? I know that when I didn’t have a home studio set up properly, I wouldn’t play guitar. This was a problem when I was share housing more. I didn’t actually feel comfortable to practice and be vulnerable and make mistakes. You’re practice environment is extremely important and it needs to be a space in which you can focus.
-Gear. The better you sound, the better you will feel when playing which is important. I often find gear and tone will inspire new ideas and ways of playing in me.
-Education. You always have to be investing in your knowledge and we’ve never had a better time to do that than right now. When I grew up and learned as a beginner I was forced to find just a local teacher, and try and learn through tab books. YouTube didn’t really exist just yet and the access to the information and resources and support we have wasn’t what we have now. We are truly spoiled right now and live in an amazing time.
-Technique. This is the hardest and where a teacher is important and why I still have teachers I work with. Invest in your technique. It will make you more comfortable on the guitar, it will open up your abilities for new styles, genres, licks, speeds or ways of playing and keep the guitar journey fresh and fun for you.
-Support. Find people who bring out the best in you. I’ve had horrible relationships where I had people very close to me tell me that music was stupid, that my goals with it were a waste of time. Get rid of these people ASAP, they are toxic.
3 – Its a marathon not a sprint.
This is very important for beginners and even intermediate players because when you first start the perceived progress is HUGE and very fast. It feels like things go at the speed of light. Your first riff feels amazing and comes quick, then your first song, your first solo. Then it feels like things slow down, mind you they don’t really, but the gratification that was there at the start does.
You’re still learning riffs, you’re still learning new things but the same buzz isn’t there. The gratification actually continues to slow down the longer you play, so its very important to understand this and know that it is a marathon and not a sprint.
4 – Find balance in your playing and practice.
I know some incredibly technical players with no feel and horrible song writing skills. I know some incredibly knowledgeable musicians who can tell you everything about theory but can’t create anything to save themselves. I know some amazing players who don’t understand how to record themselves or promote themselves and then go without an audience.
Balance to your playing and musicianship is everything. I try and find all of these areas and understand that they are part of being a modern musician and always strive to improve them and learn more in them
To be a modern musician you can no longer just sit in your room or get out and play shows and expect things to come to you. You have to be more entrepreneurial and multi-disciplined/skilled. Enjoy the learning behind all of these areas 😉
5 – Its ok to be different
Own who you are. Own that you’re different. You might be the odd one out in your circle of friends who likes rock music, who dresses different, why? because music changed you as it does all of us who feel called to it. Own it. There is only one version of you, and you only get one shot at this to enjoy it so enjoy it and enjoy the journey. Don’t beat yourself up for not being someone else, or not where you think you should be, this will kill your progress. Own where you are and work at it and enjoy it!
Cam Bird is a Recording Artist, Producer, Composer and Guitar Instructor from Melbourne Australia.
Merch Store: https://teespring.com/nl/stores/cam-bird
Studio preparation has to be taken as seriously as it possibly can be. You have a really short timeframe to get the best out of your music in the studio. You have to find the right people to develop trust and let them polish your tracks. You have to be prepared to work hard on practicing your parts to absolutely nail them on the day. And you have to plan the budget accordingly, to get the best bang for the buck!
In this article, I will walk you through this process step by step which has proven successful over the years of my experience as a Heavy Rock and Metal producer.
- How to find a Studio / Engineer / Producer whom you trust.
Trusting your producer/recording engineer is the foundation of successful record. It all starts with communication and discussion of your initial goals. I recommend outlining what you want to achieve first. It could be as simple as – get my first professional recording done. Or get a major album released and pitched for a label. Or get a track with for a music video to develop relationship with concert agencies and then open to international bands.
Your goals would define the production approach, and how you and your producer allocate the budget. They should come up with a few possible offers based on what drives your record and remains important.
For instance, if you are after a natural and live feel for the record, it makes a lot of sense to invest into studio time for real drums and not save up on programmed drums as this would impact the sound significantly. On the other hand, if you only have screaming vocals that come in occasionally, it makes no sense to hire an expensive studio session for vocal recording with huge microphone brand names – it simply would not impact your final product!
Once your prospective producer has developed a strategy for your recording, you need to understand whether it aligns with your vision for the final sound of the track, and compare this offer to what other professionals are offering.
Another important aspect is producer’s past work and social proof. Whether you like their style of sound, and whether their past clients are raving with satisfaction – can be a major criteria for choosing a professional.
- Budgeting and saving for the costs of studio recording.
It’s no surprise that we as heavy musicians make no money in the industry nowadays. And the production process remains fairly expensive. With our desire to spend as little as possible on the studio time, I believe that we still get what we pay for.
Therefore, it is so important to allocate budget effectively around your situation, not just a random offer that you get. You may be a talented and experienced guitarist, and can save up a significant chunk of money by recording guitars at home and sending them off to reamp later, rather than spending unnecessary studio time on it. Sometimes, though, you may need producer’s guidance if unsure on getting that superior tight sound.
Or, on the other hand, you may want to record your band completely live in a major studio – which saves time as opposed to multitrack recording. And then perform your guitar/vocal overdubs later at a project facility, which is less expensive to hire.
- Work bloody hard on your music and songwriting.
Heavy music industry is saturated with music of all sorts. If you want to be successful, you need to stand out, be unique. One part of it is your band’s brand and image, and promotion strategies. But it all actually starts with your music, and your actual songwriting. To stand out, you need musical hooks, be it death metal precise blast beats or sweet power metal catchy guitar licks. Such parts require a very precise and intense arrangement and songwriting work.
Therefore, I advise bands to work on their music very hard – but to a point. As our hearing gets blurred easily, and we can no longer tell what’s good and what isn’t in relation to our music. So being open to producer’s musical touch, slight diversification and polishing of your music can be extremely helpful to deliver your message across the board to your listener.
- Practice practice practice before studio!
This one is obvious, but is sometimes neglected. Of course you need to know your parts the very best way that you possibly can before the studio to use your time effectively. However, sometimes over-practicing the parts can lead to detrimental results. I suggest slowing your parts down to 50% of the original tempo and practice to the click so that your brain understands their layout really well. Then, you can gradually increase the speed and see a massive increase in the quality and flow of your playing!
- Good communication within the band, no bad blood.
A band is a multi-member powerhorse, which moves forward as a well-oiled heavy metal machine. But once there is miscommunication, bad blood arises, and this stops the whole thing from moving forward. This is especially relevant in the studio, where you are so limited in time, and stress levels are high. To not let bad blood happening, just talk! If there are issues, come to the common ground. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice one’s ego to get the mutual progress and success. And these ego issues can be dealt with later.
My rule is – No ego is allowed in the studio. Leave it by the entrance and get to bloody work.
- Have your ideas set, but be open to experimentation
Knowing your parts is crucial to successful session, but don’t be too rigid with these. Sometimes a spark of creativity leads to massive improvements for the song. An extra improvised guitar solo over the bridge, or an octave down harmony in the chorus can really lift certain sections. Be open to experiment!
- Communicate your perception well.
This one is huge. If things are not sounding as expected straight away, don’t get emotional. Try to be objective, explain ideas professionally. As your music is your heavy metal baby, it’s incredibly hard to stay cool during the birth process. However it’s the crucial part in order to get the sound that you want – just explain it! If you struggle to do so, provide reference tracks. The ones that you like the sound of, and the ones that you don’t like the sound of – to get the full reference spectrum.
- Have a backup plan and discuss it transparently (different mix engineer, etc).
In rare cases when things do not work out exactly as expected in the middle of the process, just stay cool and come up with a backup strategy. If you are happy with the recording but not quite digging the final mix, it may be important to collaborate with a different mix engineer for different approach. The only thing that can go wrong is when musician is not satisfied with the final product. So being open and transparent, and working towards everyone’s benefit, producer included, shouldn’t prevent you from changing the course if this what your music calls for.
- Have marketing strategy (at least basic one) ready before you finish production!
Huge one! So many bands record outstanding EPs and albums and then have no idea on release strategies! And there are many resources out there that actually provide healthy advice on Facebook / Youtube / Spotify marketing for your heavy Rock and Metal music. Check these out and get a rough outline before you drop your tracks out there. And if you need more help – consult with a professional in the field.
And that is it for my advice on coming into the studio and recording your heavy Rock or Metal release successfully! If there are any questions or comments, feel free to shoot these my way! Until then, happy practicing \m/
Dr. Mike Trubetskov is a Rock and Metal Producer, Guitarist, Composer, Arranger and Mix Engineer at EOL Studios from Melbourne, Australia.
Mike walked his Metal path from a Doctorate degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to moving to Australia, building his studio and producing albums for sick heavy bands.
Mike is now going to lead you and his clients on this metal path!
- Studio Website: https://www.EOLStudios.com
- Youtube: https://youtube.com/eolstudios
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EOLStudios/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eol_studios/
- The Overcoming Project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYchSVTYVxk&ab_channel=EOLStudios