The Art of Two-Dimensional Audio Mixing: Front & Back

One of the most often asked questions in audio mixing are as follows:

a.) How to mix instruments so that they would sound like they are up-front or back in the mix?
b.) How to put instruments in the center, right, left or mid-right and mid-left in the mix?

These are fundamental questions that are of so much importance in audio mixing. There are no short answers to these questions and it’s imperative that you entirely understand the concepts of front and back audio mixing.

“Front” and “Back” Elements Adds Realism to your Mix

Do you why live concert sounds so full and alive? It’s because the artists/performers are on-stage with live monitors placed on optimal listening locations. The sound combination of these monitors would make up a very nice front and back mix of the band performing on-stage.

On the other hand, even without live monitors, you can still feel the “depth” and “fullness” of the sound. Have you listened to a choir or musical ensemble playing live without microphones? The instruments in the front are the lead instruments while the back-up musicians are performing on the background providing the additional rhythm or harmony. The result blending of the sound mix is realistic and sounds great.

Problems will arise when you are mixing audio for an album or single. Aside that they are mostly recorded dry (no effects) and without stereo information (tracks are recorded mostly in mono). It is a crucial job for the audio mixing engineer to assign effects and locations of these instruments in the stereo field. The objective is to give life to the artist song/performance so that fans can relate to like they are playing live or in-front of them.

What will happen if there are no “front” and “back” information of the mix is that it would not sound realistic and the mix sounds dull.

“Effects” pull sound to the Front and Back

The first thing you need to learn is that there are lots of effects you can assign to make the instruments sound up-front or back in the mix. Refer to the list below:

a.) Reverb – this is the simplest effect for making the instruments sound up-front or back in the mix. Less reverb would make the instruments sound more up-front. More reverb would pull the instruments farther back of the mix.

It is why it is not appropriate to assign the same reverb settings for all instruments because the front and back image of the mix would be compromised. To have realistic reverb settings; you need to:

1.) Put less reverb on main or solo instruments such as the vocals. These would let them shine in the mix among other instruments in the background.
2.) Put more reverb on background or rhythm instruments so that they would sound like supporting the lead instruments on the front.