When a producer hears the words “that sounds flat”, they could be hearing it from anyone. Hearing it from an Engineer or Label owner is bad enough, but hearing it from a fan or someone who buys your music is worse. I am going to try to clear up what a ‘flat mix’ actually means.
Flat – does not mean your track sucks on a creative level. Think of flat as a flat tire. No life in it. Life in music is often referred to spatial effects, sense of movement and audio treatment. Flat mixes generally sound like all sounds in your track are essentially occupying the exact same space. So when you play that track – it sounds like a pancake of sound. Drowning in overlapping frequencies.
Here are 3 ways to avoid the F word that nobody wants to hear when they have submitted their masterpiece.
- Spatial Effects: Sound is 3 Dimensional (duh), well you think it is a ‘duh’, but many producers throw that out the window because they don’t embrace the science and theory side. Think of sound a circle in this case. Draw a line across the circle. In that circle you will see room for space. Depth and width and height.a) Using Reverb can give your music/selective tracks a sense of depth. It essentially works as a way to emulate echo harmonics. When used correctly – Reverb can give your sound that bigger open feeling with just the right amount of space. Used incorrectly, Reverb can make your track sound like you are at a club but listening to the music from the bathroom. (Just turn up a dry wet signal on a track to 100% to achieve that to understand what I mean)
b) Delay – essentially is the other side of echo harmonics. Delay is the amount of time it takes for a sound to reach a surface and return. This is a desired effect!! By adding delay, not only are you adding depth, but also movement. Although it is used as an effect, from a engineering standpoint, delay gives brief nanosecond breaks where other frequencies can break through. Used correctly, it can help fix a flat mix.
c) Panning – There a reason why panning is so important!! Think of panning as pushing sounds out of the way so that the main elements can poke through. Essentially giving EACH track within your song it’s own space. Panning can be gentle (5 to 10%) or extreme (full hard right or left). The point being, this creates space and your track breathes.
2. Sense of Movement: Although ‘sense of movement’ is often interpreted as something to keep the listener engaged (think of a splash effect here, or noise effect there, transitional effects) it can also refer to a bland or flat mix. If a track has no sense of movement, that track is likely also to have been mixed in a flat way. Sense of movement again creates sometimes – and most of the time – tiny microseconds of where certain sounds trail off and those gaps allow other sounds to come through. Refer back to spatial effects to understand. Study why this is so vital. Don’t just use the effects, understand why.
3) AUDIO TREATMENT!! Compression and EQ’ing. Flat mixes much of the time can come simply from completely over-compressed tracks that destroy the transients and life within the mix. They can create muddiness and dull the sounds themselves. Compression and EQ working together in conjunction with spatial effects will ensure that not only will your sounds have their own space, but they will be able to poke through without stepping on the toes of it’s closest neighbor. Also it is important to note that REVERB & DELAY can reintroduce frequencies – especially in the lower end. So it is wise to use an EQ to roll off. For example, if you have a Reverb on your master percussion bus, roll it off to say 200hz to ensure that there is no low end rumble. Most Reverb and Delay plugins or hardware allow you to do this. You SHOULD do this and again understand why.
The caveat here is: Used correctly. Which will take you time based on your experience level and desire for knowledge.
I will be going into more detail over the next few weeks on these specific topics. But this should get you going to help you identify and correct problems, and FIX THAT FLAT MIX!!