I listen to a lot of well-produced material and it all has an inherent sense of space and positioning. I'd describe it has having clarity, transparency, openness, air and depth. I hear this even with really full mixes. I know that a lot can be done with reverb and delay, but I wonder if you could advise me further on how to achieve this?
Paul Andrew Smith via email
SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: Unfortunately, the characteristics you're describing aren't the result of some special 'betteriser' plug-in, but mostly derive from a multitude of small and unassuming tweaks across all the tracks in a mix. Clarity, transparency, and openness are improved primarily by stopping different tracks from unduly obscuring each other, and that's a feat usually best achieved through a combination of sensitive musical arrangement and subtractive EQ. So, you might move your keyboard part up an octave, for example, or change its chord voicing to stop it conflicting with a guitar part in the same register, or perhaps remove a few decibels of 4kHz 'bite' from an electric guitar to allow these frequencies to be heard more clearly from your lead vocals.
The concept of 'air' in a track can mean different things to different people. Although some people consider it all but synonymous with 'clarity', the airiness of a production also tends to depend on the amount of 10 to 20 kHz frequency energy in the mix, and also the stereo width in that region. As such, I'd try boosting a few tracks in that upper spectral octave as a first port of call if you're after 'air', as well as investigating effects that spread the high frequencies of the mix more widely in stereo — reverb or stereo modulation effects will often do the trick, but you might also try adding things like stereo background noise or subtle special-effect ambiences.
Depth is primarily about how you use your reverbs and delays, although EQ also has a part to play too, because brighter sounds tend to sound closer. The most important thing to remember, in my view, is that depth is all about contrast: you can't have much depth if there's the same amount of reverb on everything, so you really do need to pick and choose which instruments you apply it to.