Any audio engineer has asked the question, “What’s wrong with my mix?” at some point during the course of a project. But while that’s an extremely loaded question, there’s an easy place to start. In a previous DIY With DHI post, we discussed Acoustic Treatments for Your Home Recording Studio, and how easy it can be to overlook the sound of your listening environment. Just as easily overlooked is that pile of low end building up in your mix as you start recording multiple tracks.
Let’s say you start recording your song with a nice, full body acoustic guitar. You love how big and warm it sounds all by itself, and as you play it back through your headphones you smile. You can literally feel each start and stop of the super cool rhythm you just made up for your new tune. What’s wrong with that? Nothing….yet. Now, add a vocal over the top of the acoustic guitar. You carefully chose the right condenser mic, maybe an AT4033 since it seems to have a nice bump in the high mid range frequencies, and by itself, the vocal is clean, crisp and full of a calm energy – perfect for the vibe of the song! And so it goes. Your best friend lays down a great sounding piano track along with the perfect B3 at the top of each chorus. You pull out the 5 string bass because, let’s be honest, the soul is in that low B! Before you know it, you’re geeking out during playback because you’re realizing you’ve written a pretty cool ditty.
Fast forward to mixing down your fresh, oven baked tune and hopping in your car for a test listen. You’re shocked when you hear the sound of the ocean somewhere in the mix and as you feel your speakers rumbling unnecessarily, you shake your head. What could’ve possibly happened?
High Pass Filter: The Bulldozer for Bass
One of my “go to” moves in the recording studio, even while I’m tracking, is to selectively use high pass filtering in order to save room for the rest of the track. Attenuating the low end in instruments like acoustic guitars, piano, organ, and your vocals will literally carve out space for things like bass guitars, low synthesizers, and kick drums to exist. Believe it or not, the less tracks that have frequencies competing with one another, the more open, energetic, and punchy your overall mix will start to sound.
And not to mention the dreaded signal path of “EQ before compression” or “compression before EQ” debate…the way a lot of folks see it, the less “unwanted” frequencies that your compressor is not working to compress, the more accurate your response will be. With that practice in place, you’ll be able to master the track louder in the end.
This is Starting to Sound Like Rocket Science…
If all this talk about frequencies, compression, and mastering is making your brain hurt, don’t worry! DIY With DHI is a blog that is committed to answering reader’s questions, and writing about content that will benefit your recordings. We also have an audio engineering program in Franklin, TN that teaches everything you need to know to launch a successful career in music production. We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to reach out to in the comments below, or through our Facebook Page.
Sean Rogers is the Director of Student Services at Dark Horse Institute as well as a seasoned producer and audio engineer. He has over 7 years of career counseling experience and is credited for his work on major label projects for artists such as Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, and more.