During discussions with some clients prior to mastering spent going through their material with them, I find them often discussing or engaging in more “fine detail” processes when talking about their mixing. Which I think is very important, attention to detail and those small steps can really take a mix from good to GREAT, however there are a lot of articles discussing that all over the internet and at times can often leave their readers forgetting about what building blocks truly construct a good mix.
Often you may hear people saying to cut specific frequencies and boost others between instruments that are clashing to help them fit, or use a particular type of compression to make something feel more solid etc. etc. These are valid and useful discussions and techniques, but the following approach I believe allows me to make the most of my source material before beginning to alter the tone and character of the sources to allow it to “fit in the mix”.
When starting a session I take a much more simplistic approach when mixing elements for a song. Simple physical locations in the sound stage such as Left to right[Width], foreground and background[depth], high and low[height] house a large deal of importance when trying to make elements sit in their own space within a mix.
Allow me to go through them and help explain how each of these dimensions can be used to help begin shape and form the foundations for a great mix.
Width, Left to Right.
I find this the most useful dimension as it directly dictates the positioning of a listener in the mixes environment. It’s as simple as using a pan pot on your source and moving it to engage your listener appropriately.
Something like old-school rock or even an orchestral mix you may employ more traditional panning array, where the instruments in the soundfield represent the physical location of the sound source in respect to positioning the listener into an audience.
With electronic music, producers tend to use the soundstage to create a more artificial environment and help pull and engage the listener into the musical content using pan automation and ping pong delay styled FX.
This is a very powerful tool and you can begin to place where your instruments will sit in a mix from this dimension alone.
Hint #01: Try to keep your bass and kick drum centered. Low end information when panned hard can feel at times very unnatural especially on headphones and at times can detract from the musical intent of the effect.
Hint #02: Your low end will feel more defined and punchy when in phase and centered.
Depth, Foreground to Background.
When people talk about creating “focus” in a mix this is the element that directly dictates what is and isn’t in focus.
Initially I like to play around with this dimension simply by using the faders. You’d be surprised to see how far you can take a mix by just feeling it out and working with the volume alone. The technique is simple; want something sitting in the front? Ride the fader up. Hearing too much of something else? Bring it down.
Another important element to this dimension is creating a sense of space or distance. I typically achieve this with reverb and/or delay. By adding some early reflections or mixing in a prominent wet reverberation effect I can help signal to the listener how close or far away a particular sound is.
Finally compression, I don’t like to use too much of this but at times if something is jumping between foreground to background too much I like to add some compression just to help control and sit it where I want.
Height, High to Low.
You might hear the terms “open sounding” or a “closed sounding” mix, visually I relate this to where things sit vertically. I associate this dimension with frequencies. Bright(prominent high freq), Dull(softer high freq), Muddy(low-low mid prominence)
This is a very important dimension as it can add clarity and definition or opposingly blur a mix.
Small simple steps helps to create a big character image. I don’t overthink it, the best mixing decisions are made by what sounds good and what doesn’t, if something needs some more top end i’ll kick it up, if another element is sharing too much space with the kick or bass I’ll cut it.
Nothing overcomplicated and if anything very simple.
These are the three dimensions I like to use as my building blocks for a good solid mix.