How to Mix with Harmonics Published in Mastering

When mixing with harmonics, it’s best to know how the saturator you use introduces various harmonic formations - this way you can use certain types to brighter or warmer sound. Additionally, when mixing with harmonics, try running saturation into a subsequent processor to enhance their effect.

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Bass Saturation Settings

For this video, I want to cover some creative ways to use harmonics.

Let’s start with some bass saturation settings - I’ll use this saturator to use a warm setting on the low frequencies, and a more aggressive one on the highs to increase the lows while keeping definition. Then I’m going to insert this Split EQ by Eventide.

With it I can affect the tonal and transient aspects of my saturation separately - I’ll increase the sustain-esc elements of the lowest frequencies and the transients on the highs. This way the harmonics I introduced have quieter details amplified in the lows, and percussive aspects amplified in the highs.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the bass sounds both full and detailed.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Drum Side Image Saturation

From my drum bus, I’ll create a send, on which I’ve inserted the free plugin MSED to solo the side image - then I’ve inserted Saturate by Newfangled Audio to heavily distort the drum’s side image, adding lots of harmonics. Lastly, I used this Punctuate plugin by the same developer.

With it, I cause frequency-specific expansion to the side image. By adding harmonics I filled out the otherwise sparse side image, then by expanding the side image I caused dynamic amplification of these aggressive harmonics.

Let’s listen to how this creates a truly unique and impressive drum bus.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Harmonics into Doubler

From my melody or vocal, I’m going to create a send and subsequent auxiliary track, on which I’ll add a saturation plugin to introduce strong harmonics and aggressively fill the vocal’s frequency spectrum. Then, I’ll insert a vocal doubler plugin, in this case, H3000 Factory by Eventide.

I’ll select its Tripler preset and increase the mix to 100%. By filling out the frequency spectrum of the vocal before doubling, I made an effect designed to thicken a vocal sound even fuller.

Lastly, I’ll blend in the overall effect with the aux track’s channel fader. Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

In-Key Saturation Bands

The song we’ve been working on is in the key B flat minor - its fundamental is Db. With this info, I’ll use the plugin Saturator by PSP Audioware and center my low-frequency saturation over the fundamental and the high-frequency saturation over an overtone or higher harmonic.

Since I’m distorting higher frequencies I’ll use the oversampling function, and I also created a drive effect by increasing the input and decreasing the output.

Let’s take a listen and notice how saturating in-key aspects of the signal, makes it sound fuller and more musical.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Time-Based Drum Saturation

With this Shaperbox plugin by CableGuys, I’m going to use the drive module to introduce hard clipping to my drum bus - but I’m going to use the Audio trigger to isolate it to my transients. With the window in the middle, I ended the distorted after 1/16th note.

This keeps the distortion to the beginning of my drum hit, and also creates a slightly musical sound whenever the distortion or harmonics are taken out of the signal by the end of the 1/16th note.

Let’s listen and notice how the drums sound more impressive.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Mid Hz. Saturation Aux

If the overall mid-range of your mix isn’t sounding right, here’s a fun and easy trick - send your buses to a signal auxiliary track on which you insert a linear phase EQ and isolate the mid frequencies. Then insert a saturation plugin - I’ve found that Tape works well.

I chose this TAIP plugin by Baby Audio and introduced a good amount of drive, while also including some of its compression options. Lastly, we can blend the effect in with the aux channel fader.

Let’s take a listen and notice how full and impressive the mid-frequency range becomes.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Unique Ducked Harmonics

This is a strange trick, but it has both creative and practical uses - first I’ll create a send from a signal, in this case, a vocal bus, and first insert my saturation plugin. Then I’ll insert a compressor and side-chain the original unprocessed vocal, making it the trigger.

Now whenever the beginning of a vocal transient is present, the level of the saturation goes down but increases as the clean vocal gets quieter.

If used very aggressively this could have a cool creative sound, but if used subtly, it helps keep a signal’s transient clean while still getting the benefit of harmonic distortion.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Using Exciters on Bus

Exciters are frequency-specific saturators, typically ones that isolate the harmonics to the highest frequency ranges. This makes them great for brightening up a sound - I’ll often use this free Air EQ and exciter plugin on my buses to quickly add clarity and bring forward details in the highs.

Let’s take a listen to how it instantly brightens the sound and creates a dense high-frequency range.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Separating Kick and Bass

These last 2 chapters will be pretty simple but useful nonetheless - if our kick and bass are clashing too much we can use varying harmonics to help differentiate them. For example, I could use Tape saturation on the kick which creates odd harmonics, and Tube to emphasize even harmonics.

This will depend on the plugin you use, but generally, these types of saturation are odd and even respectively.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Separating Vocal and Inst

Similar to the last chapter, we can use varying harmonic formations to help separate clashing signals. I’ll use transistor saturation on the vocal to subtly increase the high frequencies, and clean tube saturation on the instruments to create balanced even and odd harmonics - giving the 2 unique sonic spaces.

Let’s take a listen and notice how each is a little more distinct from one another after introducing these saturation types.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

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