Help, My Mixes Don't Sound Bright Enough

2014 Nov 10, 2014

Do you find your final mixes don’t sound nearly as bright or present as your favorite pro mixes? You’re not alone.

During a recent segment of my Creative Live masterclass on EQ and compression I was teaching the students about using good reference tracks while mixing to make tonal tweaks to your mix – in hopes that it will more closely match that of what you hear out in the real world.

A question came in from the online audience and it was all too familiar.

My Mix Doesn’t Sound As Bright As The Pro Mix

The question went like this: “Graham, when I reference pro mixes in my home studio I notice that they are much brighter than mine. So bright in fact, that I don’t like them. I seem to prefer my mix. Is this wrong?”

Very insightful!

There are two issues here: 1) it’s frustrating (and interesting) that a pro mix can sound much brighter than our own. 2) the brightness level of our mixes is less important than what what the pro mix is “telling” us.

Let me explain.

What Happens When Mixing In Isolation

The majority of our mixing happens in isolation.

We hunker down in our little audio caves, cut off from things like sunlight, fresh air, and people – and we get to work.

We mix our little hearts out, using all of the balancing, EQing, and compression techniques we know to get a great mix. And you genuinely might have a really good mix!

But the problem is that now, you have an isolated mix – but no point of reference. 

How do you know if your mix will sound good outside of your studio? How do you know what your mix sounds like in a playlist of other songs mixed by other people?

You don’t. And that’s a problem.

Do You Really Know What Proper Brightness Is?

The truth is, you really don’t have any idea of what a properly balanced mix (tonality wise) sounds like. You don’t know what the right amount of brightness is.

Enter your reference track.

Let’s say you are the aforementioned student above who felt his reference track was too bright. You bring in a pro mix and it seems brighter than you would like. What is that telling you?

Well, assuming the reference track is a mix that you really like and think sounds good on a variety of playback systems (car stereo, headphones, etc) then you have to trust it, no matter what it sounds like in your room.

And that’s the issue – your room is changing what you hear. 

If a reference track sounds too bright to you, it is a huge clue that your room (and monitors) are making your tracks sound bright. That brightness isn’t really in the mix, just in your room.

Which Is Why Your Mix Doesn’t Sound Bright Enough

This starts to make some sense when you think about it. You mixed your song in isolation, to a brightness level that felt good to you (remember you’re hearing the brightness in your room on top of what your mix is giving you), and now compared to a pro mix it doesn’t sound nearly as bright.

This is because you simply didn’t mix your song bright enough.

It’s frustrating, but that’s part of working in an imperfect room (which all studios are, honestly).

The “overly bright” reference mix is telling you what a great mix sounds like in YOUR room. Overly bright.

SO… if I were you, I’d mix my song to be overly bright like the reference and trust that it will sound just right out in the “real” world of playback. Make sense?

It Doesn’t Take Much To Fix This

When I get in this situation my solution is simple.

Don’t freak out about the hours you already put into the mix, thinking you must now unravel all your hard work.

Instead I like to slap an EQ on the mix buss (master fader) and apply a slight 1.5 db high shelf boost to bring my mix closer in line with the reference.

It takes about 30 seconds and it can make all the difference.

Have YOU ever felt your mix wasn’t bright enough? How do you deal with this issue in your studio? Sound off below!

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