So we’ve talked about space and what it can do for your productions.
We’ve also talked about contrast and how it can add a whole new dimension to your recordings.
But now it’s time to talk about the next essential element in spacious recordings: levels.
In order to really learn how to use levels, you’ll need to understand how (and why) it works – and before you know it, you’ll be able to create much more spacious recordings.
Let’s first discuss what makes a big space sound massive.
When you walk into a huge concert hall or cathedral, you immediately notice that the space is larger. Even if you weren’t able to see, you’d know that you had just stepped into a larger space.
Without getting into all of the technical physics equations, the reason for this can largely be explained by our perception of sound as being “louder” when closer and “softer” when further away. If two people – person A being 10 ft away and person B being 80 ft away – were to talk simultaneously, you would hear a clear distinction. Person B would be significantly softer than person A.
But for some reason, we seem to forget this when we’re mixing. We like to put everything up front and 2 inches from our noses. The fact is that this simply won’t sound natural. Even if you’re going for a commercial sound, having some space in your recording due to “level” is a good idea, as it helps contribute to the overall feeling of “space.”
So here’s the challenge. Listen to the levels in some of your favorite spacious commercial recordings. Not only the levels – the comparison of the softest to the loudest sound in the mix. Listen for the absolute softest, furthest away sound that you can hear and identify it. Then, compare it to the sound that is right up front. Chances are you’ll be surprised at what you find.
There’s probably a bigger gap than you think. Depending on the recording you’re listening to, you might have to strain to hear some guitar parts pushed way back for ambient effect while the vocals jump right out of the speakers.
With this in mind, try to match this difference in your own mixes. Don’t be afraid to push some things “out of the way” for the more important elements of your productions. While not the only way to add space, this will certainly help you get there!