As engineers and producers, we’re tasked to get the most we can out of the space between two speakers. Seems like a simple task, right?
Not for anyone that’s started mixing a song and realized just how quick your stereo field starts to fill up.
For most of us, the solution to the problem varies with each and every mix. Sure, there will be plenty of EQ, some compression & some reverb/delay tricks, but your end goal is always the same: to make the most of what you’re working with inside the confines of your speakers.
But when your mixes feel too dense and no amount of EQ seems to be doing the trick, you need to create more space. You need to break free from the two speaker limitations and push your mixes wider. If there’s no more space in your mix, you need to make space.
Start with Your Center
At times, your center can be ruining your mixes without giving you an indication that anything’s wrong. It’s a balancing act, because when you turn up your center, it will spill over and out to the sides.
Inversely, turning up elements of your mix that are panned hard left and right are going to narrow your center.
To truly find space in your mixes, you need to make sure you comprehend the way your overall mix will be affected by each change you make.
For example, your kick drum will almost always find its home in the center of your mix. Coincidentally, you’re also going to want to add some hi-pass filters to everything that doesn’t need a bunch of low-end to make room for your kick.While you might start rolling off low-end from the things you’ve panned to the center alongside the kick drum, you’ll end up treating the parts of your mix that are panned wider to the left or right to clean them up too.
There are plenty of approaches out there to maintaining a well-defined center, including mixing in mono and LCR approaches. Once you know what you’re listening for, these techniques become less and less necessary.
Use Time-Based Effects
I won’t spend too much of this post talking about how time-based effects will impact the width of your mix, because frankly, we’d be here all day.
If you’re looking to add some new techniques to your time-based repertoire, check out some of my other posts here and here.For the sake of this discussion, you need to be familiar with the two most common time based effects in the studio: reverb and delay.
Taking those two elements a step further, I always recommend experimenting with your pans on both of those effects. Too often, engineers will just load up a reverb or delay on an aux track and leave it there.
Part of the greatness of in-the-box mixing is the power to automate your delays and reverbs, moving them around the mix as needed. Think about automating the pans of your delay the next time you transition from a chorus to a verse. Rather than grabbing the fader to turn it down, you can instead lessen its presence in the stereo field by bringing it closer to center.
Create More Space With Stereo Widening
Do you have a stereo widener in your plugin arsenal already? If not, what are you waiting for?
Stereo wideners like JST’s SideWidener were created for when you need more space in your mix, plain and simple. Panning works great to an extent when trying to separate elements of your mix, but with a widener, there’s always more.
The Trouble with Wideners
The problem with most spatial wideners is that they don’t care how compatible your mix is with mono devices. This means that the wider you push something in your stereo mix, the higher the chances are that it’ll start to disappear when collapsed to mono.In some situations, as uncommon as it might be, you could end up completely cancelling out instruments if you’re not careful. Imagine someone listening to a song on their phone that you mixed and losing all of the guitars or background vocals. It’s not a situation you want to be in.
The Easy Solution
It’s easy to say: “don’t do it” but in reality, we all make mistakes. Maybe you forgot to double check for mono compatibility, or maybe you did check, but then decided to push something just a little bit wider.
Rather than deal with the what-ifs, correct the issue before it ever starts by working with a mono-compatible spatial widener. Plenty of engineers and producers have taken out the guesswork, and while the industry has been slow to catch up with our widening needs, there are options out there, and our SideWidener plugin has been at the front of the pack.The lack of options for wideners used to be terrible, with the few that were out there being exclusive to expensive bundles.
When we set out to build SideWidener, we partnered with Computer Music Magazine & Boz Digital Labs to make sure we had the best functioning widener on the market (at a fraction of the price).
And since launch, I’ve personally used this plugin for everything from widening guitars, to overheads & even fattening up mono instruments. It just works, and I’m never flipping back to mono worried about cancellation.
Ready to Mix Differently?For me, mixing is a lot about working smarter, not harder. That means finding as much space as possible to work with, and making focused & intentional decisions within that space.
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