We often hear a lot of terms used when people are talking about the sonic qualities of audio. For example, you’ve heard the term “warmth” being used to describe the properties of a mix.
This warmth is a usually a result of applying saturation which is a tool that is responsible for adding harmonic content to an audio signal.
But let’s get to a problem that is often experienced in audio mixing which is often referred to as a mix sounding “muddy”.
So what does this mean you may ask…
Well let’s get right into it.
What are the muddy frequencies?
The 100Hz to 500Hz is usually the frequency range that is responsibe for perceived muddiness in a mix.
So what does muddiness sound like in a mix?
A mix is said to be muddy when it lacks clarity and has a lot of frequencies cluttered in the low, mid, and sometimes even the high range, which makes it difficult for other elements in the mix to be clearly heard.
One of the goals in mixing; is to ensure that each individual mix element is given space.
This ensures that each and every element has the ability to shine without being overpowered or overshadowed by other elements.
How to prevent muddiness
Below are some of the ways you can prevent a muddy mix.
EQ is the best tool that you’ll rely on for cleaning up a muddy mix because you can take control of the tonal balance of each sound and groups of sounds in your mix.
Before you reach for your EQ plugin however, you can take a few steps to avoid creating a muddy mix.
A sure fire way of avoiding or preventing muddiness is having good sound selection. This will ensure that you don’t run into any muddiness issues..
To avoid muddiness with your sound selection, you need to go for sounds that fill out specific parts of the frequency spectrum.
For example, if you have a sub or bass, bassline, pad, and lead in your track, chances are you aren’t going to have that many overlapping frequencies because each sound occupies a specific part of the frequency range.
The sub and bass obviously occupies the low frequencies, the bassline occupies the low mid frequencies.
The pad occupies the mid-range frequencies, and the lead occupies the high frequencies.
Say you have six different lead sounds layered together that all have similar sonic characteristics.
Your lead sounds will make your mix muddy and no amount of EQ will fix that.
This would be a perfect example of poor sound selection.
The rules of Layering
It’s not a good idea to layer sounds that have similar weight and strength in the same frequency range because you’ll run into muddiness issues.
Secondly, ensure that your high end frequency elements are playing higher octaves, your lower frequency elements are playing lower octaves, and your mid-range elements are playing octaves in the mid range or between the low and high end.
This advice is obviously simple enough but even just a change in one octave for a sound could have a big impact on the muddiness of your overall track.
Which is why it’s always helpful to experiment with various sounds and always ensure that you avoid Layering same frequency sounds one on top of the other.
Using EQ to get rid of muddiness
Below are some ways you can use Equalization to get rid of some muddiness in your mix.
Before you even start to apply EQ, group your elements according to their frequency range.
I’d advise that you have low, mid, and high frequency sounds all separated and grouped.
Once you do this, you can then begin to deal with and EQ each group.
Cut any frequencies over lapping
Ensure that you get rid of any frequencies overlapping and interfering with other frequencies.
If you for example have a lead sound which is not only occupying the high frequencies but part of mid frequencies, you can use an EQ to cut some of the mid frequencies so that the lead sound occupies the frequencies it’s meant to occupy.
This applies to all other sounds.
You should be able to notice elements that are in conflict with each other in terms of frequency.
Once you do notice the conflict, you should be able to resolve that conflict by either using EQ or other measures.
This leads me to my next point.
Change sounds if you can
If EQ doesn’t get the job done, sometimes it’s smart to simply change a sound.
This can be an easy way of dealing with frequency conflicts that could lead to muddiness.
Remove some sounds
If changing sounds doesn’t work, it is a good practice to completely remove certain sounds that cause problems for your mix.
Remember that the best records are made with elements well placed in the frequency spectrum.
Having a lot of sounds isn’t always the best route to go.