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Tips for Mixing Synth Horns with Decapitator, EQ and More

Hi, folks! Matthew Weiss —,

We’re working on this Sonny Digital record, and I wanted to show you how I am treating the horns.

[song plays]

Then, here’s after my processing.

[song plays after processing]

Okay, so, what’s really going on here? Well, obviously the horns are coming up in level, but is that really all that’s happening?

Here’s what it would sound like if I simply turned the horns up.

[song plays, horns louder, no processing]

And here is what I did.

[song plays, horns processed]

So, it’s not that I simply turned it up, it’s that I turned it up in a way that allowed it to be bigger, but not step on the rest of the record, and to sit in a way that sounded more blended than simply “here it is, flopping on top of the record,” kind of like a whale that’s beached itself.

Okay, so what’s really going on? Well, here’s the horn in solo.

[horn plays]

The first thing worth noting is that the sound stage is lopsided. It’s leaning over to the left. So, my first move was to take a trim plug-in, set it into multi-mono mode, and gain up the right side by 3dB, and it sounds like this.


[horn plays]


[horn plays, right side level increased]

So all I’m doing there is evening out of the stereo field. Sometimes, it’s cool to have a lopsided image, but for something to be this big, grand, and scopic sound, generally speaking, you want an evenly distributed image, more-or-less.

Alright, my next move is good old Decapitator. Here’s before and after.

[horns play, before and after Decapitator]


It’s a pretty dramatic difference, right? Well, let’s listen to the arrangement of the actual beat.


There’s a lot of bright, upper-midrangey stuff already there, so if I just try and push the horns forward, which are in nature, bright and upper-midrangey, then it kind of just clutters everything up, and that’s why it sort of gets that beached whale effect of just flopping over the track, because it’s not fitting into the record in a way that makes sense tonally.

So, by using Decapitator and refocusing the energy into the lower mids, that gives us a nice place to sort of insert the horns in this kind of frequency pocket that’s being formed.

Okay, so what exactly is going into all of that? Well, I’m using the N setting on Decapitator, which is a little darker than all of the other settings, and then I’m taking this tone control and shifting it over to dark, which it leans the whole thing, sort of like a tilt EQ, and then I’m taking off with a low-pass filter, some of the high, high end.

So, once again, it sounds like this.

Before, after.

[horns play, before]

[horns play, after]

So, totally different focus on that.

Alright, the last step is this EQ. Now, remember, at first, we could just turn it up. Here’s how that sounds in the mix.

[song plays]

Pretty good, but there’s a little bit of the horns that are sort of covering up other things, and if I just put a horn over the top of everything, it’s kind of going to mask all of the wonderful qualities of this beat.

So, I’m taking out certain key mid-range elements. I’m filtering out the sub, I’m lowering some 500Hz I think it is… Okay, so 440Hz. A little bit of that nasally brass tone at 1.4kHz, and taking off just a little bit of top end as well.

So, here’s the version without an EQ, followed by with.

[song plays, before and after EQ]

Now, your first reaction might be, “wait, it feels like the horns are losing power,” and that’s kind of true, but listen to the beat as a whole. Listen to the clarity of everything while you’re listening to the change of quality in the horns.

[song plays, before and after EQ]

All those things, like the melody that the sine synth is doing, and all of the textures from all of these different complex synths still stays present now, even with the horns turned up.

Alright, I hope that gave you guys some insight. Until next time, keep on learning, keep on mixing, keep on practicing.


Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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