One of the biggest problems that music producers face when mixing their music is creating a clean, clear, and present mix. If you are looking to create a professional-sounding mix, then having a clean mix is a must.
But what actually is a muddy mix?
A muddy mix is a mix where you have overlapping frequencies that clash with each other making it difficult to hear all the individual elements in the track. There are numerous factors that affect the clarity of your track.
One common cause of muddiness is using sounds that have frequencies that are imbalanced. These imbalanced sounds are already muddy and will need to be dealt with so they don’t overpower the mix.
The most common cause of muddiness in a mix is when you add multiple sounds to your mix that have overlapping frequencies and similar frequency content.
Preventing a Muddy Mix
Now that we know what causes a muddy mix, let’s go over how you can avoid this.
The equalizer is the most important tool for cleaning up a muddy mix as you can precisely control the tonal balance of each sound and groups of sounds in your mix. Before you reach for your EQ, you can take a few steps to avoid creating a muddy mix.
By choosing the proper sound selection for your tracking and voicing these sounds appropriately, you will have already avoided adding sounds that have a lot of overlapping frequencies.
To avoid mud with your sound selection, you will want to choose sounds that fill out specific parts of the frequency spectrum. For example, if you have a sub, bassline, pad, and lead in your track, chances are you aren’t going to have that many overlapping frequencies as each sound occupies a specific part of the frequency range.
The sub occupies the sub frequencies, the bass occupies the low mid frequencies, the pad occupies the mid-range frequencies, and the lead occupies the high frequencies. If you layered six different lead sounds together that all have similar sonic characteristics, then no matter how much EQing you do, your lead sound will cause mud in your mix.
This would be an example of poor sound selection. Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t layer your sounds.
Layering Your Sounds is Key to Creating a Professional Mix
You just don’t want to layer sounds that have their weight and power in the same frequency ranges. The other way to keep your track from becoming muddy before you begin to EQ is having these sounds play in the appropriate octave ranges.
Simply put, you want to make sure that your higher-end frequency elements (leads, bells, etc.) are playing higher octaves, your lower frequency elements (basses, subs, etc.) are playing lower octaves, and your mid-range elements (pads) are playing octaves in between.
While this may sound like an obvious tip, it is incredibly important that you find a balance for the voicing of your sounds. Even just a change in one octave for a sound could have a big impact on the muddiness of your track.
Trial and error with the voicing of your individual elements is necessary to find this balance for your particular track.
EQing Your Muddy Mix
Now that you have prevented some of the muddy frequencies from entering your track, it is now time to move on to EQing to remove the rest of the unnecessary frequencies.
To decide what sounds need EQing, you first need to write a list of the main elements in your mix from most important to least important. Next, you will need to group the elements in your track that are in the same frequency range.
Make three different groups here.
One for low-frequency elements, one for mid-frequency elements, and one for high-frequency elements. Now here is where we decide what to EQ. Go through the top of your list of most important elements.
Let’s say the most important element on your list is your vocal. Find the vocal channel in your track and solo it. Listen to the vocal and feel the power and weight of the sound.
Now solo the high-frequency group that you created and listen to your vocal with all the different elements playing. If the vocal has lost some of its clarity and power, then EQing will need to be done.
Since the vocal is the most important element in your mix, you will be doing EQ cutting on the other high-end frequency elements until the vocal starts to come through the mix a bit better. Repeat this process for all the top elements on your list. If there are sounds that are conflicting with that sound, then EQ the sounds that are not as important on your list.
The quality of mixdowns on tracks has never been more clear, present, and powerful. This makes it critical for you to have a mix that is free of unwanted frequencies.
By applying the above tips, you will be able to prevent muddy frequencies from even entering your song in the creation process and be able to know what frequencies you need to EQ out when you start the mixing process.
Daniel is a caffeine-dependent entrepreneur, music producer, sound design junkie, and world traveler crazy about teaching modern electronic music production through his site SoundShock.