View Full Version : Guidance on mixing - "muddy" sound.

12-04-2015, 07:19 PM
I thought I’d ask a bit production/mixing guidance.

I’m working on a new piece with, at times, both cellos and French horns. They both generally occupy the same spectrum between 200Hz and 1000 Hz and thus tend to “step on each other” in the mix. Here is what I’ve tried so far:

I’ve EQs the French Horns to make them a bit thinner in the bottom.
I have gone to higher dynamic layers (CC1) for the horns than I like, but that does give them a bit more bite and have less energy in the lower range.
I have tried placing the FHs and cellos in different parts of the stereo image, i.e. move them further out than where they naturally sit.

I’ve used a FFT spectral analyzer to make sure I get an accurate picture of what’s going on.

Despite all my fiddling, it still sounds “muddy”

I would much appreciate any guidance or suggestions on how to overcome what I perceive to be problem.

Thanks in advance


Jeff Hayat
12-04-2015, 08:13 PM
They both generally occupy the same spectrum between 200Hz and 1000 Hz and thus tend to “step on each other” in the mix.

Already it sounds like your orchestration is suspect. Of course it's impossible to tell you how to try and fix it, as I have no idea what the instruments are currently doing, what else you have going on, and what you are trying to achieve.

Many people compose and arrange the way they feel - and/or the way they think is correct - and then wind up with problems such as these. They then tend to reach for an EQ, or a filter to try and correct the mud, thinking that's the way to go. It's not. That's not to say you should never use EQ to get a better sounding mix - of course you can, and should when necessary. What I am saying here is that's not the first place to look. Instead, he first place to look is your arrangement, which includes what instruments are playing the melody, what instruments are forming the chord and/or chord progression, what range the instruments are playing in, and on. So if you are hearing mud, and if you feel that certain instruments are stepping on each other in the mix, think about altering your orchestration. You may want to raise the horns 1 octave. Or lower the celli, if that's technically possible (range), or assign the horns (or celli) to other intruments.

When your confident that your orchestration is as sound as it can be, then reach for the EQ and/or filter if necessary. Panning some things slightly more to l or r can help a bit here as well. If you have any reverb, try cutting some low end on the verb - you will be surprised at how much a difference small cuts here can make.

Lastly, there is always the possibility that there really isn't that much mud, but that your monitoring environment (monitors/room) is suspect.


12-04-2015, 08:52 PM
Jeff - thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response: Your explanation and guidance make complete sense. I am definitely not professionally trained (or even unprofessionally trained) as a composer, so I'm learning as I go. There are really many nuances over e.g. solo piano music, which I've written for quite a while.

I think I'll start by disabling all FX on all tracks, look at all the instruments and their settings, and re-orchestrate. I really do like the flexibility and sound of HO, so it's fun and challenging to figure out.

I think your answer gets to the heart of the issue - thanks again!


Jay Asher
12-05-2015, 06:30 AM
Wise advice from Jeff. It starts with the orchestration and with EQ, you should take the Hippocratic Oath: "First do no harm."

12-05-2015, 07:07 AM
I have never had to EQ any specific elements in my music, well sometimes I have EQ'd drums or a synth to make them stand out more :), but never orchestral samples. Usually it all just "works" and I always wonder about people who get "muddy sound". I must be doing something right, haha.

12-05-2015, 08:30 AM
Have you tried some exciter plug ins?
Thay get the mix sound more brillant getting rid of mudness

12-05-2015, 08:31 AM
+1,000 for what Jeff said. Truly excellent advice. I would suggest that you do look into getting some training in orchestration/composition. There are many resources available from books to online courses to individual tuition. People have different ways of approaching this but there's no doubt that orchestration is a complex and difficult thing to learn to do well and a DIY approach can only take us so far. I am certainly still learning and the more I learn, the more I appreciate what a deep and involved process it is.

As a start I would suggest you get hold of some scores of orchestral music you like and really study them. Ask yourself what the composer was trying to achieve and how he/she did it in the orchestration in terms of instrumentation, colour and timbre, doubling, register, foreground and background, dynamics etc. etc. If you can begin to see what is really going on, even in one short section of a few bars, then try to write something like that and do a similar orchestration, i.e. apply it. The other great way to learn is to do a mockup of part of a piece you like and to make it sound like a good recording you have heard. And finally, at least as important as learning to orchestrate is to learn about the individual orchestral instruments: their registers and ranges and the differing timbres in each (especially winds), how to write idiomatic lines for them both individually and as a section, and what happens when you combine them, i.e. mixed timbres.

Just some ideas that I hope might be useful.