Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you also download my free clear mix cheatsheet, which includes some extra tips and tricks that will add even more clarity to your mixes. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
Tip number one is to run what I call a track sweep. Now whenever you’re feeling like there are things competing in your mix, things are muddy or unclear but you’re not sure what the problem is, oftentimes what this means is that you just have too many tracks in your session. There are too many parts, and elements, and things competing for space.
So one of the easiest ways that you can add clarity to your mix is just by going through your session and muting tracks one by one, and asking yourself does this track really need to be there. Because so many times during the production process, we end up adding more and more and more different layers and elements. And so much of that stuff actually ends up getting in the way of achieving clarity in our mixes. And just by getting rid of the tracks that don’t really need to be there, you can add a whole lot of clarity to your mixes without adding any plug-ins or processing at all.
Tip number two is to check your effects. Now when you’re struggling to achieve clear mixes, one of the common culprits are effects like reverb and delay, which tend to muddy up the mix. They take up a lot of space in the soundstage, and can often get in the way of achieving clarity. And there’s a couple things I want you to look out for.
The first is take a look at how long your reverb tails are. Typically longer reverb tails, reverb that rings out for long periods of time, often obscures the clarity of tracks in your mix. Especially if you have reverbs with long decay times on vocals, this can often get in the way.
So in general, you want the reverb to cover up the space between the notes or hits if you’re applying reverb to drums. But you want it to get out of the way before that next hit, or before that next note. So when you’re timing your reverbs, you kind of want to figure out that in between point where you’re hearing the reverb cover the spaces, but right when that next hit or that next note plays, the reverb gets out of the way.
So making sure that your reverb times are set appropriate depending on the tempo of the track that you’re working on, depending on how busy the parts are. Obviously slower tempos mean you have more space between the notes, so typically longer reverb times will work well on those types of tracks. Whereas if you have a faster song, using reverbs that are decaying a lot faster because you don’t have as much space between the notes. So checking your reverb times and delay times as well, making sure they’re not set too long.
The other thing you want to look out for is excess low end on effects. Things like excess low end on reverb and delay can muddy up the track and really obscure that clarity. So sometimes just a simple high-pass filter on the reverb return or the delay return can help clear up a lot of that low end that’s not really contributing anything musically to the sound of the reverb, but it’s just going to get in the way and obscure some of the clarity and intelligibility of the track.
The other thing you want to look out for is oftentimes you can create the same sense of space and dimension with delay that you can with reverb. But the advantage with using delay is it tends to take up a lot less space in the soundstage. So if you have a very busy mix where there’s lots of stuff going on, sometimes using delay instead of reverb, and trying that first before you go to reverb, can allow you to create that same sense of dimension and depth and space in your mix without taking up as much of the real estate. So that can often result in clearer sounding mixes, so don’t feel like you always have to go to reverb. Experiment with delay, particularly if you’re working on a mix where there’s lots of different tracks competing for space.
Tip number three is to revisit your panning. Panning is one of those things we often overlook because it seems so simple, it’s like balance. And we often don’t realize how important it is, especially when it comes to achieving clarity. When you have tracks that are competing with each other, oftentimes they’re going to be panned to a similar place in the mix. Maybe they’re right down the center for example. And instead of adding plug-ins and processing to try to fix the problem, one of the easiest things you can do is just pan one to one side and one to the other. Or if you have a guitar for example that’s competing with the vocal, sometimes just panning the guitar off-center instead of having them both straight down the middle of the mix can allow you to achieve more clarity and space and separation without using any processing at all.
So sometimes the simplest solutions really are the best ones. Don’t forget to check your panning, and make sure that you’ve created as much separation as possible by panning competing tracks to different parts of the mix. And if things are competing, revisit the panning first before you start to add all sorts of processing to try to fix the problem.
Tip number four is to use the mute button method. Now whenever you hear some muddiness or boominess in your mix, but you’re not quite sure where the problem is actually occurring, this is a great technique that will help you get to the bottom of it so you can figure out where the problem track is, and fix the problem quickly and easily.
The technique is very simple. Basically what you do is you listen to your entire mix, so all the tracks playing together, and then mute tracks one by one in your session. So you go to the kick drum for example, and just press the mute button on the kick drum track. And with all the tracks playing together at once, you listen to the sound of the mix without that kick drum. And you ask yourself did the problem go away when I muted that track?
And if the answer is no, then you un-mute that track and move on to the next track, maybe that’s the snare. And you keep going through your session muting your tracks one by one until you mute a track, and suddenly the muddiness goes away. And as soon as you do that, you can be 100% confident that the track that you just muted is the track that’s causing the problem. It’s the track that maybe has too much energy in a certain area of the frequency spectrum. Or maybe it’s too loud, right?
So now you know exactly where the problem’s occurring, and now you can go and address and fix this issue on that track instead of applying EQ on the mix bus, applying it all across the different tracks in your session, or applying it on another track that didn’t actually contain the problem. This will allow you to get to the bottom of things so you can always be 100% confident that you’re applying plug-ins or processing in the right place.
So if you want to learn more about this technique, I actually have a whole video that shows you how to pull this off with a demonstration in my DAW. And again, if you want to check this out, it’s just a free video on YouTube. Click the link above or in the description below.
And tip number five is to use the band solo technique. Now when we’re trying to add clarity to our mixes, it can sometimes be helpful to listen to specific areas of the frequency spectrum on their own. Instead of listening to the full frequency spectrum of our mix, we can just zero-in on the low end for example, or the lower midrange. Oftentimes problems with muddiness and boominess will occur in the low end, in the lower midrange in particular. So zeroing in and just listening to those areas on their own can be a way to pinpoint problems and address them so that we can increase the clarity in our mixes.
Now if you want to learn more about how to actually pull this band solo technique off, I have a whole video that covers the technique in detail. I demo it in my DAW. So you can check that out by clicking the link above or in the description below right now.
And tip number six is to mix in mono. Now listening in mono is a great hack that you can use to enhance the clarity in your mixes, because when you listen in mono, you’re not getting the advantage of the stereo spread, right? You can’t solve problems by panning things to one side of your mix or the other, so you end up having to work a lot harder to create clarity. You end up having to carve things up with EQ, and do all sorts of processing to make things fit together.
Now the result is that your mix sounds better not only in mono, but also in stereo. And it often translates a whole lot better to all sorts of different playback systems where your mix might be heard in some form of mono. Like for someone who is listening twenty feet away from a set of speakers, if you think about it they’re listening in kind of half mono, right? Because the sound’s blending together in the room, and they don’t get that beautiful stereo spread.
So again, by working in mono and spending some time mixing in mono, particularly at the beginning of your mixing process, I find this can be a great way to add more clarity to your mixes. Now if you want to learn more about mixing in mono, I put together a video that covers the topic in detail. You can check it out by clicking the link above or in the description below.
Now if you’re ready to dive deeper, don’t forget to download my clear mix cheatsheet, which includes some extra tips and tricks that will add even more clarity to your mixes. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free cheatsheet now.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – how do you add clarity to your mixes? I’d love to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel, or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.