5 Ways to Widen Your Mix

5 Ways to Widen Your Mix

At some point, nearly every mixer has experienced this:

“My mix sounds great, but this mix by (Bob Clearmountain, George Massenburg, Joe Barresi, etc.) sounds so much wider… How do they do that?”

Aside from the highly classified mixer voodoo magic that they still swear isn’t real, there are a number of techniques you can employ to get a little more width out of your mix.

PANNING

I already know what you’re about to say: “But I pan my parts hard left and right, and it still doesn’t sound wide enough.” I struggled with this for a long time myself, but trust me, panning is listed first because it’s the first step toward a wide mix.

If you’ve got things hard-panned, you’re already halfway there. One trick to making this work is contrast; if everything is hard-panned, there’s no point of reference for what is narrow or wide.

EXAMPLE: In a rock or metal mix, it’s fairly common to find extremely wide guitars. What many folks don’t notice is that the drums are not always quite as wide.

A pretty standard template for me is: guitars panned hard, drum overheads panned at about 50%, and if applicable, the drum room track at about 60-75%. This makes for a full stereo field and helps isolate the parts, creating a very wide image of the guitars while still having good stereo separation for the drums. It also helps prevent distorted electric guitars from eating up all that gorgeous drum ambiance you worked so hard to track perfectly.

Widen Your Mix With Contrast Panning
“Contrast” Panning

Contrary to the above, I’ve heard a lot of folks swear by what’s known as “LCR Mixing,” or Left-Center-Right mixing, where – you guessed it – everything is either panned, hard left, center, or hard right.

I personally am not a major advocate of LCR Mixing, but I highly encourage everyone to try it out. It might work for one song or one style, but not another. If nothing else, it’s an excellent starting point in helping you quickly decide the rough stereo placement of each mix element .

Wider Mixes with LCR Panning
“LCR” Panning

And of course, never forget about automation–the most important part of any mix, in my opinion. Try panning a stereo track to about 80% width, and then at an appropriate point in the song, bump it up to 100%. I guarantee this will add apparent width to your mix.

Utilizing Pan Automation to Widen Your Mix
Utilizing Pan Automation

This goes back to contrast — you’re listening to the song and at its widest point, it’s at 80% width. Your ears believe that everything is as wide as it can be. Suddenly, everything gets wider and the apparent stereo width seems enormous! I’m not saying go crazy and use this trick all the time, but try it out and hear the effect for yourself.

EQ

Counter-Balanced EQ can add Stereo Width

Sometimes EQ can help you make your mix sound wider. And you’re probably thinking, “how is adjusting frequency content going to expand stereo width?” Well, technically it’s not…

It’s a psychoacoustical phenomenon that causes a bit of separation of the parts, making their perceived width much greater. That’s right, it’s not real. But we can fool our ears into thinking we’re actually adding width.

Here’s what to do: take a look at your left guitar track and find a place in the midrange where you might like to boost. Let’s say just for example’s sake, that we’ll add 2dB at 600Hz. Now we’re going to find another frequency and cut it: -2dB at 2.8kHz (again, just for example).

Now, go to your right guitar track and do the opposite: -2dB at 600Hz; +2dB at 2.8kHz.

Be careful — I wouldn’t add or subtract any more than about 2 or 3 dB here lest altering or totally destroying the tone (trust me, the guitar player will hear it and reveal his or her darker side very quickly). Make an adjustment that’s just enough and you’ll trick the listener into hearing an expanded stereo width.

Delay

This is how you get a mix to sound like it’s actually wider than the speakers themselves. It became ubiquitous in the 80s, but much like gated reverb, it’s used more tastefully in modern mixes.

First, a word of warning: this can completely dismantle the mono compatibility of your mix — proceed with caution!

The technique is quite simple, and is another one of those psychoacoustical tricks (come on, you didn’t think you could actually get your mix to be wider than the speakers themselves… did you?).

Insert a stereo delay plugin on your stereo track or bus (IMPORTANT: make sure the delay plugin has independent controls for the left and right sides) and set the mix to 100%. You could also use the Channel Tools plugin, which has this sort of functionality built in. Just add a few milliseconds of delay to one side of your stereo track or bus, and you’ll hear quite a difference right away.

Delay Can Make Your Mix Wider
Delay on One Side

Of course, there’s always the question of how much is enough. Here are some tips:

  • Does it sound like one side is playing before the other? Too much. You’ll definitely want it below 20-25ms, or it’ll start actually sounding like, well, a delay.

  • More delay time will not always make it wider. The effect is caused by the phase relationship between the two sides, so you may find a sweet spot with hardly any delay at all.

  • Collapse the track/bus to mono. Does it sound terrible? Try making it a little narrower.

  • Does the tone change too much? Move the delay time up or down a little bit and see if that helps.

  • Remember, phase can truly make or break your mix, so again, tread cautiously when applying this effect.

Reverb

There are a few different ways reverb can help increase the apparent stereo width of your mix.

The first way is quite simple: Applying reverb to an already-wide signal can make it sound even wider. This has to do with those phase relationships we were just talking about.

Wider Mix with Opposite Pan on Sends

To take things a step further, try panning your reverb sends to the opposite side (Hard Left Audio w/ Hard Right Send; Hard Right Audio w/ Hard Left Send) to see if it makes any difference. If nothing else, it makes for a pretty cool creative effect.

The second way is also quite simple. What is reverb but a few thousand delay signals right after one another? What we’ll do is apply reverb to only one side of the stereo track or bus.

What this is doing, in addition to the delay trick mentioned above, is making one side sound slightly more distant. It’s ultimately creating a distinction between the left and right side (again, in your mind) that creates the illusion of greater width.

Mid/Side Processing

This is a bit of an advanced technique. There are plug-ins out there that will do all the thinking for you (The Hoser XT, for example) by allowing you the option to make separate adjustments for the individual “mid” and “sides” channels.

Mid/Side EQ Can Make Your Mix Sound Wider

However, there are a few ways to make this work, even without a “smart” plug-in… I’ll keep this as simple as possible.

The best way to set yourself up for Mid/Side processing is to use the Mid/Side microphone configuration when recording. This is what I consider a true Mid/Side configuration, and I feel it balances better, has better mono compatibility, and is more “true to the source” when it’s being modified than its “fabricated Mid/Side configuration” counterpart.

If you don’t know how to do Mid/Side recording, I’ve provided you some resources here, here, and here.

Now, as for converting a standard stereo track or bus to Mid/Side tracks, you’ll have to do a bit of extra work…

  1. Clone your stereo track or bus.

  2. Collapse the original to mono with the interleave button. It should look like this: [mono interleave button]. This is now your “Mid” track.

  3. Insert a plugin like Channel Tools, or any comparable plugin, on the cloned track.

  4. Flip the phase on the left side (or the right side; one may sound better than the other). This is now your “Sides” track.

What we can do from here is process these tracks individually. A good starting point would be to apply some fast compression to only the “Sides” track, somewhat eliminating the dynamic peaks and valleys and making the sides seem louder, thereby increasing the apparent stereo width.

Similarly, you can add some upper-midrange frequencies to the “Sides” track, increasing their presence, and/or reduce the same frequency range in the “Mid” track.

 

Try all these techniques and take note of the qualities that each impart. Remember, the more techniques you have in your arsenal, and the more practice and experience you have with each of them, the quicker you’ll be able to make creative production decisions.

Cakewalk Announces New Line of Studio Hardware Products

Cakewalk announces the newest additions to the growing line of affordable, high-quality hardware products, designed in conjunction with Roland. These three new USB audio interfaces, the UA-4FX, UA-25EX and UA-101, provide a simple solution for the mobile musician and/or recording studio to connect and capture audio to Mac & PC. 

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Click on the links above for more information on these products
Check out Cakewalk’s Youtube page to watch the new videos

NAB 2009: Robin Answers The Most Common SONAR & V-Studio 700 Questions

As the NAB Show wraps up, it’s a good time to reflect:

I have to say that for a product that has only been on the market for 2 years, I was amazed at just how many people I met, who have adopted the SONAR REAC Recording option for the V-Mixing system (Digital Snake and/or M-400).

As mentioned before, the REAC sends 40 channels of digital audio down a CAT-5 cable. Connect the cable to your PC’s network card and the Cakewalk REAC driver will pump the audio into SONAR. Many live venues, houses of worship and rental companies are taking advantage of the recording option. Using this option, the tracks record directly into SONAR. Once in SONAR the ‘live’ tracks can now be mixed, edited and mastered for either DVD, CD, web, or other formats. Obviously, this opens up a whole range of possibilities as you essentially have a 40 track recording studio at every live event whether it is a sermon or an outdoor rock festival.

Aside from the REAC recording customers, I spoke with many people who were in disbelief of the power and functionality SONAR has. I never like to say ‘no’ to customers, so NAB has been a great show and here’s a few examples why:

Customer: Can I use SONAR’s 64-bit internal audio engine on a 32-bit operating system?
Me- Yes , you can!

Customer: Do you have 64-bit audio plugins for mastering?
Me- Yes, we do and they’re included in SONAR.

Customer: What if my other plugins are 32-bit, I can’t use them right?
Me: Actually, SONAR has something called Bit Bridge which allows you to run 32-bit plugins on a 64-bit system.

Customer: Does Cakewalk support SONAR and/or the VS-700 running under Bootcamp?
Me: Yes, we do.

Customer: If I have a multitrack project that is in stereo, is it possible to convert it to surround?
Me: Yes! Just add a surround bus and route your tracks to it.

Customer: What about a surround mix to stereo?
Me: Of course, just reverse the steps and assign the tracks to a stereo bus.

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