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6 Reasons to Perfect Your Mid-Side Processing Techniques

Jan 15, 2024

Take the next step on the stereo skills ladder, and discover some of the more advanced mid-side techniques that’ll improve your mixing and sound design capabilities.

6 Reasons to Perfect Your Mid-Side Processing Techniques

If you haven’t heard of mid-side processing before or don’t understand it, you can get primed on this stereo technique with our Mid-Side Explainer Guide.

There is a common misconception that mid-side processing is reserved for mastering engineers, who use it to get around the fact that they often work with a single stereo signal. While mid-side processing is a hugely useful tool during mastering for that reason, its applications aren’t strictly limited to the final stage of the music production process.

Mid-side processing can be used throughout the mixing process, and even for getting wacky and wild during sound design sessions. In this article, we explore some of the ways in which mid-side processing can level up your production prowess. Sign up to the Waves Newsletter for more production tricks and tips, delivered to you regularly.

In This Article

1. Add Clarity and Stereo Separation to Drums with Mid-Side EQ

There could be a handful of reasons that you might need to apply EQ to a range of drums across the frequency spectrum, all at once. You might be a mix engineer who has only been provided the drum mix as a whole, or perhaps you’re remixing a track and you’ve only got the stems. In these instances, applying traditional stereo EQ might not give you the same level of control as you need, and so an equalizer with mid-side mode, such as F6 Dynamic EQ is your answer.

In the case of our drum mix, there’s some stereo information in the low end that we want to control. We also want to emphasize the body of the snare, which is in the center of our signal, without making too much change to the tonality of our cymbals. We’ve achieved this by cutting the low end in the sides of the signal, and creating a slight boost at just under 600Hz in the middle of the signal. We’ve also emphasized the width of our hi-hats by creating a high shelf in the sides, above approximately 600kHz.

F6 drums

2. Carve Room for Vocals in the Center of the Mix

Riding on the coat-tails of the previous technique, we can also use mid-side EQ to create space in the center of our mix, where the vocals live. Generally speaking, it’s good practice to place the vocals in the middle of the stereo field, as this gives them more impact and focus amongst any other elements that the mix may contain.

Within our full mix, we have a few elements that not only occupy the same stereo position as our vocal, but the same frequency range too. There is some call and response going on with the keyboard chords and vocal which slightly negate the issue, but at times, they are fighting for space between 300Hz and 1kHz.

Once again, we’ll make use of F6’s mid-side mode to scoop out some of this frequency range in the middle of the signal, while creating a high shelf in the sides of the keys. We can sort of think about this as tucking or wrapping the keys around the vocal, allowing them both to shine through the mix a bit more in their respective spaces.

F6 vocal

For more inspiration on songwriting and arrangement principles that can help to build the foundations for a straightforward mix, check out our article on Music Making: The 6 Stages of Music Production.

3. Quickly Control Super-Stereo Effects

We’ve all been there. You’ve found the perfect ping pong delay or hall reverb to give an instrument that bit of flavor it was lacking, but now it’s taken over your entire stereo image and muddled up your mix. Here, a synced ping pong delay courtesy of H-Delay sounds great, but the delayed transients of the pluck sound slightly messy within the context of the full mix.

Using a mid-side-capable compressor such as the DBX160, we can leave the middle of the signal intact by turning the Mid Mix level down to zero, but compress the sides of the signal in order to control the level of the ping pong delay. This has the effect of reducing the width of the signal, while preserving the original dry signal in the center of the mix, along with the character that we added with the ping pong delay.

H-delay dbx ms

To compensate for the level reduction being applied to the signal, we’ve increased the Output Gain of the Mid channel, thus reducing the signal’s width even further.

H-delay dbx output

4. You can Make any Plugin Mid-Side

So far, we’ve been working with some of the many Waves plugins that boast a built in mid-side mode. For plugins that aren’t mid-side capable as standard though, there’s a handy solution. Waves StudioRack is a smart studio chainer that allows you to apply a range of plugin chain presets from some of your favorite producers and engineers, or you can create and save your own.

One of the advantages of using StudioRack is that you can choose to apply processing on a multiband basis, or in parallel. By selecting the latter option, you can apply any combination of plugins to the overall stereo signal, the left or right, the middle or the sides.

Studiorack parallel

Within that first Parallel Split, you can go a step further and split the resulting signals according to frequency. This is particularly useful on the mid channel, where you might have the kick, snare and vocal, and want to only apply processing to the kick. Here, we’ve split the signal into mid and side, then split the mid signal with a crossover of around 150Hz. We can then use J37 Tape to apply tape saturation to only the kick for more warmth and tone.

Studiorack parallel multiband

This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for mid-side processing, from idea generation and sound design right up until the mastering stage of your production. The remaining techniques in this article will apply this concept to some unique mid-side processes that would be otherwise impossible without StudioRack.

If you would like to get mixing with mid side as quickly as possible without creating a plugin chain from scratch within StudioRack then check out the vast collection of mid side mix chains within StudioVerse. With these chains, you can effortlessly pick which one sounds best for your needs and adjust further with the 8 simple macros within StudioRack. If you’re looking to understand more about how pro producers use mid side in their plugin chains, then these options give you a valuable opportunity to get under the hood to see how they get the most from their tools.

Studioverse

5. Saturate the Mid and Sides Separately

Adding saturation to your drum bus is a textbook method of adding weight, warmth and character, but deciding whether to apply subtle coloring or all-out distortion can be a tough call. With mid-side processing, you can apply two different flavors of saturation – one to the mid signal and one to the sides.

Using StudioRack in Parallel Split mode as explained above, we’ve placed an instance of the Magma BB Tubes saturation device on both the mid and side channel. We’ve increased the Beauty knob to apply a tube-style saturation to the mid channel (upper image), and the Beast knob to add a more aggressive style of saturation to the sides (lower image).

Magma ms

In both cases, we’ve excluded some of the bass from the tube engine using the Bass Relief knob, and the increase in level has been compensated for with the Level Output knob. Not only does this add more overall color to the signal, it helps to differentiate the middle of the signal with the sides, which has the effect of increasing the drums’ perceived stereo width.

6. Mid-Side Automation can Help to Control Energy

It’s quite normal to automate volume, EQ or effects in order to transition between song sections, signify a big moment is coming or to generally manage the energy levels within a composition. These mid-side processing techniques add another string to your automation bow, and you can now automate the relationship between the middle and the side of the signal to create an interesting and varied overall mix.

Drum automation

By automating the level of the sides using the output fader within StudioRack, we can make the drum mix appear to be narrower and therefore further away. We’ve automated the output fader to decrease to -30dB between bars four and five, before increasing to 0dB again at bar five. This creates a sense of the drums moving away from the listener, thus creating more energy when they return to the foreground of the mix.

Automating the mid-side processing within your mix grants you an extra layer of control when it comes to arranging your compositions.

For more ideas on how you can use mid-side processing to create exciting new stereo interest within your mix, check out another Waves article on the many possibilities of mid-side processing.

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