Creating Space In A Mix.

How do top mix engineers make their mixes sound open and spacious?

Dom Morley
-
23rd April 2020

One of the biggest challenges in a mix is to make it sound spacious and open, especially when there’s quite a lot going on.

Here are some simple techniques and tricks that you can use to create space in a mix.

Filters

First things first – filtering.

I use filters on most tracks in a mix. There are very few elements that don’t have the low end filtered out to some extent.

I’m really only looking to have the kick drum and the main bass sound occupying the bass frequencies of my mix, and everything else need a filter. Even if you can only hear upper mids in a sound that you’re adding into your mix – put that filter on anyway.

Otherwise, once you’ve added a couple of dozen elements with ‘hardly any’ bass frequencies in them you’ll find there’s some un-needed rumble going on that’s not always noticeable directly, but is subtly muddying up the bottom end of your mix and taking clarity and punch away from your kick drum and bass tracks.

This applies to filtering the top end as well. Unless a sound needs that brightness or ‘air’ on it – filter it off.

EQ

Yes, filters are part of your EQ but I thought it might make sense to address these separately, if only to stress the importance of filtering!

At this point it’s worth mentioning my Mixing With EQ article that you get when you sign up to the newsletter. Take a read of that as a refresher because that’s all relevant here.

What I want to point out as well here is a listening process I use if I’m worried that a mix is getting crowded.

Once I’ve got a sound how I want it and it’s sitting in the mix nicely I’ll ask myself one more question – is there anything more that I can take out of this and it still be doing it’s job? Can I filter out more or EQ out more without destroying the sound? If I can then I will.

Do this with every sound in your mix and you’ll notice you have a lot more room than you had before, and you’ve still got all your elements sounding amazing.

Panning

Use mono.

A lot of sounds come out of the box in stereo. A lot of these don’t need to be stereo.

Assess each element as you add it to the mix and make a call on whether it really needs to be in stereo or not. If not, then mono it up and you’ve automatically saved space.

Use stereo.

Not everything needs to be in the middle or hard panned left and right. Move things around the stereo field. Try having more things on one side than the other.

Place your instruments all across the field, and now that you have a lot of them in mono after reading the previous suggestion, you’ll have more options on where to put them.

Even stereo sounds don’t have to be hard left and right. Try keeping a sound stereo, but balanced more to one side.

If you’re unsure where a new sound should go, do a slow from left to right and the area where it sounds loudest is the area of the stereo field where there is naturally the most room for this new sound. Leave it there.

Reverb

I won’t go too deeply into reverb (perhaps that should be another article) but obviously the use of reverb helps space elements out in your mix.

There are a few ways you can tweak your reverbs to help add more space though.

Firstly, all the EQ and filtering methods that I described earlier are relevant here too. Feel free to use filters and EQ on all of your reverbs.

The mono thing I mentioned earlier is relevant as well. Reverbs can definitely be mono (especially if the source sound is mono) and this will really add space and clarity.

Also, if you want to try something interesting, put the reverb on the other side of stereo to the source.

Pre-delay is worth experimenting with too.

This can be great if you want something to have a long reverb but still sound present (like a lead vocal). It kind of sounds like the source is staying close to you, and the more reverb you add the larger space it is in, but it doesn’t move back into that space.

I normally start at about 90 milliseconds and play from there.

Delays often sound like they take up less space in a mix than reverbs.

Try reaching for those sometimes to give the effect of space instead of a reverb.

My absolute favourite is the SoundToys EchoBoy, but there are loads of plug-ins out there to explore (including the free ones that came with your DAW).

Hopefully that’s cleared a bit of the mystery up for you!

I look forward to hearing some of your mixes with these techniques in full effect.