The secret to full-sounding mixes

This applies to all the composer+producer+engineer types out there…

Have you ever felt like your mixes were empty? That they sound a bit incomplete? Perhaps you’ve compared your music to your favourite commercial references and realised that they somehow sounded thicker and fuller? You’ve got all the obvious parts in your mix – kick, bass, snare, lead, hats, pads, comp synths, etc – the same as your references, but somehow it sounds like you don’t have enough.

What you’re missing is the background.

The background is often made up of a lot of different sounds, each barely audible. On their own they sound quite small and insignificant, but together they form the sonic backdrop for your song.

You may not have paid much attention to the background parts because they’re not sexy. The sounds are small, thin and don’t draw attention to themselves. Listeners don’t comment on them. It’s understandable.

Sometimes it’s hard to spend time working on the background parts. It’s much more fun to focus on the big fat foreground – for the same reasons that your listeners focus on the foreground. It’s naturally more interesting. Maybe you add some hats and percussion. Perhaps a synth pad or piano or something and call it a day. Besides, those drums need a bit more tweaking…

Here’s a trick: Mute your foreground instruments.

That’s right. Mute your kick, bass, snare, lead vocals, main melodic instruments… anything that’s supposed to be the centre of your listener’s attention. You’re probably left with a somewhat unsatisfying background texture made up of only a few sounds (with a lot of dead space in between them!).

Now, go about adding some more parts! Fill in the gaps. Make it interesting. Build a musical texture that has character and individuality. Even if it’s made up of loops, your choices and the combination of loops will make for a unique sound. If you want to add a bit more individuality, break out some crazy effects. Not just your regular EQs and compressors – this is the place for those strange modulation effects, sequenced effects, random beatslicers and other strange and wonderful contraptions. It’s the perfect place to use that cool experimental effect that’s too drastic for a main part, but you kept in your plugin folder ‘just in case’.

This doesn’t just apply to electronic music. If you’re working on pop or rock, mute the drum kit, guitars, bass and vocals. There’s lots of room for adding extra background parts. Perhaps add some more clean or distorted guitars. Try a different approach to micing your piano. Have some fun with rhythmic vocal growls. Create new percussion parts from kitchen utensils. This is your opportunity to try out a new instrument or recording technique. These are the kind of touches that give a song a unique character, a sense of individuality.

By adding in these background parts, your mix will become fuller and thicker. It will also have more character and texture. Even though your listeners don’t usually comment on background sounds, they’ll notice something different about your sound. Try it!

-Kim.

Advertisements
    • Jason
    • March 1st, 2010

    food for thought! thank you much, Kim!

  1. Awesome. I want to try this.

    • Danger Rat
    • March 1st, 2010

    Great tip, Kim. This is probably in part what people are missing, when they’re missing the infamous depth.
    I tried some of those things you mention on a track I’m working on atm, and it took on a whole new dimension from something very generic sounding.
    Thanks a lot!

    • Danger Rat
    • March 1st, 2010

    Btw, is there a way to subscribe to this blog, so I get notified when new posts appear? Thanks.

  2. There’s now an email subscription box on the right-hand side of the page (under the other boxes).

    -Kim.

  3. I really like your posts Kim! about backgrounds: don’t forget noise :-) it’s a great background, there’s nothing quite as ‘warm’ as a bit of analog noise produced by cheap stompboxes, sloppy recording techniques etc. (…in this age of laptop sterility..)

  4. Yes, background noise can certainly reduce the sterility ofa mix – especially if it’s mainly synths and samples, and there’s not much saturation or character compression.

    Some noise is better than others though! Personally I prefer natural(-esque) ambience over synthesised noise or room noise from a bad recording.

    A couple of examples:

    Check out ‘Sunlight’ (http://kimlajoie.com/Site/Music_files/Sunlight.mp3) to hear rain as a background layer. That’s actual rain that I recorded – not from a sample library.

    Check out ‘Stay With Me’ (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Obsession/275607143722 … you’ll have to scroll down, the player is on the left side of the page) to hear electric guitar hum and electrical noise being used as part of the texture of the mix.

    -Kim.

    • Lavern Owie
    • September 23rd, 2010

    thanks for posting Kim. its very interesting. i will try this. :)

    • 3ee
    • January 6th, 2011

    “What you’re missing is the background.”
    “Here’s a trick: Mute your foreground instruments.”

    Haha!… I just wrote about these as a comment on one of your posts. It’s interesting how usefull information is looping back to the ones that teach them. Thank you!
    All great stuff!
    When I’m working on the background parts I consider them the most important part of the mix (and when I’m woking on something else than that’s the most important part of the mix).

  5. @3ee
    True – every element of the mix deserves love!

    -Kim.

  1. January 6th, 2011
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: