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Mix a pop song – 7e – Distance Placement

When it comes to distance placement (and the other two subtle effects in this article – creating mix room, and auto mix levelling) we are now getting into the realm of subtle equalisation that is rarely documented – but yet frequently used – by sound engineers.

You may have tried to create positioning and distance in a mix previously simply by the use of reverb and other room simulation effects. If you’ve tried this then you’ve no doubt also discovered that this doesn’t really work very well, and your mix ends up a soggy mess.

This is partly because the effect of distance placement in EQ is also closely related to a phenomenon known as “proximity effect” which most directional microphones and the human ear, and even sound dispersion itself – all exhibit as a matter of course. I’m using the term “proximity effect” here in a wider sense than it is normally used. Let me explain further:

When a performer comes close – perhaps even too close – to a microphone (or your ear!), then two things happen. Firstly, the amount of bass frequencies goes sky-high (often called bass tip-up), because there is much less bass “loss” at close range, and – more significantly – the physics of cardioid microphones overemphasises this effect.

Secondly, the high-frequency content also goes up too – because distance of sound in air tends to absorb high frequencies.

As a sound engineer, you can exploit this phenomenon in your mixes. By unnaturally boosting both the high and low frequencies using the EQ controls in your mixing console, you can create a sound that appears to be much closer than it really is.

However, this proximity effect is overused in many recordings today, leading to mixes that sound too “hi-fi”.

Remember, it is also possible to do the complete opposite, and thin instruments out a bit (shelve off some bass and a little off the top end), in order to push them back into the mix and seem smaller and further away.

The real secret of mixing, is in the “light and shade” – contrasting one part against another. By carefully using EQ in the form of subtle high and low balancing – coupled with very short reverb – as a tool for instrument placement, using the illusion of distance, you can make your mixes sound significantly “larger” overall than if you try and make every part simply sound “big” in its own right.

Big only seems “big” because other things seem small – it’s easy to forget this in the excitement of mixing.

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