Making Your Recordings Wider (Photo of Avatar Studios in New York, one of my favorites.)
Mixing music with a lot of track is typically easy to sound wide. You have so many options, you can pan the tambourine left, the kazoo to the mid-left, the trombone to the right, and the didgeridoo 25% off center. But what do you do when you have a simple set up of Piano, Drums, Bass, Acoustic Guitar and Vocals. Let’s do one even more difficult what if you don’t have a piano?
The typical assumptions for a lot of beginners is to simply pan everything to the middle and call a day. However, there are ways around this idea of being trapped in mono. Stereo is a beautiful thing in modern audio. Localization can make a recording come to life. Let’s start talking about how to widen a mix, by talking about recording in a way that yields stereo information.
There are many ways to make drums so they sound wide. One of the ways to enhance your “mono” recording would be recording the drums in a way that yields a lot of depth. One of those ways is to do stereo Overhead mics. This may seem like common sense but stereo overheads can be your best friend in a mono mix. They can give the drums a lot of surroundings. Now another more flexible trick is to add room mics to a drum recording. Room mics, are exactly what they sound like, they pick up the ROOM that the drums are being recorded in. A lot of these tracks are recorded in stereo (typically in a XY or Blumlein configuration) and they can be mixed in with your already recorded drum tracks to not only put your drums in a room in your mix, but they can also widen your drums because the listener can now the wide angle reflections in the room mics, making the drums sound wider. On top of recording room mics, it can help to close mic each part of the kit. Although it can be easy and useful to mic drums with just micing the kick, snare, and two overheads, you can retain a lot more control and potential if you close mic the toms and hi-hat. With close mics you have the ability to push the limit of the stereo field of the drums a bit to make them sound even wider. Don’t over push the pan outside of something that sounds illogical to the Overheads, because that will “smear” the image of the drum kit.
You can also consider how you record the acoustic guitar. You can record your guitars with an XY configuration to give it some more depth. One strategy I would tend to use is layering. I would record the acoustic guitar and pan it hard left and then record the same guitar part, same guitar, mic, preamp but different performance and pan that hard right. This is an amazing way to widen guitars and gives your acoustic guitars that “ear candy” sort of feel.
Overall using stereo micing techniques, recording more elements of an instrument, and layering parts are all three ways you can improve your recordings to sound wider. You don’t have to commit to a mono song, we live in stereo!