In The Mix is a new small series from JZ aimed at helping you engineers at home, in the studio, and (hopefully soon) on the road, to focus your goals and achieve the best sound possible with both JZ Mics and all other aspects of the 3 main aspects of our work: Recording, Mixing, and finally, Mastering.
The transient is in its simplest explanation, the initial hit of the instrument. This is the pick hitting the string, or the stick hitting the snare drum, it’s the initial start of the sound and what we focus on without even realizing.
Compression focuses heavily on how much of this we allow to pass through without being touched by the compressor (the attack) and the release is then the aftermath of the hit and when the compression ends. But using a Transient designer can help create the same effect, or in this case, help you to shape your sound without having to color your sound with EQ or compressors but simply by shaping the waveform to better fit the mix.
There are several types of transient designer, but the main ones are single band and multiband - I usually stick to a single band like the SPL Transient Designer, but Joey Sturgis Tones have made a great one that is multiband and can help you focus parts of the frequency spectrum depending on what you need for that time;
for example, you don’t always want to push the attack of the entire kick drum frequency spectrum, often you’re looking for more punch or depth and turn to an EQ, whereas this will help you attain that punch with coupled with Soft Clipping or Limiting, can help you shape the sound without adding extra boominess or low-end to an already powerful instrument.
Let's take a look at some examples of placement for a transient designer and situations you’d likely reach for it.
Drums are probably the best example of a heavy attack on the sound. We’re always looking for punch and depth in the mix without it becoming boomy or too resonant. Tom’s are often too long on sustain I find, especially low tuned floor toms due to the nature of the tuning and so reducing the sustain using a transient designer can work wonders or creating that short pleasant hit we’re usually searching for so that the close mic’d drums don’t become awash in the room mic’s once they are blended together.
This also saves you having to remove their low end to compensate for the compression to limit their sustain and you can focus on just making them punchy and fat!
Room mics are similar in problem to toms. Room mics are usually there to bring ambiance to the kit and lengthen the low end in a musical way for the kit and the snare.
But sometimes they can be lacking in power or depth and need a helping hand - try pushing the sustain of the transient designer and reducing the attack to give more length to the room and body to your sound if you find them lacking.
Rap vocalists are often very focused on either the lyrics or their flow, so it’s easy for them to meld their words or lose focus on their pronunciation while recording - it’s also often that they’ll record and go away from the session and if you have tired ears you can miss this while enjoying the session as we engineers usually do!
Brightening the vocal or compression it to bring out the attack can usually help, but I found adding a transient designer and enhancing the attack after the compressor can work wonders.
It’s a fine way to a great vocal without the vocalist having to redo their parts which can sacrifice the emotion or the flow of the take for a better dictation. It’s always good to get a great source recording but I rarely like to sacrifice the emotiveness of a take if I can.
Keyboards can be made to really pop using transient designers, especially if they’re synths or a delay is involved -the Piano is a percussive instrument, so it’s only right it be treated the same in regards to making it pop and bounce in the mix to create excitement!
Once you’ve found the sound you like, add a ping pong delay and try bringing the sustain down and the attack up slightly - this will make the sound pop out far more, but not become muddy or lost in the mix. Ping pong delay works well but mess around with the type of delays too (tape, BBD, HiFi, etc.) to help you bring the sound to life more.
Early on, I often found myself ducking the upper midrange of the guitars far more than I wanted to. Most of the information for guitars is situated in this part of the spectrum and especially when recording bright guitars or heavily distorted guitars, you can find yourself being surgical to tame the piercing frequencies but only when certain parts hit.
I stumbled upon the idea of using a transient designer to smooth the attack of the guitar overall blended with some limiting to shave the peaks with helped no end to finding the tone I was after. By taming the bite and rasp of the amp just simply by dialing back on the attack of the transients, chords were suddenly much more ‘musical’ and the resonance of the amp was more focused along with it.
If you find you’re not getting enough punch or the heavier parts of a song like a breakdown don't kit how you want, try a compressor pedal firstly, and then dull the sustain slightly to taste or the attack for bass if you want more punch married with the kick, and experiment to find a good blend for your mix!