How To Instantly Make Your Mixes Sound Fuller

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Do your tracks sound thin and wimpy?

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in this video you’ll learn how to instantly make your mixes sound fuller.

So let’s talk about high-pass filters. Now high-pass filters are great. They can clean up a muddy mix. They can make the low end sound clearer and more defined. But I see a lot of advice online saying, you know, you should always high-pass filter every track in your mix, or you should high-pass everything but the kick and the bass, and I think this advice is dangerous.

So here’s the problem with excessive high-pass filtering. Now it’s great to take out the low end and clean up the low end when it’s presenting a problem. So when you have tracks in your mix that are boomy or muddy, or there’s just a whole big low end mess and you need to use some high-pass filters to clean those tracks up, absolutely, go for the high-pass filters.

But this blanket approach, this, this, idea of just applying high-pass filters to everything, in many cases you end up in a situation where you’re taking out lots of low end that doesn’t need to be cut. And so what happens is you have good intentions, right, when you add all these high-pass filters. You think you’re making things better, but in many cases you’re actually making your mixes sound worse, and you’re thinning out the mix. You’re taking out a lot of that low end that doesn’t actually need to be cut because it’s not presenting any problems. And so if your mixes sound thin or wimpy or the low end just sounds like it’s nonexistent, and you’re applying these high-pass filters to every track in your mix, chances are you’re doing too much, and you actually need to cut back on your high-pass filtering.

So if you can high-pass filter responsibly, if you can use high-pass filters as a tool but not abuse them, then you’re going to end up with mixes that sound a whole lot fuller and thicker, and a low end that just sounds clean and clear but also sounds like it has some meat to it. It doesn’t sound anemic and unimpressive.

Now I do want to mention that this is just one way to improve the sound of your low end and add weight and density to the low end.There are lots of other ways to do this too, and so if you want some other tips and tricks for how to achieve a fuller-sounding low end, I’ve put together a free thin mix cheatsheet that I think will be really helpful to you because it features not only this technique, but also a couple of other techniques that you can apply to just add more weight and density to the low end in your mixes. So if you want to download this, it’s completely free. Just click the link in the description below or up there in the video right now.

So let’s talk about how to use high-pass filters more responsibly. So the first case in which I think a high-pass filter is very useful is in the prep process. So when you’re preparing and cleaning up the tracks before you start mixing. And so if you can use high-pass filters responsibly in this part of the process, you’re going to end up with tracks that just sound a whole lot better moving into the mix. And this is going to make mixing a whole lot easier, a lot more fun. It’s just going to move more quickly and you’re going to end up with mixes in many cases that just have a cleaner, clearer sounding low end, but one that still sounds thick and full.

So let’s jump into my DAW and I’ll show you how to apply high-pass filters appropriately in the prep process.

Okay so I have vocal tracks here from two different Dylan Owen songs, one of which is called “The Streets,” and this is Alaska Sun singing, and the other is Dylan Owen from a song called “There’s More To Life.” And I want to walk you through how I think about applying high-pass filters within the prep process.

So this is before I even start mixing to just get my tracks ready so that I can move into the mixing process with tracks that sound really good to begin with. And that’s just going to make things a whole lot easier when I start mixing. So the way I go about this is in my prep process I solo each individual track in my session, and I listen out for low frequency information that is getting in the way of the track itself. so it’s not really a musical part of the track.

Maybe this is rumble or mic stand noise from someone kicking the mic stand, or boominess, or plosives caused by someone maybe singing a little bit too close to the microphone – anything that’s really not a part of the musical content of the track itself. And when I hear this stuff, I clean it up with a high-pass filter. And again, this is before I even start mixing. So I want to make sure I tackle these things before I even get to the mixing process.

So I have two different vocals here again, and I want to take a listen to this first vocal. And I want you to pay very close attention to the low end of this vocal track. Now if you’re listening on smaller headphones or earbuds, or something that doesn’t give you a full representation of the low end you may not hear this, so make sure you’re listening on a playback system where you can really hear the low end. So let’s take a listen to this vocal.

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

♪ Will you remember me ♪

So take a listen again, and notice how on certain notes there’s these blasts of low end energy. It sounds like almost like she was a little bit too close to the mic when she recorded. And what can happen is that the mic diaphragm actually overloads. It kind of freaks out a little bit because are these blasts of air that hit the microphone. And when you’re too close to the microphone, that air doesn’t have space to dissipate. And this is one reason why we use pop filters, right? Because that way we can break up those blasts of air so they don’t overload the mic capsule. But in this case, it sounds like she may have been a little bit too close to the mic. So on certain words we hear these plosives, these blasts of low end energy. Take a listen again.

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

♪ Will you remember me ♪

So like on the B in remember. Take a listen here.

♪ – remember me ♪

That one’s a little bit more subtle. Let’s take a listen, there was another one over here.

♪ – home till the – ♪

♪ – home till the – ♪

So on the “tuh” in till.

♪ – home till the streets light up ♪

♪ – home till the streets light up ♪

So this is a great case for using a high-pass filter, because if we use a high-pass filter we can actually clear out or get rid of some of that energy and just make the low end sound a little clearer. So I’m going to add a high-pass filter to this vocal, and before I do that I just want to show you what this low end energy actually looks like on a spectrum analyzer.

Now this FabFilter Pro Q2 actually has a built-in spectrum analyzer. So this is an EQ plug-in but it has a spectrum analyzer included in it. And I want to show you what this energy looks like, because you can actually see it on the spectrum analyzer’s display. So let’s take a look now, and I’m going to play the track. And I want you to look for those low end blasts of energy on the spectrum analyzer down in the bottom end of the frequency spectrum right here around, you know, maybe twenty to a hundred hertz.

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

♪ Will you remember me ♪

So you notice that there are certain points where we actually see a little bit of a bump down maybe around forty or fifty hertz. And that’s a pretty good indication that there’s some excess energy there that may need to be cleaned up. So I’m going to add a high-pass filter, and I’m going to play the vocal track and slowly roll this up the frequency spectrum until I start to hear the vocal thin out a little bit, and then I’m going to back things up.

Now typically on male vocals, you want the high-pass filter in most cases to be a little bit lower in the frequency spectrum because the sound of the male voice just has more low end energy. But with female vocals you can actually, you can go a little bit higher a lot of the times. So depending on the vocal, again, this is going to vary, but it’s just a good rule of thumb depending on what you’re working with to know that you can typically push things a little bit more on female vocals in terms of how high you go up the frequency spectrum.

So let’s take a listen again, and I’m going to roll the frequency knob up while the track is playing and listen for the point where the vocal starts to thin out a little bit, and then I’m going to back things up.

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

♪ Will you remember me ♪

♪ Will you remember me ♪

So right around 140 or 150 I started to hear things get a little bit thinner, and I backed things up so we’re back at 140 or so. And to me, this sounds like a pretty good balance. So we still have that fullness on the vocal, but I’m hearing a lot less of those blasts. So let’s take a listen in bypass first, and then I’m going to kick this in and out. And I want you to listen out for those blasts of low end energy and notice with the high-pass filter engaged, those blasts go away or they certainly get a lot quieter.

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

♪ I don’t think we’ll come home till the streets light up ♪

So they’re certainly not gone 100%, but a good 75% of the problem has actually disappeared. So we’ve cleaned that track up with a high-pass filter. So that’s a very specific circumstance where a high-pass filter is absolutely necessary.

But I want to caution you because I think a lot of people end up adding high-pass filters by default to vocals without actually even listening to the vocal itself. So I have another vocal track here, and I want to play this, and I want you to listen again to the low end.

♪ There’s more to life than never leaving your room and being sad ♪

♪ There’s more to life than all the pieces of your past ♪

♪ There’s more to life than growing up with nobody to follow but ♪

♪ There’s more to life than only choosing what your father does ♪

So in this vocal, I’m not hearing any of those low end blasts, or plosives. The low end actually sounds fine to me. And if we pull up a spectrum analyzer and take a look, we’ll actually see that there’s not really a ton going on below a hundred hertz. So we don’t see those big bumps down at the bottom end of the frequency spectrum like we did on the last vocal.

♪ There’s more to life than never leaving your room and being sad ♪

♪ There’s more to life than all the pieces of your past ♪

♪ There’s more to life than growing up with nobody to follow but ♪

So this is a great example of a vocal that sounds fine. There’s really no reason to add a high-pass filter to this track. And so if we add a high-pass filter, we may end up cutting out or getting rid of low end on this vocal that actually sounds good, right? So maybe we’re thinning out the vocal unnecessarily. So you really want to be careful of situations like this. And it could be a vocal track, it could be something else in your mix.

But again, don’t just apply high-pass filters by default. Listen out for these low end anomalies, these things that are getting in the way that sound unmusical that need to be taken out. And if you hear those things, take them out. But if you have a track like this where everything sounds fine, there’s really no reason to add a high-pass filter.

Now the second place in which I think high-pass filters are really useful, is within the mixing process when you’re trying to eliminate competition between different tracks and just make things fit together a little bit better. So I want to jump into my DAW and show you a specific circumstance in which I found a high-pass filter to be useful within a mix. Let’s take a look.

Okay so I have a song here by Dylan Owen called “There’s More To Life,” and I want to show you one example of how I used a high-pass filter in this mix to eliminate competition between a couple different tracks, simplify things, and just make things fit together a little bit better. So let’s take a listen to the full mix first.

♪ Yeah and life goes on ♪

♪ Yeah it might go wrong ♪

♪ But keep on movin’ keep on movin’ kid our time gon’ come ♪

♪ Maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow when our lives are done ♪

♪ And see that we left something beautiful behind us once ♪

♪ Yeah – ♪

Cool, so I want to zoom in on the drum section of this song. And if you take a look here, you’ll see that there are five different tracks that comprise the drum sound. We have a kick drum sample. We have two different drum loop tracks. We have a snare drum track, and the hi-hat track.

Now what’s interesting about this arrangement is that the kick drum actually appears on three different tracks in this song. So we have a kick drum that appears on this kick sample track. Let’s just take a listen to that real quick. Then we have this drum loop track, where there’s also a kick drum. And then we have this drum loop, the other drum loop track. And I’m just going to bypass my processing here, and you’ll see why in just a second. So you can hear there’s a kick drum on all three of those tracks.

Now when I listen to each of them on their own, it’s not like the kick drum sounds bad to me. It’s not like it has too much low end, it’s boomy or muddy where I feel like I need to clean it up. But the problem happens when I listen to all of these three together, when all of those kick drums combine together. So let’s take a listen to all three of these. And I want you to notice and listen out for the kick drum pattern, and just the complexity that happens when all of those individual kick drums are playing together at once.

So notice that the kick drum pattern is very busy. There are a lot of kick hits that appear kind of one after another very quickly. Now on its own, this doesn’t sound terrible. But in context with the rest of the tracks in the mix, what I started to notice was that that complexity actually pulls our ears away from the vocal in the track.

So because the groove is so complex, suddenly I feel like my ear is so focused on the groove that I’m not paying as much attention to the vocal in the song. It actually pulls me away from where I’m trying to make my listener focus more. So let’s take a listen to everything in context, and I want you to notice, again, how that complexity pulls our ears away from the vocal in this mix.

♪ Yeah and life goes on ♪

♪ Yeah it might go wrong ♪

♪ But keep on movin’ keep on movin’ kid our time gon’ come ♪

♪ Maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow when our lives are done ♪

♪ And see that we left – ♪

So suddenly I’m not listening to the vocal anymore. And this is an interesting principle. Whenever things are moving or happening very quickly, whenever there’s a lot of change on any one individual track or part in the mix, that’s what our ear is going to be pulled towards. So we want to be very careful of those types of things when we’re trying to define what the focal points are in our mix. And if we create too much complexity in any one part or any individual track, our ear is naturally going to be pulled towards that. And that may or may not be what we want depending on what we’re trying to get our listener to focus on at any one point in the mix.

So what I did here was I added a high-pass filter to the second drum loop in this mix. And what I tried to do was actually take out the kick drum from this second drum loop. And my goal here was I thought, okay if I can clean this up, if I can take out this kick drum, then the overall kick drum pattern is going to become simplified. There’s going to be a lot less going on, and that way I can eliminate some of that complexity.

So I just want to solo this drum loop here, and let’s take a listen to this first with the high-pass filter bypassed, and then I’m going to kick it in. And again I just want you to notice how the kick drum actually disappears, or all but disappears. It’s still there a little bit, but it disappears pretty much with this high-pass filter engaged. So let’s take a listen.

So we still hear a little bit of that kick drum hit, but we don’t hear as much of the low end information. So the majority of the kick drum is cleaned up and kind of eliminated with that high-pass filter engaged. Now in context with the rest of the drum tracks, let’s take a listen to everything together, or at least those three tracks with the kick drum. And I’m going to flip this in and out, and i want you to listen out for the complexity of the kick drum pattern.

So with that high-pass filter engaged, to my ears it sounds like the kick pattern gets a lot simpler. There’s just much more space in between the kick drum hits, and it feels like things just kind of open up in the low end. And again, on its own I’m not sure that I have a strong preference when I just solo these three tracks. But when we listen to everything in context in the whole mix, suddenly what I notice is my ears are not pulled towards that kick drum pattern. And that leaves me freer to be able to focus on the vocal, which is really what I’m trying to highlight in this mix. So let’s take a listen to everything in context. And again I want you to notice what your ear is naturally pulled towards, both with that high-pass filter in and out.

♪ Yeah and life goes on ♪

♪ Yeah it might go wrong ♪

♪ But keep on movin’ keep on movin’ kid our time gon’ come ♪

♪ Maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow when our lives are done ♪

♪ And see that we left something beautiful behind us once ♪

♪ Yeah and life goes on ♪

♪ Yeah it might go wrong ♪

♪ But keep on movin’ keep on movin’ kid our time gon’ come ♪

♪ Maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow when our lives are done ♪

♪ And see that we left something beautiful behind us once ♪

So it’s a subtle change. But to my ears, with that high-pass filter engaged suddenly I’m more focused on the vocal because the kick drum pattern gets simpler. And with that simplicity there’s just more space and more room, and I naturally end up focusing more on what the most important part of the track is. And so as a mixer, I’m constantly thinking about, okay how can I direct my listeners towards what I want them to listen to? And so in this case, a high-pass filter was a tool that I used to simplify the kick drum pattern and eliminate some competition between a couple different tracks, and just make things fit a little bit better in context with the mix as a whole.

Now the high-pass filtering advice I shared in this video is just one way to achieve a fuller-sounding mix. And if you want to dive deeper, I put together that thin mix cheatsheet which includes some additional tips and tricks that will also help you achieve fuller, thicker-sounding mixes. So if you want to download this, it’s completely free. Just click the link in the description below or up there in the video and you’ll get instant access right now.

Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – how do you use high-pass filters while mixing? I’d love to hear your response, so leave your answer in the comments section below. Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips right here on my YouTube channel, or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.