by Daniel Strongin 17 Aug. 17
In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how to EQ your muddy mix. One of the biggest problems intermediate and beginning producers have in mixing their songs is creating a clean mix. A muddy mix is a mix with overlapping frequencies that clash with each other. When a mix is muddy, it is difficult to hear the various elements in the track.
Mixing Techniques to avoid having a Muddy Sound
Now that you know what a muddy mix is and what causes it, I’ll go over how you can avoid mud in your mix. EQing is the most important tool for cleaning up your mix. However there's one step you can take before you even touch an EQ that will clean up a lot of mud. That is to be sure you have proper sound selection and proper voicing of these sounds. To avoid mud with sound selection, you can choose sounds in your track that fill out very specific parts of the frequency spectrum. If you have three basses, two subs, ten different mid range synths, and five different leads playing, no matter how much EQing you do, you're going to have a muddy mix. I'm not saying that you shouldn't layer your sounds. Layering your sounds is the key to getting a professional mix. You just don't want to layer a bunch of sounds that have their power in the same frequency ranges.
Now let's talk about proper voicing. For this tutorial, proper voicing means having instruments in appropriate octave ranges. If your lead is playing around c1 to c3 on the piano roll which is the range that your basses are going to be playing, then your lead and basses are going to have overlapping frequencies and you're going to have to EQ out some sounds which will cause them and to lose their power. To prevent this, make sure that your higher-end instruments are playing in higher octaves on your piano roll, your mid-range elements are playing in mid range octaves, and your lower frequency elements are playing in lower octaves on the piano roll. This may seem obvious, but changing the notes of instruments up or down just one octave can make a huge difference in your track. I recommend experimenting by moving your instruments up and down an octave to find out what fits best, removes the most amount of mud, and creates separation in your track.
Using EQ Mixing Techniques
After you are sure you have proper sound selection and possible voicing of these sounds, you are ready to get rid of mud by EQing. There are two steps for determining what to EQ. The first step is to decide which element in your song you want to be more present and more noticeable by the listener. The second step is to group instruments that have a similar frequency content. For example, you could group your lead and your vocals. Then group all your mid-range synths and, finally, group all your bases together. Group together anything that has a similar frequency content and solo them together so you're just listening to those sounds. Once you have grouped similar frequency content instruments and soloed them, then solo on and off the instruments that you don't want to be as present in the mix. So, if you have your vocal and your lead playing, you're going to unsolo the lead out and then solo it back in so you can hear if the vocal loses its energy, loses its power or has overlapping frequencies that cloud the mix. If it does, you need to do EQing.
Ways a Mix Becomes Muddy
There are a few ways a mix can get muddy. The sound you are working with could have frequencies that are poking out in the mix and are just too overpowering so they cause a muddy mix. However, the most common source of mud in your mix is when two different elements have overlapping frequencies and similar frequency content. For example, when you are mixing together two different low-end basses, two different mid-range synths, or two different leads, they will have a similar frequency content and most likely cause a muddy mix.
Now that you know what sounds need to be EQed, let's go over what frequencies need to be EQed, and how to do it. Going back to the vocal and lead example, you want the vocal to be the most present in the mix and the lead to take a little bit of a backseat. To find out what frequencies need to be EQed, put an EQ on your vocal sound, then boost the EQ and search around in the different EQ frequencies of the vocal to find out what frequencies give the vocal most of its power and energy. Once you have found that frequency range with your EQ, go over to your lead and put an EQ on it and notch out those EQ frequencies. That way, you let the power of the vocal come through under updated by the clashing frequencies of the lead. Now that you have EQed out the clashing frequencies in the lead, go into the vocal and boost up those EQ frequencies about 0.5 to 1.5 decibels. This will create further separation in your track so it will be easier to differentiate between the two instruments in the mix. EQ out for the sound that you don't want to be as prominent and then boost the powerful frequencies in the sound that you want to be more present. So, by EQing out the frequencies in your lead, you create separation and then, when you boost the frequencies in your lead, you create even more separation.
On the youtube video of this tutorial, I show an example of how to remove the mud from your tracks by EQing your sounds. To illustrate this, I chose a song that has a lot of conflicting frequencies and instruments playing at the same time. By watching the video, you can really hear what causes mud and watch me use these EQ mixing techniques to EQ all the mud out of the mix.
Before doing EQing, I did the proper sound selection and the proper voicing of these sounds so the base notes were playing in the lower octaves and the higher notes playing the higher octaves. Also, following the steps explained above, I grouped similar frequency instruments together. So, I grouped the basses in one group and grouped the synths in another. Because I had already done selection and voicing, I didn’t need to EQ the bass because it was already separated from the rest of instruments and didn't conflict.
Applying EQ Mixing Techniques and Equalizer Settings
To begin EQing you need to really listen to the track that you're going to be EQing. First you need to decide what elements you want your listeners to hear the most clearly in the mix and organize them from most important to least important. In the youtube example, the lead sound is the most important and next is the synth, then and the pad. So, since the lead is the most important in the mix, I begin by soloing on and off the synth and the pad, By doing this, I can hear that the synth is taking a little bit away from the lead. Now I know that I need to EQ the synth to make the lead more present in the mix. So, I go into my EQ and use TDR Nova (which is a free EQ that you can get on soundshockaudio.com) and boost the frequencies to finding out what gives the song its character and power. This tells me what to EQ out of the synth. In the video example around the 2001 and 74 Hertz range is where the sound gets a lot of its timbre and power. So I remove these EQ frequencies from the synth and I also boost these frequencies in the lead by around 0.5 and 1.5 decibels to create even further separation. First, I go into the synth and notch out the ???? while listening to the lead sound to hear how much gain I need to reduce and decide what the bandwidth EQ should. I can hear that around negative 2.4 decibels of gain reduction and point 6 5 EQ is where the lead is most present in the mix and there is a separation between the two elements so they are not conflicting.
After that, I need to do a little more EQing by listening to the pad and the synth. In the music I was working with, the pad was pretty mid-range heavy and the synth was pretty full ranged. Since I want my synth to be heard by the listener more than the pad, I solo off the pad to see if there is any energy loss or power loss in the synth. That allows me hear that the pad is definitely taking away from the synth which means I need to do some EQing there. To EQ it, I repeat the process used with the lead. I go into the synth and find out what frequencies I want to EQ away from the pad by EQ sweeping. I find that and the prominent frequencies in the synth are at around 989 Hertz so I again do a 0.5 to 1.5 DB boost to create further separation. Then I go into my pad and listen to both together to decide what the gain reduction and EQ should be. Then I listen to these instruments with the EQ hang on and without the EQ hang on to see if it clears up the mix. By listening both with and without the EQ on, I can hear that the EQ really cleans up the mix and gives it a lot more separation. Watch the video and you’ll be able to hear for yourself that there is a lot more space and the mix just sounds fatter.
This tutorial and the accompanying youtube video show how, with some simple EQing, you can make a real difference in your mix. Now apply these techniques to your own mixes to get a more professional sound!