Have you ever believed that there’s just something badass engineers do that the rest of the world isn’t privy to? Are you disappointed when everyone on forums seems to agree that engineers are just using really good judgment and generally using basic processing?
Well, don’t get your hopes up too much. 95 percent of a great mix stems from great decision making and the use of basic processing that everyone has access to. But, that last 5 percent does contain a bit of secret sauce. Secret awesome sauce. Every seasoned engineer will have their own recipe. I certainly have mine.
I want to share some personal techniques. These are little things I do that really add up over the course of a mix. Each one of these techniques are based around one idea: you don’t really hear it when it’s there, but you miss it when it’s gone.
By building these subtle effects into my mix I create something that elevates the overall sound without dramatically changing it — which is often a desirable goal when mixing. They also amount to some of the things which just seem to separate a finished mix from a rough mix in that way that’s hard to put a finger on.
1. Fast decaying reverbs
One of my principal approaches to mixing is to create depth and polish.
Often times I may want something to have a 3D image and “glossed” tone, but I don’t necessarily want to hear an audible reverb or delay.
Tucking very short reverbs into generally dry sounds very quietly can add just a bit of depth and hi-fi-ness to the source sound. I’m constantly experimenting with algorithms, timing, and various other settings and I recommend you do the same.
The only generality here is that I tend to lean a bit more toward early reflections with medium diffusion (when diffusion settings are an option). There’s also a few presets in the delay plugin by FabFilter called “Timeless” that I like for this purpose.
You don’t need a lot of this stuff. I’m turning my returns down as low as -15 to -20 dB below the source sound. Just enough so you miss it when it’s gone!
2. Subtle distortion or saturation
A touch of distortion can really make a sound pop in a mix. If it doesn’t sound “distorted” but brings a bit of harmonic energy into the fold I’m usually into the idea.
Not to sound like a FabFilter commercial here, but I like to experiment with Saturn because it gives me very fine control over the specifics and degree of the distortion.