I’ve said it before and will probably say it many more times: Mixing is very much about contrasts, in all directions and edges. For something to feel big, something else must feel small. In other words, a mix where everything feels big, wide and deep quickly becomes quite boring to listen to. Of course, this does not have to be the case, but often. So, what does it mean to think in three dimensions when mixing? At your disposal you have bottom to top, left to right and front and back.
1. Bottom to top means the audible range 0-20000 Hz and talks about how we perceive sound in terms of frequency. Is the mix of them? Is there a lot of air? A lot of bass? Is the mix eroded or does it have a focused middle register? It is important to remember not to use all the frequencies all the time. A restrained frequency spread in the verses, for example, makes the chorus feel bigger and more effective, or why not the other way around? Nevertheless, it is nice for the ears with frequency vacancy from time to time, so that the listening does not become too evenly thick. Therefore, make sure to plan the frequency an extra time when mixing. However, you do not need to keep specific frequencies in mind when steering, rather a holistic approach between bass, midrange and treble.
By removing the bottom and top filters, you automatically place the instrument further back in the sound image.
2. Left to right is about how wide or narrow the mix feels and is usually controlled with the help of panning. Here, my philosophy is to think movement rather than letting each instrument have its given place mix through. Admittedly, a mix can feel broad and bold even if it is static, but the feeling of movement, such as a melody loop moving or a chorus suddenly appearing out of nowhere, often makes the whole experience much more interesting. Now, I do not claim that things have to happen all the time or that there need to be drastic panning or automation measures in every mix. Instead, it’s about screwing up small changes everywhere. A classic trick is to keep the verses narrow, almost mono, and then broaden the choruses.
3. Front and rear is about the depth of the mix. Does it feel close or far away? Wet or dry? Something you usually do tricks with a combination of equalizer, reverb, delay, volume and compression. The equalizer is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to placing instruments in the stereo image. In general, a larger frequency range means that the sound is experienced closer to the listener. For example, if you cut off the bass and treble from an instrument and focus on the midrange, this will feel more distant from other more bass or treble-rich elements. With this in mind, for example, the lead song often gets a push in the treble to get closer to the listener. Still is nor is it strange that the bass can simmer in the low base to make it feel warm and present.
Current compression moves the fast attack instrument further back in the soundscape and slows the sound further forward. Also experiment with the release time where fast release gives the appearance of being closer and slow places the sound further back.
When it comes to using reverb and delay, the equation is pretty simple: Short reverbs feel closer and long ones feel farther away. Here it is important to think smart and not drown all instruments in large reverbs, as this easily makes the mix unfocused, cold and distanced. Admittedly, there may be a point in placing all instruments in one and the same room to create a sense of context. Then use a reverb of the type “room” or “ambience” with a little less reverberation, around 1 ms. It is not uncommon to use five or six different types of reverb in one and the same mix, while it is extremely important to think about the function of each reverb before proceeding to the work.
T-RackS Sunset Sound Studio is an excellent mojo reverb with a lot of character that places your instruments in different “living rooms” and chambers.
“Fill the void” is a quote I carry with me when it comes to the use of reverb. Think about what this means for you.
Immerse yourself further in the subject:
Feel free to ask questions or comment on the article in the comment field below, and we will spin the topic together. Or if you prefer to discuss mixing in the “Mixing and mastering” section of the Studios forum here!
Fredagstipset is a recurring series where Studio writer Jon Rinneby shares tips every Friday in, among other things, recording and mixing. Here you will find all Friday tips.