Powerful and punchy mix
Mixing Articles

How to improve punch and power in your mix

You’re here because your mix feels flat and you want to give it impact.

Here are some tactics you can use to add punch and power to your mixes. We’ll cover everything from EQ to stereo imaging, so you can try out some new ways to add punch to your mix.

We use these plugin tactics

Choice of plugins is an integral part of adding power and punch to your mixes. The 3 specific types of plugins we work with to get results are EQ, compression, and stereo imaging. All are popular and used in many different contexts, including this one.

By using EQ, we can shape specific instruments depending on low and high-end. This creates relative depth and clarity.

For compression, specific attack, release, and ratio settings are key to results. Drums are the main element to try and tighten up transients that shape the punch.

Stereo imaging is always spoken of in a vague kind of way. We’ll try some ways to shape your stereo field, creating a widespread which will sound powerful.

Balancing your EQ

EQ, or equalization, is one of the most reliable tools you can use to add punch and power to your mixes. The key is being able to apply it accurately across a wide range of instruments. Getting the balance between your sounds and their EQ is key to clarity.

Punch specifically can be leveraged by low-end frequencies. These most commonly come from your drums or percussion. Try boosting around 100-200 Hz. This will give that extra oomph which contributes to the power of the mix.

Enhancing the high end of your mix like vocals is a great way to add clarity which can impact punch. Try boosting around 8-12 kHz which represents the breathy top end of your vocal mix. Make sure to play around with the frequency band, finding the perfect place to boost.

Aside from boosting the right low and high-ends, creating dips across the spectrum is where the real value is.

  1. Within your DAW, open up all your instrument’s EQ plugin units simultaneously.
  2. Play your mix from a point where most of the instruments are playing (like a chorus)
  3. Observe or notice how many frequencies across your instruments are in similar ranges.

They are actually competing for the same frequency measures. As they overlap, they create a muddled or muddied mix. The more muddy your mix is, the less clarity there is, and therefore will be missing out on punch.

Spend some time playing around with cutting an instrument at a frequency you feel can be spared. Observe its impact on another instrument in the same frequency range.

For example, dip a band on your vocals at around 400-600 Hz. Notice how your acoustic guitar sounds cleaner due to the reduction in competition.
Try to repeat this throughout your mix, being respectful of each instrument’s needs.

Mid-side EQ processing:

A well-known tactic in the mixing and mastering world is mid-side processing. It originates from Alan Blumlein and his mid-side recording technique, still used in recording studios today.

Mid-side processing independently treats the middle and the sides of a signal with contrasting EQ. It creates a sense of wideness and depth within your mix. You can also use it to clean up muddy signals across your instruments as written earlier.

It works so well as our ears pick up different signal shapes from varying directions.

We recommend this amazing plugin specifically for mid-side processing called MIXROOM.

Be sure to check for any phasing issues if you’re mixing in mono.

Tighten your compression

Compression is another essential tool that can add a lot of punch to your instruments. This is by controlling and enforcing their dynamic range.
When it comes to drums, the objective is to make the most out of each hit. Playing around with a fast attack and release time is the key here. This will allow the initial transient of the drum hit to come through, which is what gives drums their punch. A ratio of 4:1 or higher will give you that aggressive and punchy sound.

Experiment with attack and release times to balance the punch and sustain. A lower ratio will give you a more subtle and natural sound, while a higher ratio will be more aggressive.

Attack controls how fast the compressor kicks in once the sound hits above the threshold. Release time determines how fast the compression eases once the impact of the sound subsides. The ratio controls how dramatic the compression is, once the sound hits the threshold.
It’s crucial to be attentive to the threshold level, which is when compression kicks in. A lower threshold means that the compression will start working earlier and affect more of the transients. Whilst a higher threshold instructs the compressor to work on fewer transients.

How to get your drums drunk with punch.
Sidechain compression is a way you can tighten up all your drum or percussion elements. If you aren’t aware of what sidechain compression is, you can read up on that topic here.

For readers that are aware, the trick is playing around with how each element impacts another. You can start with the rule of drum element governance. In the sense that the more prominent the element, the more of a rule it should have over other lesser elements. For example, your kick should be more important that your hihat.

With this in mind, you should use your kick signal as a sidechain to control the compressor on your hihat.
Once you have all these relationships built up, your track will sound much more tight and punchy.

Widening your mix

Stereo imaging is another tactic you can use to add depth and power to your mix. Control the stereo field of your mix and make sure your tracks are sitting in the right place. The wider the mix sounds, the more impact it will have.

Width accumulates from a combination of tactics. Using stereo wideners and stereo imaging plug-ins are a good start. These tools allow you to create space and depth in your mix by widening the stereo field of specific tracks.

A simple technique you can use is to pan your tracks across the stereo field. Panning allows you to control the left-right placement of your tracks in the mix. By panning different elements far right or far left, the stereo space spreads. This gives the track a sense of power and impact.
You can also use stereo imaging plugins to add punch to your mix. Stereo imaging plug-ins are simple units that spread a sound across the stereo field. The results from these vary, drawbacks are that the sound you are spreading can become thin.

Double up your tracks
Another secret sauce of widening your mix is a tactic known as doubling. This originates from a recording technique known as double tracking, used for decades in studios. Mostly for recording guitars or vocals. The goal is to create tonal inconsistencies between 2 identical melodic phrases. When panned at opposite ends of the stereo field, most ears cannot tell the difference. Whilst mixing in the box and without recording access, we can recreate this technique by duplicating our signals.

To start doubling, simply select a sound or instrument that you want to spread very wide, such as backing vocals. Then duplicate the sound and spread the 2 signals in opposite panning directions. Next, apply a subtle but noticeable change to one of the signals in some way. This could be an EQ unit, or compression, or subtle pitch change. Your ears should now hear that the more dramatic the change, the wider the effect! This is an easy experiment to play around with.

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Punch and power are desired qualities that are made from the sum of parts whilst mixing. Attending to the detail of the tactics above can make the difference between sounding flat versus powerful.

These tactics are designed to add that punch and power you’ve been looking for. It’s crucial to experiment and find what works best for your particular mix setup. Every mix is unique, so it’s important to be flexible with these tactics to get the most out of your sound.