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Hi, I’m Dave from boyinaband.com and this Community Question comes from Kinal493 from the boyinaband forum:

“I’ve just made a dubstep track with some big drums and a big bass, which is causing a lot of clipping in the track.
When i try running the mix through a maximiser or try applying a mastering suite it causes a huge reduction in the “richness” of the track (the drums sound weak etc).
So I’m wanting to know how to remove the clipping but still maintain a heavy sound.
Is it even necessary to prevent clipping with dubstep tracks?”

That’s a good question Kinal493!

Okay, Firsly – clipping in any genre of music is generally a bad thing. Unless you’re making glitch-hop… or scissorcore, which I hear is pretty big in Ukraine right now.

[clip of scissorcore - uhn-snip-uhn-snip]

Clipping occurs when a digital sound goes louder than 0dBFS. No, I didn’t just read out random letters I typed from my keyboard, dBFS stands for “Decibels Relative to Full Scale” – basically, the loudest point a digital sound system can go without, well, clipping. It’s sometimes just written as 0dB, since mixing engineers have to deal with enough acronyms as it is.

So what is clipping? When sound goes above 0dBFS, some of the audio data is lost, resulting in a loss of overall quality of the sound. When it’s not clipping a ridiculous amount, you probably won’t notice, but if it clips too much, you’ll start to get horrible distortion. And not in the “Ah man, that bass is frickin’ sweet!” way, more in the “Noooo! Those speakers were frickin’ expensive!” way.

That’s why it’s necessary to prevent clipping, and why most professional mixes aim to be below 0dBFS.

So let’s move on to what you say about the mastering suite – The mastering suite includes the MClass Maximizer which is a limiter – a frickin’ useful device in the right context, but sometimes it can be a bad thing. A Limiter takes anything above 0dBFS and knocks it down to 0dBFS, to avoid any clipping.

Initially this sounds like an awesome, fix-all tool, but hold your judgement. The reason a track sounds rich and punches hard is largly because of the dynamic range – the difference in volume between different elements in the track. By squashing this range, it reduces that richness, as well as the overall volume.

And finally onto the big question – how to remove clipping but still maintain a heavy sound. This is pretty much what every producer is striving to achieve when they mix a track. There’s a lot to bear in mind, mostly it will come from a lot of trial and error (sharing your music on the boyinaband forum and asking for critiques on how to improve is a good place to start), but here are 3 things that might help you get started.

1. Things always sound better louder, so do your best to avoid being lured into thinking a mix sounds rich when you’ve just got your speakers turned up loud. This is why it’s important to do things like testing your mixes on different systems and playing them alongside other tracks you like to gauge their volume.

2. Lean the difference between mixing and mastering. Conventionally, mixing is getting the track to sound right and mastering is getting it to sound loud. In this vein, a lot of people mix their songs to well below the 0dB point, so when it comes to mastering, they (or the mastering engineer they hire) can boost up the volume pretty easily without worrying about losing quality.

3. While hard-limiting a track is a sure fire way to lose punch, there are techniques such as the “Soft Clipping” function in the MClass Maximizer, which when turned up (and making sure the regular old limiter is turned off) keeps the punch of the sound and squashes it by using different squashing techniques to the garden variety limiter. This can reduce sound quality, but mostly I’ve found it’s just awesome.

And also one bonus tip that I wish I knew when I started producing: If the source sound doesn’t sound powerful, no amount of limiting it or volume boosting will make it sound rich. You know how professional songs sound well produced both quiet and loud? It’s a long process, but that’s what you should be aiming for with your tunes too.

So how about you? If you have any thoughts on how you keep your mixes sounding rich, please leave them in a comment – and if you have any questions to ask, head over to the boyinaband forum and post in the “Help!” Section.

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2 Responses to “Community Question: How to Stop Clipping but Maintain Richness in Dubstep tracks”

  1. Yay Scissorstep!:) Your answer to the clippngn ? was most informative and is something that is great to be reminded of from time to time. Thanks for the helpful advice, hard work, and inspiration! -Jake

  2. A method I use all the time to reduce the clipping is by turning the beat down and re-rendering the beat at a lower volume. Then, I re-maximize the beat with a compressor and EQ.

    EQing and shelving are very important strategies to make your tracks sound powerful. Compression is good, but archaic. It should be the last thing you use, because it doesn’t discriminate. A combination of the EQ and compression is where I get the best results.

    -T from Model M

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