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Taming Rock Cymbals with… a DeEsser!?

This post. focuses on the secret rock mixing practice of using a DeEsser on overheads.

Rock overhead tracks are downright scary.  Many rock drummers constantly wash out their cymbals and play in the studio with ‘live’ cymbals that have too much presence, designed to cut through stage noise.  EQing the cymbals leaves you with mush and a loss of clarity and sheen.  What is an engineer to do?  A little known secret of the pros is to use a de-esser (essentially a special purpose multiband compressor) to cut down on the sybillance.

De-essers are typically used for reducing sybillant sounds in vocal tracks such as esses, tees, and whatnot.  They accomplish this by applying a very small band of compression on the sybillant frequency range.  Most de-essers have flexible enough band selectors that they can ride up into the ‘splashy’ zone of cymbals: 10-12khz especially.  My favorite plugin for accomplishing this is the Waves De-Esser.

Start by throwing up the de-esser onto an insert of the stereo overhead track.  Select a frequency somewhere in the 11khz range and drag down the threshold a bit until you see some gain reduction.  Fiddle with the frequency until you find the exact spot where the harshness is diminished.  If you go to far with the threshold, the cymbals will start to sound mushy and may exhibit a ‘sucking’ sound.  Ease up on the threshold if this happens.

If you’ve done this right, you should end up with a cymbal track with most of the cut of the original minus the splashy, messy frequencies of the original.  Badass!