5 Ways To Fill Out The Space On Your Mixing Canvas

The other day I was reviewing beats for a few people and when I listened to one of the beats, the mix was way better than the rest. The reason for this was because of the way he used the space in his mix, instead of just tossing a bunch of sounds together. What he was able to do was in a sense, painting a picture with his sounds. This is how mixing should be.
Although we all know what needs to be done for the most part, mixing is one of those things that slips up a lot of us. I think the main reason is because we tend to overlook how important mixing is. Here’s some tips to help you fill out your mixing canvas.

1. Panning
The biggest thing I noticed with that guy’s beat was the way he used panning. The instant I hear someone panning sounds, it immediately tells me that they took the time to think everything through and not just do a quick mix.
When done right, panning can greatly improve your mix because it helps make it sound better overall. This is because instead of having all your sounds dead center (which will muddy up your mix really fast), by panning them left and right, you’re essentially freeing up space on your canvas. Remember, you need to think of your mix as a canvas like a painter does when he’s painting. The colors he uses, the way he applies the colors, and where he puts them on the canvas, make a big difference.
Panning isn’t just about left and right, though. Some producers might go ahead and use a 3D surround sound plug-in to move sounds around, but that’s an entirely different aspect of mixing. I am talking about regular stereo panning, which is all you need.
You can have your drums centered, and maybe a second snare panned a bit to the left. What that will do is open up your space, allowing you to have other sounds in the center, such as piano, bass, guitar, etc.
2. Effects
Effects are an essential part of mixing, but the problem is that a lot of producers over-use them. Compression is normally the number one killer, with reverb a close second. I love using reverb on my snare, and I’ve never had a problem doing that, and when I get to the mixing stage, I add reverb to the overall mix.
It doesn’t matter if you have two different reverbs, just as long as they don’t clash. The same can be said for any other effect out there. Some of you may disagree, but try it for yourself and see.
I’ve mentioned it before about keeping things simple when mixing, and whether or not to use certain effects, is a perfect example. If you use too many, your track will sound like something from outer space. I have a friend that used this reverb on his ASR-10 years ago, and we used to call it “infinite reverb” because it just seemed to never end! It was great when we were joking around, but I can’t see how anyone would want to use that seriously.
So effects are great, but they have to be kept in check, otherwise your mixing space will get cluttered real fast.
3. Keep It Simple
Just as I mentioned about effects, your best bet when mixing is to keep everything simple, then build up from there. What I like to do once I get to the mixing stage, is not just check all my levels and apply effects – it’s more than that. It’s the time when I actually listen to my beat and see if I need to go back and take things out.
It’s only once you start mixing that you notice certain sounds that you could maybe do without. Do you really need two kicks layered with each other? Can that hook sound a bit more mellow and not so busy?
These are questions you could ask yourself when mixing, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a step back from that point to fix certain parts and then come back. In the long run, your beat will sound way better.
4. Using Stereo Sources
Back in the 90’s, I would listen to the Geto Boys, and loved their music. Then one day I heard a song from Scarface and realized that it sounded different than the rest of the album. I can’t remember the track off hand, but I do remember that it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album.
That was because that particular song was in mega-stereo (at least it seemed like that to me). After hearing all these songs with mono sources, mixed into stereo, here I am listening to a track where everything was in stereo.
At first it was cool, but the more I listened to it, I realized that the sounds and samples they used originated in stereo. Once you take stereo sources and then mix again in stereo, you end up with a big mix. This is good, but it can quickly fill up your mixing space.
5. Using Mono Sources
Just as with stereo sources, mono can set you back as well. The problem with mono is that to me it just sounds muddy. There are times when I want to make a gutter beat so I’ll use mono material and build from there, but when mixing, you will end up with a thick mix.
Years back I didn’t know this, so whenever I would mix I would be left scratching my head trying to figure out why my mix is so “bassy” and thick, compared to songs I hear on a CD from some artist.
Stereo sources will fill out your mixing space quickly, and mono will too – on the low end.
Always be aware of your mixing canvas and how much space you have to play with. You may have a drum track that really stands out and seems to take up a lot of the space, so mix with caution. Your bassline can also fill out the space quickly too, but that’s where you can use something like compression to get it under control. But then you have the issue of using too many effects. Tricky isn’t it? Just use your ears and you will be fine, trust me.

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