Separation & Clarity

I’ve been doing mixdowns (and masters) for myself and others for over 12 years now and i’m often asked for mixdown tips. One of the most popular ones is dealing with layering and separation. These two things are like polar opposites. When layering, you are trying to glue sounds together, and when working on separation, you are trying to give them space from each other. Layering can help make parts sound more full and powerful, where as separation can give your mix clarity, punch, depth, and also power.

When i am going for separation i try to achieve this through EQ, Space, Pan, and Colour. If i want two sounds to be separated, I’ll make sure they don’t have a lot of frequency content in the same frequency. e.g. Kick & Bass. If the kick has a lot of 100hz, i’ll cut the bass a bit at 100hz. Some EQs like DMG Equilibrium will even let you overlay the analyser wave form from one track onto another. So you can see the two different waves at the same time. I think EQ separation is probably the most important so i do that first.

Next i might go for colour. This is one of my favorite tips. I’ll often use a very subtle overdrive plugin on each track. Often with a 50/50 wet dry setting too. Plugins like Ableton Overdrive, Saturn, Guitar rig (amp head, no box, subtle setting), Decapitator, Waves NLS. If you use a very subtle amount of overdrive like this on each sound they will be coloured by that. If each sound has a different plugin, then they will also become separated. Through trial and error you will also find which plugs are best for which type of sound.

After colour, I’ll check out the pan. Not every sound needs to be in the middle, and not every sounds needs to be super wide and stereo. I like to use pan to place my sounds in the stereo field. If the sound is a stereo sound, i might also use Waves S1 to narrow the width of the sound. This can help define it’s pan position in space. I recommend experimenting with pan, but don’t go overboard. It will all disappear in mono anyway.

Lastly, Space. Adding just the right type of reverb/delay can help with separation too. Space will generally move sounds away from you. Where as distortion/compression will usually bring them forwards. You can use these methods to give separation through depth. You can also try tricks like panning the dry signal towards one side and the wet signal to the other. This can make sounds feel like they are outside of the speakers. Almost psyhco acoustic.

p.s. Next blog i’ll share some tips about layering too