Breaking Your Final Mix Wide Open

Have you ever finished mixing a song, printed everything down, and then been struck with the realization that it just doesn’t sound big enough? For some of us, this moment comes just seconds after printing everything down. For others, these less-than-ideal mixes get sent off for mastering (or you start mastering them yourself) before we realize there was a wrong turn taken somewhere.

But if that mix is balanced and dynamic, what could the problem be?

When the mix is too dense (which can happen all too easily with the track counts we work with) the problem can be finding space for everything. Luckily, there’s an easy solution to making more space without sacrificing your final mix and starting from scratch…

Don’t Fear The Widener

Spatial widening works wonders on spreading out stereo sources in a mix. They’re frequently used to open up the center during the mix process by pushing content to the sides, and can be used to replicate the effect of pushing audio past the boundaries of 100% L/R.

But that same effect is why so many engineers fear or even drive others away from widening. Like any addiction (and trust us, it’s easy to get addicted to widening), you’re losing a piece of something when you use too much. For spatial wideners, this usually means losing any hopes of a decent mix when listening back in mono – something 48% of music listeners do by listening on their smartphone.

In small doses, most spatial wideners are effective and rarely noticeable. But when it comes to pushing your final mix a little harder, there’s a better solution.

Mono-Compatible Widening

Mono-compatible spatial wideners do exactly what they say: they provide the same type of widening effect to mono sources that you could traditionally only get on stereo tracks. By taking a mono-focused approach, they’re also able to maintain the center image much more effectively, even when used on stereo sources.

Tools like SideWidener come with multiple modes to let engineers decide how much (or little) they want their signal affected – something that comes in extremely handy on final mix tweaking.

Why It Works

The reason mono-compatible wideners work so well on the master fader or on a printed stereo mix comes down to their alignment to your goal. We’ve already established that a) your mix sounds good and b) it needs a little something extra without changing the balance and dynamics.

The processing imposed on a final mix by tools like SideWidener does just that by adding content to the sides while preserving the center of your mix.

Watch Fluff demonstrate how he uses SideWidener on a final mix:

Spatial widening isn’t going to solve every problem when a final mix just isn’t cutting it, but for a lot of mixes it’s a good starting point.

If you’re still not sure why your final mix has lost it’s shine – go back to your toolbox for some analysis. Look at your dynamic range – if you’re clipping (or hitting a limiter/compressor too hard) you’ll probably want to dial some of those levels back.

Add a frequency analyzer to your master fader and see if you’re missing a certain range in the mix (or if you’ve got too much low end screwing with your limiter).

Have your own approach to widening your mixes?

Shoot a short YouTube video of your approach and share it with us in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum for your chance to be featured in a future post!