7 Steps to Cleaning Up Your Music Mix

4. Hit your high pass filter. 

You don’t need low end coming through a lot of your channels, so stop it. I’ll enable the HPF on my vocals and guitars with one exception. If I don’t have a bass guitar on the stage, then I’ll allow an electric guitar to give me some of that low end. In some cases, you can control the point of your high pass filter. I’ve used a high pass filter in the 200 Hz mark on vocals to clean up my bottom end … smooth as a baby’s bottom … ummm … ignore that last part.

Tip: When altering any setting like boosting, cutting, gating, compression or a high pass filter, go to the extreme so you hear a clear difference in the sound. Once you know how “extreme” it can sound, then back off the setting until it’s to your liking. Don’t turn a knob or press a button just because you think you should. Let your ears make that call.

5. Check your subs. 

The signal to your low end subs might be one that you can control. Therefore, you have this additional means of altering the mix sound. Don’t be afraid to pull them back or push them louder if that’s what’s needed for the mix. While you are building your basic mix, you should have your subs at an average level. Once you have set your overall mix, then you should consider the sub volume.

6. Consider microphone polarity. 

When two microphones pick up the same sound, the combining of those sound waves may or may not cause problems. This is where you get into sounds being out of phase. For example, if the two incoming sound waves are in phase with each other, this means the sound waves, when compared side by side, look identical. As the distance from the sound source to one microphone changes, so does the point in which the sound waves enter the microphone. When this happens, the sound waves start to get out of phase (compared side by side, the wave peaks are at different spots.) In the extreme case of being 180-degrees out of phase, the sound waves look like a mirror image of each other. Combine these sound waves, and you lose a lot of the audio signal because it’s like math: +10 + -10 = 0 (flat-line).

A simple way for ensuring you are getting the best sound from an instrument, where phase could be an issue, is by switching the polarity button on the channel. If you get more bass response, then you have found a better setting. By switching polarity, you are inverting the sound wave.

7. Revisit your effects.

Once you’ve cleaned up your mix using the above methods, you should revisit your effects settings. If your board enables it, turn off all the effects and listen to the difference. Otherwise, go channel by channel. What worked before might not work now. It might not be needed to the same degree, or it might not be needed at all. You might even need MORE of an effect because your cleaner mix enables you to use more of the effect to reach your mixing goal.

The Take Away

The process of cleaning up your mix is best explained with the words of author Antoine de Saint-Exupery,

“ … he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

You aren’t going for perfection in the traditional sense, but the idea applies just the same.

How do you clean up your mix?