5 Crucial EQ Tips to Clean Up a Muddy Mix

Even a perfect composition will sound bad with a muddy mix, so corrective EQ tactics are absolutely essential to getting the right sound. Follow these 5 steps to cleaning up your mix and getting each track to shine through with clarity.

Xavier Capdepon music production EQEmphasize What Matters: Open up your equalizer and figure out where the meat of each sound sits. You’ll notice that your sub-bass peaks at the very low end of the spectrum so any high end frequencies you let through are not serving a useful purpose. In fact, they’re just taking up space and competing with your other sounds. Similarly, any low frequencies you let through from your hi-hat track are just going to interfere with your lower sounds, resulting in a muddy mix. Go one by one through your tracks and carve out unnecessary frequencies to give each track its own space to shine.

Roll Off Highest Frequencies: Even sounds that are supposed to live on the high end of the frequency spectrum can use some high-end roll-off. The idea is to take away some of the very highest inaudible frequencies that can make things muddy. Here, less is more — you don’t want to roll off important high frequencies that might add to the atmospheric feeling of your song. Just roll off enough until you can start to hear the difference and then back off slightly.

High-Pass (Almost) Everything: The more room you leave in your low end of the spectrum, the better your sub can break through the mix. It’s really as simple as that. A hi-hat lives in the upper frequencies, so don’t let low-frequency audio fragments compete with your sub bass. There’s no hard and fast rule for high-passing everything, but you can roll off the lowest 60 Hz on most tracks without a problem. Of course, your hi-hats will need more roll-off while your vocals and bass will need less.

Notch Out Problem Frequencies: Within the important range of a sound, there are often “problem frequencies,” or tiny frequency bands that give uncomfortable resonances. Use the notch band in the EQ like a surgeon would and cut out those problem frequencies to give your audio a fresh makeover. The easiest way to do this is to play the track and then slowly sweep through it with one high peak in your EQ until you get to something that makes you cringe. Notch that frequency out and move on to the next one.

EQ Tracks in Tandem:  Arguably, the two most important components of any EDM song are the bass and the kick. If those two aren’t sitting well together in the mix, no amount of work will make your song sound good. But getting sounds to mesh well together is as much an art as it is a science — you’ll need to experiment by subtly boosting some frequencies and lowering others until you get the right feel. I recommend doing this at the start of your track before you move forward with the rest of your composition and finer details.


How to Properly Layer your Music Like the Pros

Are your synths coming out flat no matter how wide you push them or how well you saturate them? Or perhaps you struggle to get your claps to sound as full as the pros. Electronic music producers commonly face these kinds of issues and it can be exceptionally frustrating when your hard work doesn’t sound the way you want. The answer is often a matter of a layering.

Xavier Capdepon Layering Music ProductionThe What:
At its core, layering is actually quite simple. It involves taking one sound and placing it on top of another to access a richer combination of sounds and fill up a greater spectrum in the frequency range. In practice, layering is a little more complicated because it involves quite a bit of trial and error with different sounds, the EQ, and other audio effects.

At first this will require some patience as you figure out what sounds mix well and which ones are unpleasant. But over time you’ll learn where certain sounds sit on the frequency spectrum and what extra sounds will help to fill them out and add richness and fullness.

The How:
The first step to layering is to understand where your current sound sits. Pull out an equalizer and see where the heart of your sound is primarily peaking. Then use your equalizer to highlight the important range and turn down the less important parts. In other words, you don’t want to make one sound shoulder the responsibility for the entire frequency range. Give sounds a chance to collaborate with each other and you’ll be surprised by the results.

Sometimes this can be as simple as trimming off the lowest frequencies in a bass synth and tacking on a separate sub bass to provide that lower warmth. Other times you may want to add a different type of sound on top of your first one to give it more complexity and richness. You can even duplicate the same sound a couple of different times — called stacking — and change certain parameters on each one to make things more interesting for your listener.

What’s Next:
Once you have different layers that focus on different frequencies in the same sound, you have much more flexibility to boost something here and reduce something there. You can add huge reverb and width to the top end of a synth but keep the low end nice and centered. You can give your clap a solid crack in the low to middle frequencies and still have an interesting high end decay. Perhaps most importantly, you can mix different sounds together to get a unique timbre that nobody else has used before.

Layering is certainly not something to be restricted to synths alone. Vocals, drums, and pretty much any other type of sound can benefit from this layering technique. The magic of EQing requires a whole other blog post, but these are the basics. Stay tuned to learn more!