Monday, February 11, 2013

Mix Space: A Place for Everything

In yesterday's post, I talked about widening your guitar sound by doubling the recorded guitar track, panning each one, and then delaying one track to emulate a stereo effect. Panning is a tool that can be used to place a track in a specific spot in the mix which in turn can create space for other elements. But what is space?

To define mix space, I have found that the easiest way to understand it is through a mental picture. Close your eyes and imagine a clock face in front of you where your nose is at 12 and each of your ears are at 9 and 3, respectively. This entire field between 9 and 3 (or between your left and right ears) sweeps out in a semi-circle. This will give you an idea of what the stereo field looks like. To see it in a digital format, check out Ex. 1:

This is a slightly different image than the clock face but still perfectly applicable. When we discuss space, it is referring to these sorts of images, even though the stereo field is actually invisible. Yesterday, we panned our two tracks hard left and hard right. Using the clock analogy, that would be one track at 9, and the other at 3. This means that both tracks are panned to the outermost edge of the stereo field. When we use this sort of hard panning, it leaves lots of space in between to put other things such as vocals, keyboards, and auxiliary percussion. This what we refer to as 'space' in a mix or 'making room.' You want each instrument or part to have its own area in the mix to occupy. Please note that the subject of panning and space is all relative to your project, style, needs, and desires. For example, you may need your guitars closer to the center (or closer to 12 on the clock face) within your mix due to the piano taking up the outer edges. It all depends on the requirements. Here are two very different examples for illustration:

First, Shakira's 'Waka, Waka'
Her voice occupies the center most spot in the mix (practically sitting on your nose) while everything else offers a supportive role filling up the space out towards 9 and 3 on the clock face. Depth is also a factor here but will be discussed at a later time.

Second, Whitesnake's 'Love Will Set You Free'
Here, in complete contrast, we have guitars dominating the outer edges of the mix at 9 and 3 for the majority of the track. Listen to the first 10 seconds though, they fill up much of the space for a bit. Once the vocals come in, the guitars still play a prominent role but they make a bit of space so the vocalist will shine through. There is a bit more of a balance though between the vocals and guitar as opposed the vocals being really far out front like in the Shakira example. As stated earlier, song and style dictates a lot.

If you noticed, I mentioned that the 'guitars . . make a bit of space' for the vocals to come through on the Whitesnake example. While it may not have been the case on that particular song, panning can and often changes depending on what is happening throughout the duration of the track. Don't be afraid to move things a little to make some more space for another instrument at a given spot in your track. You can always put the panning back after your troublesome spot. Automation is your friend!

To close, making/having space in a mix is essential and will definitely contribute to polishing your product when used correctly.