Building Your Wall of Sound

A good mix has everything in its right place. The kick and bass sit at the bottom, providing the foundation and laying the groundwork. From left to right, every element of your mix finds its own space to occupy. Above it all, you’ve got cymbals, synths and pads adding a wash of air over the entire thing.

But none of those things matter if you can’t make them play well with each other.

Audio engineers need to be able to find the balance in each mix. Just one instrument turned up too loud can drown out other parts of the mix. An instrument too low can be drowned out completely.

If you’re looking for ways to make your mix loud & proud without sacrificing clarity, you’ve come to the right place.

Your Foundation is Critical

Your low-end instrumentation is the most important element to filling out a mix. You need clarity and punch from your bass (virtual or analog) and a clear attack on your kick drum. There are plenty of tricks out there to get these two elements sitting right but the two biggest ones are:

1. Sidechaining

Using your kick drum as a sidechain input (even slightly) can provide some room for its sound to shine. A sidechain across your entire mix might not be necessary, unless you’re looking to use it as an effect. If you’re looking to make room in only certain instruments, the kick drum can carve out the space on single tracks or busses.

Until you’re comfortable using sidechaining in your mix, be cautious of pumping that can occur when too much compression is happening.

2. High-Pass Filtering

Another way to clean up your low end is removing unnecessary frequencies from other tracks. For example, you’re rarely going to need anything below 500 Hz on things like cymbals (with the exception of a very dark ride). Why not cut everything else out below that, simultaneously cleaning up your tracks and making room for your low-end instrumentation?

As a warning – be careful not to do too much filtering on soloed tracks. Without hearing how your drums sound in a group, you could be stripping out bleed that’s tying your drum tone together without even knowing it.

Bus Compression

When recording and mixing a dense song, compression is essential to shaping everything into a wall of sound. Specifically, bus compression works wonders on groups of instruments – allowing each instrument to retain their own unique signal chain and processing while tightening up the group for more impact.

Perhaps the best place for bus compression in a wall of sound mix is on the guitars. Because guitars have a full spread of left to right, they’re the perfect example of an instrument that can be treated at both a group and individual level.

Plugins like BG-Guitars give you the option to apply your compression in parallel, letting you really crank up the compression knob without damaging your mix.

Past that, engineers can adapt their bus compressor to their needs: whether those needs are for taming guitars, clamping down on the multiple layers or absolutely smashing the guitars if that’s what it takes.

By getting the bus compression right, you can move from hundreds of tracks to a few dozen busses or subgroups. Not quite happy with an instrument in the group? Modify it on its own without losing the glue that holds your instruments together. Need to tighten up the guitars as a whole? Use a single compression knob to bring them closer together dynamically.

Adding Some Polish

As you’re finishing off your mix, you might start searching for some shine for the top-end. This is where multi-band processing can save the day. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve fought trying to get the dynamics in various frequency bands. While something like overheads might consist of mostly cymbals, any processing I would add to them would work on the entire spectrum.

Because of this, we built Transify. It gives users easy access to the dynamics of four frequency bands, completely independent of each other without any complex routing.

For your wall of sound, this means the attack of your cymbals and the shimmer that comes from them can be adjusted in real-time. The end result is a professional, full mix.

What are you doing to fill the space between your speakers?

Everyone has a different approach: some prefer to focus on dynamics while others go right for time-based effects. The best mixers know that it’s a balancing act of the two.

Where do your start when building a mix from the ground up? Share your process with us over on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum.