The Extreme Highs. Will it make or break your track?

Cover/ Thumbnail Photo Credit : Drew Ressler /Rukes 

One of the first things I remembering doing as a producer?

Adding a white noise blast over the top of the drop ( back when everyone did this ish ) and thinking I had found the holy grail. " SO MUCH POWER"  The track sounds huge now. ( It didn't, it was horrible , but that's ok I didn't know better )

Noise, or the extreme highs of sounds have always been power adders. Not in the traditional sense like a killer sub drum or groovy bassline, but they add their own unique power to tracks. 

Here is an example of what I mean, 

The Track is Galantis- You and I 

What I did was put four examples together.

1. Is a cut in volume from 10khz and above

2. Is a cut in volume from 12.5khz and above

3. A cut in volume 15khz and above

4. Is their tune, as it sat from their studio, no cuts.

As you listen to this, you will notice how the track sounds bigger, and bigger, and bigger the more highs are added. Highs can give this illusion when they have a solid foundation to sit on.

Now, some of you may be going SWEET let's go boost the highs, which is all well and good, but here are the 5 most common problems I hear regarding the high range, and why you MUST address these in order to get the proper shine.

Problem 1

Lack of EQ Cut's and Cut off's

This is by far the biggest problem I hear, lack of cut off filters to filter out unwanted highs and the lack of EQ to cut out un wanted highs. 

Look at it this way

Without proper EQ/ Cutoff Filters 

Bass can have volume in the highs

Leads will have volume in the highs

Chords will have volume in the highs

most likely any other synth as well.

To put it bluntly, you can't have EVERYTHING fully open, blasting highs. While mastering peoples tracks I often find that ideally, I'd like to have maybe 10-15% more volume in the high end, however when I adjust it, there is just WAY to many elements that are holding space in that range. It gets busy, quick. 

If you have white noise, hi hats, lead even some left over bass noise all holding volume above 10k, its going to be busy. Try some simple filters/ EQ cuts to clean some of that up.

You'll notice with the example track, that when the highs come in they come in cleanly and RIGHT on top of the other elements, the other elements proper EQ( cutting), allows the highs to come in cleanly. They don't have all the elements " fully open " so to speak. 

Quick Tip : Try to only have a few elements above 10k, everything doesn't need to have volume up there

Problem 2 

The Highs are center heavy 

By center heavy, I mean that the majority of high end seems to be coming from the center of the mix. 

Highs are funny, since that is what your ear picks up first, you tend to be drawn to it. Highs tend to " sit " on top of the mix.  Problem is, that if you have ALL your high elements volume, in the center mix it will get busy fast.

Like the above problem, you use cutting to gain space, this problem you use panning, stereo separation and any other stereo width technique to move the highs to the sides ( as well as ) center of the mix.

For example, if you put your high hat on one side, you noise blast on the other, then your center elements can have more volume in them as well. This way, you get a nice even high sound, the track is less busy and as an added bonus will sound bigger due to the extra stereo width.

Quick Tip : You can only have so much in the center of the mix before you get a wall of highs, panning is an easy fix along with stereo separation tools to get both the center and the sides shining. 

Problem 3

An Octave too High

Another common problem, but an easy fix is that the bulk of the synths in the mix are an octave to high.

This isn't common in the bass range, but when we get to lead elements I've found newer producers tend to place the lead an Octave too high. To be honest, I did this for years as my main focus was on what I could hear.

As I've said time and time again, when your new you pretty much focus on the high elements as that's what you can actively hear. 

When placing elements an octave to high, you create the dreaded " hollow track " syndrome

If your track ever sounds " weak " or hollow, its most likely a combo of a few problems.

Try boosting or adding volume in the 100hz-1.5k hz range ( to bring up the bottom of the hollow problem ) 

Try lowering the lead sound by an octave ( or even just lowering parts of its synth patch ) and see if that helps bring down the high synth to fill in the hollowness so to speak

Quick Tip : Hollow sounding tune? Drop the lead an octave and bring up the 100hz to 1.5khz range.

Problem 4 

Lack of noise/grit/distortion 

Noise? Grit ? Wait I thought we wanted clean mixes?

One thing that I learned awhile back, that never dawned on me for the longest time was that distortion / grit and noise are actually needed for a clean sounding mix. Deadmau5 once said something along those lines as well, but its been awhile and I honestly forget the quote.

Regardless, having and adding grit and noise to your track can actually make it cleaner sounding sometimes. Not only can it make it cleaner sounding, but it can make it huge sounding when done right. My favorite plugin for adding big shiny highs is, ohmicide.

The problem comes about when all the synths have the same texture, if you have a bunch of saw waves without much variety they tend to have the same shine, the same top end texture. Adding distortion to one of them, can create new textures in the mix and make everything glue together better. 

Quick Tip : A variety of " shine " can create a cleaner mix, using distortion or added noise can help in this quest.

Problem 5

Over Boost of 15k+

Under Boost of 10-15k range

"Too Harsh"

To put it simply , when people tend to boost the highs for shine, they boost the wrong range. Listen to the examples given again, it will give you an idea of what range will have what sound. 

I've found that more often then not, boosting the range around 12.5k seems to be golden, this doesn't apply to every track, but it seems to add a nice shine that isn't to high. 

A simple boost on the EQ of an element, can often do the trick

Quick Tip : If your track is sounding to bright, or to harsh. Try to cut some volume out of the 15k to 20k range, and replace it with volume in the 10k-15k range.



Hopefully , these few pointers will take your track to the next level of clarity. Remember, the vast majority of tracks I get sent are too bright, with the lead elements being an octave to high. 

There is a good chance, that this could be your problem as well. So instead of just boosting the highs and getting a brighter track ( which most likely will make it worse ) try the above fixes and see how your track sounds.


Posted on October 23, 2014 and filed under Music Production.