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How to Mix for Clarity

When mixing for clarity be sure to find a good balance between low and high frequencies - often a mix that lacks clarity needs some additional high frequencies. Saturation, equalization, and transient expansion are all good ways to add high-frequency content and increase mix clarity.

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Saturate or Excite High Frequencies

Having a good ratio of high to low frequencies is key to creating clarity - saturation of the highs is a great way to increase the level of high frequencies. When we saturate or excite high frequencies we introduce harmonic distortion, which fills the high end of the frequency spectrum.

Let’s use TAIP by Baby Audio and increase the presence slider - this will focus harmonic distortion to the highs, resulting in greater clarity.

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Augment 3-5kHz Using EQ

Sometimes clarifying your mix is as simple as amplifying 3-5kHz with an EQ, since this is a region that our ears are incredibly sensitive to. Simply create a band centered on 4kHz, and amplify a few dB on an individual signal, or 1-2dB on a bus.

Let’s listen to this on the mix bus and use more aggressive settings to get a better understanding of how this affects clarity.

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Vintage Tape Machine Clarity

Tape machines dealt with the issue of tape hiss - to remedy this, many machines used encoders and decoders. The encoder amplified the high frequencies to cover the hiss, and the decoder attenuated the highs to balance out the spectrum - but we enable an encoder without using the decoder.

This greatly brightens up the sound of the signal - it works particularly well at clarifying vocals and acoustic instruments. Let’s take a listen to it.

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Reduce Overlap On Lows

In chapter 1, I stated clarity has to do with the ratio between high and low frequencies, meaning if our lows are too aggressive it’ll have an adverse effect on mix clarity. One of the biggest issues in the lows is when the kick and bass aggressively overlap.

To remedy this, I like to attenuate the kick’s fundamental on the bass - so first I'll see what that is by observing the kick's response, then create a bell filter on the bass, and dip that frequency.

Let’s listen and see if we notice any improvement between the 2.

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Mild Hz. Specific Bass Ducking

Many engineers like to use bass ducking to balance the kick and bass, but the full frequency spectrum of the bass will be attenuated - even the parts that were helping separate it from the kick. A better solution is to use a multi-band compressor instead of a stereo one.

So with a multi-band compressor inserted on the bass, I’ll side chain the kick, and isolate the attenuation to the lows - now when the kick hits, the bass’s lows will be attenuated. Again, we can center this band on the kick’s fundamental frequency like in the last chapter.

Let’s listen to it.

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Where to Set High Pass Filters

We all know that high-pass filters are good ways to clarify signals, however, the center frequency of the band is rarely discussed. For example, on a lead vocal, we rarely if ever want to set the high pass higher than the vocal’s fundamental frequency.

Another example would be if the synths or guitars are overpowering the lead vocal, we could set the high pass on them to right above the vocal’s fundamental to give the vocal more room.

Let’s listen to a mix with high pass filters set more thoughtfully.

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Modulated High Hz. Saturation

Like chapter one, saturation can be used on high frequencies to add clarity - but if we incorporate modulation we can accent transients, augmenting the effect even more. With Saturn 2, one of the few if not only plugins that offers this, I’ll first create an envelope follower.

I’ll set it to transient mode, attach it to the drive dial, and then adjust the slider to determine how greatly the incoming signal will trigger distortion.

For an even more aggressive effect, let’s isolate the distortion to the highs and trigger the saturation on those frequencies - making the transient pop out, and adding a lot of clarity.

Let’s take a listen.

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High Hz. Transient Expanders

In addition to saturating highs, we can expand transients on the high frequencies, increasing both the dynamic range and the mix’s clarity. I’ll use a frequency-specific transient expand for this, and isolate the expansion to only the high frequencies - I find this works well on drums, guitars, and synths.

That said, I would probably avid this on vocals due to how it can make sibilance too aggressive. Let’s take a listen.

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Ultimate Mixbus Air Trick

Air and clarity aren’t the same things since air is associated with higher frequencies, but, augmenting the air of a mix really complements the frequencies associated with clarity. For this trick, I’ll create a bus with my full mix, and with a high Q shelf drastically amplify above 12kHz.

Additionally, I’ll attenuate all frequencies lower than 12kHz, and set the EQ to linear phase to avoid phase cancellation between this send and the original signal.

Then, I’ll use a low-latency upward compressor to bring forward all of the quietest details of these frequencies, before using the send’s channel fader to blend this effect in with the original signal. Let’s take a listen.

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Dynamic Mid Frequency Equalization

I avoided this topic until near the end of the video since not everyone will have an intelligent EQ - but if you do, I’d recommend isolating its processing to the mids of a signal, and then introducing the effect. This works even better if you side-chain a competing signal.

For example, I could place this on my vocal bus and side-chain the instrument bus, then use subtle settings.

Let’s take a listen to this effect being used on the full mix bus, and notice how isolating it to the mids adds a lot of clarity.

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Soothe 2 with External Side Chain

Similar to the last chapter, we can use a unique plugin, Soothe 2, to attenuate overlapping frequencies by inserting the processor on a signal and then side-chaining a competing signal. Again, a good example would be to use it on the vocals and then side-chain an instrument bus.

Let’s try it on the lows though by placing it on the bass and side-chaining the kick to add clarity, similar to chapters 4 and 5.

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