• Kate Brunotts

9 Spatial Audio Mixing Tips: Your Guide To 3D Mixing

Have you tried listening to your favorite songs in spatial audio? Recently, Apple Music unveiled spatial audio mixes so that casual listeners and audiophiles alike can listen to sound in 3D. Any Apple Music subscriber is able to listen to these surround sound mixes of selected tracks to enjoy music in a completely new way.


But it doesn’t stop there – the new Logic update unveiled a whole 3D audio mixing suite. Since producers can now mix in 3D, many music distributors like Distrokid allow artists to upload spatial mixes alongside a traditional stereo mix of a track.


Spatial mixing and listening are here to stay, but it can be challenging to learn how to adapt to the new technology. Thankfully, we have some proven tips we've gathered from checking out the Dolby Atmos mixing session of Lil Nas X’s Montero. Below, we’ll demonstrate 9 spatial audio mixing tips so that you can start your journey with 3D mixing.





What We Can Learn From Lil Nas X’s Montero Session

The playbook for spatial audio is so new that it can be tricky to find reputable mixing guides. Fortunately, the spatial mix of Montero comes for free with the new Logic update, so we were able to source a couple of bonafide tips just by analyzing the session.


Note that many of these tips apply to 2D mixing as well as spatial audio. 3D mixing is a whole new frontier in the audio world, but hopefully, these pointers will help you get the ball rolling.





1. Gain Automation Can Make A Huge Difference

Gain automation is a simple yet effective way to process your mixes by automating the volume or gain level on a track. You could automate the vocal to become a decibel louder during the chorus or create an even larger contrast by automating the entire master track. Just make sure you make subtle but noticeable changes – Too much gain automation can lead to an unbalanced or clipped mix.





2. Mix The Way You Listen

One of the best parts about 3D mixing is that it gives you more creative opportunities in your session. While you approach a spatial session, try to think about the ways you intuitively enjoy music. Does your head bob while grooving to the snare? Does that Reese Bass hit hard lower in your chest? Whatever it may be, it’s worth trying to subtly recreate these physical experiences or use them as inspiration for your 3D mixes.





3. Add Movement To Details

Details, details. Are you hoping your listeners will pick up on that epic delay throw you spent way too much time on at the end of chorus 2? One of the best ways to help your ear candy shine is to move it quickly throughout the spatial mixing space. Just listen to this delay “spin” in Montero:




4. Create Contrast Between Movement and Static Placement

A great mix is a dynamic one. With the added mixing elements in spatial sessions, make sure you create deliberate contrast by switching between static and mobile placement within the 3D space. As you can see, in the prechorus and chorus of Montero, the lead synth swirls around the listener before revealing the static yet powerful drum and guitar parts in the chorus.




5. Perform Your Automation Instead of Programming It

In spatial mixes, it’s all the more important to have a “live” sounding experience. Therefore, it’s a good idea to record in your automation rather than manually program it. We can see in the Montero mix that the automatic was recorded in real-time due to all of the data points. Whether you’re mixing in 2D or 3D, this tip will make your workflow a lot more intuitive and potentially make for a more interesting mix.





6. Automate Position For A Cool Transition

Not sure how to transition from one part of the song to the next? Why not automate the position of a single track before returning it to its original placement in the next section? This effect can be subtle, but it’s incredibly effective for adding a little more spice to your creations.





7. Use 3D Tools For 3D Mixes

If you’re mixing in 3D, using 3D automation tools will make your life a lot easier. Luckily, Controlla makes it easy for you to manipulate the space in a spatial session. We hate to toot our own horn, but this is a must-have for 3D mixes. Also, it’s free.





8. Don’t Underestimate Static Placement

While you have the option to mix just about anything in a 3D space, remember that you don’t necessarily need to highlight 3D movement on every audio track. As seen in Montero, most parts of the mix stay in a specific region of 3D mixing suite for a good portion of the track. 3D movement can be great for creating contrast, but don’t overdo it.





9. Practice Makes Perfect

As with any other music production skill, practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to a buddy technology like spatial audio mixing. Be sure to experiment with different techniques, even if they aren’t from the playbook – you might just stumble across a new and improved way to enjoy your beats.




Don’t forget that spatial mixes are meant to be produced in conjunction with a typical audio mix. Have fun with 3D mixing and don’t forget to save your sessions!



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