Overly bright mixes


Using References…

Using references (ref) mixes of your favorite songs in the genre you are working in is a great way to calibrate your ears and compare your tones to ones you know and love. However…. It’s really common when mixing to reference tracks that have already been mastered to make the mixes VERY bright. Please pay close attention to the harshness aspect of these frequencies.
A mastering engineer does have tools to fix mixes that are too bright or harsh, but I’ve found over the years that starting with an un-hyped high end in the original mix allows for a smoother highs in the resultant masters.You may notice that after having a good mastering engineer work on your tracks, the high end feels very natural and bright without sounding harsh.

If you use refs, I recommend turning them down to be about the same volume as your mix, or a touch quieter, while you A/B compare. This offsets our ears’ bias in favor of low end at louder volumes.

You may find yourself boosting the high frequency EQ of your whole mix or the individual elements to match that of already mastered refs. Consider removing that kind of EQ, unless something is truly too dark.

This is an example of a pre-master mix file. 

Typically, your mix will be much quieter than a mastered reference.


Be aware of how the volume difference can fool your ears in both high and low frequency balance, and be sure to turn down your refs to match your mix! 


This high frequency spread may sound a bit darker than some mastered files in the same genre/vibe. This is totally OK. If the balance of instruments feels right… it is right! You don’t need to boost much, if at all.

This is an example of a post-mastering file you might use as a ref.

Again, mastered tracks tend to be louder in average level and may have some intense brick wall limiting that will change the balance of punchy elements in the mix.

This high frequency spread may sound much brighter than your un-mastered files in the same genre/vibe.

Be aware of this, and pay particular attention to the harshness that overly bright masters may have. There’s no need to match such EQ at the mixing stage! Good mastering engineers have a deep understanding of how to balance this in a way that adds clarity without harshness.