Using the stereo field makes your mix two-dimensional and helps each sound find its own space. By also making using of depth (front-back) we can achieve a 3-D mix that makes full use of the spatial planes available to us, and as a result feels more realistic.
Making use of depth lets you assign prominence by bringing certain sounds to the front of the mix – signifying to the listener what is important. You can bring sounds close to the listener to suggest intimacy, and you can present a bigger sound by placing your sounds in a large room. Creating a sense of depth brings your music to life.
We create a sense of depth by taking advantage of psychoacoustics to manipulate the listeners’ understanding of the spatial relationships of your sounds. However…. the simplest way to bring a sound to the front of your mix is to make it louder! By thinking about your volume hierarchy (week 1) you can decide which sounds sit closest to the listener, and which sounds sit back. Then move on to using plug-ins.
Your song should sound like it all lives in one space. By using reverb we can create the illusion of a room, by using volume and EQ we can bring sounds forwards or backwards in this room.
Imagine being in a large room with stone walls, with a piano being played in the middle. There will be a lot of reverberation in this room. However, if we are close to the sound source we will hear more of the original piano signal than the reverberation from the walls. The further we move from the sound source, the more we will hear the natural reverb of the room ( the sound bouncing back off the walls) mixing with the original signal.
By setting up an auxiliary track with a reverb plugin on it we can create our room, and choose its size and character. By using the aux sends we can choose how much of each track is sent into this reverberant room (using aux sends also avoids having loads of reverb units running at the same time, which will eat up your CPU), enabling us to create a separate mix going into the reverb. Sending more of a particular track to the reverb will create more reflections and therefore a sense of distance, less reverb suggests that the sound is closer. A combination of long and short reverbs can further this sense of distance and create the impression of a 3-D space.
Using EQ can also alter the sense of depth. The closer our ears are to a sound, the more we hear the extremes of low and high frequencies. Using shelf EQ’s at the top and bottom we can manipulate this sense of distance. Adding freqs at both ends of the spectrum will add thickness and detail to a sound – this is called a ‘proximity effect’. Rolling off these areas will push a sound back in the mix – as we move away from a sound source our ears pick up less of these freqs. This can help to bring a vocal closer to the listener’s ear, boosting low frequencies to reduce the impression of distance from the sound source – the feeling of an intimate vocal being sung right next to you.
Volume balance, stereo imaging and depth are the three fundamental ways to place our sounds in a mix. If we get this part right our mix will already signify the important sounds to the listener, by placing them at the front in the centre of the mix. The rest of our sounds can then find their own place within our imaginary room, and if we get this stage right our mix is going to sound balanced before we move on to any clever processing…..