Today’s mixing of music has never been louder, wider, and clearer. The technological advancements in music production software have and continue to increase the quality of music productions. In turn, new techniques have been developed to harness the power of advanced software. One technique that has played a vital role in the overall quality of your mix is mid/side processing.
By now many have heard of mid/side processing or have even used certain mid/side processors or certain mid/side techniques to enhance the mix of their songs, but still, the technique is underused. Whether you don’t understand mid/side processing or you are looking for new ways to improve your mixes through this technique, I am here to give you 5 ways to improve the overall quality of your mix.
Before we get into these techniques let us give a brief and simple explanation of what a mid and a side signal really is.
The mid-channel is the center of a stereo image. This will give a more centered/mono sound to the audio. For example, if you will boost the Mid channel you will get a more centered (mono) sound. The side channel represents the edges of a stereo image. So, if you’ll boost these channels you will get a wider sound.
To get a feel of exactly what these signals sound like, download Voxengo’s free MSED mid/side decoder and toggle the mid mute and side mute on and off on your favorite music or samples. As you can imagine, having these signals separated opens up a new dimension of mixing to the producer and engineer, so let’s get into my 5 processing techniques!
1. Mid/Side Reverbs
Reverb is an integral part of any music production for adding width and space. Since it is mainly used to create space in your mixes they can easily benefit from a little mid/side processing in order to keep up with the increasing clarity and width of today’s tracks. Separating your mid and side signals into two separate channels will give you better control over your reverb and allow you to process each channel separately.
You can accomplish this by creating a return or send and placing Voxengo’s MSED on and muting the side signal on one channel and muting the mid on the other. Since our goal is to create a wider and clearer reverb, we process accordingly. On the side channel, we add an EQ and boost the highs.
By doing so our reverb appears wider as there is separate frequency content poking out in the stereo field. After our EQ we add an OTT or over-the-top compression.
The OTT is a multiband compressor that applies specifically upward and downward compression and expansion to bring the smaller detail of your sound out in a slightly more gritty and saturated fashion. Applying a small amount of this FX on our reverb will help bring out the full reverb sound and boost the volume of the side signal which creates a greater separation from the mid signal and therefore an even wider sound!
Taking it a step further, we then add a chorus FX on the side channel to squeeze every bit of width out of the side as we possibly can. On the mid-channel, we only add an EQ and apply subtractive EQing. We dip out a couple of decibels in the 250 range to leave room for the bass elements and dip out around 2 kHz to leave room for our leads and vocals.
The subtractive EQing will not only leave more room in your mix for your main lead and bass elements, but it will also create even more separation from your side channel and again increase the perceived width.
Remember the amount of each FX and EQ cut will depend on your track’s specific needs. For example, the extra width that the chorus provides may not mix well with your other stereo elements, so as always, use your ears to determine the appropriate amount of processing!
2. Arrangement Mid/Side EQing and Compression
When mid/side processing, it can be easy to get caught up in enhancing the smaller elements of your mix and ignore the bigger picture. Master channel processing is a very effective way to add that extra bit of width and power to your arrangement.
The drop or chorus of your song is the most powerful part of the arrangement, so why not do some processing to further enhance this section? We separated the mid and side channels on the master channel, just like we did with the reverb using Voxengo’s MSED. When the drop or chorus of our song hits, we automate an EQ on with a + 0.4 DB high shelf at around 7KHz.
This is a very small boost, but a little goes a long way on your master channel. Doing this will give your drop or chorus a bit more width and create the appearance of a bigger drop. Next, we add on a bit of compression to bring the sides out to the front of the mix.
We set a low attack time and a high release time and set the threshold so we gain reduce between 1 and 2 Db. To highlight the main section of your arrangement, even more, you can also change the dynamics of your verse and breakdown sections.
For our verses and breakdown, we simply did the opposite. We turned down our high shelf EQ to – 0.4 Db and in doing so reduced the stereo width of the track to give the listener an even greater sense of width when the main section hits.
3. Mixing of Main Elements
Many producers get lost when it comes to mid/side EQing. Figuring out what exactly to mid/side EQ and just how much to EQ can be difficult. One guaranteed way to create depth, space, and headroom in your mix is to EQ in relation to your main elements. The leads and vocals in your track require attention in the front and center of your mix.
Knowing this, we can EQ appropriately and create space in the mix. Group other instruments separately from your vocals and leads and throw a mid/side EQ on the group. Before we make any EQ adjustments to the group, we need to find the frequencies of our lead and our vocals that give them their power.
We can find the range of frequencies that give each element its weight by dipping and sweeping through the frequency spectrum. We slowly sweep our EQ through our main element and listen to where it sounds the weakest.
Once we find this range of frequencies, we apply the same frequency cut on our group channel, but not just any channel. We apply this to the mid-channel only. The reason for this is that the lead and vocals in our track are what provide the most powerful as they are the main elements. Dipping out in the mid frequencies only takes out the frequencies that conflict.
If you cut these frequencies on a normal EQ, you would be cutting out the sides and therefore be cutting out frequencies that are not interfering with the main elements. The side information is very important for maintaining fullness and width in your mix, so EQing these frequencies out would not be beneficial.
The side information is very important for maintaining fullness and width in your mix, so EQing these frequencies out would not be beneficial.
4. Mid/Side Volume Mixing & Automation
Ahhh volume… This is a very overlooked part of mixing because of its simplicity. Make no mistake, though, volume automation alone can transform a mix and should be a go-to technique. Now that we have numerous mid/side tools at our disposal, automating and setting the volume of the mid and side channel has never been easier.
But how do we use mid/side volume mixing to achieve a wider and cleaner mix? One scenario that will benefit from this type of mixing is to widen a sound. Simply raising the volume on your side channel will make the stereo image seem wider.
Have the main element that is not making a big enough impact in the mix? Boost up the mono channel and turn down the side channel. Too many elements taking away from your main sounds? Turn down the mid-channel of your supporting elements. Of course, we can now use automation on our mid/side to create the effect of an expanding and compressing of the stereo field.
This will be handy right before our drop or chorus. For example, you can automate the side channel to dip in volume on your build. This takes away part of the stereo field for your listener and then brings the side back up when the drop hits, the section appears wider than it actually is. Don’t just leave the automation for the master channel, experiment with various volume automation on all your elements and groups of sounds to achieve an interesting stereo effect.
Once again we can easily do this mid/side mixing with Voxengo’s MSED.
5. Enhanced Side Chain
By now, we know what the sidechaining is, but when you step into the mid/side dimension of the mix, you can create even greater dynamic interest and space. This side chaining will add another layer of pumping, but we are only going to apply it to the side channel of our wider sounding instruments.
This will give a 3-dimensional pump effect that gives the appearance of a stretched-out stereo field. We accomplish this by grouping our wider stereo instruments and placing the Voxengo MSED on the group to separate the channels. Next, we place our compressor only on the side channel and set it to trigger only to the kick and snare.
Hope that this article will help you to better understand what is the mid/side processing. Feel free to share and leave your comment!
Recently, Tek’it Audio has released MScontrol, another great Free Mid/Side control utility plugin (VST/AU), be sure to check it!
Also read: 5 Mixing Tips You Should Use