Most home producers are familiar with the term “muddiness” as it relates to mixing and recording. It’s a sort of indistinct, frustratingly bland sound that instruments can take on when poorly mixed or when played on a really bad stereo, and it can really make a good recording sound bad, especially when the vocals are the instrument that sounds muddy. Vocals are often the most important part of a song, and you definitely can’t afford any mistakes when mixing them.
Here’s a look at a few ways to eliminate a muddy sound from the vocal take in your home recording.
1. Check your miking technique. First of all, you need to make sure that you’re using the right mic for the job, and that you’re setting it up properly. Vocals should be recorded with a large diaphragm condenser microphone, almost without exception, placed a bit above the vocalist’s face to open up the vocal cords, and the vocalist should be about a foot from the microphone. If you’re running the mic through a tube amp, check that the drive knob isn’t set too high, as this can add too much warmth that can be mistaken for a “muddy” sound. You want to get a clean vocal sound that’s good to listen to before you add a lot of effects or EQ. If it still sounds muddy when added to the mix, we’ll deal with that problem–but first, make sure that your miking technique isn’t the source of the issue, or fixing the muddy sound will be an uphill battle.
2. Adding EQ to the vocals. Look for any instruments that interfere with the range of the vocals. If the vocalist is singing very high, for instance, high-pitched instruments may interfere, and lower vocals can have issues from a bass guitar, guitar, or even drums. Make sure that those instruments are EQed properly, then add some EQ to the vocals to slightly cut the areas of interference. This should eliminate issues with most muddy vocals.
3. Panning. If you’ve EQed everything and you still hear a dull tone from the vocal track, you might want to pan some of the instruments that are in the vocalist’s way. Remember these tips for panning: keep the vocals in the center in almost every occasion, and never hard pan instruments (hard panning is the practice of panning a track completely to one side) unless you’ve got a very good reason to do so. By separating the instruments a bit with panning, you’ll have a much happier mix.
Do you have any other tips for dealing with muddy-sounding vocals in a home recording? Post in our comments section below.