11 Tips to Fix Cheap Sounding Audio in the Mix
I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of material made in home recording studios. And while a lot of the raw sounds coming my way are great, many recordings sport flaws that impart a palpably “cheap” sound to the material. These flaws have many root causes, such as interfaces that don’t do well for dynamic range or harmonic content; rooms that impart comb filtering to vocals; basses recorded without definition; and badly mic’d drums. It’s my task, among others, to make these “cheap” sounds feel more “expensive”—that is, to help these mixes play nicely against their better-recorded references. They need to work in a Spotify playlist. They cannot be trounced by the competition. This is my fundamental meaning when I use terms like “cheap” and “expensive.” Now, can we define a “cheap” sound?
For our purposes, I believe we can: a cheap sound problematically alerts you to how and where it was recorded, taking your attention away from the sound itself. “Expensive” is more difficult to define; consider that a hissy, band-passed signal used to cost a lot of money; it was the only game in town when Edison was king! So let’s shift the target a bit: if you’re listening to a reference, and you only appreciate the recording for how well it works, that’s expensive enough for us. There’s an old saying in mixing involving polish and unmentionable bodily excretions. To some extent, it’s true, but there are some things you can do. We’ll cover some common scenarios instrument by instrument, but first we must mention some basic strategies to get things to the right starting place—a place where you can make creative decisions.