After doing a survey for my blog subscribers I realized that some of my readers are struggling to create depth in a mix.
So, in today’s tutorial, I’m going to show you how to add life to your mixes by adding more depth, and this will help you to always picture your mixes in 3 dimensions.
These dimensions are:
- Height (frequency response, from top to bottom)
- Width (stereo image)
- Depth (front to back)
Depth is the trickiest part as compared to the other dimensions so I’m not surprised as to why some people may struggle with it.
Some engineers may fool you into believing that depth can only be achieved in the analog domain and you cannot create depth in the digital domain. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Look, I won’t lie to you, this is not an easy process to grasp. It may take some time and a lot of practice to finally master.
But I’ll do my best to help you speed up your learning curve and if you find anything confusing simply leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.
Getting Depth From The Source
It is a great idea to start dealing with depth during the recording stage.
A good example to explain this is with vocals. For instance, when recording the lead you can have the singer closer to the microphone then for supporting vocals (backings, adlibs, etc.) the singer can go a bit back from the mic.
That will automatically create depth and contrast. When you listen back to the entire vocal recording you’ll hear the supporting vocals behind the lead vocal.
You can do this for multiple instruments and this process also makes your mixing a bit easier since each sound will be placed in its rightful space.
The most basic way to create depth in a mix is to use volume.
Basically, it’s the contrast between close-up and far-away that gives a mix depth. The louder something is the more upfront it will sound.
If you want a certain sound to be upfront you increase its volume and you do the opposite if you want to push it at the back of the mix.
This will vary depending on the genre, style, and many other factors. For instance, in a Hip Hop song, the lead vocal and the snare are often upfront. In a dance song the kick drum usually drives the song.
So, the type of music that you’re mixing will determine what will be the dominant sound(s). If you get stuck with balance you can always listen to other songs in the same genre to get some ideas.
Using EQ to Create Depth in a Mix
When you say depth, for most people reverb comes first to mind. The thing about reverb is that it can make things muddy and clutter the mix.
EQ can often be the best choice to make things sound upfront or push them at the back of a mix.
If a sound is bright it will sound upfront in a mix and when it’s dark it will be perceived as being at the back of the mix.
So, if you want your kick drum to be loud don’t only focus on the low-end because increasing the attack (around 2-5kHz) can help it come to the front.
Although EQ is normally used to control the Height in a mix, it can also be a handy tool to add depth and create contrast.
Add Contrast With Compression
Another neat trick to add more depth in a mix is through compression.
This is something that I found out by accident actually. For the style of music that I make the keys are often in the background but that day the keys were too upfront. I then decided to add a compressor to control dynamic range before any other processing.
As I was playing around with the attack I realized that a fast attack pushed the rhodes far-back and a slow attack brought them in front.
From that day on it made perfect sense why a sound will be punchy when you use a slow attack and sound smooth with a fast attack.
Compression can also be a great tool to help you create contrast for all the individual tracks in your mixes and put them in a certain space.
The transients will usually determine whether a sound should be in your face or at the back of the mix. This leads us to the next tips.
Adding Depth With a Transient Designer
Most engineers try to stay away from transient designer tools and I don’t blame them because low-quality transient shapers often introduce digital artifacts or unwanted distortion.
However, a good quality one when used right can help you create more depth in your mixes.
As mentioned above, the louder the transient the punchier the sound will be and upfront. So, when the transients are quieter on a sound it will be further back.
It’s really easy to get carried away with this tool so be careful with it and don’t let it be your go-to for creating depth.
Using Reverb to Create Depth in a Mix
Time-based effects such as the reverb are normally the go-to processing tools for putting sounds in a certain space and creating more depth in a mix.
Reverb can be a great processing tool to create virtual spaces in your mix.
To make things sound close-up, it’s either you use no reverb at all or utilize a short room/plate reverb. This is why a plate is often the go-to-reverb because it makes the vocal sound upfront but still has a little bit of depth.
The longer the decay time the further at the back the sound will be. This means if you want to push a sound far-away then you use a large hall, for instance.
Reverbs can also be used on delay effects because delays tend to sound dry and in your face. This can make the delay signal clash with the original signal. Applying a bit of reverb on a delay puts it in a virtual space and adds more depth.
You can also play around with eq on a reverb signal to give it more depth. When the reverb is bright it will sound close-up and when it’s darker the opposite will happen.
Adding Depth With Delay
I love delay because it adds depth and rhythm at the same time which creates some really dope ear candy for the listener.
You can make things sound further back from you or upfront just by messing with the delay time.
For instance, a 16th note bounces more quickly so it will sound upfront but still with a bit of depth. Once you start going to ⅛ notes, ¼ notes, and ½ notes that make you feel like the sound is getting further away from you.
Even though delays are regularly used to create more width they can be great tools for adding depth as well by playing around with the delay time.
So, a short delay such as the slap effect can be used on a lead vocal to make it wider, add depth, and still keep the vocal up front. While a longer delay can be used for supporting vocals to push them behind the lead.
You can also use eq and/or compression to play around with the depth for the delay signal so that it doesn’t overpower the dry signal.
I trust that I’ve made it a bit easier for you to understand how to create depth in your mixes.
Remember, creating depth in a mix is a combination of all the things I mentioned above. You can’t rely on one technique and hope it will give you the right contrast.