It’s one of the most asked questions when mixing music:
“Why does my low end sound so muddy?”
There are tons of tips and techniques you can use to mix a tight low end and I’m going to touch on 3 common low end mixing mistakes in this article so you can move away from the dreaded muddy low end mix and more towards a cleaner, tighter low end in all of your future mixes.
Low End Mixing Frustration!
I know it’s frustrating when you can’t seem to get a clear distinction between all of the low-end elements in a mix despite watching countless videos on YouTube on the topic and through your own trial and error, nothing seems to work.
So what are you doing wrong?
To be honest, you probably only need to make a few small changes to your low end mixing workflow and you’ll improve things massively.
So what elements are the main contributors to a muddy low end mix?
Well, in rock music, we are usually dealing with the:
- kick drum
- bass guitar
- lower frequencies of the electric guitars
Drums, bass and guitars are the lifeblood of a rock mix and if we get them wrong, rather than a flabby mix, we can go the other way and end up with a thin mix that sounds a bit, well… anaemic for the want of a better expression.
A few small changes add up to massive improvement and here are the common mistakes I see in mixes can be fixed easily:
1. Not using high pass filters
There’s a common area where overlapping frequencies tend to build up in a typical rock mix and that is around 110Hz, give or take.
The drums, bass and guitars all overlap in this range so, by using high pass filters we can make space for these elements to sit and play together nicely…rather like small children playing with Stickle Bricks!
It’s common in rock music to mix the kick drum to have the lowest audible frequencies in the mix, followed by the bass guitar sitting slightly higher in the frequency spectrum. There are always exceptions of course, but more often than not, this is how a rock or indie mix tends to be.
Place a high pass filter on the kick drum at around 25-30Hz, just to get rid of any sub frequencies that might be taking up headroom down there and to tighten up the sub frequencies.
Next, do the same on the bass guitar. I find myself high passing in the range of 50-80Hz which instantly makes a hole for the fundamental of the kick to slot into and blend nicely with the bass for a powerful and controlled low end.
Finally, do the same with the rhythm guitars. Whilst playing the whole track, where the rhythm guitars are at their fullest, slowly start to take your high pass filter higher and higher up the frequency spectrum whilst listening to how it interacts with the drums and bass.
Keep moving up the freq range until the guitars sound a little thin, then pull the filter back again and listen for where the bass guitar and electric guitars blend together, complimenting each other and sound big and full but not tubby.
Typically, I tend to settle somewhere in the 80-120Hz range for guitars.
So you can imagine, by high passing like this, you create “slots” for each element to fit into, yet in a complimentary way without too much overlap. A little frequency overlap works well to blend all three elements seamlessly together and the overlapping points should be chosen by ear and not by eye!
2. The bass guitar is masking the kick drum
A great trick in low end mixing that helps the kick and bass guitar play nicely together is to use a technique called “side-chaining”.
This is placing a compressor on the bass guitar and rather than the compressor reacting to the bass guitar signal as normal, it reacts to the incoming kick drum signal instead.
Each time the kick drum hits, the compressor pulls the bass guitar down by a pre-determined amount, very quickly, to make the bass “duck” to allow the kick to come through, then it returns the bass signal back to its normal level, all in a matter of milliseconds.
The side-chain is a separate listening part of the compressor that we send the kick drum signal to using an aux send.
Set up the compressors gain reduction so that it reduces the bass in level by a couple of dB’s in a natural, transparent way.
In rock or indie music this needs to sound natural, although there are no rules to say you can’t go for a more extreme effect like that found in EDM or dance music!
3. Your monitors are lying to you
Even if you’ve got super-duper, Carlos Fandango, go faster striped, top of the range studio monitors they’ll still lie to you if your room isn’t acoustically treated that is.
Now, this might not be such a simple or quick fix but your room has a massive impact on the low end of your mixes so it shouldn’t be ignored.
Gaining a better understanding of room acoustics could possibly have the greatest impact for your low end mixing and be a total game-changer.
Even before buying new monitors.
There’s an inherent problem when mixing in small rooms, which a lot of us do these days thanks to the magic of DAW’s and plugins.
Smaller rooms tend not to allow bass frequencies to develop fully, yet instead, the bass frequencies bounce off the walls back into the room and in some spots reinforce (get louder) and in other spots cancel themselves out and are quieter or missing altogether. All this can result in a low end that doesn’t translate across music systems or devices.
The first approach is to get some acoustic panels up at the first reflection points (sidewalls and ceiling), then get some bass traps in the corners, floor to ceiling.
The bass traps can be made following some excellent guides on YouTube if you are the DIY type (not me!) or, they can be bought online whilst not breaking the bank.
Do not buy foam bass traps! They don’t work because they don’t have the density needed to absorb bass frequencies.
Having some acoustic treatment is a great start and can be built on by using room correction software like Sonarworks to dial in an EQ curve that’s unique to your room following a sweep of test tones that will show up any misrepresented frequencies at your seating position.
I can’t stress enough how this can be a complete game-changer for your low end mixing.
If you can’t hear the low end properly, how can you hope to get that solid, full low end you’ve been chasing?
There is a little investment involved here but it doesn’t need to £1000’s, some people won’t think twice about spending the cash on new, larger monitors only to be disappointed when they get them home and hear the same problems or even some new ones, especially if the monitors are too big for the room. Bigger isn’t always the answer to hearing more bass.
There are many more tips for low end mixing and this post only looks at three so be sure to subscribe to get more tips for mixing low end in my weekly newsletter.
It’s the difference between an amateur mix and a professional mix, and the giveaway to a mix that has come out of a back bedroom rather than a pro studio.
There’s tremendous satisfaction in having a tight low end mix that sounds just right and a certain confidence that comes along with it too.
It takes some practice but once you find a method that works for you, it can bring your self-belief up in leaps and bounds.
Everything else is icing on the cake…well, except for maybe finally hearing compression properly, that’s a game-changer too and also a topic for another blog post!
If you are interested in having me mix your music and are wondering how to prepare your mix, then check out my blog post-https://www.musicmixpro.co.uk/how-to-prepare-your-track-for-professional-mixing/
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