Here’s a tip on how to EQ pad sounds to sit better within your mixes. Pad sounds are typically sustained chords progressions or notes that sit subtly under the other elements of your mix giving a warm bed to the sound and a greater depth to the overall production.
Pads are often played using softer patches. The idea isn’t to grab the listener’s attention so much as to support the more interesting musical elements that sit above the background pad.
The tip we’ll look at here is specifically useful for Pads which are drones which stay on one pitch or chord throughout the song. Because these sounds stay on continuous musical notes for the entire duration of the song this presents its own unique problems when it comes time to mix.
This is a technique I’ve seen used by Dave Pensado, Calvin Harris and many other mixers and producers over the years.
How to Mix Pad Sounds or Drones at Constant Pitch
One of the biggest lessons I learned early on when studying mixing is the difference between listening to a sound isolated and hearing it in context within your mix. This applies to pad sounds.
Modern VSTs have loads of gorgeous lush sounding presets. When you hear these soloed they can seem larger than life and full of character across the entire frequency range. Try this now by selecting a preset pad sound in your own DAW and listen to the different parts of the sound from the Sub to the extreme highs. Here is a typical pad in Serum.
A patch like the one above is designed to cover as many bases as possible. Because of this it will be rich in sound from the sub all the way to the highs. This doesn’t mean however that we need to use all these frequencies in our own mix.
We can often get a better result with Pads by getting rid of a lot of sonic information we don’t need. Because the pads often end up mixed low anyway, we can get away with more extreme processing and EQ on them.
Choosing Notes for a Drone Pad
I’ll look at how to choose the notes in a pad in another post in more depth. For now though, if the pad will be a constant drone throughout the song with one or two notes held sustained, notes like the Root or Fifth of the key are the most obvious choices. Sometimes the minor 3rd of a minor key works well too but this all depends on the chord changes you are working with. In this example I went with simple Root notes of the key doubled in an octave.
Step 1 – Add an EQ and check the frequency content of your Pad
Once you’ve recorded your pad part, the first step I recommend is to add a graphic EQ with a spectrum analyser to the pad sound. This will also help you visualise the sonic content of the sound.
Here I used the Fabfilter Pro Q2 (fig 1 below)
Step 2 – Remove Unwanted Lows
Now that we have an EQ to work with, I recommend removing lows from the Pad sound with a high pass filter. I’ve noticed a lot of people calling out the overuse of High Passing online. I certainly agree that it’s not right to just use the technique blindly as a rule of thumb on every sound, but for a pad sitting super low as a subtle texture it works great (fig 2 below)
I ended up taking out a lot of the Sub below 200 Hz in this example. Sweep around in your own song and find which works best. The benefits of cutting out all these lows are that the bass and kick and the lows of other instruments like snares and vocals have that little extra room in the mix.
Step 3 – Remove Unwanted Highs
As a mirror to what we did with the lows, I also recommend trying to remove more highs than you might think seems intuitive. If you create space above 3k and 4k the mix has so much less clutter in the highs and your drums and cymbals can breathe without having to boost their high end unnecessarily. (fig 3)
Here I cut the frequencies above 3k steeply with a low pass filter. If you prefer not to lose all the high content of your sound you could instead try a shelf filter and remove a certain amount (but not all) above 3-4k using this instead. This would look like (fig 3b below):
Here is used the high shelf taking out about 4 dB above 3k. Ultimately for the song I was working on once I heard the pad within the mix, it was clear for me that I preferred the more extreme version removing all the highs.
Step 4 – Take Out Any Noticeable Resonant Peaks
The final step I recommend mainly for Pads that drone throughout on one chord or pitch is to remove resonances. We aren’t going to totally remove them, as some of these will be fundamental pitches or harmonics of the notes that we are playing. We just want to lower them so that the sound feels a bit more balanced. This is important with the pad sound playing throughout the entirety of the tune. You can look at how I did this in the example below (fig 4)
This is fairly easy to do with a graphic EQ with a visualiser like Fabfilter. I used bell curves with fairly high bandwidth (Q) and aimed to lower each peak by an amount so that the whole pad felt a little more balanced across the frequency spectrum.
This was a quick look at how to EQ pad sounds a little better in your mixes. A quick summary:
- Decide what notes to play in your Drone pad
- Add an EQ with a visualizer and check the frequency content
- Cut lows and highs you don’t think are essential
- Remove resonant peaks
Here’s a quick video breakdown of the above technique I used on one of my bassröbot tracks:
Have fun trying the technique and let me know how you get on or any questions you have in the comments below. For more on working with synths check out this post.