Recording - September 2015 - 8

Note to faithful writers: When sending your letters by email,
please remember to include your name and where you hail from.
Hunting the phantom center
Hey, I'm not sure if anyone has asked this question
before; I hope you can help me. Although it's not a
major problem, I still feel it's something I want to fix.
Let's say you are in the car, with four speakers: front
left, front right, back left, back right. When you play
my song, you can hear it all clearly from all four
speakers. But when I skip to a professionally mixed
album from a mainstream artist I notice that I not
only hear it clearly on all four speakers, but it will
sound like it's hitting the middle somehow, a thicker
sound from the bass and vocals. I've tried many things
to make my song sound this way, but it never comes
out so thick in the middle. Do you know what I would
need to do to fix that problem?
Video Projectx

Hi, and thanks for writing to us! The first thing to
remember is that even with four speakers, car
audio is almost always stereo... the front and back
speaker pairs are carrying the same stereo signal.
So when you hear a solid "thick" presence in the
center on professional releases but only hear the
sound "at the speakers" with your own, what that
probably means is that the professional mixes have
more of a phantom center than yours.
What is a phantom center? That's when a project is
mixed in such a way that the center of the stereo
image sounds like there's an invisible third speaker
there. It's especially important for tracks that should
be at the center of your attention: bass and vocals
are the big ones, along with kick and snare drums.
If you're doing your production with a lot of
stereo sources, like plug-ins and loop libraries, they
are often panned hard left and hard right to give a
sense of stereo space. Processing a mono signal like
a vocal or a bass through effects or plug-ins will also
create an artificial stereo spread. A little bit gives
your mix a certain reality and width... too much will
make it sound like everything's smeared across the
stereo stage with a big hole in the center.
What you want to try to do is to narrow the width
of some of your stereo tracks. That can be tricky in
some DAWs, because stereo signals are presented
as a single channel strip, and instead of a pan control they have a balance control between left and
right.
One way to play with stereo width is to split your
stereo tracks into two mono tracks, left and right,
and then pan them both a bit toward the center.
Another way is to put in a stereo width control plugin, which lets you adjust the width of a stereo track
from mono to super-wide. There are lots of them out

there with different feature sets at different prices, but just for
playing around at first, I recommend bx_solo by Brainworx
(brainworx.de), which is easy to use, fun to learn from, and free.
Play with reducing the stereo width of tracks that should be at
the center of your mix, or try reducing the width of the entire
mix at once. Just to hear what it sounds like, try mixing down
your song to mono and listening to it in your car. You won't hear
differentiation of instruments in their placement, but hopefully
you'll hear that solid centered weight that you desire. If you
don't, then you may have a situation where your stereo effects
plug-ins like chorus or reverb are using tricks with phase to create a sense of wideness; these effects can cancel out in mono,
leaving your mix thin and wimpy-sounding.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!-MM
A little kudos never hurt anyone
I want to tell you what a phenomenally helpful series First Steps
has been so far. Like everyone else, I spend time reading articles
about technique, plus many, many gear reviews. Over the years,
I've been frustrated in collaborations with other project studio
musicians as we've sometimes cut corners, sometimes made halfeducated guesses, and then scratched our heads about the unsatisfying results.
On Paul's recommendation, I actually set a recording project aside
and ran the GIK Acoustics measurement software in my room.
What a mess! Foam treatments that followed the general idea were
delivering, well, audio gook. So I worked with a patient GIK engineer as we carefully analyzed my room and came up with a treatment package that accommodated the various windows, closets, and
so forth. It wasn't cheap at $3600, but it's been worth every penny.
The new level of audio clarity is quite surprising and reassuring. I
haven't run a new measurement yet, but I will and then adjust as
needed.
Honestly, First Steps was the only thing I've read that gave
enough useful perspective and information to lead to this terrific
outcome. So I find myself checking the mailbox now, awaiting the
next installment. It can be frustrating to see how gradually this
series is unfolding, but that's because every installment offers a surprise-something else to consider. And going slow is turning out to
be a good thing, since it offers enough time to actually address the
issues Paul raises in the articles. He has the gift of explaining complex issues in ways that are accessible and useful.
Oh, if I only had time to be a genuine recording student. First
Steps is proving to be quite an alternative for the rest of us. I can't
wait for the discussion of mic preamps, but I have a hunch I'll be
rethinking my wiring and patch bay before we get there... Thanks
for great material! Best,
Tom Bowman

Hi Tom: I am very pleased to hear that the series is helping
you out. Best wishes for more and better recordings in the
future, and thanks for reading Recording!-MM

Write to us at: Talkback, Recording Magazine, 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO 80301
Or save stamps and send email to talkback@recordingmag.com
8

RECORDING September 2015


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - September 2015

Contents
Recording - September 2015 - Intro
Recording - September 2015 - Cover1
Recording - September 2015 - Cover2
Recording - September 2015 - 1
Recording - September 2015 - 2
Recording - September 2015 - 3
Recording - September 2015 - 4
Recording - September 2015 - 5
Recording - September 2015 - Contents
Recording - September 2015 - 7
Recording - September 2015 - 8
Recording - September 2015 - 9
Recording - September 2015 - 10
Recording - September 2015 - 11
Recording - September 2015 - 12
Recording - September 2015 - 13
Recording - September 2015 - 14
Recording - September 2015 - 15
Recording - September 2015 - 16
Recording - September 2015 - 17
Recording - September 2015 - 18
Recording - September 2015 - 19
Recording - September 2015 - 20
Recording - September 2015 - 21
Recording - September 2015 - 22
Recording - September 2015 - 23
Recording - September 2015 - 24
Recording - September 2015 - 25
Recording - September 2015 - 26
Recording - September 2015 - 27
Recording - September 2015 - 28
Recording - September 2015 - 29
Recording - September 2015 - 30
Recording - September 2015 - 31
Recording - September 2015 - 32
Recording - September 2015 - 33
Recording - September 2015 - 34
Recording - September 2015 - 35
Recording - September 2015 - 36
Recording - September 2015 - 37
Recording - September 2015 - 38
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Recording - September 2015 - 40
Recording - September 2015 - 41
Recording - September 2015 - 42
Recording - September 2015 - 43
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Recording - September 2015 - 45
Recording - September 2015 - 46
Recording - September 2015 - 47
Recording - September 2015 - 48
Recording - September 2015 - 49
Recording - September 2015 - 50
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Recording - September 2015 - 53
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Recording - September 2015 - Cover3
Recording - September 2015 - Cover4
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