1. Make Emotional Intelligence (EQ) decisions that are informed and deliberate
Different parts of an arrangement obscuring one another is often what causes a mix to seem “muddy” or “cloudy.”
After establishing basic balances and structuring a session, one of the first things I do is go through with an EQ like the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 and apply subtractive EQ to parts with excessive low end and low-midrange.
The space between the different instruments will become more defined once properly cleaned up with EQ. An added benefit of this approach is that your compressors will behave better when they aren’t being driven with unnecessary low end information — but first and foremost, the space between the different instruments will become more defined once properly cleaned up with EQ.
2. Correct Drum Balances As Soon As Possible (Where Applicable)
It’s not uncommon for acoustic drum recordings to have at least 15 tracks of material: multiple kick and snare drum mics, direct toms, overheads, room captures, and so on — try to find a balance that feels good early on, because the space in which you place the drums will have perhaps more influence on the overall perceived space of a mix than any other individual part of an arrangement.
Early in the mixing process, I’ll generally focus on the drums, establishing balances for each individual mic, applying subtractive equalization, and compressing the kick, snare, and room microphones as needed.
If my acoustic drums were recorded well in a nice context, I seldom need reverb plugins or processing.
Automating the balance of direct, room, and overhead signals (see point 4) may also significantly improve the overall vitality of your mix.
3. Use a variety of reverb and delay effects
With so many amazing reverbs and delays available, it’s easy to go overboard. Too much of these may detract from the spaciousness of your mix by rapidly building up and obliterating any feeling of clarity.
Learn the differences between spring, plate, chamber, and other terms, and use them sparingly.
To get rid of any excessive low or high end, utilize the inbuilt filters that come with reverb plugins. If your favorite plugin doesn’t have this feature, using an EQ to influence the tone of your reverb is a wonderful alternative.
The same applies for delays: make sure they’re MIDI-synced when possible, filter them, and understand the differences between the various sorts of delays.
4. Automate, A Lot
Engineers used to rely on balance to define the space of an arrangement before the days of nearly endless DSP and hundreds of fantastic plugins.
I’ll play through the music numerous times after applying EQ, compression, and other processing, recording volume automation for various portions each time.
This is exciting because I get to physically “play” the music like an instrument, assisting in the drawing of attention to specific portions that must stand out at important periods.
5. Carefully compress
Compression applied to drum room mics may make them seem even bigger and roomier, but compression applied to specific components, such as vocals, or even the whole mix, may bring things forward and closer to the listener.
Become familiar with your various compressors and experiment with attack and release periods until you feel more at ease with compression in general.
Applying too much of the incorrect sort of compression or limiting to the master bus may easily wreck a whole mix.