You may be wondering what is the most important thing that you should keep in mind while working on your mix. Is it the stellar performance of all of the musicians involved, or is it a perfect tone of every instrument? Is it a surgical equalization, or is it precise compression? All of those things, of course, matter very much, but if you want your mix to be ageless, breathtaking, it has to have dimensions. So in this article, we will tell you how to create width, height, and depth in a mix.
How to create width, height, and depth in a mix: explained
Before we begin, there’s one thing we need to clear out first. Although height and depth are very precise quantities when it comes to music production, it’s all very subjective and, at times, even abstract. When we manipulate sound, we always rely on how we perceive it first, and only then we can check if the numbers are right. And the problem is that you’re going to have to develop a very powerful intuition before you can figure out how much is too much and what amount of changes could be insignificant.
How to add width
There are several ways of how you can add width to your mix, and all of them are pretty much interchangeable or could be used all at the same time. When we talk about width in music production, what we really mean is how far between some relative elements of the mix are in the stereo field. For example, if you have a double-tracked acoustic guitar and you pan one channel all the way left and the other all the way right, you will get a recording with a maximum width. So, as you can tell, the most reliable and precise way of achieving width in the mix is stereo panning.
Although panning is the most efficient way of achieving width in the mix, it is also the most tiresome. You have to pan your instrument in such a way that the ones with the highest frequencies are the furthest in the stereo field. And the instruments with the lowest frequencies should be right at the center of the mix.
For example, pan your shakers all the way left and other high percussion all the way right, pan drum overheads also all the way right and left, but leave the kick right in the center. Straightaway your mix will get a lot wider without losing any focus. But things could get a lot trickier when instruments with a broader frequency spectrum are involved.
We already know that we want the highest frequencies to be the widest and the lowest frequencies to be right in the center. But what we shall we do with, for example, electric guitars that have a lot of very crucial information both in the low and in the high end? The simplest thing we could do is to apply an equalizer with mid-side capabilities. Such an equalizer will give you an opportunity to adjust frequencies that are common for both channels separately from the frequencies that are presented only in one channel each.
When it comes to electric guitars or other instruments with a broad frequency spectrum, we can switch the equalizer into a “side mode” and cut the low end drastically. Given a high shelf boost in the same mode will make the instrument sound way broader. And a slight low-end boost in “mid mode” will balance the track out. You can easily apply the same technique to the whole mix either in conjunction with stereo panning or separately.
How to add height
Funnily enough, you can use the same exact techniques in order to achieve height in the mix. Although out of the three dimensions, the height in music production is the most abstract and, at times is rather confusing, yet it is the one that is the easiest to achieve. There are two factors that you should keep in mind.
First of all, higher frequencies are much faster than lower frequencies due to its nature. Secondly, if you look closely at your speakers, you can notice that the tweeter is at the top, and since it exclusively reproduces high frequencies, they always will be at the top relative to your position as a listener. So making a very slight high-shelf boost will make your mix appear slightly taller, and you can give it even more height with the addition of a relatively small low-end boost.
You should also know that you can achieve a “taller mix” more effectively if you process each track individually. Try to apply a high-cut filter to the instruments that you want to sound “lower” and a low-cut filter to the instruments that you want to sound “taller”. Although this process is quite challenging, and you always risk your instruments sounding too thin or too boomy due to inadequate filtering, this process will let you extract the most height from your mix. That being said, we recommend applying very slight boosts to the whole mix to eliminate the risks of destroying otherwise perfectly balanced production.
How to add depth
There are numerous ways of how to achieve depth in your mix, but we will focus on those that are the most commonly used and hence are most achievable. Of course, nothing can stop you from booking a professional recording studio with a huge arsenal of microphones and use three different mic perspectives on each instrument. But since most of the time, we all are on a budget and on very strict time restraints, this doesn’t seem to be a plausible solution. Instead, you can record your instruments as dry as possible and apply some reverberation.
Use a reverb
There are a few approaches you can take that are involving reverberation. First of all, you can put a reverb on the separate auxiliary track and route each instrument through it depending on how further you want them to sound. The more reverb you apply, the further the instrument will sound. And, obviously, the less reverb you apply, the closer it would seem.
Secondly, you can apply reverbs with different reflections to different instruments depending, of course, on what distance do you want them to be in the mix. Use a reverb with early reflections to the instruments that you think are needed to be closer. And use a reverb with later reflection for the instruments that are needed to be further.
Using the same type of reverb for this technique could make your mix more coherent and wholesome, but feel free to experiment with different types of reverbs. To save yourself some CPU power, you can combine those two techniques and put two reverbs with different reflections on two different auxiliary tracks, then it is just a matter of routing the tracks according to your vision of the mix.
Use transient shapers
Transient shapers are plugins that affect the attack and sustain of any given sound. Chances are you have recorded your tracks dry, so most of the instruments will have a lot of attack. From the psycho-acoustic perspective, the more detailed the sound is, the closer we perceive it and vice versa. So to put some instruments further in the mix, all you have to do is to reduce its attack. Usually, transient shapers are very subtle, so don’t be afraid to experiment with them.
Balance the mix
Out of all ways of adding depth to your mix, balancing it is the simplest one, yet the most effective. Usually, we balance the mix according to the energy of each individual instrument and what role it plays in the arrangement. But you can also adjust the volume of each instrument according to its position in space. The further you want your instrument to be, the quieter you should make it. And, of course, the louder you will make it, the closet it would seem.
Unfortunately, it could not possibly be that easy, and there are a few nuances. Because different frequencies decay over the distance differently, simply adjusting the volume of the instruments wouldn’t cut it. You are also going to have to make a few adjustments with an equalizer here and there. The further something is from you, the less high frequencies it will translate. And if something is close to you, the less low-end it will have.
We hope this article helped you understand how to create width, height, and depth in a mix. To put it shortly, in order to achieve width in the mix, you need to pan tracks with high-frequencies left and right and place the track with lower frequencies in the middle. Using an equalizer with M/S capabilities could be handy since you could boost high frequencies in the left and right channels and make frequencies in the middle mono. In order to achieve height, make a slight high-shelf boost, and to add depth, use reverbs, possibly with different types of reflections. Balancing the mix in a certain way and using transient shapers could also help you greatly.