When you are recording and mixing music it is a good idea to have a vision before you start, whether it is acoustic music or electronic music. This means having a fairly clear idea of how you want the music you are mixing to sound. And rather than making a mix where all elements are loud or all elements are competing for the listener’s attention, there are a few things you can do to make the mix more pleasing to the ear, complimentary of the parts therein and maybe even three dimensional.
When you are starting out in the recording process it is worth considering how you want the finished product to sound. Are you seeking a live performance feel to the recording or a more creative music studio version of a piece of music. Some artists actually sound better live and it may be better to capture a band’s live performance energy to make for their best recording. If you are aiming more for a live feel to the recording then just a few microphones placed optimally in a nice room space can be enough to capture the magic of an artist or band. And allowing some distance between instruments and the microphones can create a nice depth of field. Perhaps if you have a lead instrument or vocal then you can keep the microphone closer to that one part to enhance its central role in the music. Producer Bones Howe did this quite often when recording unique blues artist Tom Waits.
For more creative music mixing techniques, you can employ reverb, delays and pan settings in varying degrees. Vary the amounts of reverb for each part or section of the musical composition, and the closer you want something to seem, the less reverb and delay it will require. Decay times and diffusion settings can also make a difference when placing sounds in the foreground, mid or background. A short stereo delay (around ten to fifteen seconds) can give a part more prominence in a mix without it dominating. Apparently Trevor Horn used this technique a lot with Sting’s vocals when he was recording pop band The Police in the 80’s.
Of course, volume levels can also increase depth and form to a mix. Again, be aware of the focal parts of the mix – perhaps the vocal or an instrumental melody line – and experiment and play with the other parts so that they complement and support that central part instead of competing with it or even distracting the listener away from what is most important in the mix.
I have only touched on some techniques that can add depth and form to a mix. Try them out and you may find an expanded and more colourful mix as a result. With more experimental and electronic music, it is worth taking the time to explore and experiment. And you may find that less is more and going for a more live feel may make for the best studio recording.