1. Clean recording
One of the most effective ways to make a mix sound clear is to make sure that all the sound sources are as clean and crisp as possible before any additional processing. This involves choosing the right microphones based on the source, positioning them properly to get the right tone, setting the appropriate amount of gain and recording in a good acoustic space.
In some cases, multiple microphones are used to simultaneously capture different textures on a single source to make it sound bigger in the mix. In larger recording rooms, additional microphones can be used to capture the room tone for processing it separately. Do note that it is extremely important to be aware of the proximity effect during the recording process.
2. Clean arrangement
Every element in the production should have a role to play in the frequency spectrum. That being said, you don’t need to have 10 things filling up the same frequency band. Choosing the right sounds and tweaking them is very important for a clean mix. With the help of effective layers, it becomes easier to bring interest into the song even by just muting different elements in different sections.
Separation between different elements across the frequency spectrum is what differentiates the good mixes from the great ones. Most of the songs with great mixes have few but effective elements. This also makes the overall production sound tighter.
3. Choosing the right key for your song
Choosing the right key for a song is largely decided by the singer’s vocal range and voice texture.
If the key chosen is too low, the song has chances of losing energy. To compensate, you may have to add bright textures/instruments to fill up the higher end to make the song feel more energetic.
If the key chosen is too high, the song might sound harsh and unpleasant. In case of electronic music, knowing about sound synthesis helps a lot in this aspect.
Choosing the right texture and octave of the instruments is crucial. Vocals are usually backed with bass and supporting chords.
Notes and octave played by the bass can be chosen according to the frequency spectrum that you intend to fill with the bass. Choosing higher notes on the bass will make it sound thinner and choosing lower notes will make it sound deeper.
For example, if you have drums with a lot of sub bass frequencies you can choose to make your bass thin and if you have thin drums you can make your bass occupy the sub bass frequencies.
Chords should be voiced in a way that each note fills the desired part of the frequency spectrum. This is done by vertical spacing of the notes and ordering of the pitches in a chord. You can also choose which chord note to double, based on the frequency that you want to emphasise. Having knowledge about chord inversions, textures and instrumentation helps to choose the best way to fill the frequency spectrum.
You can also choose between open voicing and closed voicing for various instruments used in the song.
For example, if you have pads and strings, you can choose to split them such that the pads occupy the low mids and the strings occupy the high mids.
5. Melodic dynamics
Make sure that the arrangement takes the dynamics of the melody into account. If a part of the melody is to be sung in a lower register, make sure you don’t have too many elements clashing with that part of the frequency spectrum, and vice versa. A good arrangement follows the “highs and lows” of a song well with appropriate backing which compliment the melody, both in terms of musicality and frequencies.
For example, if the voice is singing a melody in a lower register, it is a good idea to back it with harmony in the higher octave. In case of a high energy melody in the higher octaves, adding a bass empowers the section. This approach is used almost universally in pop songs, where bass, drums and harmony elements are brought in during the chorus to support the melody, and all the instruments are in different octaves to avoid clashing with the vocals.