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7 Ways To Fix (Or Even Prevent) Frequency Collisions

Few things are more frustrating than being neck-deep in a mix, then realizing that two tracks are occupying the same frequency space. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to unscramble these instruments — they just keep covering each other up.

In this post, we’ll explore frequency collisions — those irritating overlapping frequencies — and give you seven ways to deal with them.

What Are Frequency Collisions?

Frequency collisions occur when similar sounds compete for the same sonic space in your mix.

Because there’s only so much frequency bandwidth to go around, the overlapping frequencies in the competing sources obscure each other. This is known as frequency masking.

This masking phenomenon not only makes it difficult to separate the various components of your mix, but it also yields a muddled sound that screams “amateur.” Even if you’re aiming for a lo-fi aesthetic, you should still be able to hear what’s going on in your mix.

What Instruments Mask Eachother?

Every mix is different. That said, there are certain combinations of instruments that seem to be problematic in just about every mix.

  • Kick and Bass – These two instruments are embroiled in a serious love/hate relationship; when they complement one another it’s pure magic, but when they clash things tend to get ugly.
  • Electric Bass and Electric Guitar – Basses are lower-frequency instruments, but the upper-midrange presence of basses and guitars exist in a similar frequency space.
  • Acoustic Guitars and Hi-hats – The pick attack of an acoustic guitar can sound a lot like a hi-hat; thus, one can affect how we perceive the other.
  • Electric Guitars and Electric Pianos – Rhythm guitar parts and Rhodes or Wurlies can really mess with each other.
  • Snare Drums and Guitars – The frequencies that give girth to snares and guitars occupy the same frequency space.
  • Lead Vocals and Acoustic Pianos, Acoustic Guitars, and Electric Guitars – The voice is a multifaceted instrument; just about anything that occupies the midrange frequency spectrum is bound to cause problems.
  • Background Vocals and Pads – Since background vox and pads are both supporting elements in a mix, they often mask one another.
  • Synth Patches with Other Synth Patches – Synth patches with similar textures are guaranteed to interfere with each other.

Headroom And Why It Matters

When a mix element becomes masked by another element, you may feel compelled to increase the level of the obscured element to make it audible.

This will not work!

This won’t work because there’s a finite amount of headroom available in the digital realm. Headroom is — to put it simply — the difference between your track’s highest peak and 0dBFS (dB Full Scale).

When you hit 0dBFS you run out of bits. This causes clipping, which in turn causes nasty digital distortion.

It’s crucial that you remain aware of the headroom that’s available to you while you’re mixing. After all, every track in your mix is fighting for space.

If you increase the level of an obscured track until it becomes audible, you’ll mask the track that was originally masking the first track. Then, you’ll need to increase the level of that track.

This pattern will then continue until you run out of headroom. That’s why increasing levels isn’t the best solution to fixing frequency collisions.

So, what’s the right solution? Read on.

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