Avoiding mush - available frequency

Hello.

I’m having a problem I haven’t had before, as I start to layer more sounds with electronic instruments.

The problem is complimentary frequencies - at least I’m guessing it is. And other than “choose other samples” everything I’ve read is over my head.

The issue I’m experiencing, and I’m trying to keep this a little vague so others can join in with their issues, is that on the Digitakt my patterns can quickly become mush. I put a kick down, then a min open hat, and the fade if the hat will pulse with the kick drum. Two samples, and a problem emerges.

Should I be looking into sidechaining, or… yeah. Where should I be looking?

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I don’t own a Digitakt but I’m curious whether you can EQ or apply a filter separately to each sound? If so, I recommend you try that approach. Experiment by narrowing the frequencies that each sound occupies, and see if that sounds better to you. Perhaps you can make a test pattern with three sounds, and try this approach to hear how it allows you to fine tune how the sounds combine.

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Agree I’ve approached this problem with filters, levels and panning on the digitakt. Filter out the junk and keep the character of your sounds. Volumes make a difference. Give everything room to breathe.

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high pass filters save me a bit of trouble with this! ill set cutoff anywhere from 40hz-300hz depending on the contents of the sound. wont solve every problem, but i have found it to open up a lot of space.

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Step-by-step: First you balance the levels in mono. Second, you go to stereo and pan the voices. Third, you apply eq to give over-lapping instruments their own space. Side-chaining is more of a special effect for when you want that pumping sound.

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A bit of subtle side chaining can create some room without the pumping effect, but filtering out the frequencies that do not add to that sound’s character is the order of the day. It took me a long time to get good at this. Sometimes you just have to let go of certain aspects of a sound in order to let the other layers breathe properly.

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Kick and hat don’t usually overlap, so this to me signals a few possibilities: First - the quality of the samples you use - you can work around this by applying a highpass filter on the hat and maybe a gentle lowpass on the kick. If you’re playing both at full volume then it might be that you’re using up the mix headroom - try bringing both down a bit, or the kick at least. It could also be that the master compressor needs setting up to work with your material (fn+lfo).

That said, my Digitakt patterns are all over the place - I end up recording them and re-EQ-ing them, often the bass is too much. But I don’t want pristine.

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Makes me wonder about using it live.

Do you have reverb on the kick?
Putting reverb on the low frequencies can make it sound like mush.
If you want to put reverb on your kick split it into two paths; one with low frequencies and one with the higher ones and only apply reverb to the higher ones. I’m not familiar with the Digitakt workflow so I’m not sure how you would go about doing this on there.

You should also EQ the kick so that you filter out the highs and EQ the hat so you filter out the lows. If the frequencies don’t overlap then they shouldn’t sound like mush.

I’m not sure what else could be causing things to sound mushy with just a kick and a hat.

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#1 Most important is picking the right samples that already exist in somewhat different frequency spectrum’s.
#2 Apply filters and EQ’s. Obviously use highpass. The 180-300hz area builds up and gets muddy very easily. The 2k-4k region builds up and gets harsh easily too.
#3 Don’t stack transients. Put a slight fade on that hihat that is layered over the kick. Too many transients on top of each other can actually make a track sound weaker and less clear.
#4 Side chain. It’s not only an effect. It helps create space in the mix and it also can add to the groove of a beat.
#5 If you are using a DAW at any stage, manually automate the volume.
#6 Panning. It helps but don’t rely on it. Mix in mono first and pan later.

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Do y’all have a favorite tool for doing this? In my mind’s eye there is some DAW plugin that aggregates all tracks and shows me them all at once. I’m sure this must exist but I’ve just overlooked it?

In the meantime I achieve it with an EQ per and toggle around a lot, which works, but feels suboptimal.

The other things I’ll add outside of the great techniques mentioned in the thread thus far that has helped me a ton:

  • less is more. If I really love all of these instruments / signal chains, think of them more as parts that can compliment each other as opposed to a mess that needs to be heard all at once. (This is maybe less helpful for the example provided re: drum samples, but as someone who makes very drone-y, loop-heavy stuff, trying to find room for original instruments and 2 / 3 loops in the same mix is a recipe for sadness.)
  • explore those outer frequencies. Especially for higher frequencies, the introduction of even just some noise goes a longer way than another synth in the low / medium range.

I don’t think this can be abstracted or formularized into an app. I mean, someone could do that and sell it to you, but don’t buy it. Doing it yourself is part of the creative process.

One trick is to scan across each part with a narrow band filter to see what parts of the sound you want to keep and which you can do without.

Sorry, I don’t want it to be done automatically. I just want to see which track is contributing what.

So imagine an EQ on the master mix but track 1 is blue, track 2 is red, etc. I get that it’s about how it sounds in the end, but I think the visual feedback would be helpful as well.

Ah, I see. Like a frequency analyzer? I’ve wanted one, but I’m on iOS and don’t know of one.

May I recommend a book? Check [This book](Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio (Sound On Sound Presents…) https://www.amazon.com/dp/0240815807/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_GuFsEbNNCQN2W).
I learned a lot of what I can do and what I can’t do as a music aficionado. (Getting rid of the low frequencies in everything that doesn’t need it is one thing.)

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The book is a great recommendation. As for a software tool, I think there are a number that can show the frequencies of multiple tracks. I have Fabfilter Pro Q which does this.

However, it isn’t as useful as you might imagine, a combination of an eq and intense listening is probably just as effective…

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thanks for the reminder to actually read it! It’s been in my “to read” pile for too long now :smiley:

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So for live sets, the key seems to be choosing samples that can be made to work together easily. Or tweaking them to work.

I grabbed some sets from Elektron which demonstrate the issue, so I guess buying ready made lots is no guarantee :slight_smile:

Ahh well, more time at the Digi is fine with me.

I just had 5 minutes to test some stuff and the default kit sounds have this issue. Maybe I need to factory reset my Digi.

LP and HP filters don’t have any effect, but panning kick left a bit and hat right a bit solves it.

What sort of tempo are you working with? Maybe the sample tails are too long for your pattern, so the transients are less distinct than they could be.

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