Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and today you’re gonna learn five easy ways to fix a thin-sounding mix. I also put together a free cheatsheet that summarizes everything we’ll be covering today. If you download this and keep this on-hand while you’re mixing, you’ll always have a step-by-step guide that you can follow to fix any thin-sounding mix. If you want to download this, click the link in the description below or up there in the video.
The first way to fix a thin-sounding mix is to check for tonal balance.
Now this is really about collecting information. Often times, when we hear that our mix sounds thin, we don’t quite know what the problem is, and so this is a great first step that you can use that’ll give you the right information you need so you can fix the problem very quickly. So let’s jump into my DAW and take a look.
Okay, so I have a track here called “Runnin’” by What Katie Said Last Night. And I wanna show you a technique that I use to gather some information about the tonal balance in my mixes, and this is super helpful, especially when you’re working with a mix that sounds too thin. So let’s take a listen to the chorus first.
♪ And now we’re running, running ♪
♪ Away from the cops again ♪
♪ And I’m not real sure why ♪
♪ Don’t know what’s going on ♪
♪ I should’a stayed home ♪
♪ We’re running ♪
So it doesn’t sound terrible by any means. It’s a well-balanced mix, but I feel like it’s a little bit thin—I’m just missing some weight and girth on the guitars and the snare drum. And so I wanna gather some information about the tonal balance of this mix, and that might give us some clues about how we might address this problem.
So, I’m gonna add a spectrum analyzer to this track. Now this is Voxengo’s SPAN plugin, and it’s completely free—you can download it right now—it’s one of my favorite tools. And I have a preset that I’ve created called JM Master. So if we pull that up and I’m gonna pull up the settings panel here, basically I’ve set the spectrum analyzer up so it gives us an average, broad view of the tonal balance of the mix.
So the key parameter here is this average time here, and I’ve slowed this down to 6,000 which is fairly slow. And what I’m telling the spectrum analyzer to do is ignore short-term peaks and spikes in the signal and just give us an overall perspective of what the tonal balance of this mix looks like. So if you copy these settings and if you’re using the SPAN plugin, you’ll get a similar display. So I would recommend, if you’re using this plugin, just copy the settings that I have here and that’ll be a great starting point for you.
So what I’m gonna do is, I’m gonna play the track just from the chorus and I’m gonna see what this spectrum analyzer’s showing us.
♪ And now we’re running, running ♪
♪ Away from the cops again ♪
♪ And I’m not real sure why ♪
♪ Don’t know what’s… ♪
So I turned that hold parameter on here, and that’ll just freeze the graph so we can study it.
So you can see here, basically this is the tonal balance of the mix, right? It’s showing us where the frequencies in this mix are located, and how much of them are in each specific area of the spectrum. So you can see we have a good amount of low end here—this is 80, 100 Hz. But there’s this dip in the lower midrange. So right around from 200 to maybe 500, we have this little valley, and then things seem fairly smooth from there on. So to me, this is telling me that there’s potentially a lack of frequency content in this area of my mix. So I have a little bit of a hole here.
Typically, if our mixes sound thin, often times it means, that there’s a lack of frequency content in this area of the spectrum. So maybe we thinned things out a little bit too much with EQ on the individual tracks, or maybe there’s something missing in the arrangement to kind of fill in that space. But this is really helpful information, right? Because now, we can go back to the mix and say, “Okay, let me see if I can fill that hole in.”
And so, if you’re trying to address this problem, there are a couple ways you can go about it. The best way to do it is to go back to the mix itself and try to figure out how to fill in that hole using the tracks that you have in your mix. So this might mean going back to a track where you might have cut some of that area out and maybe backing off on that cut a little bit. So maybe there are some guitars in this mix that I’ve just thinned out a little bit too much in that area, and I can pull back a little bit. Maybe it might be turning up some tracks in the mix—so maybe there is a pad or a synth or something that has a lot of frequency content in that area and so if I bump that up in the mix, that’s gonna help fill in that hole. Now the last resort is to go to the mix bus and fix it there. And this is what people usually do—they’ll add an EQ to the mix bus and just fix the problem by boosting something with an EQ there. But you really want to try to fix these problems whenever possible within the mix itself. So going back to the mix and addressing those problems on the ground floor is gonna be your best solution.
So the important thing here is that by using the spectrum analyzer, we’re getting some really great information about this area that we may need to fix within the mix. So this why I love this technique, it’s just a great way to visualize very quickly the tonal balance of the mix and point us in the right direction in terms of where we might need to fix it.
The second way to fix a thin mix is to back off on your filtering.
Now, a lot of people say you should always filter every track in your mix, except for the kick and the bass. I think this is bad advice, because when you apply a high-pass filter to every track in your mix right from the beginning of the line without listening, often times you’re gonna take away a lot of that good low end that’s gonna give your mix thickness and weight and depth, and it’s gonna make your mix sound too thin.
So if you’re feeling like the mix is too thin, often times backing off on that high-pass filtering, or even just turning them off and making sure that you’re only adding those filters if they need to be added. So listening to the mix and trying to identify if there is any muddiness, and then going in and using those filters to clean it up.
Don’t just throw them on everything to begin with. You should make sure that they’re only being added for a reason and if you do that, often times, you’re gonna retain a lot more of that weight and just thickness on the low end. That’s gonna make your mix sound a lot better.
The third way to fix a thin mix is to avoid over-processing. Now, the more plugins you add, the more processing you throw on the mix bus, usually the thinner your mix is gonna sound. Every layer that you add in terms of plugins and processing is just another step that that audio has to go through. It’s another step where things are getting degraded, it’s another step and layer of processing where things are getting manipulated, and often times by taking off all the junk that doesn’t need to be there, and trying to figure out—what’s the shortest path that I can take in terms of processing to get my tracks from where they are now to where I want to be?—will leave you with a much thicker, more three-dimensional, just more impressive-sounding mix.
So if you’re finding that your mix sounds thin, going through your processing and really asking yourself, “Do I need this plugin, do I need this EQ, do I need this?” And if not, take it off, because by removing all that stuff that doesn’t need to be there, often times this is one of the best and easiest ways to fix a thin-sounding mix.
The fourth way to fix a thin mix is to start at the source.
So, often times in the mixing process, we try to fix problems that really should have been solved earlier on—whether it’s in recording or production or arrangement, or even songwriting itself. So if you’re dealing with a thin mix, often times what this means is that either the recordings were not done very well—so maybe they were made with poor mic placement or just poor equipment—budget pre-amps often times will just sound very thin and harsh, sometimes you get some distortion in there that can make things sound thin. So making sure that you’re using the right equipment—decent quality gear—and making sure that you’re really focusing on that front-end process to maximize the quality of your recordings going into the mix, often times will leave you with just a better-sounding mix right from square one, so you won’t have to deal with all that thinness that’s caused from lack of quality recordings.
The other thing is paying close attention to the arrangement itself. So often times, when there’s a thin-sounding mix, sometimes it means there’s a lack of energy in the lower midrange or the low end. So this could mean that maybe there’s just not enough tracks contributing energy to that area, so maybe you need to add a low pad or a low synth that just fills out some of the lower end of the mix. So using the arrangement process as a tool that can help you balance out the frequency content of your mix.
The fifth way to fix a thin mix is to get some perspective.
So often times when our mixes sound thin, we don’t really know what the problem is. And so we end up spending hours or days or weeks on-end trying to fix something, when in reality, a better choice is either to step away or to share our mixes in-progress with someone who can give us the right feedback and let us know where we need to focus on to fix the problem.
So one of my favorite things to do here is to find a trusted mastering engineer that you can send your mix in-progress to and say, “Hey, this sounds kinda thin, “can you tell me where things might need to be improved?” And they might tell you, “You know, your lower midrange maybe is a little bit lacking “and so maybe there needs to be some more energy in that area,” or they may tell you, “Things are kinda distorted.” So by getting that trusted feedback from someone who really knows what they’re doing, it’s just a great way to point you in the right direction and sometimes it’ll save you, you know, days or weeks of frustration, trying to figure out what the problem actually is.
So I hope you found these five ways to fix a thin mix helpful, and if you’re looking to dive deeper, again, I put together that free cheatsheet that summarizes everything we’ve covered today—and if you’re ever in a situation where you have a thin-sounding mix and you’re not sure what to do, this cheatsheet’s gonna give you a step-by-step guide that you can follow to fix any thin-sounding mix fast. So if you wanna download this, it’s completely free, click the link in the description below, or up there in the video.
Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know, what’s your favorite way to fix a thin mix? I’d love to hear from ya. I reply to as many comments as I can, so please leave a comment 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.