By Rob Stewart - JustMastering.com - Last updated August 7, 2017
- The midrange is where most of the music is
- Address midrange issues to keep your listeners engaged
Part 1 discussed where midrange issues can develop and how to avoid them. In this next installment, I will discuss the different midrange zones, and how they impact the sound quality of your mix.
The midrange of your mix is critical
I have attempted to say it all with this graphic. Starting with the top section, notice that the midrange covers the fundamental frequencies of the top 54 notes (almost two thirds) of a piano’s 88-note scale. That’s just over 4 octaves - where most of the music is. The green section in the middle shows how a balanced midrange contributes weight, warmth, fullness and clarity to your mix. The pink sections indicate where problems can emerge when different midrange zones are out of balance with the rest of your mix.
Fig. 1 - The midrange zones
Keeping the midrange in balance
Assuming that you have captured a balanced sounding arrangement and are on the path to creating a balanced mix (see Part 1), keeping those midrange zones in balance during mixing and production takes a quality monitoring system, a careful ear, and objectivity.
Listening for serious midrange issues
Words like “serious” and “minor” are subjective but if an issue is obvious enough to instantly remind you of something, this is potentially serious. For example, if you are listening and find yourself thinking “this mix sounds reminds me of AM radio”, or “this mix sounds dull”, pay attention to those thoughts because they are important. A serious mix issue adds the risk that your audience will tune out, turn down or turn off your music.
Serious midrange issues that are across a mix (e.g. “this mix sounds boxy”) are much more obvious to the average listener. Serious issues within your mix (e.g. “the vocal sounds thin, and the guitar sounds muddy”) will sometimes be obvious but if it is across several elements, the mix will sound different or “off” to the point where the listener will know that something is not quite right but they won’t always be able to put their finger on it.
Quality monitoring and an objective ear are important. If you are too close to your mix after having worked on it for several days or weeks, these types of issues will be less obvious to you because your focus is on other aspects of the mixing process. Try to distance yourself from your mix for at least a few weeks to allow your ears and your focus to reset. When you step back and listen objectively, serious midrange issues are obvious. For example if there is too little energy at 2000Hz, the mix will sound as though the midrange has been “scooped out”. Vocals will be harder to hear and certain elements will lack impact. Too much at 3500Hz will sound metallic or tinny.
Serious midrange issues can also sound inconsistent. A common example is a “hump” within a half-octave range of a vocal, where on certain notes their voice is too loud or aggressive to a point where it sounds unnatural but only within that one octave or on specific notes. You will know it is an issue because it will not sound like it was performed that way. Common causes are microphone position, acoustics, and EQ choices. For example a large EQ boost with the bandwidth set too narrow will create an audible hump.
Listening for minor midrange issues
Minor midrange concerns are harder to spot, and they can be more subjective. For example, when the upper midrange (above 2000Hz) is a little too strong across a mix, it is not always obvious. It depends upon how loud the mix is playing. At louder playback levels, a mix will sound too aggressive when there is too much upper midrange energy. When it is not strong enough, the mix will lack energy at lower playback levels. This is getting into other important topics such as equal loudness contours, psychoacoustics and reference playback loudness levels which I will plan to cover in future articles.
There can be layers of minor midrange issues within a mix that create little problems here and there. It can be as simple as a guitar with too much energy at 1500Hz that is obscuring the lead vocal. Sometimes the issue is so minor that it only takes an adjustment of 0.5 to 1dB to address it. Again, objectivity is important so try to find ways to help yourself step back from the mix and hear it objectively if you are not able to involve others in the review process.
Compare the sound of your mix to your “mix vision”
If your goal is to create an aggressive or loud sounding mix, does your mix sound that way? Do the source elements (not just the tracks themselves but the melody and supporting arrangement) have what it takes spectrally and dynamically to create that type of sound? If the elements lack the midrange strength and dynamics to support your mix vision, the best thing to do is find ways to bring those types of tones in via instrument choices, arrangement and production.
Some related reading on this topic:
- Working the mids - Part 1: Tips for perfecting your midrange
- Loudness Overview: How do I make my mixes louder?
- Mix tips to help you create better mixes
Perfecting the balance between Bass, Midrange and High Frequencies
So we have discussed the midrange zones in some detail, but it is just as important to strike the right balance between the bass, midrange and higher frequencies. I will discuss bass and high frequencies in future articles but very briefly, the bass is responsible for the strength and size of the rhythm section. The high frequencies are largely harmonics, the top end of the percussion and it creates a sense of definition and air within your mix. When the bass, midrange and high frequencies within your mix are in balance, your mix will have a balanced sound with height and weight.
The midrange is such a critical area because as you can see, it is where all the action is. The right amount of midrange energy and balance within the midrange is a key part of crafting an engaging listening experience for your audience.