We talk about recording dynamics and KEEPING things interesting by maintaining dynamics in your mix, but what do you do when you need to add more than what’s available?
This is the premise behind our discussion today – the process of adding “fake” dynamics to your mix in creative (and sometimes obvious ways). I promise that by the time you finish this, you’ll be slapping your forehead wondering why you’ve ever struggled with getting the right amount of dynamics out of your mix.
The basic idea of a dynamic mix is one that has loud sounds and soft sounds constantly interacting with each other. If you were too take a track of silence and a track of white noise they’d be suffering from the same problem – a lack of dynamics.
People need to hear dynamics to feel music most of the time. Songs that are over-compressed or just don’t have a lot of dynamism to begin with are classified as dull and lifeless. Avoiding these two monikers should be one of your biggest focuses as an engineer.
So whether you’re trying to bring life back into a crushed mix or you’re just trying to give it something interesting to begin with, just keep in mind that you’re CREATING the dynamic contrast between the peaks and the valleys of your song.
Mutes & Automation
Two of the most transparent (and DAW independent) places you can pump some dynamic range into your session is through the use of mutes and volume automation.
Think about this: the lowest point of any instrument is going to be absolute silence, and a mute is the quickest way to get there. Find parts in your song that aren’t doing a whole lot other than raising your noise floor and mute those when they’re not playing. You’ll bring down the overall level of the master at that point, freeing up space for other instruments along the way.
Similarly, volume automation can be used to ride different instruments into a more dynamic performance. At the most basic level of mixing, you should be using your faders to raise and lower the volume, as needed depending on the part of the song. You’re taking the basic job of this standard tool to go from being heard to being felt.
Yeah, I know. I already said this is the enemy of dynamics, but hear me out. Compressors were made to control your dynamics, and pushing them past their limits can give you some very interesting, overly compressed tones.
For anyone looking to add some dynamics back into their track, this is the perfect scenario.
Extreme limiting and compression can actually be mixed in underneath unprocessed audio to create a sort of push-pull effect with the track. This is most commonly done using parallel compression and a great bus compressor like BG-Drums on the full group of drums. It can result in a pumping effect that when mixed in subtly will help create movement (perceived as dynamics) within your drum sound.
Try taking this concept and applying it to other parts of your mix too – there’s nothing saying dynamics should be restricted to your drum kit.
Perhaps the most noticeable processing on this list will come when using a sidechain as the input for your compressor’s trigger. By sidechaining something like the bass guitar off of the kick drum, you can easily duck the bass by a few dB each time the kick comes in. This accomplishes two things.
The first thing it does is that it creates contrast in a generally static bass performance. Compared to some other instruments, bass guitars aren’t incredibly well known for their dynamics. Even a few dB of compression during the performance should be enough variety to keep the bass moving.
Secondarily, you’re creating a pocket for your kick drum to jump up into and shine each time it comes in. Without having to fight over frequencies with the bass, your kick has room to breathe and the space that opens up around it each and every time accentuates it.
This is one of the best ways to create dynamics between two instruments without seriously impacting the rest of the mix.
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