It’d be a wide, sweeping statement to say that everyone wants wide, deep mixes (see what I did there?). There are a multitude of genres of music and huge, wide mixes don’t necessarily compliment them all. An attempt at creating a super wide, deep mix is probably not going to benefit a folk duo with a minimal arrangement very well. However, it is a fact that all professional mixes benefit from having some sense of separation and space between the individual elements.
The pan knob can do wonders for creating separation in your mixes; moving tracks to the left, right, center or anywhere in between. If the pan knob controls the left to right positioning of your individual tracks, then what controls the front to back positioning?
It’s often said that reverb and delay are the equivalent tools for creating space and depth within your mixes and that’s an accurate statement.
So let’s look at an easy way for you to create space in your mixes…
When adding space and depth, the first tool most mixers will think of is reverb. They’d be right as well. The early reflections you hear bouncing around off walls or other objects provide our brain with the necessary information to position a sound or instrument within a room. Reverb plugins are designed to reproduce that sense of natural space and they do so in an incredibly authentic way.
With that said, a lot of mixers overlook how powerful delay can be in adding a sense of space and depth. Sometimes, it can be difficult to differentiate between the role of reverb and delay in creating that space and depth in your mix, so let’s clear up any confusion around it.
A stereo delay (or echo) effect is going to create a feeling of depth and add to the sense of space in your mixes. It won’t sound as natural as a reverb effect, but it will still have an impact.
Delay can even be of greater benefit to your mixes than reverb
When we use a reverb plugin or reverb unit, we’re trying to create a sense of space in some shape or form. Reverbs are thick, dense sounds made up of a multitude of reflections. They simulate natural space in incredible ways and provide you with endless options when you’re mixing, but they can also smear or mask sounds if you’re not careful.
To take that a step further, delays can be even more powerful when you’re not worried about a natural sense of space. If you think of the folk duo example above, you’d most likely want to create a natural sense of space to accentuate their sound. When it comes to EDM, a natural sense of space is not as important. The fast tempo and four on the floor patterns of dance music would replace intimate vocals and the potentially slower tempo of folk music.
Delay is much more suitable for creating a sense of space and depth in EDM than it would be for the folk duo. It can be used to create that feeling of space and depth without the risk of potential masking that comes with thick reverb. That makes even more sense when you think of some of the aspects of EDM. They’re usually already very dense, upbeat arrangements, so reverb probably wouldn’t be the best tool to deliver the full effect.
That’s not to say that reverb isn’t used in EDM. It’s more that reverb is used sparingly and as an effect rather than creating a natural sense of space. When is the last time you listened to an EDM track and thought of how beautifully the mixing engineer has recreated the space of a concert hall?
It’s very easy and tempting to reach for a reverb plugin to create space. It is a solid approach. But, if you’re anything like me, at some stage you’ll have been left wondering why your vocal is sitting so far back in the mix once you’ve added some reverb to it. You definitely want to create a sense of space for your lead vocal but you don’t want it buried in the mix.
I’ve some good news for you
If you use a delay effect to create space first, you won’t send your lead vocal as far back in the mix. Then, if you really need it, you can always add some subtle reverb to help achieve the balance and space you’re looking for. Not only that, but adding delay to vocals can add sparkle, life and a feeling that reverb can’t. Yes, that word was sparkle.
One more thing… don’t forget that you can also pan your delay effects in exactly the same way as reverb. If you’ve got a mono instrument in the mix, you can hard pan the instrument to the left and the delay to the right, creating a stereo effect. Pretty cool, right?
So, the next time you automatically reach for your reverb plugins to add space to you mix, think about why you’re doing that and if it’s the right tool. You might find that a delay effect will be much more suitable for either the task at hand or the style of music.
Sometimes, a combination of both reverb and delay will give you the killer effect you’re looking for. What’s great about this approach is that you are not adding reverb and delay just for the sake of it. You’re carefully selecting your tools to give you the sense of space you’re looking for and you’ll know the second you hear it.
Now, I’d love to know…
How do you approach creating space in your mixes?
Leave a comment below!
professional sounding mix every time…