Create Depth In Your Mix With EQ

| Mixing, Plugins, Tips

You may have heard it said that there are three dimensions in music: width, height, and depth. By taking advantage of all three dimensions you can create clarity and space in your mix. Width is represented by the stereo spectrum, panning things left, right and in between. Height can be represented by volume; quiet parts seem buried while louder parts sore to the top of a mix.

And then there is the third dimension, depth, usually represented by how dry or wet a signal is. More reverb or delay “places” the signal far back from the listener, while a dry sound keeps the track in your face. But did you know that reverbs and delays are not the only way to create depth in your mix? That’s right, you can easily affect a signal’s depth by using EQ!

Mixing Is Just An Illusion

Since mixing music is truly all smoke and mirrors, an illusion, our job as audio engineers is to use the tools at our disposal to trick the listener into hearing something intentional. We want the final result to sound like a real band playing in real space, with every musician being heard equally. This is hard to do because there are no visual cues like at a live concert.

At a show, I can quickly see the band and have a visual indicator of when (or if) they are playing and how intense they are performing. That helps tell my brain what to focus on in the live mix. With a recording, however, we need to create space and depth so that the listener perceives the same thing. We typically reach for things like reverb to place a sound a bit further back in the mix, which in turn keeps something else (lead vocal, guitar solo, etc) right up front as the focus.

Look Mom, No Reverb!

But think about this for a moment. Sound that is close to us in physical space usually sounds bright and clear. Whereas sound that is coming from farther away tends to sound a tad bit duller. In other words, we perceive sound from far away as having less high frequency information than sounds that are close to us. We can still hear things from farther away, we just lose some of the clarity. Knowing this phenomenon means we can take advantage of it in our mixes.

If we want to place an instrument or track farther back in our mix, than instead of reaching for a reverb, we could simply place a low pass filter (LPF) via an EQ plugin on the track and roll off some of the high frequencies. An LPF is the exact opposite of a high pass filter, in that it let’s the lows pass, but cuts the highs. The more high end you roll off, the less present and “up front” that instrument will sound. Consequently the unaffected tracks (the ones with no LPF) will sound closer and more “up front”. See how this works?

Every Track Can’t Hog The Spotlight

At the end of the day, we can’t assume that a mix will sound balanced and clear if every track is pushing to be up front in the mix. Our ears will be bombarded with sound and won’t know where to focus. Good mixes are the ones where each track has its place, and one way to help this is with depth, either through the use of reverb or EQ. So go ahead, be confident, and commit to your most important sounds in a mix by pointing out the less important (i.e. supporting role) sounds and placing them farther back in the mix.

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11 Responses to “Create Depth In Your Mix With EQ”

  1. roger

    Hi Graham.
    I’ve read something about using EQ to place instruments in the sonic stage, but it wasn’t very clear about the concepts.
    Your article is a lot more clearer about it.

    Thanks for sharing, I will try to do some active listening and tests.

    Reply
  2. Nathan

    Sounds helpful for those songs where you need to create depth but want to keep the overall mix sounding on the dryer side.

    Reply
  3. Steve

    Good one, Graham. This is something I’ve never thought of or learned about. Will put this one in the databanks for sure!

    Reply
  4. Rob S.

    Graham, Great info. Thanks! I have read everywhere else that EQ can make things sit on the top or bottom of a mix but what you are saying about the LPF makes perfect sense. God bless!

    Reply
  5. Khaleed Matmati

    I have always thought of a mix being 3 dimensional in this way:

    Height: Frequency (low freq. appear to be Lower and High freq. appear to be high)

    Length: Panning left to right

    Depth: volume (loud things appear to be close and quiet thing appear to be distant).

    what are youe thoughts on this perspective?

    Reply
  6. HastingsCutoff

    This is great insight. I’ve been mixing music for a couple years now, but I’ve just recently started to realize how important it is to have depth in the mixes. I used to soak things in reverb to make them distant. Needless to say, I ended up with really “watery” mixes. Great article!

    Reply
  7. Randon

    Good article! I have never thought of using EQ for depth. I primarily use it for separation; filtering out the very lows of snare’s, gutiars, ect. So by using the technique you describe, I am instantly worried about getting that really muddy low end when there are too many instruments occupying that frequency. Perhaps putting on a low pass filter and high pass filter on for something in the mid-range area that you wanted back in the mix but not getting your low end muddy?

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Graham

      Yeah, you need strategic EQ to make space for everything, like you mentioned. This idea is purely in addition to regular EQ to make tracks sit back in the mix if need be.

      Reply
  8. Rosa

    We absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. Does one offer guest writers to write content in your case? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome web site!

    Reply

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