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How to Mix Trap

When mixing trap music, it’s important to make your drums aggressive using fast 1176 compression, saturation, and reverb that accentuates high frequencies. Instruments can be panned to the far left and right using sample delay on either the left or right channel, or by using a stereo tremolo effect.

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Mixing Trap Kick

In this video, we have a lot to cover, so let’s get started with drums, move to instruments, then vocals, and finally the stereo output.

The kick needs to be aggressive and cut through a mix. For the kick in this mix I wanted to have more low-end, so I started with an EQ that boosted lows, and with a tilt, the filter reduced the click or beater of the samples used.

To get an aggressive punchy sound, I used this 1176 emulation and set the fastest attack and release times to distort the transient, making the kick cut through. You’ll see this trick used a good amount in this mix.

Lastly, I introduced an Oxford inflator to bring quieter details of the kick forward, making it more powerful.

To start, let’s listen to the full before and after of this mix with gain compensation used, to hear how drastically the processing will change the sound.

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Mixing 808 with Kick

How you blend your kick and 808 is pretty crucial since both need a place in the mix, but often compete with one another. I started by giving the 808 distinct distortion - these harmonics will help separate the 808 from the kick by varying the 808’s frequency response and timbre.

Like last chapter, I used an 1176 compressor to distort the transients, causing an aggressive sound.

Next, I used another compressor, but side-chained the kick. This way, whenever the kick hits, my 808 is attenuated - letting the 808 fill the mix, and the kick is responsible for dynamics.

Lastly, with an EQ I side-chained the kick again to see where the 2 overlap, and cut out some of the 808’s lows to give the kick more room.

Let’s take a listen to the 2 instruments before and after this processing is enabled, and keep in mind I haven’t enabled the drum busses processing yet, which will further change the sound.

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Trap Snares & High Hats

Trap snares, high hats, and percussion need to be bright and aggressive, so like before I used the 1176 compressor to distort their transients, as well as increased each signal’s output to impart harmonics from the processor. For the snare and the high hat, I used short reverb to thicken them.

For some of the percussion, I didn’t want it to stay in the mid-image, so I introduced a sample delay and delayed one channel to send the signal to the far left and right.

Let’s listen to these changes, and again I’ll keep the drum bus’s processing off for now.

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Trap Drum Bus Overview

Drum bus processing is how we’re going to achieve a cohesive sound amongst the drums. I’ll start with this bus compressor set to M/S and with the channels trigger de-linked - this means that the mid will be compressed more often than the side - resulting in dynamic stereo expansion.

Next, I used an M/S EQ to expand the side image’s high frequencies and to cut out the lows - in turn making the lows more mono and focused.

Then I used a clipper - this will add white noise whenever clipping occurs, resulting in a brighter, more aggressive, and punchier sound.

Lastly, I placed the free plugin fresh air after the clipper to further accentuate the highs it created, and to brighten the overall sound.

There’s a Gullfoss EQ here as well, but know that’s not entirely needed - it’s just further brightening the sound, and this Bus 4 is something we’ll cover in a future chapter.

Let’s listen to the before and after of this processing.

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Trap Instrument Bus Overview

Although I will add some processing to individual melodic instruments - like this tremolo control to dynamically alter the stereo image of an instrument, the majority of the processing I’ll do is on the bus. I’ll start with MV2 to upward compress and bring forward quieter details of each instrument.

Then I used this PSP Saturator to create cohesion by adding the same harmonics to all 3 instruments I’m using - additionally, it lets me avoid aliasing with its oversampling option.

Next came this Vinyl strip plugin which I mainly used to get a LoFi quality to the entire sound, with some noise, and wow or frequency modulation. Also, the tilt filter helped to brighten the overall sound.

Again, I used fresh air to amplify the air bands of the signal and also used Gullfoss. This time, Gullfoss played a more active role in amplifying and attenuating various frequencies to reduce masking.

Lastly, we’ll cover what Bus 4 does next chapter.

Let’s listen to what this processing collectively does to the instrument bus.

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Side Image Send Technique

For both my drum bus and my instrument bus, I’ve created a parallel send - on this send I used the plugin MSED to mute the mid image, in turn, isolating the side image. Then I used transient expansion on this side image as well as fresh air to create a dynamic and aggressive stereo image.

This way a lot of details from these instruments that get lost on the sides are re-introduced, causing a brighter, more detailed, and impressive stereo image. Let’s listen to this parallel track being introduced.

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Trap Vocal Processing

Next, let’s move on to the lead vocal, double, and ad lib vocal - I’ll need to know the key of my track, in this case, C minor, so that I can tune to the right notes. For the lead and the double, I’ll use short, soft knee compression.

Ideally, this compression will have auto makeup gain and lookahead to bring the vocals to the front of the mix.

With an EQ I cut out lows to reduce their masking effect on higher frequencies and boosted presence and air to make the vocal and double cut through the dense mix.

Lastly, I sent the ad lib to the far left and right using a sample delay, similar to what I did with some of the percussion.

Let’s listen to the vocal, but with the vocal bus processing turned off for now.

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Trap Vocal Bus Overview

The vocal bus uses 4 processors, a saturator to create cohesive harmonics and fill the frequency spectrum of the vocal, fresh air to brighten the vocals, the Gullfoss EQ to dynamically balance the frequency spectrum, and lastly reverb that’s isolated to the mid frequencies to help blend it into the mix.

There’s a Bus 5 as well, but we’ll look at this next chapter. Let’s take a listen to how this vocal processing creates a cohesive and balanced sound for the vocals.

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Sibilance Send Technique

Last up for vocals, let’s look at this bus - with it I’ll send the entirety of my vocals to a parallel track, on which I’ve inserted a linear phase EQ and isolated the highest frequencies. With the MV2, I’ll upward compress to increase detail and reduce the dynamic range.

Lastly, and importantly, I’ll use a plate reverb, in this case, Plate by UVI to create an airy and ethereal quality to the vocal’s sibilance and high frequencies.

Let’s listen to this bus being enabled, and even though it’s subtle, it has a pleasant effect.

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Trap Demo Master Stereo Output

Although it’s a good idea to have your track mastered professionally, here’s a quick demo master that works well for this genre. I’ll start with the Gullfoss EQ to balance the full frequency spectrum of the track, but exclude the lows to keep those intact.

Then, with the Oxford limiter, I’ll subtly limit and increase the enhance function to bring forward quieter details, making the mix sound a lot fuller.

Next, I introduced the Pro-L2 and set the algorithm to dynamic - this way I can expand the track while still making it louder. Notice I disabled true-peak detection and instead introduced oversampling - this will help retain transients.

Lastly, I introduced a clipper to make it sound aggressive, and add that small amount of white noise we discussed earlier.

This brought the loudness to about -9LUFS, which is actually a little conservative for the genre. Let’s take a listen to this processing being enabled.

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