20 hot metal production tips

Trivium are part of the new wave of American heavy metal bands.
Trivium are part of the new wave of American heavy metal bands.

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If you're in a metal band, the chances are that the first thing you'll focus on is getting your live sound right. At some point, though, you may decide that you want to record, arrange and mix your music on a computer, and this presents a whole new set of problems.

Don't worry, though: MusicRadar is here to help. The following tips are designed to help you get an authentic metal sound bursting from your speakers. You bring the songs - we'll help you with the technical stuff…

1. Using lots of different reverbs on a track can make it difficult to get the instruments to sit together. It's best to stick to one setting (or two at most) for everything to create a consistent environment.

2. If you feel like your heavy guitar parts are too mushy, either back the amp gain off or send the clean sound to an effects channel with your dirty sound loaded up. You can then mix the two tones for a clearer sound.

3. While it's true that metal is dominated by the guitar, dropping the guitar's levels by one or two dB can give the other instruments more room and help give the track more energy overall.

4. Don't make EQ adjustments or add extra plug-ins to tracks just because you feel you should. If you've taken the time to make sure everything's recorded correctly in the first place then you really won't need to do that much.

5. Always remember that the guitar is not a bass instrument. To gain more clarity in your mixes you can safely say goodbye to everything below 50Hz, or even 80Hz.

6. Avoid over-compressing everything. Aside from killing the dynamics of a performance, keep in mind that you don't get anything for free - compressing the sound also brings up the noise floor.

7. As with guitars, there's nothing in the low frequencies except floor rumble or tapping feet coming up through the microphone stand, so cut everything below 80Hz.

8. Vary the volume you mix at. Sometimes things become apparent (like a part being too loud) when the volume is low. Listening on headphones can tell you whether your panning is too extreme.

9. Burn your final mixes to CD and live with them for a day or two. Listen to them on different speakers to make sure that they work on all systems.

10. Avoid ambient or distant mic positioning when recording metal drums: you're looking for a tight sound, not the airy sound of a school hall.

"Dropping the guitar's levels by one or two dB can give the other instruments more room and help give the track more energy."

11. To get realistic programmed drum parts, keep in mind what a real drummer can physically manage. Remember that they only have two arms and two legs. A dead giveaway is a hi-hat part that continues constantly through a song, even when cymbals are being hit and tom fills occur.

12. Bass drums in metal often have a high click to their sound. Bring this frequency out by boosting the EQ in the 2.5-5KHz range.

13. Metal guitar solos are usually fairly technical, so make sure the guitarist has theirs worked out, otherwise you'll spend hours recording seconds of music.

14. If the vocal levels change drastically between song sections, record them separately onto different tracks. This will enable you to set specific levels for each part of the song.

15. Bear in mind that the drummer will still need to be able to actually play their kit after you've placed all your mics, so you may have to compromise on your positioning.

16. As well as the standard two rhythm guitars panned hard left and hard right, some metal bands like to add a 'thickener' panned dead centre. Thickener by name, thickener by nature…

17. In order to get the feel of two separate takes when artificially double-tracking your guitar tracks, swap the sections (eg, Chorus 1 to Chorus 2) from one take so that you get two different performances playing at the same time. Using this method also helps to reduce phasing problems.

18. If you don't have a drum ROMpler with an 'anti-machine gun' setting, try slightly lowering the volume of every other note. You should also make sure that these notes are positioned ever so slightly behind the beat.

19. Muddy mixes can be cleaned up by removing the lower frequencies from your reverb channel(s). You might also like to add a little air to the mix by slightly boosting the top end.

20. Remember that you don't have to use all of these production tips in all of your metal tracks. If you get a sound that you're happy with, don't feel that you have to keep on messing with it.


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