When you listen to a song for the first time, what jumps out at you immediately? Very rarely are you going to pick the cymbals, and that’s 100% intentional. So when your clients listen to something you’ve mixed and the cymbals catch their attention, it’s probably not a good thing.
The Role of Cymbals In Modern Music
Cymbals flesh out a mix in ways that very few other instruments can achieve. They’re the bright “ear-candy” that shines over the top of a mix, and they’re lucky in the sense that they’re not fighting for the mid-range in a way that vocals and guitars do.
But if your cymbal sound does dip down into that territory, they can be horribly distracting. Similar to a singer with too much sibilance, cymbal his can mask the clarity of your vocal and other instruments. This makes for a poor listening experience for your artist, and more importantly to them, their fans.
There Is No Easy Fix To Bad Cymbals
No matter how good your drum samples are, bad cymbals are going to make your drum mix sound amateur at best. You’re pushing polished, professional kicks and snares into the same musical space as cymbals that lack similar treatment - most untrained listeners will notice that.
It sounds unnatural, and is the first thing to trip up a listener’s ears. Even a well done mix will start to fall apart once a listener notices something is not right, and it’s the reason we need to be prepared to deal with bad cymbal recordings from the start.
Don’t Point Blame Elsewhere
As a mixer, you can be handed crappy recordings, but it’s your job to make it sound good. Blaming the tracking engineer for quality might feel good by shifting the blame off yourself, but chances are the band your mixing won’t feel the same.
They’ve probably paid the tracking engineer a decent amount of money and put in significant time to capture this recording. They’ve taken ownership of it, and are coming to you to take it to the next level.
Your clients don’t care what it takes to get to the final mix, so your work needs to be able to speak for itself. Rather than focusing on what could be better on it’s way in, you should be focusing on the tools that make your mix decisions easy and effective.
Fix It In The Mix
When you’re stuck with bad source tracks, you’ve probably got more things to focus on than tweaking your cymbal tracks. It’s why this very important element gets neglected so often – costing you clients.
You could go digging through your compressors, EQs, limiters, de-essers, etc. but there are tools available to save you the time and effort that would take. Plugins like DF-CLARIFY have been built with the purpose of letting you “fix it in the mix” with a simple and musical interface. Not only do these tools save you time on your cymbal mix; their effects are instantly noticeable, helping when you need to make a decision on the fly.
Plugins that take into account multiple aspects of a troubled track are convenient, freeing up time to work on the more creative elements of a mix. They make it easy to take a client-costing amateur mix to a skilled, professional level.
Most importantly, these tools remove the distractions that can create doubt in your clients on an otherwise great mix.