Oftentimes, a mix can sound as though something is missing. Whether it seems dull and muddy, lacks punch and dynamic excitement, sounds thin or boomy, or is simply boring, there’s a solution for everything.
In this post, we’ll examine five common deficiencies found in subpar mixes, and we’ll explore what you can do to fix them.
Mixing is a balancing act. Too much bass, and your mix will sound dark and muffled; too much high end, and your mix will sound harsh and shrill.
A balanced mix will possess clarity: full lows that don’t overpower the other elements and crisp highs that aren’t piercing. What’s more, its lead instrument or vocal will sound focused and intelligible.
In a mix, the biggest clarity-killers are low-frequency mud and unwanted resonant frequencies. Both of these issues — even if they’re largely inaudible — can cause dullness, boominess, shrillness, and more.
Inexperienced mix engineers tend to attempt to rectify out-of-control bass by boosting high frequencies; however, this leads to a strident-sounding mix. The most effective way to eliminate low-frequency mud is with a highpass filter.
Most full-featured parametric EQ plug-ins contain a highpass filter. So, fire it up, play back your mix, and let’s get to work!
For most instruments, you want to start with a cutoff frequency around 30Hz and a slope around 12 to 24dB per octave. Increase the cutoff frequency until your track sounds too thin, then decrease the frequency until it sounds right.
For bass-heavy instruments, follow the same procedure, but at your EQ’s minimum cutoff frequency and with a gentler 6 to 12dB slope.
Resonances occur when a created frequency interacts with the natural frequency of something else within your mix. You’ll generally perceive this as an out-of-control vibration or a buildup of a specific frequency or set of frequencies.
Unwanted resonant frequencies can cause a lack of clarity in your mixes, leading to both muffled and harsh-sounding tracks. Our RESO plug-in is an easy-to-use solution for eradicating unwanted resonances — automatically.
Just place the plug-in on your track, click the Calculate Targets button, and RESO will take it from there. It not only provides you with Target Nodes for killing the resonances, but it also gives you helpful setting suggestions for achieving a resonance-free track.
2. DYNAMIC RANGE
It’s rare for a sound source to remain at a consistent volume level for the duration of an entire song. As a result, it can be difficult to get a track to sit in a mix properly; sometimes it’s too loud, sometimes it’s too quiet.
Inexperienced mix engineers oftentimes reach for a compressor to tame the dynamics of a track, without even touching a fader. This is a mistake, however.
A mix should be a living, breathing organism, and you can’t achieve this if you smash everything with a compressor. Conversely, you’ll infuse your mix with an artificial, lifeless quality, which is a hallmark of an amateur-sounding mix.
The solution? Use your DAW’s automation to sort out your tracks’ dynamics before you resort to compression.
To start with, use 1–2dB boosts and cuts. If your track gets too quiet, boost; if your track gets too loud, cut.
This is just a starting point, of course. You’ll likely find you’ll need to adjust your automation parameters all throughout the mixing process.
Aim to get your tracks 90% of the way there with automation. With practice, you’ll be able to make any track sit intelligibly within a mix without using dynamic compression.
Once you’ve got the track sitting well, then it will be time to deploy a compressor (or more than one compressor) for added sonic character and to rein in any remaining dynamics issues.
Not sure if your mix is dynamic enough? Take our LEVELS plug-in for a spin — it helps identify issues with dynamic range, as well as loudness, peaks, stereo spread, and more.
Unless you’re mixing to tape (and kudos to you if you are), you’ve got a finite amount of headroom.
And what’s headroom? In a modern digital studio, headroom is the difference between a track’s highest peak and 0dBFS (dB Full Scale).
In the digital world, exceeding 0dBFS is the mother of all sins. Doing so causes clipping, which in turn causes ugly-sounding digital distortion.
It’s crucial that you remain aware of the headroom that’s available to you while you’re mixing, as every element of your mix is fighting for the limited amount of space that’s available……
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