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.