How to use noise to spice up your mix

Subtle noise layers can add crunch, punch and detail to a mix

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If a mix element lacks treble detail at source, excessive EQ boosting will only create an unnatural sound. Multiband distortion can add top-end brightness, but the character of the original signal will likely be compromised.

The careful addition of noise layers throughout a mix can therefore keep the existing elements intact while adding the treble bite and sparkle required. When this is done correctly, our ears will only hear the original sound, and not the separate layers.

Here we'll show you how white noise can be used to improve several parts in a mix. For more on noise, get hold of Future Music 286, which is on sale now.

Step 1: Here's a basic sketch featuring a kick, snare and distorted synth hook. The parts sound a little dull and lifeless, as each element lacks bite and treble detail in the mix. Let's remedy that with the careful application of white noise.

Step 2: We copy the synth's MIDI clip to a new channel and synthesise a plucky white noise layer, tweaking the noise's amp envelope to match its length and attack to the synth's notes. We then group the synth and noise, moving the initial distortion over to this group instead.

Step 3: A new noise burst is now layered over the kick part. The amp envelope is adjusted to add a tiny transient 'click' to the kick. By pulling this transient's track delay back to -6ms, it now leads into the main hit, helping the kick pop through the mix.

Step 4: We now mirror the snare's notes with a new noise burst from a third synth. By lengthening this synth's amplitude envelope slightly, we add a longer treble layer over the dull snare, giving it more of a '3D' sound in the mix.

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