Why Send Clipped Mixes to the Mastering Engineer?
By Mike Senior

   By Guest Blogger   Categories: Track Focus

One of the mix engineers I’m following most closely is the urban-pop hit machine Serban Ghenea, and what has recently intrigued me is that he appears to digitally clip his mixes. While such clipping has long been a standard (if contentious) method of loudness maximisation in pop music, the normal received wisdom is that it’s best left to the mastering engineer, who can best judge the impact of its distortion side effects for each track within the context of the whole record. However, if you look at the waveforms of some of the songs Ghenea has mixed, you’ll often see that the flat clipped sections of the waveform are at an angle (as in the example shown here, from Katy Perry’s hit, “I Kissed A Girl”), which implies to me that the clipped audio has been high-pass filtered. High-pass filtering is an extremely common mastering process, but would logically happen well before any loudness maximisation — the fact that it’s not leads me to suspect that Ghenea is actually clipping the file himself.

The big question, of course, is why. The main reason I can think of is the same reason a lot of people compress their master buss during mixdown: because it’s difficult to make appropriate mix decisions without taking the effects of the master processing into account. It’s primarily the drum peaks that are clipped in Ghenea’s mixes, which affects the attack tone of each hit, so maybe Ghenea’s just trying to factor this in when he’s setting his drum EQ.

But why not deliver an unclipped file to mastering and then simply ask the mastering engineer to clip it by a certain number of decibels, say? Who knows? Maybe he just doesn’t trust mastering engineers to do what he wants…

Mike Senior is a professional engineer who has worked with Wet Wet Wet, The Charlatans, Reef, Therapy, and Nigel Kennedy. He has transformed dozens of amateur mixes for Sound On Sound magazine’s popular Mix Rescue column. As part of Cambridge Music Technology, he also provides in-depth training courses and workshops specialising in the documented techniques of the world’s top producers. His new book Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio is a down-to-earth mixing primer that shows how to achieve commercial-grade sonics within real-world project/college setups.

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3 Comments

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  • G.I. said on Apr 17, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    Also, I think he’s more worried what it sounds like than what the wave form looks like. Yes distortion is bad, but thats sometimes the sound needed for the track.

    I will sometimes make it distort on purpose because thats the sound I need for the track in that current age in the industry right now. Goes against everything everyone has ever been taught formally or in books, but after being around and working with top mixing engineers everyday, most of them have a simple rule… What ever it takes to get the sound you need is what is right. There are no rules on how to make a good mix or more importantly; a mix that achieves its goal (Good mix doesnt always= you did your job well).

    Only posting this because I was researching articles on Serban Ghenea, but I dont want other people who may not know to get hung up on something thats not as important as what does it actually sound like as a record.

  • Joe Willett said on Feb 28, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    That’s not clipping, that is the artifact from the Waves plugin X-Click or X-Crackle.

  • Sunday Reads | | Danski's Logic Pro BlogDanski's Logic Pro Blog said on Dec 11, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    […] Why Send Clipped Mixes to the Mastering Engineer? (Audio Undone) […]

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