7 Ways to Fight Dullness In Your Mixes, From the Straightforward to the Strange
We had a great question inside the Home Studio Musicians group that I thought I’d tackle in a post.
Darrell had some questions about making the piano brighter and stand out in the mix:
“I would just like some advice on how to make your track not sound dull and make it more bright. and how do you make your piano sounds stand out more in the mix?”
A few things definitely come to mind immediately, from the straightforward to the strange.
EQ and compression can always help.
- Make it brighter with subtractive EQ – Get rid of the low-end and any muddiness in the low-mids while increasing the volume of the piano can make the piano stand out in the mix without fighting with any of the lower frequency instruments.
- Boost the mids – The mids from 500 Hz – 1 kHz are always an interesting spot to boost on piano and keyboards. If your arrangement includes guitars, bass, and drums, that frequency area tends to get overlooked, making it a great spot for the keyboards.
- Compress the overall level – If the keyboard is drowning in the mix due to dynamic problems you’ll need to compress it so that it stays at a consistent level. Make sure you’re not dulling the initial attack of the piano with a fast attack on the compressor. Compress it enough so that the overall dynamic level of the piano sounds thicker without killing the transients.
The aforementioned techniques aren’t mutually exclusive. Try them all and see if you can’t get your track to cut through.
If that doesn’t give you the desired result you’re looking for, let me offer some alternative, slightly stranger solutions.
- Exciter- If the recording is just dull overall and no amount of EQ’ing will add any brightness then you’ll have to add it artificially. Try an exciter and add in some high-end harmonics to make your track brighter.
- Parallel Compression – If you’re worried about screwing with the dynamics of the piano and don’t want to add too much compression, try adding it in parallel instead. You can be more heavy-handed while retaining the dynamics of the original signal. By blending the signal in underneath you end up with a beefy piano that cuts through the mix.
- Transient Designer – I tend to reserve transient designers for shaping drum sounds but they do help add attack to any sound you throw them on. If you can increase the attack of the signal while still making it sound natural you might just have found your new favorite toy.
- Short, modulated delays – You can make your keyboard or piano sounds stand out by simply adding some depth to them. Use a short 20 – 30 ms delay that’s slightly modulated (either within the
There you have it, about seven techniques you can try on your next piano track. Honestly, you can use those techniques for a lot of other instruments as well so keep them in mind when you get stuck with your next mix.
Starting with EQ and compression is your best bet as they are the most versatile tools when it comes to shaping your sounds. But when they fall short it’s always good to have some alternative, slightly stranger solutions to fall back on.
Even so, if you need some training on creating separation in your mixes using only EQ and compression, check out my Ultimate Guide to EQ and Compression Masterclass at the URL below: