Lesson about Recording for the Complete Novice: Adding Space to Your Mix

Aloha!  Chris here with The Kilt Lifters with another entry in the ‘Recording for the Complete Novice’ series.  Sorry I missed both lesson and thread last week.  I was off to the mainland to keep the lights running.  I figure that since the company I work for is kind enough to pay me enough to keep me flush with guitars and other cool gear, it’s probably a good idea to answer their occasional summons.  What was initially to be a once a quarter trip quickly turned into once every two years, so you’ll hear no complaints from me on that front.

Since we covered tracking in the last episode, I’m assuming everyone has a cool new song tracked complete with a face melting bitchin’ solo.  That being the case, we’re going to talk a little about adding some of the sparkly bits to shine it up.  

One of the tools in mixing is space.  This article will talk about creating space in your mix using double tracking and panning.  It’s possible to simply duplicate a single track and time shift it, but I prefer to double track rhythm guitar parts for a less robotic feel.  Once I you have a double tracked guitar part, I generally like to pan them out about 75-85 degrees on each side.  Some people prefer to use a hard pan in each direction, however, I find that 75-85 degrees gives a better sense of space in the mix.  To hear how this works, I’ve created a few sound clips.  In this example, there are two rhythm guitar parts. One is played in open position, and the other with a capo at 7. Take a listen to the first track.  In this track, nothing is double tracked, and nothing is panned. Both guitar parts are sitting at center.

Clip 1, Guitar parts at center.

Bear in mind, that using this approach, the more instrument parts you add, the more you have coming from the same perceived source: directly in front of the listener.

Now, listen to the second clip.  The guitar parts are both double tracked.  This will give a slight chorus effect. Remember in the last lesson where I said you need to really know the song?  If you were just barely able to get your initial guitar track down, you’ll never be able to play it exactly the same in order to double track it.  In that case, you could use a technological cheat and duplicate the guitar track and time shift it slightly to get that same slight chorus effect.  However, it will always sound more ‘real’ if you actually double track it.

Clip 2, Double tracked guitars at center

Now, in that clip, we still haven’t panned anything.  We’ve just thickened up the guitars by double tracking them.  Now, listen to the last clip. We’ll take the guitar parts and pan them.  One of the open position parts is panned left 85, the other right 85. The capo’d parts are at 35 respectively.

Clip 3, Double tracked and panned

Notice how there is now a sense of space in the mix.  The mix has become much wider, with the guitar parts surrounding the listener instead of pointed right at their face.

This is a great way to handle rhythm guitars, but it’s not something you’d use on a bass guitar, due to the way low frequency sound travels.  It’s not uncommon for some engineers to pan a lead instrument a little to the left or right to give a sense of where that instrument might be sitting on a stage.  I find that personally when I’m listening to music, these are the sorts of things that I’m always actively listening for.  If there’s a song you just love, sit down and listen to it with a technical ear and try to pick out where the various instruments are sitting in the mix.

Now, since we’re dealing with space, I want to say a few words about reverb.  Reverb is fantastic for bringing a little life to your tracks, or in my case, covering up my awful flute tone.  What reverb also does is push the instrument farther back from the listener. The more reverb, the further away it will sound.  The more dry it is, the closer the part will sound.

And that’s it for this one!  If you have any questions , comments, or requests for a recording topic you’d like to see covered, feel free to leave them below!

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