In this age of loud and compressed music, sometimes the basics get lost. One of the first things that really opened my eyes to mixing was the idea of panning and stereo placement. By panning certain sounds, an engineer has the ability to create space, depth, width, and when automated, some seriously awesome effects, so let’s get into it!
First things first. Kick, bass and snare sit mono. Just… obey it, ok? Yes you can break the rule, but have a reason to. If you’re going to make your snare stereo, or panned, to it because it’s getting in the way of the vocals, or because there’s a mono piano/guitar. If you’re going to pan your bass, do it in a tasteful way. Maybe some notes are panned. Maybe as the bass slides, you automate the pan to reflect the intensity of the slide. You get what I’m saying.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move to other parts of the mix. Can’t get your piano to sit right? Can’t get your bells to sound rock solid through crappy speakers? They’re probably not imaged specifically enough! “Wide reverbs are absolute mix-killers”- 3Time (@iam3Time) My colleague and engineer buddy puts it right, and I’ll take it even further by saying wide melodies are mix killers too. If everything is wide, nothing is wide. If your instruments are wide, your reverbs aren’t. Think about it… no I’m serious, actually take a minute, and think about what that means.
Bus your effects. That’s what it means. Let your main melody sound sit very narrow, and pan it about 25% to the left or right. Now take your reverb bus and pan it the other way. Now put a slap delay on it. Now put a 10% reverb on that delay. Think about how much perceived space you can create by stacking effects, and keeping your melody tight and fairly mono.
Let’s talk hi-hats! There are two ways you can go. 100% mono and right in your face, blasting you through the phone speaker, and hidden, buried, panned, and tasteful. I prefer the latter. I love to pan my hi hats opposite the melody, 10-20% to the opposite side. I keep them dry, clean, and I pan them quickly at a 20% mix to add excitement to them, and I might sidechain them to the kick, but that’s usually taken care of by some light compression on the drum bus. EDM producers might disagree, but, well… I’m not an EDM producer. So I get tasteful with my hi-hats, and don’t let them get in the way of the vocals.
The final imaging tip I have for you guys is this… mono is powerful. Kick, bass and bass should almost always be 100% mono, no exceptions. Don’t’ try to get your 808 to sit super wide. I know you want it to fill up the car. I know you want it to be huge. Try getting some great, Audio Technica headphones and adjusting how 40hz sits in the mix, and save yourself the frustration of having great headphone mixes, and shitty phone mixes.
I hope these tips helped you guys out, I know they would have helped me out years ago, and I really wish I had someone teaching me this stuff from the start. Lots of beat producers and FL Studio savages come out of the DAW with super mono mixes, and while that’s cool and sound good on the phone with no vocalist, it’s really a downer in the end when an artist tries to body the track. With the right knowledge, you can have the best of both worlds.