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Recording and Mixing Metal in Spire Studio

by Charley Ruddell, iZotope Contributor October 31, 2019
Record and mix your next metal song in Spire Studio

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Since its birth in the late 1960s, metal music has exponentially grown in popularity and seized the attention of the mainstream media; now it’s the world’s fastest growing music genre. Starting with the genre’s early roots in “heavy metal”—bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin—metal music has taken many twists and turns through its evolution, branching off into factions including thrash metal, black metal, power metal, and nu metal, many of which have catapulted into mainstream success. So what exactly makes metal, metal?

Metal music is characterized by its intensity, proclivity for harsh sounds, and it’s often bleak lyrical content, although the variance of these factors is determined by the style of metal and artistic discretion. Metallica, for example, fall into the category of thrash metal, which is characterized by speed, harsh distorted guitars, and aggressive lyrical themes. Whereas Slipknot, a nu metal band, use hip hop influences like rapping and turntable scratching within pounding rhythms and heavy riffs. Intensity, harsh sounds, and lyrical content are what tie those two bands together. 

Spire Studio has a handful of features that can turn your idea into a full-fledged headbanger. In the world of amp simulators, Classic Stack and Echo Fuzz are ideal for harsh and heavy guitar tones. You can also try using Spaces like Warm Space or Acoustic Shaper to get some natural sounding reverb in your drum or vocal sounds. And as always, the Bass Amp can warp to just about any genre out there. 

When making your metal song in Spire Studio, experiment with the aforementioned effects in whatever subgenre of metal works for you. All of the effects are adjustable in their intensity, just simply evaluate what your song needs and make the changes. That said, we’ll build our own metal song in Spire Studio to show you just how easy it can be to melt faces. 

Metal band Asphyx

Rhythm Section

Whether you’re using a drum machine, virtual drummer, or live drums, you’ll want to record those first. Want to get some subtle reverb on your snare? Try running your drums through the Acoustic Shaper space—it has the cleanest and wettest reverb of all the spaces. 

When recording your bass, run it through the Bass Amp simulator and give your tone a generous amount of drive. Some subgenres of metal, like doom or black metal, prefer a darker and rounder bass tone, while others, like grindcore and industrial metal, tend to use a sharper, more defined approach to the bass. Adjust the bass and treble knobs to your liking, and finish it off by adjusting the presence to solidify your tone preference.

The example below features a rhythm section performing in an alternative/heavy metal style with syncopated hits and a form based upon multiple riffs. This bass track has plenty of low end with a touch of treble and presence to bring out the crunch in the tone.

Rhythm Section

Guitars

The electric guitar is arguably the most important instrument in metal music, and, for that reason, you should know exactly what you want out of your guitar tone when tracking your song. 

The two best Spire effects for recording metal guitars are the Classic Stack and Echo Fuzz amp simulators (though they aren’t the only ones). Echo Fuzz is great for an unruly distortion tone that crackles and spits feedback and overdrive. Classic Stack is for the guitar player who wants a cleaner, more in-control distortion sound, but can still blast eardrums. Tracking a thrash metal song? Try running through the Echo Fuzz with the feedback cranked. Tracking a power metal song? Try running through the Classic Stack with the distortion cranked. 

Pro tip: You should double, or even triple your rhythm guitar parts during recording. Having multiple tracks of the same part will add substantial weight to the mix and allow for a more interesting final mix.

The example below features guitars that are running through the Classic Stack with the distortion cranked up to the top. It makes for a cleaner riff sound that still packs a serious punch.

Guitars

Leads

Every metal song should have a lead of some kind, whether it be a ripping speed metal solo, or some sustained dissonant drones commonly found in post-metal. To keep up with the heavy foundation you’ve already laid down, you’ll want to stick with either the Classic Stack or Echo Fuzz. The other recording effects won’t be able to stand up to the heavy sounds of those two amp simulators. 

In the example below, the leads are split into a dissonant section and a solo section. Both lead lines are doubled and run through the Classic Stack with plenty of distortion and reverb added on. The lead tracks are doubled for added volume.

Leads

Mix

Mixing a metal song can be tricky for several reasons. Firstly, there’s a tendency to mix everything too loud to make the song feel heavier. Then there’s the battle to blend all of your distorted guitar tones. The final challenge is taming the wild drum and bass tracks to let the leads shine through. 

The key is to not overthink it. Keep your drums and bass centered, but give your drum tracks a slight volume advantage over the bass. Pan two of your rhythm guitar tracks to either side and keep their levels slightly above the bass track. Layer in your lead tracks just off-center and just above the levels of your bass and rhythm guitar tracks. Keep one of your lead tracks at a higher level than the other. 

Final Mix

Conclusion

The biggest keys to recording and mixing a metal song in Spire Studio is to use the amp simulators to your advantage and to construct a sturdy mix. Try to keep your recording levels from peaking, but don’t be afraid to lay the distortion on thick when tracking your guitars. Regardless of your metal subgenre, Spire Studio can bring your metal creation to life—or perhaps death.

Learn more about metal production:

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