Studio Diaries – “My Heart Beats,” Part 2: Hurricanes and High-Pass Filters

Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I gained a few extra hours today for mixing since classes got cancelled.  Where I live, we have been fortunate so far because it has only been raining, and there has just been some mild wind.  However, we need to keep those more directly in Sandy’s path in our thoughts and prayers.

Our packaging manufacturer for the album is located in New Jersey, which has been hit pretty hard.  Because of this, Lily and I haven’t been able to order the packaging since the company’s web servers are down…

On a more positive note, I think I finished the mix for “New Generation” today, but I won’t know for sure until tomorrow.  It’s a good idea to go back and listen to your mix with fresh ears on another day.  Sometimes, if you’ve been mixing all day, your ears might be fatigued, and you’ll go back later and find out that there’s actually a lot of work left to do still.  I’m hoping that won’t be the case this time.

I discovered today that some of the tracks didn’t have high-pass filters on them.  So what’s the big deal about that?  Well, on most instruments, except for bass and drums, a lot of their low-frequency content is just muddying up your mix.  Even if you can’t hear much low-end when you solo a given track, if you leave it on all of your tracks, the bass and kick drum aren’t going to sound nearly as punchy, and your mix won’t be nearly as clear.  That’s why we use high-pass filters.

Basically, a high-pass filter gets rid of unwanted low frequencies.  But how do you know how much low end to roll off?  Drag the high pass filter towards the higher frequencies until it sounds like you’ve filtered out too much.  Then, back off a little bit.  Bypass the filter to be sure you haven’t negatively effected the tone.  You can also use a visual real-time analyzer to help you decide where to cut.

For example, here’s my filter for the strings track:

Rolling off unnecessary low frequencies adds clarity.

As you can see, there’s very little frequency content below 500 Hz, so I just filtered it out.

Well, it looks like I’m one mix closer to finishing the album.  School is cancelled again tomorrow, so as long as we don’t lose power, that means more mixing time.  But the wind is picking up as I type, and the lights are flickering…

Pray for everyone’s safety during the hurricane.  And if you’re in its path, be safe, and don’t do anything stupid.

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