Ask Weiss: Getting a Full and Powerful Metal Mix (ft. Joey Sturgis)


Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here —,

Welcome to the Ask Weiss series, and today, we have a question coming from Sammy Sabbah, and this question comes to us via The Pro Audio Files’ Facebook page.

Sammy writes, “When mixing hard rock or metal, how can one achieve the thick and dense sound without sounding messy? In other words, how to get a full and powerful sound?”

Well, this is a vague question, and it’s a difficult question to answer in one quick video. I of course have my own thoughts on it, and would be happy to correspond within the comments section below, but I do want to say that when it comes to metal in particular, I don’t have a lot of experience in the subject.

Fortunately, I know somebody who does. So, this Ask Weiss question is going to be answered by a really, really great metal engineer. Great engineer in general, and also the designer of a really cool plug-in series called the JST series. He is Joey Sturgis, and I am going to now pass it on over to him.

Hey Joey, how are you doing?

Joey: Hey, how is it going?

Matt: Very good.

Joey: So, yeah. There’s a lot of variables to achieving the goal of this question, and it mostly lies in the low end, which is what I’ve found to be true for metal and heavier styles of music.

So, what a lot of people get wrong with the low end, is you’ve got guitars that are tuned low, you’ve got bass that is tuned low, and you have the low kick. These three things fight each other, right?

So one of the ways that I do it, is I try to keep the guitars pretty much in the mid-range space, because the guitar was designed to be a mid-range instrument. I’ll do that with a high-pass filter. Somewhere around maybe 80 to 150Hz.

Even on low tunings I’ll do that. Now, you have to be careful. Use your ears of course. Don’t just put the numbers in and expect it to be perfect. You need to make sure that you’re not taking stuff away from the guitar that’s intended to be there based on what’s being played, or how the people want it to sound.

You know, if they want to have a – let’s say they’re playing in Drop A, and they want to have a beefier sound, then maybe you will keep some of those lower frequencies.

But it all starts off with filtering, right? So you’re going through all of your various tracks, you’re doing your filtering. Obviously cut out all of the low end on the vocals, all the low end is going to get cut out on basically every track except for your bass and your kick.

That’s the first step to really achieving sort of a clear area of the frequency spectrum overall, okay?

Now with the bass, if you’re recording a real bass, which I hope that you are, because I don’t think programmed bass is that great. [laughs] Now, if you’re recording a real bass, do you really trust the bass players ability to be consistent enough to give you the low end that you want to hear – the consistency of the low end you want to hear in your mix?

Because if the answer is no, then you need to do some dynamic modification and some dynamic automation on what’s happening with those frequencies.

So, the way I like to do it is to take the bass signal, and duplicate it twice. So, you’ve got your – the first – you’ve got two versions of the same performance. The exact same performance twice. Then what you do is you take the first one and you do a low pass filter, and you take the second one and you do a high pass filter.

This effectively creates a crossover. So you’ve got one track that you can treat differently than the other. So on the low end track, you can go in and you can compress that differently than you’re going to compress the high end track, which allows you to kind of tame that low end and make it more consistent and not have these areas where the bass just suddenly jumps up, and the bass suddenly dips down, and you lose that energy that’s happening there.

So, I’ll – a lot of times I’ll distort the high end of the bass because I like the sound of a distorted bass, but if you distorted that bass without having two separate tracks, you get this really messy low end, so it’s nice to keep that low end very clear. Then I’ll use a limiter or a compressor to kind of tame that and to keep it more consistent.

Then the next thing I’m doing is I’m being very conscious of the EQ decisions that I’m making on the kick drum, because if I’m boosting frequencies – if I’m boosting bass frequencies on the kick drum that are living in the same area that the bass sort of performs notes in, then I’m creating a situation of fighting. You’re going to get frequency fighting where the bass plays this note, and the kick drum has that same note boosted, and now you get these weird sort of resonances that poke through your mix, and it’s starting to sound muddy.

So, the idea is to kind of – you can do it in a couple of ways. One way would be to automate so when the bass starts to play notes that get down in the same area as the kick drum, then you can start to automate that bass track down a little bit, right?

Now, if you don’t want to go into that much detail, which is fine, you can use a multi-band compressor and you can set the side-chain so that it would trigger the bass to get turned down when the kick drum comes in, or you could do vice versa. It depends on what you’re wanting to prioritize.

So if you want the kick drum to have more priority, then maybe you set it to be the key on the side-chain of the low end of the bass, because the bass gets turned down when the kick comes in, then when the kick goes away, the kick comes up.

Or you can do vice versa. So it’s just a decision you have to make. The other decision that I think is very important in this scenario is do you want to have – there’s sort of two areas of the low end. You’ve got the sub, and then you’ve got the bass, right?

I like to say the sub goes from 20Hz to maybe 80Hz or something, and then the bass goes from 80Hz to maybe 160Hz or something like that.

So, where do you want your kick to live, and where do you want the bass to live? They can’t live in the same place. So it depends on the tuning, and it depends on maybe the drum sample, or how you tuned the actual kick drum itself, and based on those variables, you’ll make a decision.

So I like to have my kick drums generally live in the sub area, and I like to have my bass live in the bass area.

Matt: Cool! So, I’m a big fan of your plug-ins. I have Pixelator, the Clip plug-in, and Gain Reduction, which is an awesome compressor. Real quick, where can people get those plug-ins? They’re very affordable, by the way, so anyone who’s watching this who just wants to get a quick, excellent upgrade for their plug-in collection, Joey, where can people get that stuff?

Joey: So, you can find all of our plug-ins at, or you can actually just go to as well, and it takes you to the same place. We currently have a thing called “Producer Bundle 2,” which is actually all of our plug-ins for one low price of $249, so the – if you were to buy every plug-in one at a time, it would cost you $324 dollars, so you can get all of them for one price of $249 for just Bundle 2.

Matt: Cool. Alright, guys. So this has been another installment of Ask Weiss. Special thanks to Joey for stopping in and helping us out with that question, and if you or anyone you know have a question, feel free to leave it in the comments section below. 

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:
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