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Working with Unpleasant Sounds in a Mix

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here —,, and

Welcome to the Ask Weiss series, and today’s question comes from TabascoVulta via our YouTube page, and Tabasco asks,

“Mr. Weiss, I’m mixing a rock album where the drums were tracked with a cracked ride cymbal. The drummer knowingly did this, saying the sizzle was part of the overall sound. To my ears, it’s just got this awfully harsh jangle that is completely destroying the overhead sound. It gives a disgusting critical to the overall mix.

Retracking the drums in not an option at this point. Notching out around 11kHz has helped a little, but any sort of creative processing beyond that point is just killing the overhead sound even more. Any tips on how I can tame the jangle, and still have the overheads survive? Thank you, sir.”

Well, thank you. That’s a great question, and I think that it speaks to a very broad issue that we deal with as engineers, and that issue is personal taste versus personal taste. This is probably the hardest thing that we have to deal with when we’re working on music, because music is a collaborative project.

This reminds me of a record that I was doing for a very talented musician named Sasha Zackett, and he had a really edgy synth that played throughout the entire record of the song, and it was meant to sort of echo the early Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails kind of sound, and for me, I love that sound, but that harshness that kicked in for those early Trent Reznor records kicked in only in the choruses.

It was meant to build a sense of tension, and almost act as a distorted guitar. They don’t really play throughout the entirety of the tracks, and I tried explaining this, and ultimately, I just couldn’t mix the record, because every time I got it to where he liked it, I didn’t like it.

My first inclination was to believe that the artist was incorrect and that the artist was using bad judgement. I grew up, and I realized that actually, this was a shortcoming on my part. The reality is that taste is very, very subjective, and music is about emotions, and sometimes, those emotions aren’t friendly ones. Sometimes they’re harsh. Sometimes they’re disturbing. Sometimes we don’t like them.


But, we have to be able to embrace that, because pain is as much of an emotion as joy, or sadness, or anger, or anything else. That’s one of the toughest ones, because sometimes these things are irritating to listen to, but that’s the point.

So. Who’s right in this situation? Well, it’s arbitrary. At the end of the day, that type of sound is going to turn off certain listeners, but it’s also going to encourage other listeners.

Now, maybe the drummer just has a poor choice in cymbal. That’s certainly possible. But the fact is, if he’s stating that it’s part of his sound, then it is part of his sound, for better or for worse. So the way that we fix this problem has very little to do with processing, and has everything to do with mentality.
We have to try and focus on getting into the mindset of appreciating this sound that we don’t necessarily like. My advice would be to start from the overheads, and try and preserve that harsh, grimy sound that comes from a cracked cymbal.

I know what you’re talking about. It’s not a friendly sound. It sounds very trashy, but embrace that. See if there’s a way to make that work, and on top of that, if there really are frequencies that are just straight up painfully abrasive, then maybe doing something like grabbing a Pultec style EQ, or something with a wide-band kind of shelf action, and edging off from the very, very high end, like around 20kHz, and dipping down from there so that it very gradually rolls off the top end – yeah, you might end up with slightly dull sounding overheads, but the fact is, if they guy is using a cracked cymbal, trashy is clearly not a problem.

Then, build the mix around that. Don’t try and stuff an overhead sound that is unique and trashy into a record that’s been mixed conventionally. Start with the stuff that is unique and different, and build around that, and try and make it work from that point of view.

So again, it’s not necessarily just about processing, because it – depending on the way the cymbal actually sounds, there could be about a million ways you could process, it’s about mindset.

And you know, there are techniques like the Pultec thing that I mentioned, de-essing on the cymbal when things are getting really harsh, like if he really lays into it or something like that, de-essing at around 11kHz in addition the little Pultec trick might help as well, but I don’t think you’re going to need too much processing at the end of the day, I think you’re just going to need to embrace the sound. This stretches out to what I should have done with Sasha’s project, and what I’m sure many, many engineers run into on a fairly regular basis with difficult sounds.

So, Tabasco, thank you for the great question. If you or anyone you know has a question that you’d like to ask, feel free to drop it in the comments section of the YouTube video.


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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