First of all, what is depth?
Depth is the front-to-rear dimension in your mix. When a mix has depth, we almost feel like we can reach inside it and certain tracks feel like they’re close to us and others feel like they’re far away. The mix has this third dimension where it almost feels like it extends back behind the speakers. No pun intended.
The number one key to creating depth is creating contrast. In order to have depth in a mix, certain tracks have to feel like they’re close and others have to feel like they’re far away. If everything’s far away, there’s no depth. And if everything is close, there’s also no depth.
So the techniques I’m about to show you are ways that you can create contrast in your mixes. But you really have to think about it through that lens of that’s the goal. The goal is to create contrast and without contrast there is no depth.
Technique number one is to apply selective reverb.
This is when you put reverb on certain tracks and no reverb on others. Or you use reverb of different lengths to create contrast where certain tracks feel like they’re close and others feel like they’re far away.
Reverb pushes things back in the mix. If we add a bunch of reverb to something, it’s going to push it back in the soundstage. And so you can use this to your advantage when you think about staging that depth and creating contrast.
The key here is not to put reverb on everything but to apply it selectively to key tracks and use it as a tool to stage this hierarchy—where we have certain tracks that are really close to us and other tracks that are kind of in the background that are maybe washed in reverb so they feel like they’re far away.
Now a specific tip on this is often times with vocals you want the vocal to appear front and center in the mix. So you want it to be kind of at the front of the soundstage but sometimes you also want that reverb, right? So you want the vocal to have that space.
You can take advantage of the reverb’s pre-delay, which is a parameter that actually creates a little bit of separation in time between that dry vocal sound and the reverb. And what this will do, is actually if you add a little bit of pre-delay, your brain will separate those two sounds and so instead of pulling back the vocal in the mix, it will actually allow the vocal to stay front and center but you’ll also get the benefit of that reverb. And the reverb will almost detach from the vocal itself. So if you’re trying to keep the vocal up front but you still want some reverb on it, experiment with the pre-delay and that’ll help you get there.
Technique number two is to manipulate the high end of different tracks.
High end is actually a key clue that our brain and our ears use to determine how close something feels to us. In nature, when things are closer to us they have more high end and they appear brighter. And actually as they move away or as they’re further away in space, they naturally lose some top end. Because the air actually absorbs high end. So what happens is sounds get duller in nature the further that they are away from us.
So you can use this psychological principle to your advantage when you’re creating that contrast. If you want something to be pushed back in the mix—if you want it to appear further away—just roll off some of the high end. Or maybe don’t apply an aggressive top-end boost if you want something to appear kind of pushed back in the mix. Now same thing goes in the opposite sense where if you want to bring something closer to you, often times you can add that top end and that’ll make that track feel like it’s kind of closer to you in the soundstage.
This is one reason why I think people really like to add a ton of top end to vocals—because often times we want that vocal front and center. And so if you add that top end you can bring the vocal forward in the mix.
The third technique is to shape the transients.
Transients are commonly overlooked when it comes to creating depth but they’re actually one of the key elements that our ears and our brain use to determine how close something feels to us in space. So if a track has a really aggressive transient where we really hear the thwack and the impact on that front end of the note, our ears and our brain will actually perceive it as closer to us than a track that maybe has a more rounded off transient where it’s not as aggressive and not as punchy in that same sense.
So you can use this to your advantage when you’re thinking about staging and really creating that depth in the soundstage by manipulating the transients. If you want something to appear closer to you, you can use compression—maybe with a slow attack—to bring out some of that transient and bring that track forward. Or you can even use a transient designer to artificially enhance the transients and really make that track poke out a little bit more in the mix.
Likewise if you want to push something back a little bit you can round off some of those transients using compression with maybe a fast attack. Or even a transient designer just set to kind of reduce some of those initial transients and initial impacts on the front end of the note. So really thinking about the transients as one of the things that you can manipulate to create contrast and to create that front-to-back depth in your mixes.
So I hope these three tips will help you create massive amounts of depth in your next mix. If you found this video helpful, go ahead and click the link in the description below to sign up for my free weekly newsletter, where I send out more tips and tricks like these that are designed to help you take your mixes from good to great. In the meantime, you can also check out more mixing tips at BehindTheSpeakers.com. Thanks a lot.