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How do you guys deal with mix definition in the high lows/lower mids? I find that everything fights for the 200Hz range, and with track-heavy mixes, it's so easy to overload the region and turn things into mud.

"It depends" is the easy answer so I'm looking for something else. Let's go beyond the technicalities of room treatment, monitor setups, and compression, and discuss stylistic suggestions? Taking out and leaving in what works well, or sounds interesting?

Am especially interested in replies in the context of post-production mixing, i.e. where music, sound effects, and voices all have to meet and play nice even in a dynamic and busy mix. Surely you've had this trouble you at some stage?

My quick fix for now, and it's a dirty hack, is just to drop the 100-110 Hz and 200-220 Hz harshly down. For some reason they seem to be common modes in every room I've worked. Lately I've been thinking, it'd be nice to have something live and breathe in there. But what to choose?

With stereo (not 5.1) mixes it's so tough to decide.

Examples are welcome. Thanks in advance.

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5 Answers 5

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For me it's usually down to what needs to be focussed at that point in time. If it's a fast paced action sequence (dialogues, heavy music, lots of sound sound effects), you need to take a call as to what needs to be highlighted to convey the story/feeling at that point in the timeline. If the dialogue is critical, then everything plays second fiddle. If it's more for 'effect' and there's lots of on screen action then it would be important to highlight the sound effects.

Usually a simple HPF and LPF on the sub masters (music/sfx/voice) along with level control can help bring things in and out of focus - thereby making room for other elements.

It is also important to look at individual elements: if you have heavy explosions in the scene along with HUGE taiko drums in the score, it will result in a low-mid/lowend mess. If the explosions are important then maybe dropping the level of the taikos might help. This is when the mind can also be tricked into hearing things. If you start the sequence with the Taikos loud and ride them down while the explosions take over, our mind/ears would still continue to be subconsciously aware of the Taikos. On that note, it usually helps if explosions have more bass/sub bass elements as it leaves room for the other elements in a mix (a tip from Randy Thom..watch the 'How To Train Your Dragon' Sound Show on SWC).

If nothing works you might have to re-edit/re-design some of the sounds to get them to fit better - if time is a luxury.

Is there anything specific you are having a problem with?

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very useful response. nothing specific in question, but i thought it's an interesting question and it was suggested that this is the best place to discuss it. i love this: "this is when the mind can also be tricked into hearing things". more of it please. –  georgi Jun 28 '11 at 19:48

By no means am I an expert, but here's how I approach this.

I was taught to roll off as much as possible below 40-100Hz, depending on the track and material, in order to increase headroom when those frequencies aren't absolutely essential. Heck, sometimes a very soft-knee, broad-Q reduction of 20-40Hz ranges can "un-mud" a mix in surprising ways.

Of course, you'd not roll off anything that is creating heft, weight, meat, or LFE punch...but even those kinds of effects are usually multi-track affairs, so choosing what track to carry that frequency range is the trick. This is equally applicable to mixing rhythm sections (especially the ever-critical balance of kick drum and bassline) and effects-heavy sequences (I was surprised upon re-listening how many laser shots in the Star Wars prequel really didn't have much low end, to the benefits of less-frequent artillery fire and explosions).

Between rolling off LF's where they're not essential and EQ'ing subtractively (rather than additively) per track, and DEFINITELY going back and REMOVING tracks and effects as part of my polishing process (also subtractive), I try to aim for where the final overall mix just needs a kiss of EQ or compression. Drawback of this is that it takes more time, but I find my work always improves when I take this approach.

For example, I often struggle between balancing punches/hits and bodyfalls, for example, which can easily sum into LF mud...sometimes a punch has to be lighter and snappier in order to make room for other hits that simply involve more weight.

If you've got as many tracks as you listed in your example, dialogue tracks are good places to trim, but of course it's always a balancing act between warmth and the offending frequencies.

It does maybe go back to the narrative needs of the moment, and assessing what sound can dominate not just at what time, but in what frequency band at what time. It's not totally unlike music composition in that way, in my opinion.

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I'd guess that, as with mixing on volume levels, your focus changes depending on what you are mixing. If you have an explosion or a close-up gunshot - something completely driving the drama - then you would want to lose most of your other low frequency content to let that hit properly. You'd have to hope that the composer left a space there or whoever is sound-mixing will have to make a decision to lose the bass from the sound or the music to keep the impact.

For instance if you are mixing a scene set in a spaceship with lots of LF rumble then it would be fine for that to be quite audible whilst you have characters having a discussion, but you'd want that rumble mostly out of the way in a busy scene with gun foley, footsteps, laser shots, characters shouting, all underscored by dramatic music.

If I'm at the point were sound effects are obscuring dialogue I'd EQ the bass out of the sound effects as much as possible, although I might do it with automation so that it just dips out for the duration of the dialogue.

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I think, as usual, Mr. NJ's got it covered.

However, and for what it's worth, you can do wonders for the sound of your room with some pink noise, an omni mic, a frequency analyser plug, and an EQ at the end of your playback chain. This is probably the downest and dirtiest method of room fixing, but it's a hoik of a lot easier than rebuilding your facility.

It'll depend on your routing setup, but I bounce everything internally, so my master bus is playback only and has no effect on what goes to "tape." Drop your analyzer into and arm the track the omni is attached to, play the pink noise out your system, and simply start scooping out your EQ until the picture on your frequency analyzer matches what pink noise is supposed to look like.

A lot of people us music for this, but I find that the frequency content to be too variable to be reliable. In terms of EQing, Pink noise is one of the few things that I know I can't trust my ears with, there's too much going on. But I know for certain that it's constant. Also its pictorial representation is really simple to wrap the noggin around, so I always just aim for a gentle down slope in the direction of the high end.

It won't be perfect, but it'll give you a slightly more accurate space to work in. At the very least you'll be able to tell if the muddy wobble is coming from the room or the mix. The difference is insane.

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yeah I kind of wanted to avoid the room treatment route and especially monitoring EQ in this discussion since it can easily become a war zone :) –  georgi Jun 28 '11 at 7:07
    
@georgi.m, Sorry... I couldn't help it... I'll shut up now... It does work though... –  g.a.harry Jun 28 '11 at 18:42

Calibrate your room first.

If you hire the right kit calibration can take less than a day.

Usually the problem areas for 100 - 200 Hz are corners and corner bass traps will help a lot.

Once you have this sorted then start automating your EQ.

When a sound has plenty of room to breathe use full bandwidth. When a sound is fighting against another sound or sounds, narrow the frequency range down to the fundamental and its key harmonics. That way the sound can cut through everything else. You can then open it up again when there is more space.

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