How to Record Djent in Your Home Studio

The question on so many lips these days is: "Do you djent?" Or when referring to guitars, "Does it djent?" If this all sounds like gibberish to you, let me break it down—djent is a style of modern metal characterized by staccato, palm-muted guitar riffs through high-gain amplifiers, virtuosic tapping on guitar (and often bass), and tight, aggressive, usually triggered drums.

First we'll unravel the word itself. While it may sound like the name of a lost Street Fighter character, it's actually an onomatopoeia: an oral imitation of the biting thud of a distorted, palm-muted guitar note. By the way, it's one syllable with a more or less silent "d." Say it with me: djent. djent. djent. Satisfying, right? "Djenting" usually refers to the syncopated one- or two-note breakdowns common in modern metal, but does it constitute a true genre? It depends who you ask.

YouTube, Reddit, and Bandcamp are full of self-described djent music, as well as plenty of cheeky and self-aware parodies. However, many fan-favorite bands actually fall under progressive metal (like Meshuggah) and metalcore (After The Burial)—or something else entirely (Animals As Leaders, Twelve Foot Ninja). For established bands like these, djent is an afterthought—they were djenting before it had a name. For newcomers, the word alone creates enough of a scene to rally around and identify with.

For now, djent lies in ambiguity somewhere between a verb, a hashtag, and an internet meme. It's still gaining steam, though, and materializing into a subgenre more focused on proggy riffs and virtuosic playing with the occasional clean section than the pure rage of its metalcore beginnings.

You may think that something so aggressively heavy can't really be recorded in the confines of your home studio or bedroom. But today, we'll explore how to leverage gear, technique, and mixing strategies to get the sounds of djent without overly bothering your neighbors—they'll be ready for the coming djent-rification.


Guitar and Bass

For guitars, anything with high-output active pickups or a bridge-position humbucker will work (or you could always spring for the Ibanez M8M Meshuggah Signature 8-string). The lower the tuning, the better—drop A on a 7-string is common, but 8- or 9-string guitars can reach lower ranges without saggy, down-tuned strings interfering with your playing. If you're working with a standard 6-string, putting on some heavy-gauge strings and tuning down to drop-C or so will get you close enough. Don't let anyone tell you it doesn't djent.

For the all-important high-gain tone, you have a few options. If you're going the pedal route, a modified Boss Metal Zone with a noise gate after it is a great place to start (pro tip: place a graphic EQ before and after your distortion for maximum control of the tone).

If you prefer amp distortion, Mesa, Randall, Hughes & Kettner, and Engl heads are all capable of crushing gain and scooped tones. By using a load box like the Two Notes Torpedo you can crank your amp head to your heart's content but still record in absolute silence, while capturing all the natural gain of your amp.

Or, you can ditch pedals and amps. Amp modeling or profiling, systems like the Kemper Profiler, Eleven Rack, Line 6 Helix, or Fractal Audio Axe-FX can allow you to dial in infinitely more precise tones than a physical rig—not to mention let you save hundreds of presets and switch between them with ease. All such systems allow you to bypass a speaker entirely and record straight to your DAW.

Bass follows most of the same guidelines (humbuckers, low tunings, lots of strings), but doesn't necessarily require the extreme gain that guitars will. Sure, you could djent along with the guitars with all the same gear, but it's equally acceptable to go for a just slightly dirty, "clanky" tone to compliment them while filling a different part of the frequency spectrum. A good clean tone is still crucial, so consider investing in a graphic EQ and a compressor to switch on for tapping parts.


Drums

Tight, aggressive drums are another cornerstone of djent, and once again there are a few ways to go about getting this sound. If you're going all-out and recording real drums, you've got your work cut out for you: you're going to need a huge kit, numerous mics and preamp inputs, an extremely dead room, and a competent engineer to pull it off. That's not to say recording a real kit isn't worth doing—but it's likely far beyond the capabilities of your home studio. Luckily there are several alternatives to the acoustic approach: triggers, sample replacement, and programming.

ddrum Acoustic Drum Triggers

Triggers like the ddrum TKIT series attach to your drums and capture your performance as MIDI data rather than audio, so all you need is an interface to plug them into, a quality drum plugin like Steven Slate Drums, and pair of overhead mics to capture the cymbals (cut out the lows with a high-pass filter). Sample replacement is a similar technique, but instead of using MIDI, sample replacers like Drumagog analyze audio from close-mic'd kick, snare, and tom-tom tracks and replace each hit with a sample. This way, you can subtly reinforce your drum sounds or replace them entirely if you choose.

To many drummers' chagrin, most guitarists making bedroom djent actually program their drums with MIDI manually—clicking in individual notes or finger-drumming on keyboard or pad controllers with quantization applied. Fortunately, the same drum plugins you'd use with triggers can be used this way as well. Just be sure to tastefully choose your samples, make full use of MIDI velocity, and maybe even apply a tiny bit of randomization to the notes to avoid a completely robotic feel.


Techniques

If you've never djented before, it's easy to learn the basic technique on guitar: set your metronome to a mid-tempo, unaccented pattern and ride that low string, trying out different rhythms and accents (especially triplets) with short, palm-muted strokes. Beyond the riffs and breakdowns though, djent is not for the faint of heart (or the slow of hand).

While the style hinges on that chuggy goodness, the other techniques involved require many hours of practice, not to mention extreme mental agility. Complex and constantly changing meters, lightning-fast sweep-picking, intricate tapping, and dense, almost jazzy chords are just some of the icing on the cake that sets djent apart from metalcore and the like.

This article can't teach you those skills, and since many readers are likely accomplished players already, perhaps a discussion of taste would be useful instead. Insane guitar skill isn't as rare as it used to be, especially in the metal world. Shredders are a dime a dozen, so songwriting has become increasingly important to set your music apart.

Even if you've mastered all the djentiest techniques, the challenge is to compose something that fits in the genre while still being original, having some emotional impact, and taking the listener in an unexpected direction. This is what really separates the artists from the imitators.


Mixing

Even with all the right gear and impeccable technique, djent is more than the sum of its parts—it takes careful mixing to sculpt a wall of sound that's tight, assertive, and impossibly loud like the big-budget albums out there. The good news is that most of this can be done "in the box" (i.e. without expensive analog equipment). As long as you know what you're doing, you can mix djent in GarageBand on your laptop just as well as in a top-notch studio.

High Pass Filter

With several high-gain guitar and bass tracks all fighting for dominance, you'll need to carve out a space for each in the frequency spectrum to avoid a muddy wash of noise. Ideally, this should be done with smart arrangements and carefully-crafted tones, but EQ can help a lot when it comes to the mix. Use high-pass filters, gentle low-mid cuts, and sharp high-mid boosts to give each guitar track its own voice—one can be drastically scooped, a few can fill up the midrange, one can be piercingly high, and so on.

For clean sections, all that work you just did goes out the window. The same EQ settings that made your wall of guitars crunchy and huge will sound completely different without distortion. The best approach is to start from scratch. Either automate your plugins to switch to a new chain at the clean section or manually split the audio onto new tracks with dedicated settings. Reverb and effects are mostly a no-no for the heavier parts, so now's the time to add some space and movement to your mix before switching back to dry, in-your-face sounds.

If you used sampled drums, you're in luck, because a lot of the work has been done for you. Most drum samples are already compressed, gated, and EQ'd for maximum punch and just need a little tweaking to fit them into the mix. Some virtual instruments even give you a little extra control, allowing you to tweak virtual mic placement, customize the acoustics of the virtual "room," and in some cases even swap out kick pedals.

If you bit the bullet and recorded an acoustic kit, you'll need to start from scratch. Start by soloing each mic and compressing, EQ'ing, and gating where necessary (don't be afraid to get heavy-handed with it—these drums are not supposed to sound natural). Of course, always be sure to unsolo your tracks and check what you're doing against the whole mix. Finally, parallel compression on the whole kit is the final touch that can give your drum tracks that aggressive "smash" without sacrificing all the dynamics.

Armed with the knowledge of the gear, techniques, and studio wizardry it takes to get the djent sound, you're ready to put a djent in the genre with your own music. Just be a djentleman about—okay, I'll stop now.


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