Five ways to make space in your mix

Running out of space in your mix? Want to add more parts without being buried in mud? Simply want a clearer, cleaner sound? Check out these techniques:

  1. Reduce the mids and low mids. This area will add a lot of mud to your mix if you have a lot of instruments. It’s not necessarily that all your instruments have energy focussed here (although they might!), but that having a lot going on in the mids and low mids gives a feeling of mud. Having strong mids or lower mids in just one or two instruments can produce a sound of warmth and body, but more than that is usually too much. If you want to create space in your mix, clear out the lower mids especially, leaving only the essentials.
  2. Don’t squash the dynamics. Dynamic space is very important. Natural dynamics and transients give instruments room to breathe. It also makes more space in the mix (for other instruments, or just for space’ sake). Squashing the dynamics through overcompression, limiting or saturation makes individual sounds bigger, but sucks the life and air out. Of course, compression is often a useful effect, but be clear – the more compression you use, the less space you’ll have in your mix.
  3. Push sounds further to the background. I’ve written a lot about depth and effective use of background. With a deliberate approach to depth, you can draw focus to the most important elements of a song and still have a lot of space (or room for more instruments).
  4. Use panning effectively. Personally, I’ve not a big fan of panning, but it’s certainly a tool that, if used effectively, can enhance the space in a mix. Try mixing a song entirely in mono (or at least with every instrument panned centre), and then apply panning at the very last stages of the mix. You’ll hear the space open up in front of you.
  5. Consider composition techniques. Although this post is mainly focussed on engineering, composition has as much to do with creating space as mixing. Rhythm in particular can have a significant effect of the sense of space in a song. You won’t have much space if everything is playing all the time (the effect is similar to the engineering approach of making everything louder than everything else). Instead consider restricting some instruments to off-beats, syncopated rhythms or using rhythmic counterpoint. Similarly, consider the pitch range of your instruments. Greater pitch range and mobility will open up space.

So next time your song is sounding too crowded, try this techniques and you’ll be on your way to adding more space.

-Kim.

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    • Dangerrat
    • April 5th, 2010

    And yet another well thought out post.
    Cutting the mids was one of the a-ha moments in my mixing attempts. For me it’s one big factor in getting a “pro” sound.

  1. wow this is a very cool blog…..i’m struggeling for years with how to get a cleaner mix, def gonna study this blog……man ytnxs

    • lolski
    • May 28th, 2010

    someone made me return to this blog and it has alot more new post. this one is particularly useful for me who just started. thanks!

  2. If you enter your email address (on the right hand side of the page, where is says ’email subscription’), you’ll get an email every time I post a new entry. Stay updated!

    -Kim.

    • 3ee
    • January 6th, 2011

    All great tips! Another one fitting in this post would be the use of sidechain compression/multiband and I’m not talking about using it as an artistic effect here but rather as an engineering technique.
    In some cases that’s the perfect fit preserving headroom and clarity.
    Main suspects here are: intruments VS big reverb sends, pluck/percussive elements VS pads/strings, bass drums VS bass (this is the obvious one) :D
    Cheers
    3ee

  3. @3ee
    Again, I disagree. In the original post, I wrote ‘the more compression you use, the less space you’ll have in your mix’ and it’s true. Compression is a great way to make sounds bigger and thicker, but this *uses up* space in the mix – it doesn’t *make more* space.

    -Kim.

    • Renato Bosa
    • February 17th, 2011

    This blog is fantastic.
    Thanks from brazil.

  4. @Renato Bosa
    Thanks Renato!

    -Kim.

    • Anderson
    • April 8th, 2011

    Greatest blog ever wish I could get trained by the writer!!

  5. @Anderson
    Thanks! I do provide advice and guidance: http://kimlajoie.com/site/kitchen.html

    -Kim.

    • martin
    • April 19th, 2011

    Well i actually read somewhere that the more sounds you use, it’s better to use compression on more of them so that they don’t get lost…that is if you want a very dense mix(though i guess over-compressing will suck all the space out). And cutting the lows mostly or lowering their levels because low freq sounds tend to mask higher freq-s lot more is best in making space.

  6. @martin
    You’re right that compression is especially important if you want a dense mix.

    I find the low-mids have a stronger masking effect in my mixes – more instruments have low-mid energy than bass energy.

    -Kim.

  1. January 6th, 2011
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