Escaping the sludge

How to get a clear mix?

I know that sound engineering is a 9-year degree course followed by a lifetime fiddling with knobs and faders, but can anyone suggest any tips, books or websites to help the mortals amongst us escape sludgy mixes.

I use a basic set-up of jamstix for drums, plus guitars, bass and vox, but although I have a Rode NT1 and always keep the individual tracks clean, when I bring them together for that surging rock sound… I get mulch.

All suggestions for obtaining the perfect crystalline studio tone most appreciated.

And if anyone has a moment to explain sidechaining and point to a VST source, I would be pathetically grateful.

my mixes started improving when i began paying attention to my lows and mids. (especially the low mids) i began cutting the lows and low mids on my vocals & guitars. this brought some clarity to my mixes. the lows and mids were accumulating with every track i added.

experiment with drastic cuts of the lows using a high pass eq rolling off everything below 75hz-85hz for vocals. i will generally kill everything below about 200hz on electric guitars. bass guitar will lose a lot under 60 to 80. i will listen to my kick drum and bass guitar together and find the kick’s fundamentals and notch the bass guitar accordingly. not too much though, you’ll find a little goes a long way.

these are all generalizations of how i work. every session is different and unique. “perfect crystalline” is something i’m still searching for, but learning as much as i can about eq and compression moves me closer all the time.

sidechaining - where one tracks sound is used to trigger compression on another track. e.g. - a kick drum can trigger the compressor on a bass guitar’s track so that it is compressed when the kick is hit so that the kick can be better heard in the mix.

google sidechain compressor, it seems like there was a freeby or two out there, but i don’t recall their names. oh yeah, go to www.kvr.com and do search also.

hth

later…

heres a few things to keep in mind,ive found i want to overplay,specially guitars(odd,isnt it) if ya go with the less says more school of thought then i think ya come out with somthin cleaner when ya mix it all up…also,eq will help seperate some of the mess,i read where ya wanna give each track its own space kinda in the spectrum,panning too will able you to seperate things into a neater sound painting.
the kj classic plugins are great,ya can find a link at audio minds

Google up a document called “how to mix a pop song from scratch” by Jezar. Certainly helped me in the early days

Timely topic… I’m working on a tune now and I posted it over in the review section for some help. Forum member Teryeah replied and basically said “Dude pull the lows out of your guitar tracks. They got no business down there!” So I did. HUGE improvement in mix clarity. The crunchy guitar parts now sit much better and I actually had to pull the faders down a little because they have their own ‘space’ to sit in. I also pulled some lows out of the bass track to clear up the bottom even more. Stuck a compressor on the bass too. Gives it a little more punch and… bingo! That’s what it’s all about IMO. Carve each part or instrument it’s own space in the EQ spectrum.

D

Ditto with cutting the low end from guitar (and usually keyboard) tracks. Also, cut some 1kHz to 4kHz from every instrument that isn’t highlighted at the moment (that is, from everything that isn’t the lead vocal or instrument solo).

nTS can automate volume fades (either recording the fader movements or drawing the volume envelopes onscreen). Use it. Better still: mute every track your mix has, one at the time. Make note of the parts of the song that sound better without that particular track. Make fades that cut the track out whenever it’s not absolutely necessary for the song.

(Of course, arranging the song without too many instruments would be even better, but this is the next best solution…)

A technique I learned from Illium from this board back in the day is take your track you think is the guilty party and pull up the N EQ. Then, do an insane boost of like 20db and sweep it from high to low. There will be a point where a certain frequency range sticks out as the obnoxious area you want to cut. Once you find this spot, cut accordingly.

platzgumer, this is a big question and you already know the answer…

As the others have suggested EQ helps, so can other techniques and effects.

HOWEVER, it would be much easier to comment if you could let us hear one of your mixes that you are unhappy with. Got anything you can upload?


Mark

Quote (Bubbagump @ April 23 2006,12:04)
A technique I learned from Illium from this board back in the day is take your track you think is the guilty party and pull up the N EQ. Then, do an insane boost of like 20db and sweep it from high to low. There will be a point where a certain frequency range sticks out as the obnoxious area you want to cut. Once you find this spot, cut accordingly.

Yup. That technique is what I used to decide WHERE to start cutting the lows out of my guitar tracks I mentioned above. It's a great technique.

D

You guys who have more expereince should tell me I’m wrong, but isn’t it mostly about getting the sound going in right in the first place? If I use the same preamp and mic for everything, that’s going to cause some problems if the same freqs are accentuated in everything (unless I want that - e.g., when motown went all Neuman 87s or whatever it was). It’ll be even worse if it is a bad preamp to start with.

What is your preamp, platz?

Certainly you want the best sound going in you can get… but some things just compete and there is no getting around that. If I am layering a synh that is low mid heavy with a guitar sound that is low mid heavy, something has got to give. So what youa re saying is of course right, but it isn’t the end of the story. If it were, all those EQs out there wouldn’t be necessary in big boy studios.

Yup. Limeys Mix Pyramid and EQ’ing each instrument or part into its own space is what mixing is all about. Those two techniques are big parts of making a “pro” mix IMO. Of course, planning ahead and going for the sounds/tones you think you want is extremely important as well. You just have to be aware that instruments (including vocals) sometimes will end up fighting for “space” in the mix. I bet the second most expensive “boutiuqe” equipments in a pro studio are the EQ’s. Mastering houses pay BIG dollars for the best EQ they can lay hands on.

D

I recommend that you work with instruments in groups first, and then together as a mix. I.e. do your rhythm and solo guitars first (or whatever) kick and bass guitar next, etc., then try them together.
The first thing you should do is cut frequencies out. And thats before you add any effects. Actually you should not really add compression, unless it is a master.

There have been some good suggestions for technical solutions, I want to add some philosophical ones.

Number one is that this really has nothing to do with gear. The benefits of good gear are elsewhere and it is a common preoccupation of beginners. The thought that you can buy your way to quality is alluring but incorrect.

I would in fact argue that the monitoring chain is probably more important than the recording chain (unless the recording chain is exceptionally bad). This is because most modern gear is pretty competent and most recordings are spoiled by bad songs, bad performance, bad mixing and bad production rather than bad gear (there are exceptions but if you have good monitoring you will immediately notice and replace the bad gear). Those of you who have been around a while will recall Limey’s admonitions.

Monitoring is part of the decision process and it is your decisons that determine the quality of the results.

To get a little more specific I would suggest that one important general factor in avoiding mud is to avoid dwelling on the sound of a track when it is soloed. Soloing is very important for some aspects of adjustment but you should always go back and forth to the full mix. The suggestion of reducing the low-end of the guitar is a case in point. If I wanted to make a solo guitar sound good I would want a good strong bottom, but not if I had a bass in the mix. The same is true of every instrument and vocal. The adjustments needed to make it sound good in the absense of other instruments or parts are very different from those which work with an ensemble.

The other factor that I haven’t seen much mention of is a caution against “musical clutter” which has to do with the music, not the recording. There is frequently a temptation to keep overdubbing part over part, gradually eliminating any “musical space”. I like to try to make all of my recordings sound like a trio is playing, no matter how many instruments there are. In other words I like to allow the listener to focus on several interrelated musical lines without too much conflict from the other parts.

Avoid the temptation to fill in all the silences behind the music. These can be the most interesting musical features of a song.

Of course EQ is a big ally in trying to achieve a clear mix. Compression can also work wonders when applied to individual tracks (although I am not a fan of overall compression) by bringing up the low-level details without making the track overloud. These technical measures all are necessary but not sufficient. Think about the music too. Is that keyboard overpowering everthing? Do you really need power chords when you have 4 other instruments playing already? Is the guitar distortion splattering all over everthing?

Anyway, you get the point.

Jim

256 is the fundamental frequecncy and alot of it (and it’s associated harmonics) build with each track…finding a space for everything in the spectrum is really good advice…as is getting the best sound you can going in :)…listen to pro mixes you like and note the sound of each instrument…notice there is usually no low end on crunchy guitars or vox, that is the area for bass, kick etc…Actually these ideas are not new in anyway…ever wonder why there are specific numbers of instruments in orchestras? The grandmasters were thinking about frequency response long before recording and mixing were ever dreamed of!

Cheers,
Ray

I read all these great suggestions and just had add my 1.5 cents. A couple of years ago I learned how to use my eq to sweep back and forth across a spectrum to find a frequency that sounded bad. You then of course cut in that frequency. I then learned you can follow the same procedure for finding the good sound of an instrument. You can then of course add a little eq at that frequency.

As others have said, the biggest difference in clearing up my mixes has been to reduce or eliminate the bottom frequencies of instruments. Most instruments compete at the low end of the spectrum.

Here is my technique. I do this for every instrument (track). I solo the track. Turn on high pass filter. Then I sweep the high pass filter back and forth until I find the sound I want from the instrument. Sometimes it means rolling off everything below 200-300 hz. Sometimes it means rolling of below 50-60 hz. Just depends on the instrument and how it fits in the mix. You then of course add the instrument to the mix to see how it sounds and adjust accordingly.

The second biggest difference in my mixes has been by improving my listening ability. When I first starting mixing and such, I would have to make fairly large changes in eq, compression, etc. to hear a difference. By learning to listen more critically, I can now make very minor adjustments to mixes and hear the difference. I think the critical listening comes over time, but rolling off the lows will help immediately.

Mitch

From a learning to listen, part of the battle is knowing what to listen for and I find really cranking a compressor or an dEQ helps. This jus ttunes you ear into what it isdoing and then you can back it off to an appropriate level. Setting the attack of a compressor is very hany in this regard. Put the threshold very low and you can adjust the attack to hear where the transient sits as it smashes the not out of everythings after the transients. Then, back off to the appropriate level. There are a lot of these little “tuning” tricks you can use once you understand the gear. Forinstance, lower the threshold too much with my compressor method above and it never releases and defeats the purpose… so you gotta know how the theory works.

This is all good stuff but I still think we need to listen to platz’s stuff to hear what “sludge” is.

It’s quite probable that it’s an EQ problem but it may also be related to panning, or even song arrangement.

Bah! You and your need for quantitative evidence. Guessing and pontificating is way more fun.