Time for a post about stereo imaging and width. Now I will not cover absolutely everything in this post about how to achieve a wider sound but hopefully there will be some useful information in this small post. Many people seem to get hung up on making their sound super wide. Yes, wide is good but remember you can go too wide. Remember not to make everything wide....this is dance music after all and you want most of the energy coming straight through the middle and hitting your listener smack in the face. Finding the right balance between wide sounds and narrow / mono sounds is key.
I will begin this post by stating that you want your main elements (in this case the kick and bass) pretty much in Mono. Now for me I always run my kick in mono, simply because I feel the kicks energy needs to be shared equally by both speakers. Same goes for bass, or at least sub bass. Ensure you are summing your sub frequencies to mono, this will help prevent any weird phasing down in the low end.
Ok So this post is supposed to be about stereo.... so here is some tools and techniques I use to make my sound wider.
STEREO WIDENING TOOLS
I will start off with the basic stereo widening plugins. I use various stereo tools, generally for different purposes. The most advanced one I like to utilize is without a doubt Izotopes Stereo imager, however; this plugin can be really CPU heavy....so it may make sense to use it sparingly or once you have treated your sounds, get them bounced to audio. The beauty of this stereo imager is that you can solo frequency bands and treat each band differently. In doing this it really allows you to hone in on certain zones. The way I go about using this tool is normally during my mastering, where I make the sub frequencies more narrow and spread the upper mids and highs. I do often use this on singular sounds as it also gives a good visual representation of the sound, but like I said before, it can take its toll on your CPU. Being able to split up frequency bands and treat them differently is an absolute winner.
The second tool I use, and probably the one I use most often is the Sonalksis stereo tools plugin. Such a simple yet affective plugin which, like ozone, gives a good visual representation of the sound. For me I use sonalksis when it comes to spreading the whole sound, therefore I tend to NOT use it when a sound I am treating has quite a bit of low frequency information. This is normally my go to plugin when making my percussions, hi hats, pads or maybe even my effects wider.
Sometimes you find that samples you use from sample packs are actually recorded in mono. When this is the case I head for Ozone or the FL Studio native stereo shaper. This plugin is great for things like percussion loops or hi hat loops because it adds some stereo delay and spreads the sound out, however; it can also push your sounds out of phase very easily so keep checking your mix in mono to make sure the sound isn't completely out of phase.
With the last point in mind, you can use Delays to add width to your track. Get involved in some ping pong delay or even think ourside the box and incorporate random delay times to add some interesting effects to your sound.
Honestly, too few people use this. For me the Tremolo plugin from Soundtoys is great but you can use other plugins, such as auto pan plugins to achieve the same effect. It basically makes the sound come in and out at any given time that you punch in, but once you start incorporating the 'width' knob it will push the sound from side to side rather than bringing it in and out. Great for use on things like pads, strings and effects. If you do not have a tremolo plugin......you can always take the time consuming route and just draw in some panning automation.
Another little trick here is to use a phaser or flanger with a slow rate.....this works great on pads......listen as the phaser makes the pad wash from side to side.
You should never underestimate the power of panning. Simple panning is a great way to make space for your sounds. Think of your stereo field like a stage....and you are placing different instruments on that stage.....having everything in the middle will just clutter the stage up, so make sure you are panning your sounds accordingly. A quick note though, for me when it comes to panning drums (for me at least) I normally stick in the '9-3' range, just because I don't want any of my drum sounds just randomly floating about far left or right. You can start pushing other elements off to one side, the slightly less important elements, atmoshperic elements or elements in there to add character.
Mid/side EQ is an awesome way to carve out your sounds. I use mid/side EQ on every single track I make. A good way to make your sounds 'wide' is to simply clear out the middle. In doing this you clear space for your kick and bass to occupy the middle ground and let your other instruments take care of the width. With EQing it is all down to the track and the individual mixing the track but I generally like to put a low cut on my sides to around 90HZ or sometimes even above that and put my 'mid' lowcut to around 30Hz. I also like to add in Side information on my upper mids and maybe take some of the middle away. There are endless possibilities with mid side EQ but get stuck into it.
Reverb is good to use for adding depth and width. Given the fact there are plenty of ways to use reverb I wont bombard you with it during this post.....but here is a little sneaky tip which can help de-clutter your mix if you are using lots of reverb.
Rather than using stereo reverbs...try using a mono reverb and then panning that reverb in your stereo field. You have tight control of exactly where that reverb will be placed and it will declutter your mixdown. Setting your reverbs really is subjective, so long as they aren't cluttering your mix. Some people like it slightly wetter and wider, others don't. Play around and see what fits your style.