The Secret of Space in Your Recordings: Contrast

A couple of weeks back, we started off the conversation about having “space” in your recordings. We didn’t get very far in defining it – mainly because it’s a lot more complex than simply turning up the reverb.

So this week, we’re going to take a look the very first element of space – contrast. We’re going to look at what it is and how to use it to create much more spacious recordings.

Let’s start by thinking of two separate scenarios. The first is that you’re at a loud stadium concert, the other is that you’re taking a stroll through the forest.

So at this loud stadium concert, the band is playing and really cooking. Partially because of the volume and partially because of the contrast, however, there simply isn’t a lot of “space.” Which is ok at a concert, since that’s not what its all about.

Now you’re in the forest (a national park, maybe). There are a lot of sounds going on all around you, but there is a huge sense of “space.” It sounds very “deep.” This is because there are a lot of sounds going on, but also because each of these sounds creates high contrast with the rest.

Contrast is a term commonly used in the photography and videography world, but it can apply to just about anything. It means the “difference” or “juxtaposition” of two or more objects. For example, high contrast means there is a very large difference, while low contrast is the opposite.

So how can you use contrast in your recordings? Levels and amplitude.

By having the element of contrast in your recordings, you’ll have certain elements that are apparent (vocals, lead instruments), but you also want to have elements that are deeper into the mix (a mellow pad, maybe).

The trick is to create an environment inside your recordings that is similar to a high contrast, spacious environment – the “forest.” This doesn’t mean you should allow elements to become “buried” in the mix by simply turning down their levels. A well produced track will allow you to keep these parts in the background while still being able to detect them.

Remember – contrast is simply one of the four key elements to creating space and must be used alongside the others in order to actually create space. Next time, we’ll be looking at levels and the reverb used on different tracks!


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