Smoothen­ing your mix and re­mov­ing harsh­ness

Three pro-level tips for deal­ing with ear-of­fend­ing spikes


Ev­ery mix is dif­fer­ent. That’s why ex­pe­ri­ence is the pro­ducer’s most pow­er­ful weapon: after solv­ing dif­fer­ent prob­lems in dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios, you’ll build up a knowl­edge base of tools and tricks that will only ex­pand as time goes on.

Re­mov­ing mix harsh­ness is one such prob­lem that de­mands a de­gree of ex­pe­ri­ence. Once iden­ti­fied, it can be tricky to pin­point a so­lu­tion. The prob­lem is ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that many of us work en­tirely in the dig­i­tal realm, with­out ac­cess to nat­u­rally ‘smooth’ ana­logue out­board gear – or at least the ear-pleas­ing tone.

A big cause of mix harsh­ness is spiky high-mid and tre­ble tran­sients – think pierc­ing hi-hats and per­cus­sion. In this tu­to­rial, let’s look at three quick pro­cess­ing tech­niques you can use to over­come this, and cre­ate smooth club mixes that won’t blow pun­ters’ ears off.

If the high-mid of your mix is ‘jumpy’ and dy­namic, gen­tle peak lim­it­ing or fast-act­ing com­pres­sion can tame spikes in a sub­tle way. Al­ter­na­tively, a stage of ana­logue-style tape sat­u­ra­tion can re­move harsh­ness and steril­ity with­out flat­ten­ing straight-up peak sup­pres­sion.

Dy­namic EQ is a highly use­ful tool for tam­ing harsh res­o­nant fre­quen­cies that jump out of the high-mid of the mix. Set up a dy­namic EQ band to re­main in­ac­tive for the ma­jor­ity of the time, but dial in set­tings to clamp down on of­fend­ing res­o­nance only when needed.

Es­sen­tially a high-mid-fo­cused multiband com­pres­sor, a de-esser plugin can do far more than vo­cal sibi­lance re­moval. You could try one on harsh drum sig­nals or buses, synths, pierc­ing FX, or even on the master out­put.

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