3 ways to make things stand out in your mix

By Jeremy Drakeford

The art of mixing can be challenging. When you've got a whole bunch of sounds fighting for attention it can be hard to find a place for all of them in the mix.
There are a few ways to make the important elements stand out above everything else and not just get lost in the mix.

Firstly, work out what you want to stand out and what you want to blend in to the track. 
If everything is trying to stand out, nothing will. Contrast is everything.

1. reverb

Reverb is a great tool for creating depth.
Use more reverb on elements that you want to push back in the mix.
Use less reverb on elements that you want to sit forward. The drier the sound is, the 'closer' it will appear to the listener.

Delay can also be used to a similar effect.

2. EQ

What sticks out more? A bass guitar or a crash cymbal? The cymbal does because it's brighter.
Similarly, brighter elements of a mix will always cut through above the darker elements.

To bury an instrument in the mix, try applying a High Cut (or High Shelf).
Even a High Cut at 15kHz will allow the other instruments to breathe more in the 15kHz - 20kHz range. 
You could use a High Cut all the way down to say 2kHz (or even further for a true 'muffled' effect) which really opens up the high end for the instruments that you want to shine.

To give an instrument more presence, try boosting the highs. 
For example, sometimes I like to boost everything above 10kHz (only by around 2 - 3dB) on lead vocals to really make them pop.
Experiment with it and see what works for you.

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Above is an example of a key Piano melody that needed a substantial High Shelf Boost to cut through the mix.

Below is an example of a Drum Loop with an extreme High Cut to create a muffled effect. 

3. compression

Compression can be used to either bring elements closer or push them further back (depending on the settings).

If there's something in your mix that's poking out and you want to tame it, try using a Compressor or Limiter
For supportive instruments, don't be afraid to really squash them.
If you flatten the transients of these instruments then it will make way for the more important instruments to poke through. 

Do you see the pattern now? It's all about contrast. 
If everything is fighting for the spotlight, nothing will win.

Good luck and happy recording!
- Jeremy

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