Polish That Mix! How To Effectively Remove Mud & Clutter

Are you looking for a couple of quick tips to add that little extra bit of polish to your final mixdown? Are you finding that you’re struggling to get that mix crisp, clear and loud? Your track might be suffering from mix clutter syndrome. To help you restore your tune to good health, here’s a quick guide on minimising mixdown clutter.

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Cut the low-end

An effective way to remove clutter or ‘mud’ in your mix is to free up space by cutting low-end in instruments that don’t need it. As low-end is completely unnecessary for most instruments in modern music, cut the bass in the tracks that don’t require it. This will leave room for your kick drum and bass to breathe without any interference.
Leaving sub frequencies in non-weighty instruments such as high hats may sound ‘dope’ in solo mode, but once you un-solo the track you’re going to run into the following problems:

  • The hats will interfere with your kick and bass, and the build-up of rumble will cause your low-end definition to collapse.
  • The unnecessary low-end build up will prevent you from getting your mix nice and loud.
  • Your mastering engineer may begin to resent you.

Hot Tip: If you’re sampling a recorded drum break that has too much low-end build up in its supporting elements (such as congas or shakers), use a mid-side EQ to cut the low-end out of just the side elements. Chances are that the kick has already been mono’d right down the middle, so by cutting just the sides you’ll leave the low-end preserved for the kick drum and the sides will begin to open up.

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Clear the mud

This is a more advanced technique that applies the same principles as mentioned above, but hones in on a frequency range known as the ‘mud region’.
The ‘mud region’ can be a tricky one to tame, and generally lies anywhere from about 300Hz to 600Hz. It has a characteristically ‘boxy’ sound, and while that boxiness does help to make a sound fuller and natural – it’s easy for too much of it to build up across many channels and clutter the mix.
Just like low-end, ‘mud’ doesn’t need to live in every instrument. With this in mind, you’ll need to make some critical mixing decisions here, as removing too much 500hz (e.g. going wild and cutting the whole mix around that area) will result in a hollow sounding mixdown – you don’t want that.
So instead of going guns blazing with your EQ, consider cutting small amounts from instruments that don’t require space in that region.

Hand of an audio engineer on studio mixer is making a recording.

Example:
In a lot of my own electronic music mixdowns, pads play a supporting role and require little (if any) low-end or boxiness. Ultimately it’s a stylistic choice, but I prefer my pads and strings to be ‘floaty’ and airy. I find this allows space for more important instruments to occupy, such as lead synths and drums.
To achieve a nice, floaty pad sound, I begin by shelving its low-end off with an EQ. I then use an EQ with a wide Q-factor to make a gentle and shallow smiley dip anywhere around the 300-600Hz region (depending on the sound). I aim to remove just enough so that the mix ‘opens up’, but not so much that it sounds unnatural/hollow/overly thin.
Important: It is important to practice this technique while the full mix is playing. EQ’ing in solo does not give you an accurate representation of how your mix will sound when playing altogether.
If done correctly, you’ll find that the sounds that actually require that mud region will no longer get lost in the thick of your mix, and you’ll be one step closer to a shining mix.

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