How to Clean Up a Muddy Mix
1. High Pass Filters
The first tip I want to share with you is using a high pass filter. If you aren't familiar with a high pass filter, I'll briefly explain it. A high pass filter essentially rolls off the low end and allows the highs to pass through. Hence the name. This can do wonders to a muddy mix, and it's very simple to implement. To get started using a high pass filter, all you need to do is put some sort of EQ plugin on your track. It can be a one band, three band, seven band, it doesn't matter. Then when you have the EQ plugin up, look for high pass filter (sometimes known as a low-cut or lc) section to enable. What this was allow you to do is roll off all of the frequencies below a certain point. A good starting point is about a 100hz. Put this filter on most of your tracks except for kick drum and bass guitar. These are the instruments we want to sit at the bottom of the mix. You won't notice the high pass filter change your tone drastically, but when you have them across most of your tracks, it will really clean up a lot of low end in your mix.
2. Apply a High Shelf
The second tip involves boosting certain frequencies on your tracks. Before you do this, make sure you've done any sort of subtractive EQ that you can do. I believe that most of the time it is better to cut than to boost. But let's assume that you've done some subtractive EQ, you've put your high pass filters on, and you are still having a muddy mix. At this point, you will want to try and pinpoint what instruments are muddying up the mix, and apply a high shelf. Essentially you will be boosting the EQ from about 6khz up by about 3 to 6db to add high end to the track. For instance, if your drums sound too muddy, create a drum bus and then apply the boost to the bus. This will apply it across all drums and help them punch through the mix. Also, remember that what frequencies you need to boost will depend on the track. You don't want your mix to sound harsh, so don't get too crazy boosting the high end. However, with subtle boosts where it needs it, this should also help to clean up your mix.
Remember to practice getting it right at the source as well. If you are getting a muddy vocal take, try using a condenser mic that picks up a hotter signal and higher frequencies. This will make your job easier as a mix engineer and help clean up the mix.
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