5 Mixing Tips to Make Layers of Synths Stand Apart

The more synths the better, right? Only if they all fit nicely in the mix... Matt Vanacoro shows how you can have your cake and eat it with these five essential synth mixing tips.  

It’s no secret that many of today’s top arrangements feature layer upon layer of synths. One thing the pros consider when mixing is how to make those puzzle pieces work together instead of against each other. Here are 5 techniques today’s top mixers use when trying to tame a mix that is busy with synths. Some offer technical solutions, and some are just good ol’ fashioned ‘best practice’.

1. EQ and Analysis

EQ and Analysis

Many modern EQ plugins offer visual analysis, and if you’re having a hard time figuring out why the mix sounds so ‘muddy’, using a visual aid can often help you get to the bottom of it. Pull up the EQ of 2 concurrent synth parts and have a glance at the what frequencies each part is heavy on. Consider making some subtle to ‘not so subtle’ cuts in each to make the parts compliment each other a bit.

2. Sculpting With Envelopes

Sculpting With Envelopes

The first place to start is often with the various synths themselves. Carving out a bit with the amplitude (or even filter) envelope can go a long way towards getting one synth ‘out of the way’ of another. If you’ve got 2 synths with a strong attack, consider favoring one and pulling back the attack of the second. Cleaning up the various time phases of the synths can make things less rhythmically complicated and help simplify the sound.

3. Use Dynamic Sidechains

dynamic sidechains

Using a compressor plugin with a side chain feature is an ‘old trick’ but a goodie for sure! We’ve done a few great articles on the concept, and if it works so well for bass… why not for a bass synth? In a nutshell, you can set up a compressor to activate ONLY when it ‘hears’ signal from another track. This is a common way to get a kick drum and a bass to play nice together, but you can use it to automatically ‘duck’ one synth and get it out of the way when another plays.

4. Remember Your Theory 

Music theory

When stacking layer upon layer of keyboard tracks, remember that you don’t necessarily have to fill out the chord completely in each part. Think about the more classical rules of arranging and look at building a chord across several parts instead of having a full chord in each part. Spreading out the chord notes and giving a thought to voice leading can make all the difference in a dense section.

5. Acoustic Masking and Plugins

Acoustic Masking and Plugins

iZotope has a bunch of solutions for sonic sculpting but Neutron is one of the best for carving out frequency spectrum for instruments. Using the masking meter and inverse EQ is a quick way to do this. When you utilize the ‘inverse link’ function, you can connect 2 tracks that both have the Neutron plugin activated. Then, when you make a 1db cut at 500hz of your first track, the second track gets a 1db boost at 500hz. This allows you to quickly get tracks fitting together like nice little sonic puzzle pieces!

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Matt Vanacoro is one of New York's premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More


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