I’ve had the honor to review thousands of demos for dozens of record labels (mostly deep house). Every time I receive one from a music producer I notice the same mistakes they do in mixing house music and mastering their tracks. I’ve also covered these problems to death on our new Mixing Electronic Music Course. Below is why I believe most production demos are ultimately failing new producers.
Muddy is a term when your low end is all whack! Your kick is flabby and clashing with your bass. Imagine this track in a club system with killer PAs? The club limiters will kick in and squash your entire mix. That’s also another sign that you didn’t select the right kick and bass samples. The 30hz-150hz range needs to be round, tight and punchy, especially if you are doing house music. I always recommend my students to invest in a 10-12′ sub, the Adam Sub10 Mk2 works perfectly for this. A good way to identify problems with your low end is to walk outside of your studio and listen for bass. When you notice the kick and bass are clashing, it’s time to make decision on this duel. One of them has to win.
You can fix this problem in two ways –
Mind you every track is different and every treatment affects other elements in the mix.
This is prevalent with tracks containing two or more bright synths plus vocals. We are talking about the 2kHz – 5kHz range. When played in a club the vocals sound nasaly (for lack of a better term) and synths sound honky, causing ear fatigue. This happens when two synths that sound the same are playing at the same time. Both synths clash for frequency space and leaving no room for the vocal. This is a tough one to fix, especially if everything working great with the arrangement.
Here’s what do to fix these problem
Bring both EQs for the clashing instruments together. Start cutting frequencies on both, they might lose some character, but you have to stop the bleeding at some point.
With vocals (Lead or Backup) try cutting frequencies in the 1kHz – 2kHz range.
This is usually the result of too much compression on each instrument and master channel. This is also a sign that you are mixing your tracks with loud levels. I’ve suffered this disease too when I was learning. I had to know the hard way when I played on of my own track in a gig. It was just pure loudness and nothing made sense. It was embarrassing.
You’de be surprised how a simple change in your fader can make all the difference. Just throw away the compressors and just pull that fader down on some the instruments and most of them time that’s the only treatment you’ll need.
If you have the Waves SSL Compressor plugin (it’s worth the investment), use these settings to the right on your master channel to glue:
The limiter is the most over-rated plugin in this community. Although it’s tempting to push the dynamic range out of space, the results are sometimes to so harsh that it seems amateurish.
There are two ways to approach limiters
1. Leave it for the experts at mastering
2. Leave it for the experts at mastering.
That’s it! Once you understand dynamic range in a practical and theoretical sense, I suggest you sit with an experienced producer and see how it’s done.
I’m big believer in your best mixes will come from your best productions. When you are working on a track that just gives you a sense of elation, you keep saying to your self “Did you really do that?” From there you start to have what I call vision. You know exactly how you want the track to sound. You start tweaking each individual instrument according to that vision.
There are many reasons why we don’t see a vision with our tracks and that’s because we aren’t feeling them as much. At this point I suggest mix it down to the best of your abilities, even though you know it won’t be the best track you’ve produced. You’ll gain knowledge, experience and patience.
As always, we’re curious as to your thoughts – how do you all mix your tracks and improve your mixing skills? What approaches do you use when you feel the mix isn’t that working or have no vision? Let us know in the article comments.