Most music productions these days are created to stand out and sound impressive. You often come close to achieving this effect in your own studio – and can overdo things sometimes in your attempts. That’s because an increase in punch can directly lead to a decrease in dynamics. There’s a fine line between the two. Too much compression changes the balance of the frequency, creating a washed-out sound and it also reduces the stereo width, making the mix sound fatigued. Discover in this tutorial how to achieve the right balance between compression and dynamics and get more punch in your mix without compressors.
Last time we focused on increasing the loudness of your mix and this time we’re going to show you some techniques for adding a bit more punch to your sound.
The real punch in any mix is achieved in the frequency range from 60H Hz to 120 Hz. Because the human ear is not as sensitive to this range as it is to signals around 4 kHz, the signal has to have more energy (i.e. a higher level) in order to cut through the mix.
I. Careful Use of the Limiter
When using the limiter be sure not to overdo it. Overuse of the limiter can lead to unwanted effects that cut the low frequency level and decrease the punch of the mix.
II. Parallel Compression
Step 1: When each individual drum sound has its own track you need to create a subgroup track (Menu Track > Insert new Tracks > New Submix Bus) then route each drum instrument output to the newly created group. We’ll call this the “DrumBus”.
If you’re working with a drum loop, you can skip this step because the loop already represents the stereo drum group.
Step 2: In the AUX section of the drum group we’re going to send the drum loop signal to our compression bus AUX 1 with the send level set at 0.0 (unity gain). We’ll do this by dragging out a bar to the right in the first blank field.
Open the context menu by right-clicking and change the send signal to Pre-Fader.
This keeps the send signal on compression bus AUX1 separate from the fader on the drum loop track.
Step 3: Now we’ll load the AM-Track compressor into the plug-in slot of the AUX1 channel that appears in the mixer.
Starting with the “Submix Retro” preset, you can make the setting a bit extreme because the AUX channel with be applied in parallel as a mix in effect. For our drum signal we’ll set the “level” parameter to 21dB, the “ratio” to 24dB and keep the “attack” short at 0.7ms.
Step 4: Next we’re going to mix the “DrumBus” and “AUX 1” channels together. When you’ve found the right mix levels the drums will sound powerfully compressed, yet transparent and dynamic.
Step 5: The power of this parallel compression is proportionally dependent on the bass drum and snare. Because we want to retain a natural sound for the cymbals, we’ll remove the overhead channels and the hi-hat signal from the compression. To do this we’ll route their output directly back to the stereo master.
More information about parallel compression can be found in „Samplitude Academy – Parallel Compression (New York Compression) with Samplitude”.
III. Add Punch – Make Space
Have you ever wondered why your mixes don’t sound powerful even though the individual signals sound strong? Mixes can often sound weak when too many instruments are playing at the same time, especially when they are playing the same melody. The various signals compete against each other in the frequency range and take up space. This can take a lot of life out of the mix and leave it sounding “muddy”.
Listen to the following example:
More punch can be achieved simply by muting the cello. This gives the bass more space in the mix.
If you absolutely must keep the cello in the mix, try cutting the frequencies that are competing with the bass. In our example this applies to the range under 110 Hz as well as the frequencies around 500 Hz.
This will make enough room in the mix so that the bass and the cello can work well together.
IV. Masking Effect
The masking effect means that when an audio signal is heard, the sensitivity to other quieter signals is reduced. The degree of the masking depends on the level and the frequency gap between the signals.
Step 1: To use the masking effect in our mix we’ll enhance the guitar in the chorus.
Step 2: Now we’ll mute the cello because it will be masked by the guitar anyway.
This way we can create more space in the mix and give the guitar more punch.
V. Tremolo Effect
You can also achieve more power and dynamic in your mixes by using the tremolo effect. Using an appropriate plug-in you can modulate the amplitude of the instrument signal continuously in short, adjustable time intervals. Big, ambient sounds like synth string pads are well-suited for this effect.
Step 1: First we’ll load the Samplitude plug-in „eFX_TremoloPan” into the plug-in slot of the „StringPad” track.
Step 2: Starting with the „1_16_Deep_Depth_Sync” preset we’ll make the following parameter settings:
- With „tempo sync” we can activate the synchronization of the modulation to the tempo of the song.
- The „shape” can be set completely to the left. This corresponds to a sine wave for the oscillator which will produce a soft sound. When turned completely to the right the oscillator signal takes the form of a square wave which makes the sound sharper.
- The „phase” knob moves the phase length of the oscillator on the right channel relative to that on the left. This means that the tremolo effect drifts apart in the stereo field as the values increase. At 180° both oscillators work in reverse, therefore the stereo effect is at its strongest. We’ll go with a relatively open audio impression at 120°.
- The „depth” determines the strength that the oscillator signal has on the degree of the tremolo. We’ll set the value to 39%.
With the periodic rise and fall of the volume level at a 1/16 rhythm a more powerful dynamic is achieved with a simultaneous lowering of the average volume.
VI. More Attack for the Kick – Sample Trigger
If you want to add more punch to your bass drum, you can expand the existing signal with additional samples. Let’s assume that the kick doesn’t have enough attack.
Step 1: Add an additional bass drum track with a kick sound that has sharper overtones. We’ll use MIDI to trigger this sound in the “Independence” sampler.
Step 2: Now we’ll synchronize the two bass sounds by using EQ to boost the sub-bass of the first kick and the overtone range of the second. The frequency ranges that are not boosted can be decreased. This results in a bass drum sound that has a punchy attack phase while still retaining a strong sub-bass range.
Tip: Snare sounds can also be enhanced by adding additional samples and adjusting the frequency ranges selectively.
Have fun adding some punch to your mixes!