THE AMBIENT ROOM
Every space has its own sound, and that can change due to any number of variables. Room size, hard and soft surfaces, and ever air pressure all have a part to play in how a space sounds. The most important thing to remember is that just about every space has certain reflections that result in the effect commonly known as reverb. Because of this, vocals and many instruments sound flat and lifeless when mixed without any reverb added to create a sense of space within the room. As we try so hard to isolate our sound sources in the recording process, we usually remove any natural reverb or ambience that may have been present in the recording space and so capture a somewhat unrealistic representation of the sound. That’s why reverb needs to be added back in during the mixing process. But please, be careful. It is all too easy to go overboard and leave a mix sounding washed out or altogether too busy, especially when combining different reverbs from different sources.
The key to adding reverb successfully for a natural ambience is that you really shouldn’t notice it in the mix. At least, not until you take it away. If you are unable to clearly detect the reverb in your mix, you are off to a good start. But, if you mute your return channel with which the reverb is running through and you can suddenly notice its absence, well, then you are on to something. Give it a try and see how more realistic your mixes instantly sound.
WIDENING THE STEREO SPREAD
Another pitfall in the mixing process is to have too much focus in the centre of the listening space and not enough panned across the stereo image. Of course, you don’t need to go to the extreme of hard panning one instrument to the left and another to the right. This can prove dangerous when your music may well be listened to on a mono system, or when speakers are not set up in the correct space, which results in certain instruments not featuring in the mix correctly.
A better method is to double up the track of the instruments that you really want to give some width too and work on each track separately. Say for instance I want the drums, bass and vocals to feel like they are fairly central, but I want the guitar to appear to be out to the sides of the space. I would double the guitar track and pan one hard left, the other hard right. This will result in the same sound as having one track panned to the centre, at least to begin with. From there, a subtle change to the compression of both tracks to give one a more squeezed sound that the other will begin to have them separate. Close your eyes and listen, you will hear the difference that makes it sound like two guitarists are suddenly playing in perfect unison. Then, I like to adjust the EQ so that one side has a little extra lower mids and the other gets some air with the mids pulled out slightly and the higher frequencies pushed just a touch. The result is like bringing the guitar from a small studio room to an enormous arena, but without the decaying reverb. Flip your monitors to Mono and you will hear the guitar shift back to the centre of the mix again. Take the Mono switch off and you’ll really be able to appreciate how much width you have given to the sound. The same can apply for various effects that might be added to these doubled tracks.