Do you ever find yourself struggling to get a huge sounding recording or mix? You want the drums to be massive, but they sound small. You want the guitars to be wide and in your face, but they sound choked. You want lush and powerful vocals, but they get swallowed up. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Here’s an important truth about audio that if you grasp, you will have a breakthrough moment: the more tracks you add, the smaller your sounds become.
Via Marc Kjerland Flickr
Not Everything Can Be Big
Our natural instinct is to believe that more is more. You want a bigger drum sound? Add more tracks and crank them up! But then your guitars sound small. What do you do? Double and triple those bad boys and crank them up as well. But now your vocals are getting buried. The solution? Compress the snot out of them and crank up the gain! Ah yeah baby!
But if you’ve done the above circus of crazy, you know by now that the result of all that adding and boosting is simply a small sounding mix. Ironic isn’t it? The more you try to make everything big in your mix the smaller it all becomes. So if we reverse engineer that truth we arrive at the only logical conclusion: if we remove tracks the mix will sound huge!
Don’t Crowd The Box
Think of your recording or mix as a box. The box is a fixed size, and everyone (pro and amateur alike) has to create a great sounding mix in the same size box. No advantages there. Each of us must make the most out of our box.
If we stuff the box full of tracks, it’s hard to notice any one thing as being great. We simply have a crowded box. But if we place a few select tracks inside, then we’ll see (or rather “hear”) them with more detail and clarity. They will be more noticeable, and therefor be perceived as bigger.
Just like with a photograph that is cluttered with too much in the frame, our eyes don’t know what to look at. But a well framed picture of a simple object/person or two will capture our attention and stand out. Music is the same way.
A Personal Example
I was reminded of this critical truth just this week when I was driving in my car and listening to an old EP I recorded with my band a couple of Christmases ago. We did three songs, in a live recording setup. With only 8 inputs on my audio interface, the four of us tracked drums, bass, two guitars, and vocals with a very minimalistic approach.
As I listened back to those songs I was blown away by how huge each mix sounded. Even with the occasional overdub track that I did back at the studio no mix had more than 10 tracks. And these mixes are some of my biggest, warmest, and most musical to date. Just another example of how less is truly more when it comes to huge sounding tracks.
Don’t crowd the box people. Instead, intentionally place only the things you want to be featured in your mix and they will by default sound big.