Sense of space in “Sunlight”

VitaminD sent me a PM asking me about the sense of space in the song Sunlight, stating that I didn’t write much about spatial or panning tricks in the production diary

I thought I’d write my response publicly here because there might be a few others here who are interested. 

I didn’t really use any special tools or tricks to achieve the sense of space. 

Layers: 
No magic here – just an understanding of foreground and background. I make sure the lead vocal, snare, kick and bass are in the foreground. Everything else goes in the background. This ensures there is a noticeable distance between the closest elements and most distant elements. Obviously this contributes a great deal to the sense of “space” in a mix. 

I also made sure that the foreground elements are all quite “thick and full”, and all the background elements are actually quite thin. This ensures that the background elements to not obscure each other (at least, not more than I intend), and they don’t get in the way of the foreground. 

Panning/spatial: 
Again, no magic here. Just old-fashioned panning. Foreground elements are in the centre, background elements are more spread. If I remember correctly, I only used one mix reverb – CSR Hall – and even then it’s not used much. The front-to-back distance that I wrote of above allows me to create a sense of depth without drowning the mix in reverb. 

Explosion at 2:16: 
The widening you hear is just an automated mid/side balance adjustment on the 2-bus. It’s made more dramatic because in the preceding section I (sneakily) slowly collapse the mix to mono. 

Compositionally, I do a few other things to dramatise the explosion. I take out the drums directly after the explosion, removing the listener’s main rhythmic reference. This give a sudden “floating” (or even “flying”) sensation, as the vocal continues forward but the “feet” are gone. In the preceding section, I also obscure the vocal (with DSP), creating in the listener a sense of incompleteness and expectation – fulfilled when the unobscured vocal is revealed again. Just before the explosion, the background instruments also go into a very short repeated loop, almost to the point of stopping altogether (notice the absence of the usual elongated chord/harmony progression at 2:08 ). This has an effect of reducing the scope of the listener’s memory, as each logical “chunk” is much smaller. When the explosion hits, it’s almost as if the very fabric of the music is suddenly huge

Back wall reflection: 
In the chorus there is a delayed, reverbed copy of the first few lines of the vocal. Again, nothing spectacular. It’s really there to exaggerate the front-to-back depth during the chorus. I only applied it during the chorus because this sort of thing loses its effect if it’s audible throughout the whole song. Doing this also emphasises the difference in depth between the verses and the choruses. 

So, no magic! 

-Kim.

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