Crowded, confused, and muddled are 3 words you DON’T want to hear when someone is describing your mix.
But that’s exactly what you get when you have conflicting channels fighting for space in your session.
You may have experienced the low frequencies of your bass overlap with the kick making it sound weak and thin, whilst robbing the overall mix of precious headroom.
Or perhaps you’ve mixed a song where the pianos, guitars and synths dominate the mid range making the vocals unintelligible. And using EQ to make the vocals cut through just made it sound harsh…
You’re not alone! These are problems that every artist, producer, and mix engineer have to deal with in every session. In this post I’m going to explain an incredibly effective and BRAND NEW way of dealing with conflicting channels.
With this information, you’ll make the cleanest mixes of your entire career, clearing up channel conflict with more precision than ever before.
If you’re a professional, this is for you because it will save you an insane amount of your precious time, whilst also giving you total control.
If you’re a beginner, this is for you because it’s immediately intuitive and you’ll get great results with ease.
Understanding the Root Causes: Identifying Why Channels Fight for Space
The clash between two channels in a mix occurs due to a phenomenon called phase cancellation. When two sound waves with similar frequencies meet but are slightly out of phase (not perfectly aligned), they can interfere with each other. This interference causes certain frequencies to cancel each other out, resulting in a loss of volume and clarity in those frequency ranges.
Imagine two waves—one peaking while the other is troughing—meeting at a point. The crests of one wave align with the troughs of the other, leading to cancellation. This phenomenon is most prominent when the frequencies of the waves are close to each other.
Phase cancellation and clashes between channels can occur in various situations during music production and audio mixing:
Overlapping Frequencies: When two or more instruments or sounds in the mix have similar frequency content, such as competing basslines or vocal harmonies.
Mono Compatibility: When a mix is played in mono (a single channel), phase issues can become more pronounced, leading to cancellations that are less noticeable in stereo.
Microphone Placement: In multi-microphone setups, if microphones are placed too close to each other or not properly phased, phase cancellation can occur when the signals are mixed.
Parallel Processing: Using multiple instances of processing effects (like compression or EQ) on the same signal can sometimes introduce phase issues if not carefully managed.
Room Acoustics: In recording environments with poor acoustic treatment, reflections and resonances can lead to phase interactions between the direct sound and reflections.
Sample Layering: When layering multiple samples or sounds, their phase relationships might not align perfectly, causing certain frequencies to cancel each other out.
Stereo Imaging: If elements panned to opposite sides of the stereo field have similar frequencies, they can interact and create phase issues, especially when summed to mono.
The image below shows the overlapping frequencies and stereo position of the hit song ‘Uptown Funk’. Notice how the kick overlaps the bass, and how the vocals are set on top of the big synth.
Harmonious Volume Balance
A wise first step when fixing clashes is to address the volume balance between the two channels.
If the (supposedly) submissive channel is louder than the dominant channel, then you’re off to a bad start.
Our plugin FUSER helps you analyze the relative volume of two channels so you can quickly tweak it to suit your goals.
Step 1: Load FUSER on the submissive channel.
Step 2: Sidechain the dominant channel.
Step 3: Align the input gain knob to the level match pointer. This will set the submissive channel to the same loudness as the dominant channel.
Step 4: You might decide to set the volume of your submissive channel a little quieter. Or move on to side-chain ducking to create more space.
Sidechain Techniques: Creating Space in a Crowded Mix
Creating space in a mix through sidechaining is straightforward. You identify two channels in a similar frequency range fighting for space in your mix, such as your kick and bass, or vocals and piano.
With sidechaining, you give one priority over the other. You might use our plugin FUSER on your bass and sidechain the kick so the bass ‘ducks’ out of the way to make room for your kick allowing it to punch through the mix.
FUSER is also effective on musical elements such as guitars, pianos and synths to carve out space for your vocals so they can be the focal point for your song.
Once FUSERs sidechain is set up, you’ll see frequency-specific channel conflicts glowing in the display.
Click the 'Resolve Conflicts' button to automatically initiate processing that transparently resolves channel conflict and frequency masking without overdoing it. The smart node is fully tweak-able, putting you in control.
To manually create a node, double-click the frequency display. Drag the node down to increase the processing amount. Adjust mid/side, Q, attack, and release individually.
Click the small triangle button in the top right to listen to the Delta signal. It will assist you in setting the perfect attack and release settings.
Turn Pro With Mid Side Precision
In the digital era, mid/side processing plug-ins work by converting a stereo track into two signals. The Mid signal contains the information that shows up in both speakers, while the Side signal contains the information that is unique to the left and right speakers.
Conflict becomes most prominent when clashing frequencies emerge in the same mid-side position within the mix.
On the contrary, frequencies that overlap across different mid-side positions might not disrupt each other significantly.
Keeping this notion in mind, we can precisely place side-chain ducking in the mid-side position where the clash occurs, while leaving the parts of the stereo image that aren't experiencing conflicts un-processed.
FUSER makes identifying mid-side specific clashing incredibly easy. The mid clashes are displayed as a red glow. The side clashes are shown as a yellow glow. It’s visual clarity for your mix.
With this information, you’re empowered to set each node to a mid-side position that alleviates the conflict without unnecessarily disrupting other parts of the sound.
The journey from a cluttered and confused mix to a polished masterpiece begins with understanding the intricacies of channel conflicts.
Armed with this newfound knowledge and the innovative techniques presented here, you have the means to reclaim control over your mix.
Your mixes will breathe with newfound clarity, letting each element shine harmoniously in its rightful place.
Embrace this innovative approach, and elevate your audio production to new heights.