Trying to achieve a perfect mix is something which haunts producers and engineers. Often sitting in a dimly lit studio surrounded by empty coffee cups at 3am trying to surgically EQ one sound in the hopes that therein lies the final piece of the jigsaw that is their mix. Then comes the age old “Maybe the spectrum isn’t full enough, let me add in just one more saw synth. One more won’t hurt right?” But what if, instead of loosing sleep over processing one specific sound or adding more elements to improve your mix, you decided to de clutter? Sounds crazy, but here’s a few tips that can really make all the difference.
That square wave pluck sound you worked hard on for 2 hours to get sounding perfect. Is it really adding anything sonically to your mix? Try muting channels you feel may not be pulling their weight in a mix and may just be adding clutter. This will give you an indication of what channels can be deleted to free up space for other elements of your mix to shine. Not only does this have the potential to drastically clean up your mix, but will also free up a significant amount of RAM, making the whole operation run a bit smoother. As for the sweet preset you made, save it for another time!
On that note of saving RAM, bouncing out MIDI channels to audio (usually doable via hot keys in most DAW’s) will have a drastic impact on the RAM being used up in your project. Doing so can also force the engineer to work in more creative ways and present you with manipulation/processing options which aren’t attainable through MIDI.
TOP TIP: Duplicate a channel (say a big super-saw synth for example,) put a reverb on the second channel, turn the Dry/Wet to 100% wet and bounce that out to audio. Now you have a sound saturated in reverb that you can chop up and resample ’til your heart’s content!
Gain staging is the process of making sure an audio signal is at it’s optimum level as they pass through each plugin or piece of hardware they are being processed by. In short, it means appropriately setting the gain through each stage of the processing. In the analog days, this meant keeping the level above the noise floor so as to not overload the sound with analog hiss. In the digital/DAW realm it basically involves getting the most out of each processing plugin while trying to maintain a constant level throughout. This could mean matching the input and output levels of each processing plugin. However, for plugins such as distortions it could mean driving the signal hot into the plugin then attenuating it on the output. Gain staging will depend on the plugins you’ve used and the amount of plugins you’ve layered up.
This may seem a tad time consuming and have little relevance to de cluttering your mix. However, having a nicely labelled and colour co-ordinated project file will really help when you’re trying to whizz through and mute/solo channels to fix problematic elements in the mix. It will allow you to make changes as and when inspiration strikes instead of having to sift through a sea of frequencies and badly labelled channels. Colour co-ordinating and labelling will also help when it comes to making buss channels to group process things like drums and synths. Plus it looks nice.
De cluttering your mix may not always be the first thing on your mind when you’re slaving over compressing your kick drum. It will however come in handy when you’re out of options and want to try removing elements or even taking a more creative approach to production/engineering. There’s a saying that a track is only complete when you can’t take anything more away from it. While this may not apply to every production, it’s certainly a good mentality to have when you’re trying to remove clutter and mud from your mix!
Until next time,