Many times when recording you feel that each track sounds great at first, yet once all the pieces are in place (drums, bass, guitars, vocals, keys) the mix becomes “muddy”, is lacking clarity and just overall doesn’t have the vibe you were hoping for. If you’ve run into this problem, you’re not alone.
Mixing music is a complex task due to the even more complex nature of frequencies, harmonics, and how they interact with those of other instruments. And while great mixes don’t come from simply reading one post online, there is one tip I can share that will help clean up your mixes faster than any other I know.
Use Your High Pass Filter
Simply put, use a high pass filter like a mad man! For those unfamiliar with the high pass filter, it is a one band EQ curve that cuts out low frequencies while letting the high frequencies pass through unaffected (hence the name). Any basic EQ plugin will allow you to implement a high pass filter. The idea here is that many instruments like guitars, keys, and vocals have musical “information” in the low to mid-low frequencies that if taken out (via a high pass filter), the human ear doesn’t really miss. In fact, in the context of a whole mix where the bass guitar and kick drum are holding down the low end, the listener won’t even notice that you’ve cut out anything at all.
How This Works Practically
What does this mean for you and your music? When you’re starting to mix, make it a habit to fire open a simple high pass filter on most tracks (pretty much anything other than bass and kick drum), roll off up to anywhere from 100 hz to 350 hz (just listen to it and make sure the track isn’t getting too thin), and within seconds you will start to notice a lot more clarity in your mix. You’re basically taking away a ton of volume of tracks on frequencies that we don’t need to hear, thus “opening” up your mix and letting tracks play nicely together.
Cut It On The Way In
Another way to speed up this process (as fast as it is already) is to cut out much of the low frequencies while recording. To do this you’ll have to have a microphone or mic preamp that features a “bass rolloff” switch (sometimes called a low cut). This is a great move for us home recording guys as the rumble of air conditioners, the frig, as well as outside traffic can creep into your recordings just building up unnecessary low end that steals the headroom from your mix.
So do yourself a favor, cut the lows on the way in when possible and definitely use your high pass filter as a first stop in mixing EQ. It truly is the fastest way to clean up your mix and one of the simplest tricks to implement. So what are you waiting for? Get to it!