Sound issues with your project studio recording? Airshow Takoma Park’s Charlie Pilzer has some answers in this two-part blog.
Some of the problems that I hear in recordings from small project rooms include insufficient width and depth in the recordings. Let’s look at these separately.
The primary cause for insufficient width is not enough use of panning in the mix.
Proper panning is as important to the mix as proper levels. Too many tracks up the center create a cluttered mix, and the distinctions between elements can be lost.
Panning allows the sound, instrument or voice to be placed into the stereo field such that each has its own “space” or “window.” Instruments that have been recorded in stereo can be spread or narrowed as needed to fill or clear a space.
Many, if not most, small project rooms have modest monitoring setups where the speakers may lack detail or clarity. Perhaps the studio monitors are just to each side of the computer display screen not very far apart, or the engineer may be mixing by listening mostly to headphones. Headphones exaggerate the amount of panning (binaural is different than stereo, but that’s another topic) and a mixer’s natural inclination is to narrow the mix.
Regardless of the specific reason, the mix engineer does not spread the mix far away from center. Narrow sound fields may give the engineer the sense that elements of the mix are spread more than they really are.
In other cases, the engineer may spread the elements so far that the result is unnaturally wide and the sounds become disconnected from one another.
The primary cause of insufficient depth is improper use/levels of effects.
Depth can be controlled by stereo width, panning and use of reverb and delay. The engineer, artist and producer (could be the same person!) should discuss and create a vision of where the performers would be if they were standing in front of the engineer. Applying more reverb and/or delay can place a musical element farther back into the mix. Having a vocal with compression and no effects will place it right up front. Increasing stereo width of an instrument can make it seem closer; making it narrower and panning away from the center can make it seem more distant. Effects such as chorusing, echo and delay provide motion and a sense of three dimensions to a mix; use too much, though, and it can sound like the mix is in a well.
Ideally, the engineer and the speakers should form an equilateral triangle, with the speakers toed in enough to be aimed along the line between the engineer and the speaker. The mixing engineer should have the ability to play recordings from CDs and .wav files through the monitoring system. This can provide a “reality” check to compare commercially released songs against their mixes.
Next time we’ll address a slanted mix and bass control.