5 Tips for Quickly Improving Your EDM Mix
There are no shortcuts when it comes to getting a good EDM mix outside of getting the sounds “perfect” during the production phase. But there are a few techniques a lot of folks overlook that can almost immediately boost the overall quality of your mixes.
Let’s see if I can give you five tips that you can apply to your next record to see an overall noticeable improvement.
1. High-Pass While Referencing Key Elements
I think we’ve all heard advice about high-passing everything that isn’t the kick and the bass. Well, I’m hoping to expand on this, because aimlessly high-pass filtering can absolutely work against you.
The trick to getting a cutoff frequency right is to have your kick and bass playing while you do it, and to bring in your midrange elements in the order of which has the lowest fundamental tones.
For example, let’s say you have a kick, bass, a midrange-y saw lead, a wide piano line (2 hands, big chords), and a broad-range synth pad.
Pull up the kick and bass. While the kick and bass are playing, determine what has the next lowest fundamental part. Probably the piano because that left hand is going to hit some low notes.
Now, pull up a high-pass filter on the piano. Start pulling up the frequency of the high-pass filter until the piano starts to sound thin and then back it off. If you do this right, the piano won’t feel like it’s “missing” low end because the bass is providing that low end for you. If you switch the piano into solo, then you should go “oh, wow, that’s missing some low end.”
Once you have the piano worked out, bring in the next element (the saw lead in our hypothetical). Chances are you can bring up a high-pass filter pretty high on this element because you’ve got plenty of lows in the kick, bass and piano all working together.
And one other thing… a lot of synths won’t possess a ton of low end, or any at all. If the sound doesn’t have low end, there’s no need to high-pass it.
2. Don’t Forget Low Pass Filters
Just like how we use high pass filters to get things out of the way of the kick and the bass, the same idea applies to the other end of the spectrum. You don’t need a lot of stuff above about 10 kHz.
In our example above, chances are the saw lead has plenty of super treble sizzle. That broad range synth pad probably has a pretty bright top too.
Low passing background elements like pads can clarify the top end tremendously.
Counterintuitively, by low passing that pad in our example, we can actually make the whole record brighter because there’s less top-end congestion. We can get brighter records by removing top end!
The key to this is to decide exactly what needs that 10k+ energy, and what really doesn’t.
Check out the video at the bottom of the post for more on low-passing synths.
3. EQ Reverbs and Delays
Reverbs and delays are secret sonic space suckers.
A lot of the time we just throw a reverb or delay on an element and keep moving. But by the time we’ve finished our mix we have tons of reverb and delay content going on, and all of that stuff is creating clutter.
Some bold EQ moves can really open up the record.
My advice for getting this right is to take all your reverbs and turn them way up. Then grab an EQ and attenuate whatever tones are clouding the mix the most. Turn the reverbs back down and now bypass and un-bypass those EQs. If you did it right you should notice the mix open up and spark to life with a regained sense of clarity. Now, mute and un-mute your reverb returns. Even with the EQ’ing, you should still feel the effect of those reverbs bringing a sense of space and color to your mix.
Any time you add a reverb or delay, you are effectively adding a new element to your mix, and that element may very well need EQ just like anything else. Also, be decisive with the timing of your reverbs and delays. Adjust the decay time/feedback with clarity in mind.
Not everything needs a three second reverb, and not everything needs 50% feedback delay. Keep it long enough to provide the dimension and energy you want, but no longer than that!
On reverbs in particular, a little pre-delay can be good for keeping the source sound clear to the ear as well.
4. Doing Nothing is Still Doing Something
Of course, not everything needs EQ… or compression, or delay, or reverb.
A lot of synth design involves using simple wave shapes.
Simple wave shape oscillators tend not to demand much in the way of EQ. And, a lot of synth design involves the use of filters, so there’s already some EQ happening in the sound design. And sometimes things just sound right as-is.
Choosing not to affect something is often times a great choice, and it’s still a mix decision.
So if a sample fits perfectly, or a synth already sounds spot on to begin with — don’t futz with it!
5. Make Sure Your Kicks are in Phase
If you are layering kicks, absolutely make sure they are in phase. Meaning, make sure the kicks are working together constructively.
The easiest way to check this is to grab a utility plugin with a “polarity inversion” switch (that little circle with the line through it). Flip the polarity on one of your kicks. Does the overall kick sound become hollow and weak? Then your kicks were in phase. Does the overall kick suddenly become strong and full? Then your kicks are now in phase.
If you are a tweaker like me, get yourself a plugin like SoundRadix Auto-Align, or Waves InPhase. These tools can get multiple sources very precisely phase-aligned which can give you that extra inch of power when the kick knocks.
These are my five quick tips that should give you a little more clarity and a little more power in your mixes.
Feel free to write in the comments below with an questions or a quick tip of your own that noticeably improved the quality of your own mixing as soon as you learned it.
Take your EDM mixes and productions to the next level with Mixing EDM.
Includes 4+ hours of tips, techniques and approaches for mixing EDM, including drops, transitions, vocals, kicks, bass, synths and more — with three different songs as source material.
There’s also multitracks for you to practice with and a 40 minute mastering interview with the legendary Chris Athens.
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