A common complaint amongst those new to mixing music is that the end result winds up sounding muddy. A recording that sounds like this will likely be a recording that lacks essential clarity. At the same time, such a recording is also going to suffer from poor separation between your instruments. This can be frustrating, since it seems as though a number of different things can cause that muddy sound to appear.
What About EQ?
If you find yourself in this position, don’t panic, and don’t give up. Understand that muddiness is often an EQ matter. When we talk about EQ, we are talking about a big subject in the world of audio production. All of the sounds utilized in DAW sessions contain energy along different parts of the spectrum of frequency. Sounds do not need to come from bass instruments to have information along the low frequencies.
Muddiness can be created by having an abundance of sources pile up. This causes them to mask one another along your critical bass/low-mid-range areas.
5 Ways To Avoid Muddy Sounds In Your Recordings
Avoiding a muddy sound in your recordings is not as frustrating as you might think. There are several straightforward things you can keep in mind:
- Getting it right at the source: Before the mix process even begins, there are things you can do. Starting with tracks that sound good from the start can help you to avoid problems later on. Keeping control of your low frequencies can be done through such tasks as using the switch on your mic that rolls off low frequencies. Editing synth patches as you work can also be effective.
- Manage the low end in the stereo field: While dealing with the low end of the tracks, keep your stereo position firmly in mind. A foundational source, such as your kick or your bass, should be mono more often than not. You want to avoid phase issues that are caused by stereo effects. While panning your tracks in your stereo field, try to stay away from bass imbalances.
- What about filters? Never be afraid to explore the potential inherent in your filters. High pass filters are excellent when dealing with tracks which come with extra low ends. If you find yourself dealing with far too many lows, look for the main causes. Try to establish space by increasing the frequency of the high-pass filters. An EQ offering a visual display of your spectrum can make it easy to figure out where the filters can be useful.
- If you EQ a low mid: Tight bass is a crucial component for clarity in many mixes. However, the most potent source for muddiness in a recording is likely to come from your low mids. This is a range that goes somewhere between 200Hz and 500Hz. In other words, make it a point every step of the way to carve out the space you know you will need in your low mids. Otherwise, you are likely going to find yourself dealing with pronounced muddiness in your finished recordings.
- Creating ideal headroom: As far as audio is concerned, headroom is an extremely important concept. This is a good habit to keep in mind no matter what. In terms of what we are specifically discussing, some would say it is even more important. Having hot levels along your master bus can create problems with not only clarity, but with your separation, as well. You should keep a close eye on gain staging in any given recording session. What you want to do is maintain a nice, healthy average. A level of -18 dBFS is preferred. Your peaks should be somewhere in the vicinity of 9-10 dBFS.
Muddiness can make or break a good recording. If you are planning to get your music to audiences on Apple Music, Spotify, and elsewhere, the recording process is obviously crucial. There are so many different things to keep up with, it is easy to feel a little overwhelmed. Muddiness on a recording can be particularly frustrating, since it is possible for that to come from so many different sources.
Nonetheless, keeping the above in mind should make sure you avoid any issues.