Tips for Mixing Programmed Hi-Hats
Alright, let’s play some music.
There’s a couple of hi-hats in there. First of all, context is everything. The hi-hats don’t need to be front and center in this record so much. There’s a lot of musical stuff going on that I would rather the attention of the ear go to. But the hi-hats are in fact an important part of it. So, we can’t complete ignore them either. The first basic move is just some simple EQ, and I’ll give you an example of that.
Here is the Q curve I’ve put on the hi-hat. I’m gonna bypass it and then I’m gonna bring it in an you’ll hear the difference
[instrumental without EQ]
You barely hear the closed hi-hat at all
[instrumental with EQ]
Now I wouldn’t say the hi-hat is exactly jumping out at you but at least now we’re really hearing it. And the way that worked is simple because the hi-hat’s focus of energy was a little bit more around the 1k zone, so I dipped that out a bit here and I enhanced the 2.5k where there was a bit more sonic space. Where the tone of the hat could pop through a little more and it just became a little bit easier to hear. Nothing crazy bout that.
Now, in terms of the actual top end of the hats, both the open and hi-hat I felt had enough of that top frequency that, you know, 15-16k for the particular context of this track. Now if this was more of a trap-oriented record, I’d probably be boosting a little bit more. If this was an EDM record I’d probably be pushing a little bit more 15-16k into the hi-hats. But it’s not, it’s a hip hop track, it’s got a darker kind of cooler feel. So I didn’t feel that I necessarily needed that. Ok let’s check out some other stuff.
At the end of that you hear this little trill. This quick 16th note run. Well, I think it’s actually 32nd note run. And it pops out a little bit. That’s not an accident. That’s because I actually have some automated panning going on here. When we get to that trill, I have the hi-hat move to hard right.
What that does is it helps it stand out without having to make it any louder than what it already is. Panning with hi-hats is a really cool thing. You can do a lot with it. A lot of times with a trap style record where the hi-hat is holding down either an 8th note or a 16th note I might pan the hi-hat a little out of center and then automate the pan to go back and forth like this. And what happens is the ear doesn’t necessarily hear a panning going on, but we feel a new dynamic show up. And that helps kind of increase the energy of the record without having to boost anything. Without having to change any of the dynamics. In other words it’s a way of almost making the hi-hat more energized without having to turn it up.
So anyway, let’s demonstrate a little bit of a cool stuff you can do with some panning in this next section.
So you see that I have another automated pan thing going on here. This is not as complicated as it looks. It’s basically just on the quarter note down beat, the 1 and the 3, the hi-hat is right in the center. And in the 2 and the 4 it’s off to the right. So it sounds like this.
What’s going on is I actually have the ride cymbal kind of doing the opposite thing. It’s starting in the center and moving to the left. So here’s the two of those together.
[hi-hat + ride cymbal panning]
So what it does is it creates this feeling of the whole record kind of opening up a little bit on the 2 and 4 beat, which makes the 2 and 4 beat a little bit more dramatic and increases that push/pull, push/pull kind of sense of this section. I’ll play it again.
[hi-hat + ride cymbal panning]
This is actually a variation on a technique that I use in EDM quite a bit. I just sort of borrowed it from what I was doing in those records and put it into a hip-hop track because I thought it was cool and it worked and it sort of provided a little breath of fresh air to the section. Just gave it a little extra dynamic. And dynamic is the key to everything when it comes to hi-hats. Frequency and everything like that, that’s just making it fit for the context of the track. But with dynamics — dynamics is really everything. Dynamic literally means change. So if you have a programmed hi-hat where it’s literally the same velocity, exactly on the grid, hitting again and again and again it’s going to sound very flat. And unless the style of music calls for that kind of flat syncopation and dynamic, you probably want to avoid that. You can get some more excitement out of it.
This record was produced by Samik “The Symphony.” He’s brilliant with the way he works his hi-hats. I didn’t need to do any kind of volume adjustment or anything. He plays them very dynamically, exactly how they need to be. But if I was working on a record that didn’t have that sense of dynamic in the hi-hats — it was just going tick, tick, tick, tick, tick — I might, you know, make a decision like ok, which beat do I really want to emphasize? Maybe I want to emphasize the swing of it: tick tick, tick tick, tick tick. Or maybe I want the downbeat to be emphasized: Tick, tick, Tick, tick. Like whatever it needs to be, I would draw in volume automation to outline that groove and maybe add a little bit of panning to give it a little bit extra energy. Whatever I need to do basically to make the hi-hat swing, move and feel more energized. Alright guys, that’s a little lesson on programmed hi-hats. Hope you learned something.