I’ll freely admit that I’m the type of person who can NOT live without variety when it comes to music.
If you know me, you’d definitely put me in the “Type B” slot. It’s not that I’m restless, impatient or anything like that. There are some things that I don’t mind being routine but there are others that, in my mind, must keep my interest with changes.
I like to create music that has a lot of things going on – not to detract from the main harmonic, rhythmic or melodic content, but little sonic goodies that’ll keep a listeners’ interest and give them a reason to listen to the track a few more times. I approach my mixing with the same philosophy.
Getting a proper balance with panning, levels, space (reverb and delay) and EQ are the main “bones” of a mix – having everything fit in it’s place and getting things sounding … right. Once that’s done, the fun part starts – how are you going to keep things interesting? Automation goes a long way in keeping things spicy. Making use of automation to affect the three dimensions of your mix as the song progresses through the sections is a big contributor. I see the three dimensions equating to real-world spaces:
- Width – this is as simple as panning – placing/moving sound from left and right
- Vertical – I see this as frequency-dependent material – pitch and EQ-related material. Lower pitches/frequencies are … down/lower while higher pitches/frequencies are up/higher.
- Depth – this is a bit more subjective and has to do with the listener’s perception of how far away the sound seems to be from his or her listening perspective. Adding reverb or delay to a sound can give the perception that the sound is further away than it’s original dry, recorded signal.
Taking the time to perform the fader and controller moves to automate changes in one or more of these “dimensions” will definitely give your mix a sense of ebb and flow. Differentiating sections by making the stereo image, the frequency spectrum and sound stage bigger and smaller as the song progresses will give the listener auditory cues that keep things interesting.
Going Beyond the Tried-and-True
This is where the fun and “science experiments” happen. As with the above, this can be subtle or it can be whack-you-over-the head overt.
When I launch my default mix template, I typically have 10-12 aux busses ready to go with some usual suspects such as reverb, delay, exciter, harmonizer (doubler) and mid-side(or “stereo widener”) processing ready, but I also have other effect staples like phaser, flanger, tremelo/panner and chorus at the ready. When I want to add something a bit more exciting to a sound these last three are just the tip of where I begin concocting some scrumptious treats for the ears!
What I like doing with these effects is adding some movement to the sound. Unlike reverbs and delays, these effects modulate delay and phase to create a sense of movement in the sonic characteristic of a sound. These can be full-on “wet” effects, or they can be applied subtly in a send or high dry:wet ratio. Combined with automation, these can provide that almost-perceptable twist to an entire mix or even a single element that’ll keep a listener’s ears perked up.
Logic has some fun plugs bundled with it. Things with names like:
- Spectral Gate
- Microphaser and
Again, these kinds of effects can be applied as in-your-face track-mangling elements or just subtle “something’s different” touches to a sound.
The coolest (and the worst) thing about the plug-ins though is the fact that there are SO MANY out there. Besides the obvious “me-too” 1176 or LA2A clones you can find, there are manufacturers putting out some quite ingenius and fun sound-warping toys. A couple of manufacturers / plugs that I’ve had some great fun playing with recently are:
- Waves – Enigma and MondoMod – both of these effects employ multiple modulation elements to panning, volume and phase with some fantastic results
- Audio Damage – PanMan and Dr. Device – PanMan goes way beyond your typical tennis-match auto-panner and Dr. Device takes things over the top with a Kaoss-pad-like interface that allows you to modulate multiple filters in many different ways.
- Soundtoys – besides some great “destruction” (distortion and bit-crushing) effects, I’ve had fun with Crystallizer – some great fun with pitch and delay – and FilterFreak – multiple filter modulation with analog twists.
- Izotope’s Spectron is a plug that you can get lost in entirely – it employs the multi-paned interface we’ve come to expect from the likes of Ozone and Trash with the ability to manipulate delay, filter, pan and pitch in weird ways all at once.
Stop … Stop the Spinning!
Not at all.
What I AM championing here is looking for ways to take a mix from a great sounding static mix to something that holds some interest to the listener and has enough layers to keep the listener discovering new things on each listen.
Applying an odd-metered panning effect on a TR909 loop, or putting something like a slight flange on a doubled vocal are things that add some spice to a mix … some movement beyond the recorded pitch and rhythm of a recording.
As I said before, it’ll be subjective, but try out different things, see what happens – it is quite fun.