How to Make a Powerful Mix

How to Tame Harsh Vocals

When making a powerful mix, start with the low frequencies and ensure they don’t overlap excessively – typically it’s best to attenuate overlapping lows on the bass track.  Mid frequencies are also important when making a powerful mix, on which I’ll typically use parallel processing and upward compression.

First Fix Excessive Overlap

The tips in this video are in no particular order, but I put this one first since skipping it is going to lead to a lot of problems.

Before we begin to amplify anything, let’s look at where our bass frequencies are overlapping – I’m going to use the Pro-Q 3 for this since it makes it easier.  I’ll place the EQ on the bass and then side-chain the kick drum – then I’ll reduce where they overlap.

Some overlap will always exist, as so will subsequent masking, but controlling it is incredibly important.  Let’s listen and notice how it improves definition in the lows.

Ensure Mono Compatibility

Although a wide stereo image can be enjoyable, too wide of lows is a problem, especially if you want a powerful, driving mix.  So on my instrument busses, or maybe even my stereo output, I’m going to attenuate the side image’s lows with a high pass filter.

This will make the lows mono, focused, and create a powerful low end.

Dynamic Amplification of Fundamentals

Since we took care of excessive overlap in the lows in chapter 1, we can amplify some of our fundamentals.  I’ll do this to the kick, and vocal but where you apply it is up to you – on each I’ll create a band over the fundamental and make it dynamic.

Notice that the kicks fundamental is static, whereas the vocals move around – this is because the vocalist’s notes are variable.  When that’s the case I’ll typically choose the root note.

Let’s listen with this EQ applied.

Advanced Saturation Pt.1

Let’s start looking at advanced techniques – with FabFIlter’s Saturn 2, I’m going to saturate my drum bus but use these ideas on any signal.  I’m going to create 3 bands of saturation, then create an envelope follower, which I’ll switch to transient mode and shorten the ADSR.

I’m going to attach this to my drive dial and adjust the amount that this follower affects the drive function’s dynamics. 

I can then do this for each band to varying degrees, creating program-dependent distortion that emphasizes transients.

I’m going to use this same follower on my dynamics dial – I’ll invert the value of the follower’s effect, then increase the dynamics.  This creates a dense sound when things are quiet and a dynamic one when a transient hit.

Let’s take a listen to this on the drum bus, and keep in mind how you can use this on other sources.

Advanced Saturation Pt.2

Let’s build on what we did last chapter by introducing stereo imaging – first I need to enable M/S processing in the plugin.  For simplicities sake, I’ll use the same envelope follower and attach it to the drive dial’s panning – meaning I can make my distortion dynamically centered or wide.

For the lows, I’ll make them dynamically more mono, similar to the EQ we used in chapter 2.  For the highs, I’ll make them dynamically wider.  Again, let’s listen to the drum bus and note how these additional parameters make for more powerful drums.

Aggressive Parallel Processing

When you’re making a powerful mix, you can’t be afraid of processing – but a parallel track definitely helps take some of the edge off by letting you blend in the effects.  On a parallel track, I’m first going to use a transient expander to emphasize the details and transients.

I’ll use NewFangled Audio’s Punctuate for this since it can create 26 independent bands of transient expansion. 

Then I’ll use their plugin Saturate to hard clip the transients that Punctuate created, driving the signal into its brick wall.

The result is a super aggressive sound.  I’ll try this on drums, and blend in the effect with the fader.

Even More Aggressive Parallel Processing

Let’s do the same thing we did in the last chapter, that is use the Newfangled transient expander and clipper but then add in upward compression.  By doing this I’m taking all of the quieter details that got created from this processing and bringing it to the front.

Let’s listen to the difference a low-level compressor will make to this parallel track.

Important Mid Frequencies to EQ

We’ve focused a lot of lows, which of course do have a lot to do with making a powerful mix, but let’s also look at the mids.  If you want a signal to be perceived as closer, amplify a harmonic around 500Hz.

If you want that signal to stick out or cut through, amplify 3-5kHz or the high mids.  Let’s affect these frequencies on a vocal to better understand what they do.

Upward Compression on Mids

For this technique, I’m going to set up a parallel track again, and use a linear phase EQ to isolate the mids with a bandpass filter.  Then I’ll place my upward compressor on the track and increase the low-level detail to whatever instrument I want to send to it.

So say my vocals are lacking power in the mids, I’ll send them to the bus, same for guitars, synths, or whatever you signal is sounding weak.

Let’s take a listen to how this track affects the mids and overall power of the mix.

Gullfoss EQ on Mids

Similar to our lows, having balance in the mids is important – like in chapter one we could find overlaps and attenuate those, but let’s look at a different albeit simpler way to balance these frequencies.  All I’ll do is insert the Gullfoss EQ and isolate the processing to the mids.

We could place this processor on a bus and send instruments to it like in the last chapter, so let’s do that and notice how balancing the mids creates a more powerful mix overall.

Get a FREE Mastered Sample of Your Song ➜

Sage Audio Mastering

Nashville, TN