Abi Asks: Sian McMullen

Abi Asks: Sian McMullen

Hey Y’all!

I recently produced a track for a dance performance at an arts college that included many nature samples (waves, landslides, footsteps in the sand) alongside strings, synths, and vocals. The biggest challenge was managing the high end, particularly the harshness from the nature samples (the wave sample harshness is no joke man!!!!). Producing this track compelled me to dive deeper into the wonderful world of high-end management on this week’s blog—so one day my high end can be smoothhhhh as butter and not a sandpaper fest in your ears. 

On that wonderful high end note, I chatted with Engineer Sian McMullen (John Mayer, Atlantic Records, Freddie Gibbs- to name a few) about her approach to high end management.

I asked her: “In your opinion, what is key in getting a smooth high end in a mix? Do you have an approach regarding high end that you have in mind while mixing?”

She said: “Hey! So my answer might be a little unorthodox but I think a very helpful approach to a smooth high end beyond obvious dynamic processing is treating and controlling your FX tracks and FX bus. I like to EQ and compress a lot of my fx sends. I route all of my fx tracks to an FX bus and do subtractive EQ and compression on there as well. Between that and thoughtful automation I feel it really helps make space for high end to shine without all of your sends cluttering up the space.”

Reading Sian’s answer was a revolutionary moment for me as a new producer. I had never thought to route all of my FX sends to a new bus for processing. I quickly opened the session for that same track I had worked on, routed all the FX sends to a new bus, and started experimenting with different EQs, compressors, and even some stereo widening for extra sauce and vibes.

This little trick went a long way y’all! After some tinkering, it smoothed out a lot of harshness that I did not realize was coming from the FX sends (however, those darn wave samples were still the main culprit!). The additional compression and stereo widening made the track sound more cohesive as well. This technique is definitely staying in my arsenal, and I've added this new FX bus to my template.

Sian’s advice also made me realize that much of the high-end harshness can come from the FX sends themselves, highlighting the importance of treating the individual sends with more care, in addition to the revolutionary new FX bus.

Thanks Sian for this mega amazing tip and answer!

Catch y’all next week!

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