Mixing music is no simple job. It requires a good ear that can understand the overall mix and how well all elements coordinate with each other.
With that said, there’s really nothing more frustrating than having to deal with a muddy mix. It takes the fun out of the song and drowns some of the more important elements that need to be well pronounced in the mix.
Most people have trouble, having their mix sound clear, especially newbie music producers. But not to worry, this post will walk you through some techniques that you can use to make your overall mix sound more clearer.
Get the Initial processes right
In music production, one of the key things that you should implement in your process is doing things the right way to avoid any inconvenience in later processes.
You’re better off starting out with a good mix first rather than having a bad one because it’s easier to improve a good mix than it is a bad one.
Therefore make sure, you employ the right recording techniques. Get good vocal takes, that don’t need a lot of effects to sound good. If you want to have a great vocal, make sure the artist records great vocals.
This will help you alleviate any future problems that may be a result of a mix consisting of poorly recorded vocals.
So get it right the first time.
Use a proper microphone, have your artist record well and you’ll be home and dry.
Furthermore, for the beat makers reading this post. Getting it right the first time applies to beat making aswell.
Pick the right sounds, make sure they blend well together and try to work with fewer sounds that you can easily control.
The more sounds you employ, the more you complicate things and the more like it is that you’ll end up with a muddy mix.
Clean up Frequencies
Now that we’ve discussed doing things the right in your initial production processes, let’s look at the second way you can make your mixes less muddy.
Music is basically a combination of various audio frequencies. The quality of the final mix you end up with will be determined by how well your frequencies interact.
So the basic first step is to go through all elements of your mix. One by one, slap a frequency analyze on each one and determine the range that each particular instrument should take up.
For example, low end instruments like bass, should only take up the lower end of the frequencies, if at all the bass has some high frequencies, you’ll need to use a filter to cut off the highs and only preserve the low end.
If your instrument or element is supposed to take up the mid frequencies, use a frequency analyser and cut out the low end and high end frequencies to make room for low end and high end instruments.
For example, you can give your snares that extra grit by cranking up the mid-higher frequencies.
Now that we have a general idea of how to approach frequencies. Let’s address low end frequencies because if they are mishandled, they can be the primary cause of a muddy mix.
With that said, make sure your bass and/or bass elements aren’t too overwhelming because if they are, they’ll drown all other elements.
You should check for this, when you determine that your mix is muddy, look at your low end frequencies and check how loud or overpowering they are because they could be the cause of your muddy mix.
Furthermore, you can use a good slight EQ on your master so you can get rid of some boominess in the entire mix, but you have to be careful (your ears will help with this) because if you cut off too much low end from over your overall mix, you’ll end up losing all your bass frequencies and general punch.
Correctly use compression
When you use compression with a slow release and high ratio, you’ll mess up the precision of a sound. Which is why you have to ensure that you use compression the way so you can keep the transients intact.
Make sure you keep a good release level and slower attack so you can keep transients. You can also use parallel compression to do this.
Furthermore, another great way to keep sounds crisp is using saturation which is a basically a form of distortion. It can help you retain the harmonics and give your overall mix some color and brightness which will help you get rid of any muddiness.
The goal here is to avoid over compressing, so you can basically use a low ratio like 2:1. For most commercial music I’d focus my compression on the bass, drums and vocals in order to give them punch and a good dynamic range because these elements are not meant to be all over the place.
Use Reverb like a pro
The number reason why reverb is used in mixing is to create a sense of space and depth. You can use it to do this in order to improve your mix.
You’ll basically leave the bass and kicks out of this. Focus more instruments and vocals that could sound better if they had a reverb around them.
This is because, most of the times a muddy mix is a result of sounds being too cluttered. To create some space, you can apply reverb to some instruments, but only so slightly because you don’t want too much reverb.
Another great way of adding some space to your elements is using panning. It also has to be used moderately because it can destroy the cohesiveness of a mix.
A combination of panning and reverb can help give your mix some width which can help you get some space so you create a better and well adjusted sonic environment.
The last point I’d like to emphasize when using reverb is basically using a bus. Because you can then use EQ to control your reverb.
Go element by element
Having discussed all these various techniques, the final thing I’d like to emphasize is going element by element.
Solo each element and assess its place in the mix,
These questions should help:
How much space does it take up?
Are there any uncessary frequencies that need to be cut ?
Does this element overpower any other?
Is this element loud enough or is too loud?
Does the element have good dynamic range?
Is this element supposed to completely cut through the mix?
Does this element cut through the mix?
Does this element have clarity?
These questions should guide how you go about approaching a topic like a “muddy mix”.