3 dimensional placement tutorial by Dezz Asante - Track Spark
in     by Track Spark 05-04-2016

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3 dimensional placement tutorial was made for our March goody bag by Dezz Asante who runs the website www.mixlessons.com, a TechMuze Academy program.

TechMUZE Academy is an educational resource and a community designed to help DIY musicians make better sounding music and to get that music in front of as many people as possible. Those are the two main goals of the Academy and hence the two pillar topics of conversation.  

Tutorial transcription

Hi there, I’m Dezz Asante, the founder of the tech news academy and welcome to this Track Spark tutorial. Today what I wanted to get into with you is the concept of three-dimensional placement and the three-dimensional sound stage in your mix. This is information that when I first started to wrap my head around it, it really revolutionized the quality that I was getting in my home studio and I'm hoping that it will trigger a couple of aha moments with you as well and you'll be able to take this information back to your own projects and actually get a better sound, a more clear and punchy presentation from your mixes by simply avoiding the tendency for elements to step on one another's toes and mask each other out, making sure that each element in your mix has a very specific and determined place that can be heard to the level that it needs to be to enhance the musical expression. OK, so first let's start with a little bit of theory. Let's define the three dimensions first. The most obvious one that comes to mind is the horizontal dimension. The horizontal dimension is simply your panorama strategy so where from left to right are you going to place elements. There's a little bit less mystery involved there, I imagine that that's something you've been playing around with great confidence since you pretty much started with the music production process but it is something to be considered from the perspective of three-dimensional placement and making sure that everything has its own space to exist, as opposed to just slinging something to the left or slinging something to the right. Having a strategy behind it is important to consider. The second dimension is the depth dimension. From near to far and not just where something is in relationship to the listener distance wise, but also how big is the space that sound exists in. For example you could have an element in your mix that is very up front, intimate sounding and close to the listener or you could have something that sounds as though its twenty feet back. Now when you have something that sounds as though its twenty feet back, is it 20 feet back in a twenty foot room or 20 feet back in a hundred foot room. So that's what I mean by where is the element in relationship to the listener and what is the size of the space that that element exists in. Those are the two things to consider when it comes to your depth dimension. We use typically reverbs and delays as a primary tools to deal with the depth dimension. Then last but not least we have the vertical dimension. Now the vertical dimension was a little bit less obvious to me back in the early days but it's basically dealing with frequency distribution. So as an example high frequencies, high pitch sounds, a shrill violin or something like that are typically perceived in the head in the upper regions of your of your body and low base frequencies, kick drums bass synths, drops and things like that are perceived down low in the gut area. So with this knowledge you can begin to strategize where along the vertical spectrum you want your elements to exist or where they naturally exist simply by the sound that they are. For example a hi hat is not going to sit down very low ever, because it just doesn't have that much low frequency content. A bass guitar is not going to ever sit too high because of the opposite of course. So when you consider these three dimensions and then you apply this to your mix, what you're able to do is get clarity and definition between all of the elements in the mix. So let's take a listen to a tune I was working on recently off of my debut album that I put out recently with my lovely lady Carol. We go by Dezz & Carol if you're interested in the music and want to have a listen, but this is a tune called ‘Where I should not be’. I’ll just play a couple of bars first so you can get a feel for what we're dealing with. It's an acoustic rock kind of number and I figure what we'll do is we'll focus on these background vocals as an example of manipulating placement. Let's have a listen to them. Ok let's hear them in solo. So a couple of things I want you to notice is that when I solo these vocals they sound very dull. Almost muffled a little bit right. They're also spread left and right. There's two tracks that were listening to here and they’re spread hard left and hard right so that was the panorama strategy was just to get them as far out of the way of the lead vocal as possible. If you hear that with the lead vocal. You hear the lead vocal comes clear down the centre and the harmonies are way off to the wings so they do not get in the way of the star of the show which is typically the lead vocal. The other thing is that the reason they sound so round and warm, in fact I'll pull up on the screen so you can see. I have those two tracks routed to a stereo fader so I can treat them both simultaneously. So you'll notice that what's happening here is, first of all I've got a bit of compression on the vocals. The purpose of the compression was to bring up the softer parts, the lower volume parts of the vocals so that there's more clarity and definition to the words. It wasn't to make them louder, it was to bring up the subtle nuances. The other thing I have is a stereo imager which is designed to make them even wider still. Further out of the way of the lead vocal. Let's have a listen with and without. That was to further accentuate my horizontal spectrum decision. My strategy was to get them as wide outside of the lead vocal as possible. Secondarily I wanted to also push them back from the lead vocal. There is a psycho-acoustic phenomenon that takes place and that is simply the physics of sound and how it affects the auditory system. That's what I mean by psycho-acoustics. In physical reality, the high frequency content has less energy than low frequency content which means that the further the sound travels the less high frequency content exists because it lost its energy previously. The low frequencies will travel further. So with that in mind, if you want to create the illusion that something is further away, one great thing to do is to roll off some of the high-end which would not have made it to the listener's ear if indeed the sound source was that far away. So you'll notice I have a low pass filter here at about 3k. That's rolling off most of the high end. Let's have a listen to it with and without. This is with the filter on, and without. You'll notice that as soon as I disengaged that low pass filter the background vocals all of a sudden become more present, they become more upfront. As a creative decision you may or may not want that. In my case I wanted them to be a little bit further back, a little bit less in the way of the lead vocal. That's me singing and I don’t have a really strong pop/rock voice or anything like that so I used this as a mix decision to help my vocal stand out a little bit better. The other thing I have done is I have rolled off the low end as well. If you were to watch me mix a number of sessions you’d realize that I almost uses many high pass filters or low cut filters as there are tracks in my mix. I find that every track, even if you're recording a triangle, has low-end information in the recording that's not musically relevant so I get rid of that. Also the high-pass filter will tend to control the thickness or girth of the sound source. So if we listen to the vocals together, then turn it off. You’ll notice how they sound heavy, they sound too heavy now. I don't mean like heavy metal. I mean there's too much weight to them. Again, without the hi-pass and then I’ll bring it in. So that just reduces their weight a little bit and the low-pass filter pushes them back a little bit. Next in line we've got the effects sends, let's have a listen to what they're doing. So you’ll notice I've got three effects that these backing vocals are being sent to. One of them is my room reverb so let me mute these two out a second and you'll hear just the room reverb. Then let me take them all out. So very dry, very two-dimensional and kind of up front, even though we've made other decisions to try to create the illusion of distance, we're not done yet. We haven't completed the illusion so first thing I do is I bring in my short tail reverb, my room reverb. Have a listen to what that sounds like, without, and with. That's a subtle one and then we'll bring in our long tail plate reverb and have a listen. Then we’ll bring in our delay. I've got just a little bit of a slap delay on this just to make them a little bit wider, a little bit bigger in terms of their perceived presence. Have a listen with the delay. Now let's hear how these compare without any of these treatments. I’ll by-pass the EQ and the effects and we'll hear them together. Bring in the compressor and the widener, then out. Push them back then add the ambience.  Hopefully that makes some sense to you. The important thing to consider is that there are three dimensions even though there are only two speakers. Understanding some of the tools that are used to make decisions and manipulate audio in those 3 dimensions. Bear in mind, your horizontal is just your panning and stereo enhancement effects. I’ve utilized both in this example. Your vertical placement is frequency content so high frequencies are perceived up here, low frequencies down here. Then your depth dimension which is what we focused on today because that's the one that I think a lot of people get wrong. When you consider reverb and delay, don't necessarily consider it just as and effect. Consider it as a tool to create a psycho-acoustic illusion of precise placement in your mix. If you found this interesting and you want to dig deeper into the subject and really up your mix game, head on over to mix lessons dot com and take the free course that is available there. It’s a video training series. I believe Track Spark will probably provide links for you somewhere on this page. I want to thank Track Spark for letting me in with some thoughts for you guys and hopefully I'll see you again soon.