Muddiness can be a super problematic issue when it comes to vocals. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how to fix it properly.
In this article, I’ll show you exactly how to clear the muddiness, without hurting the clarity or the thickness of the vocals.
This guide is divided into two parts. The first is about preventing the muddiness in the pre-recording phase, and the second is about fixing it in the post-recording phase.
So if you’re trying to fix existing recordings, jump ahead to the ‘post-recording’ part, but if you want to prevent the muddiness up front, read the ‘pre-recording’ section as well.
Preventing Muddiness Pre-Recording
This section of the guide is all about preventing the muddiness before it occurs – pre-recording.
It contains all the things you have to take care of in order to record clean, bright, and balanced vocals.
Find The Best Room You Can Record In
Picking the right recording room will save you a whole lot of time mixing and get you better results than you’ve ever imagined.
Whether you’re going to record in a professional recording room or your home studio, you have to find a place the treats your voice well.
Things To Consider When Picking The Room –
- The Singer’s Voice – Each person has a room that goes along great with his voice. Try and experiment with different rooms until you find the best for your singer.
- The Genre You’re Recording – Depending on the genre, you might want to change your recording room.
When recording hip-hop, for example, you might want to record in a very dry studio, so you get the super close, warm feeling.
But that might not be the case for pop or jazz songs.
Basically, you should record in a room that’s quite dry, but not too dry. (the dryer the place the less reverberation it makes)
- Your Budget – If you have a limited budget, you might need to settle for the recording room.
But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get great recordings.
Just try to work with what you already have, and find the best room you can reach out to.
Remember that in the end, the most important things are the singer’s voice and his talent.
Position The Microphone Correctly In The Room
This is something lots of people forget to do, but it’s significant for a great recording.
Every room has its own “sweet spot”, and it would be best if you record in this exact spot.
There are two guidelines for positioning microphones:
- Don’t place the microphone in the exact center of the room – There is a buildup of standing waves that will sabotage your recording.
- Stay away from walls or reflective surfaces – There will be lots of reflections coming to your microphone.
- Don’t ever record near corners – The corners are the place where all the bass and muddiness tends to come to, so it’s best if you stay away from there.
The best spot to position your mic is usually slightly off the exact center.
This way, you’re not interrupted by the standing waves (which are boosted waves of certain frequencies), and you’re also not facing a bunch of reflections.
Experiment With Different Microphones
Every singer has one mic that’s just perfect for him.
Most singers will do just fine with a good condenser microphone. But, it’s essential to test a few kinds and find out what works best for you.
After I’ve tested a bunch of microphones of all kinds, from lots of companies (Rode, AKG, Behringer, Marantz, etc..)
I’ve found out that the microphone that gave a beautiful, clear, and bright sound, but is also low-budget compatible is the Rode NT1.
I was actually really surprised at how many things the RODE NT1 was able to handle with.
No matter what I through at it – it just sounded amazing.
If you’re still not sure which microphone you should buy check out this tutorial that I’ve written about recording and mixing an acoustic song from scratch, where I explained what are all of the three different kinds of microphones, and outlined each kind’s pros and cons so you can better understand which one you can use.
If you can, experiment with different preamps
One of the main things that shape the tone of the vocals is the preamp you use.
Obviously, you may not be able to experiment with a variety of preamps since they are pretty expensive.
But I promise you that if you do, you’ll find an enormous improvement in your recordings.
And if you don’t want to buy external preamps, you can always get an audio interface that uses a ‘unison preamp’ technique.
An awesome audio interface for this matter is UA’s Apollo Twin.
I personally use it for nearly anything, and I am always super happy with the results.
It’s technique lets you use a variety of classic and modern analog preamps (such as Neve 1073, Manley Voxbox, etc..) with the compatibility and the flexibility of one small device.
If you’re still not sure which audio interface/pre-amp you should get check out this tutorial that I’ve written about recording and mixing an acoustic song from scratch, where I outlined what’s the best audio interface for each level of producer (Beginner / Intermediate / Professional).
Distance From The Microphone
The distance you keep from the microphone has a massive effect over the low frequencies of the vocals.
Basically, the further away you go from the microphone, the less boomy and muddy it will sound.
But don’t go too far away because if you do you, you might lose the power and the body of the vocals.
Usually, it’s great to keep about 4-6 inches away from the microphone, but its best if you try and experiment with different ranges.
Height Of The Mic
The microphone height also determines the sound of the vocals.
There are two variables to consider here – high frequencies’ direction and bass response.
Since high frequencies emit in a downwards cone, a microphone positioned below the lips will sound brighter than a microphone placed above the lips.
Since most of the bass centers in the chest, a lower mic placement will increase the bass response.
As you lower the microphone, you increase both the high frequencies and the bass response.
So, to get bright vocals with strong bass response, place the microphone below the lips.
And, to get vocals with a dominant mid-range, place the microphone above the lips.
Fixing Muddiness Post-Recording
Before you’re starting to equalize, listen to the vocals, and determine if they’re muddy, or if they’re just not standing up.
If your vocals sound boomy, and they take too much space, keep reading the rest of this article.
But if they’re just not standing up, and it sounds like they don’t take enough space, boosting some of the presence frequencies (4kHz – 6kHz) might really help.
Filter These Frequencies
The first thing you have to do when it comes to filtering muddiness is highpassing the vocals.
Highpass up until the point when you hear that the vocals had gone too thin. Usually, it’s excellent to highpass up to (80Hz – 120Hz).
This will clear all of the sub-bass from the vocals.
After doing so, try to listen to the lower-mids and the top bass, and determine which frequencies sound muddy (Usually it’s 150Hz – 400Hz).
Then make a bell band and decrease them by (3dB – 8dB).
Use Intelligent Eq Plugins
Intelligent equalization is one of the most brilliant inventions and one of the things that developed the most in the music production industry over the last five years.
By using sound-physics, these plugins can determine what frequencies should be reduced/boosted, and how much, and then they boost/reduce them accordingly.
This way, you can eliminate muddiness easily and quickly.
One amazing plugin I’ve found recently is Soundtheory’s Gullfoss.
This plugin was developed by two sound-physics students who found a new algorithm that allowed them to determine what frequencies should be boosted and what frequencies should be reduced.
Use dynamic equalizers/multiband compressors
A dynamic equalizer is the combination of an equalizer and the basics of the compressor.
It allows you to reduce or boost frequencies just like a standard equalizer, but it also allows you to decide when to do it in a way that’s similar to the compressor’s threshold.
To fix the muddiness, create a bell for the problematic frequencies and set its dynamic range to about (3dB-8dB).
Listen to the result in your mix and tweak it more if needed.
Since these equalizers only reduce frequencies when they go over the threshold, it makes the vocals sound a lot more balanced.