In this video, you’ll learn how to use a noise gate to clean up your mixes as well as a crazy gating trick to keep your vocals at the top of your mix.
In this video, you’ll learn how to use a noise gate to clean up your mixes as well as a crazy gating trick to keep your vocals on the top of your mix.
So keep watching if you want to make your drums, guitars, bass, and your vocals sound as clean as the pros.
But first, make sure to download my free Noise Gate Cheat Sheet. It comes with three easy to follow graphics that cover everything we talk about in this video.
Just click the link in the description or on screen now.
Let’s do this.
– ON A MISSION –
Hey everyone, this is Dylan with Musician on a Mission here today with another mix tutorial.
Today we’re talking about noise gates.
What are they? When should you use them? How do you even use them?
We’re going to be covering everything in this video, so let’s get right into it.
So first off, what even is a noise gate?
You’ve probably heard about these tools quite a bit whenever you’re talking to other producers about drums or sometimes about bass or electric guitars or background vocals.
Basically, what a noise gate does is it helps to clean your audio up by dramatically turning down the volume of an instrument when it’s not playing.
If the volume of the instrument doesn’t reach a certain level, it gets turned down.
So it’s great for drums, especially because you have all of the bleed that happens in between microphones whenever you’re recording drums with several different mics.
It’s great for background vocals and vocals to help get rid of those lip smacks, the humming, the random background sounds and clicks and words that you hear in between vocals.
It’s great for guitars and bass sometimes whenever you’ve got a particularly hummy amp or buzzy amp.
Whenever you’re not playing, the noise gate will mute that sound so that it’s not present in the mix all the time.
Now noise gates are not always necessary.
You don’t have to put them on every single mix.
You certainly don’t have to put them on every single track. But
there are a great tool to know so that whenever you really need one, you can put one on, take two or three minutes, be on your way.
So before we look at the anatomy of a noise gate, let’s see what one sounds like.
I am going to go in here and solo this snare.
We’re going to hit play.
I’m going to turn off all of the uh, sense who can hear what it really sounds like.
I’m going to turn the reduction all the way down.
So this is what it sounds like without a gate.
So there’s a lot happening in that snare channel that we don’t want.
Let me turn the gate back on.
Nothing but the snare.
Sounds nice and clean.
I’m going to bring this back up.
Let’s go section by section and talk about what each of these knobs do.
So first up is the threshold.
Now the threshold basically tells the noise gate at what level, what incoming level of audio signal should close the gate or open the gate.
So, basically, if the level falls below this threshold, the gate is closed, the volume is reduced, which goes onto our next knob reduction.
This is basically just saying how much volume is reduced whenever it goes below the thresholds.
So I might say, okay, you know, if the snare or rather all the stuff around the snare goes below 21 dBs, I want it to be turned down by 20 dBs.
Some people turn it down all the way basically as much as possible.
I personally like having a little bit of drum bleed left in each of my drum mics.
I find that it sounds a little bit more natural; it sounds a little bit more like that classic drum sound.
So I will actually turn the reduction up just a little bit to get a little bit of that bleed to go through.
But what you decide to do is totally up to you.
It’s your own personal choice.
A lot of people like to take that reduction all the way down.
So next is the attack.
So what the attack does is it sets the time it takes to fully open the gate after the audio signal goes above the threshold.
So let’s say my snare has just been hit, it just went above negative 21 decibels.
How long is it going to take for that gate to fully open?
So for percussion, I like a really fast attack.
I want it to open as quickly as possible so that none of the transient is gone.
So I set my attack very, very quick, very, very low.
So hold determines the minimum amount of time that the gate stays open before releasing and closing again.
So this helps to prevent chattering, which is the unnatural sound of the gate closing over and over and over again very, very quickly while a single note or a single hit is still happening.
You’ll see that a lot of the different functions of a noise gate are meant to prevent chattering.
You want it to sound natural; you don’t want it to sound like a digital robot who has a stuttering problem.
Once you got your hold set, then you’re going to want to go over to release.
This just sets how slowly the volume is lowered after the audio signal falls below the threshold.
So it’s in this order attack, hold, release.
So the snare goes above negative 21 decibels, which is our threshold.
It takes 1 millisecond for the gate to fully open and for the volume to get turned all the way back up.
That gate is going to hold for 170 milliseconds.
It’s going to stay open no matter what happens, and then it’s going to take 336 milliseconds to release.
And that means that it’s basically, it’s like a fade out, like if you were to add a fade to the end of a song or the end of a track, basically the same thing is happening.
So the release is saying, hey, over 300 milliseconds, I want this sound to slowly fade and we set that because we want to make sure that the sound is as natural as possible.
Again, we don’t want it to sound digital; we don’t want it to sound choppy and harsh.
So next up, let’s talk about hysteresis right over here.
It’s pretty confusing whenever you first read about it, but the more you work with it, the easier it is to understand what it does.
It’s also a tool to prevent chattering, which I just talked about with the hold function.
So pretty much what it does is it turns the threshold right here into a range instead of a single number.
If an audio signal, so if a snare for instance, goes above the threshold, goes above negative 21 decibels, the gate opens, but the gate only closes if it goes below the range that’s been set by the hysteresis.
So if we’re talking about a threshold of negative 21 dBs and we have a hysteresis of negative 6, that means if the snare goes above negative 21 decibels, the gate is not going to close again until the sound goes below negative 27 decibels because it’s 21 plus 6 or negative 21 minus negative 6.
That’s not the reason I became a musician.
So what this does is it helps to prevent chattering, which is that unnatural sound we’ve talked about a few times.
Whenever you have a range set, you are able to keep a sound open for longer.
It keeps the gate from opening and closing very, very quickly because the sound is living right around the threshold.
It keeps going above it and below it very quickly.
Having a range set by the hysteresis makes it sound quite a bit more natural.
Now the amount of hysteresis you need depends on the sound.
I usually find that starting around negative 6 is good and then kind of just tweaking from there.
So next up I’m going to go over here.
Let’s talk about side chain.
So side chain is basically a function that allows you to link the gate to another audio source.
So it closes the gate only when the new side chained instrument goes below the threshold.
So for instance, if I was to have a noise gate on a guitar and I wanted to side chain it to a vocal, the gate for that guitar would only open whenever the vocal was playing.
We’re going to go into more detail about this feature in a few minutes.
So next up we’re going to talk about filters right here, the high cutoff, the low cutoff and the monitor.
So the filter section, it filters the incoming audio signal.
So the snare that we’re using right now to solo out the specific part of the sound that they want to register the gate.
So these filters don’t affect the tone of the instrument.
They’re not cutting off the bottom. They’re not cutting off the top.
They are only affecting how accurate the gate is.
They’re basically allowing you to say, I only want the gate to open for any frequency that is above the threshold between, I suppose for me it was between 350 hertz and 500 hertz.
So I only wanted sounds that were right in here to allow the gate to open.
Now this is used most often with drum recordings where other drums in different parts of the frequency spectrum are accidentally triggering the gate to open.
So using filters to hone in on the drums you’re focusing on will cause the gate to ignore the other drums.
So for instance, if I had a bunch of symbols that were really loud in the snare track, which if I remember correctly, I do, let me hit play.
Uh, I can say, okay, I want the cutoff to make sure that it ignores that and I want the cutoff to make sure that it ignores the kick that’s in there as well.
So it’s only focusing on the snare.
In order to do this properly, we want to turn the Monitor on.
Now the Monitor allows us to just listen to what is happening with the cutoffs.
So I’m going to hit play right now.
Now I’m going to decrease the high cutoff.
Now that’s not changing the tone at all.
Like I said, that’s only changing what the gate is listening to.
So you want to make sure you’re turning the monitor off whenever you’re actually using the gate.
That’s only to figure out where you want to set your cutoffs.
So we’ve only got a few more things to go over.
Next up is the gate and Ducker.
So not every noise gate has this, but quite a few do.
So selecting gate is going to lower the volume when the audio signal is below the threshold.
That’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time.
But if I select Ducker, it’ll lower the volume only when the audio signal is above the threshold.
So ducking is most useful when it’s being used as a side chain.
So as I said before, if I was side chaining a vocal to a guitar, I would want to use a Ducker most likely because the guitar would drop in volume whenever the vocal comes in so that it creates space for the vocal to live in.
We are going to talk about this specifically with my crazy trick that I’m going to talk about in a few minutes
The final parameter that we’re going to look at is the Lookahead right here.
So the look ahead is actually brand new to digital audio.
Back 30, 40, 50 years ago, they didn’t have access to this tool because they were using analog equipment.
The Lookahead can only exist in a digital workspace.
So it only really exists in the 21st century.
Now what a lookahead does is it is telling the noise gate, hey, make sure that you are actually processing 10 milliseconds ahead of time before any incoming audio signal comes in.
So it’s just going to make the noise gate more accurate.
It’s going to give it some time to prepare to open a little bit of time to prepare to close.
Honestly, a few milliseconds is probably all you’re going to need to use.
It does increase the CPU load of your computer, so using lots of noise gates with lots of large lookaheads is going to make it more difficult for you to run your session without it crashing.
So usually a few milliseconds is fine.
So now that we’ve gone over all of the parts of a noise gate, let’s talk about how to actually set one up.
So I’m going to start over with this one, using this snare.
I’m going to open up a new noise gate.
We’ll get rid of the old one, and we’re going to try to clean up this signal.
Now let’s listen to the dry signal again.
I want to get rid of most of the symbol and the kick.
I really only want the snare to be happening in this.
So first off, let’s turn the plug in on.
Next what we’re gonna do is we’re going to set the reduction as low as it can go.
Now default for logic, it’s already set to as low as it can go, so that’s perfect.
We’re going to be turning this up potentially later on down the line.
So step two is you want to lower the threshold so that only the desired sound is opening the gate.
So we only want the snare to open the gate.
So I’m going to turn this up and I’m going to hit play
So right now only a few snare hits are opening this gate.
So I’m going to turn this down little bit.
Now the snare is opening up. Also the kick is opening it up.
So I’m going to turn it up just a little bit.
That’s pretty good for me.
As we mess with some of our other parameters, that little kick that’s coming through is actually going to get filtered out.
So we’ll be good to go.
So step three is adjust the attack time.
If it’s percussion, you want to use a really fast attack because you want the transient of the percussion to come through as quickly as possible.
You want it to stay punchy.
If it’s a slower instrument like strings or a pad, you can use a slow attack.
For me, I’m going to be moving this down to one millisecond.
So step four is adjust the hold and the release time.
So you want to make sure that it’s long enough for any of the desired sound, so your snare to pass through naturally, but short enough that the unwanted noise, so in this case our kick and our symbols is cut off.
So I’m going to turn my release all the way down first and we’re going to just start with hold.
That’s pretty good.
Now I’m going to turn the release out.
So you can hear how it almost sounds like it’s fading out.
I’m actually going to turn this up quite a bit so you can hear it a little bit more obviously.
It’s like an automatic fadeout.
That’s a little bit too much for me though, so I’m going to back it up just a bit.
Now I can only hear the snare.
So next thing I’m going to do is I’m going to adjust the hysteresis to prevent some of that chattering we’ve been talking about.
Like I said earlier in the video, I usually like to start around negative 6 dBs.
That’s usually a pretty good range.
I’ll sort of tweak from there while I’m listening to it.
I’m using a particularly loud part of the song to set up this noise gate.
It would probably be wiser for me to set up a section that’s a little bit quieter so that I can make sure that none of my other snare hits are being lost to the noise gate.
That’s where your hysteresis is going to come most in handy.
So I would recommend moving to a verse or an intro while you adjust your hysteresis, your lookahead, your hold, your cutoff.
For the purposes of this video, just to keep it simple, we’re going to move on from here.
So step six, which is optional, but good.
We’re going to turn on the monitor and adjust the filters.
Let’s go over here.
We’ll turn the Monitor on.
I’m gonna hit this little power button and I’m going to start with the high cutoff.
So I’m really, really focusing in on that snare.
I want to make sure that the punch of the snare, the volume of the snare is still coming through, but that everything else has been cut off.
That’s pretty good for me.
So now let’s do it with the low cutoff.
That sounds good.
That’s taking out some of the kick. That’s taking out the symbols.
If I take this monitor off, only the snare is going to open this
So next we want to increase the lookahead.
Again, this is going to be a little bit more important if you are in a quieter section, but for me, I usually kind of just do 5 milliseconds.
That’s usually enough time.
That’s working good.
So finally, step eight, we’re going to increase the reduction level so that a little bit of the original level is let through.
So not everyone agrees with this.
It’s gonna kind of depend on what your taste is.
I think that this helps the gate sound more natural.
I’m okay with having a little bit of crosstalk in between my drum sounds.
I think it helps the drum sound a little bit more natural.
It helps the drum sound a little bit more classic.
But some people will want it to be totally clean and that’s completely your preference.
So you’ve got just a little bit of that in there.
Now if I turn it off…
…it’s a pretty huge volume difference.
But there’s just enough of it in there that it still has that natural sound of an old sounding drum set.
So that’s how you use the noise gate.
It’s very simple.
Eight steps and you’re done.
Try it out on your drums.
Try it out on your guitars, your bass, your background vocals.
Before we go though, there’s one bonus trick I want to give you.
It’s something that I think that you’ll get a lot out of plus teaches you how to use the Ducker portion of the noise gate.
So this trick is very helpful for getting a clearer mix with your vocals right on top.
It’s especially helpful when you’ve got a very dense mixed a lot of things that are going on, lot of uh, different parts of the drums and different guitars, different pianos, different scents.
Uh, this particular trick is going to help your vocals to sit on top all the time no matter what.
So what we’re basically going to do is we’re going to be putting a noise gate on the entire band, changing it to a Ducker and side chaining that Ducker to the main vocals, which means that no matter when the vocals are singing, the whole mix is going to drop down just a little bit.
It’s a really subtle tip, but it really will make a big difference.
So step one, route the band and the vocals to their own respective aux tracks.
I’m going to select everything other than the vocals, and I’m going to bring up my mixer, which I use command to, to do.
And I’m going to go to the output right here.
I’m going to change that to bus one.
So now every one of these is all getting sent to this aux track, which I’m going to rename to instruments.
For vocals, I’m going to send this to another aux track, which I’m going to rename to vox.
This particular stem also has the background vocals on it.
You are going to want to send your background vocals to the vocal bus as well.
So I’m also going into route both of these tracks to the mix bus to the stereo output right here.
So you can see both of their outputs are set correctly.
So if I hit Play and I mute the instruments…
…you can see that everything’s being routed correctly.
Next thing we’re gonna do is we’re going to create a send on the vocals.
So the reason that we’re doing this is that there’s some strange latency issues that can happen whenever you’re trying to side chain an entire mix.
So we’re going to bypass that by creating the send.
I’m going to make sure that it’s all the way up at zero.
I’m going to go over here and I’m going to go to the stereo output section and I’m going to click no output.
That means that even if I hit play, there’s going to be audio that’s running through this track, but nothing is going to be coming out of it, so it’s not going to affect the volume at all.
It’s kind of just there to it’s just there to be there.
And I’m going to rename this to vox, s c for vocal side chain
So step three, you’re going to place a noise gate on the band aux track.
So let’s go over here to the instruments, bring up a noise gate.
And then I’m going to go over to the side chain section right here and I’m going to side chain the vocal to it.
So I’m going to go down to bus three, which is our little vocal side chain bus that we’ve created.
And now the instruments are side chained to the vocal.
So step four, you’re going to select ducker on the gate it.
As we talked about earlier, selecting Ducker is going to turn down the volume whenever the audio goes above the threshold, rather than turning up the volume, which is what a usual gate does.
Then we’re going to move on to step five, which is setting the reduction level at negative 10 dB.
So once we finish up, we’re actually going to be setting it pretty low in a negative one, negative two.
But for now, we want it to be obvious so that we can really make sure that we’re dialing in our settings correctly.
So the next step, step six, we’re going to be lowering the threshold so that the gate only opens when the vocalist is singing.
So let’s give that a shot.
I’m going to hit play right now
As you can see, it’s closing right now.
That means the threshold is too, too low.
There we go.
So you can hear how whenever the vocals are going, the whole band is turning down.
It sounds very awkward right now, but that’s because we haven’t fixed the rest of our parameters.
So let’s do that right now.
Step seven is adjusting the attack time.
So I want to use a medium to slow attack to keep it sounding natural.
We want it to be a bit of a ramp up.
So I’m going to go and say, let’s try it around here.
That’s sounding pretty natural considering how choppy it is right now.
So next thing we’re going to do is we’re going to adjust the hold and release time.
So we want to make sure that it’s long enough the band to be turned down while the vocalist is singing, but short enough for the gate to not be obvious to the listener.
So let’s give that a shot.
So usually like to have a longer release in a shorter hold because I like to have that long fade out that we were talking before although I guess in this case it would be a fade in because we’re using a Ducker.
Okay. That’s sounding pretty good so far.
So let’s adjust the hysteresis so that we can prevent that chattering sound.
I’m going to start at around negative 6 db like we talked about.
And I’m going to move it around until the gate starts to sound a little bit more natural and a little bit less obvious.
All right. So that sounds pretty good to me.
So let’s go into step 10, which is to adjust the lookahead.
That’s just going to make a little bit more accurate.
So I’m gonna go in.
I’ll add nine.
See what that sounds like.
Now this is going to be our last step.
Step 11, we’re going to increase the reduction level.
So we really only want a dB or two.
You could obviously tell, even though we’ve got it set correctly, it still sounds pretty weird.
That’s because we really only want it ducking just a hair.
It’s supposed to be a subtle effect.
It’s not even really supposed to be heard.
It’s just supposed to be felt.
It’s supposed to make your life as a mixer just a little bit easier.
So let’s listen to what this sounds like
So you can tell it’s very subtle.
It’s pretty hard to actually hear the difference.
So this trick works best if you’re using it at the beginning of your mix, not at the end.
So this song that we’re working on right now, this is the end of the mix.
If you set it up at the beginning of the mix and then you spend the rest of your mix with this noise gate on, you’re going to end with vocals that sound much clearer than before.
Right now, because I’ve already mixed the vocals to sound fairly clear, it’s still very, very subtle.
And it’s to be subtle no matter what.
It’s supposed to be felt, not heard.
But doing it in the right order is really going to help you do this trick to the best of your ability.
I think you’re really gonna love it.
So now you know how to duck your mixes.
Hopefully that helps you to clean up your tracks so that your focus fit better in your mix.
But before you go, don’t forget to grab the free Noise Gate Cheat Sheet that I made just for this video.
It’s got three graphics that you’ll use again and again as learn how to use these noise gates for yourself.
And of course, if you’re new here, don’t forget to subscribe and hit that notification bell.
And that’s all from me.
I’m Dylan with Musician on a Mission, and remember, Create Regardless.