Abi Asks: Jack Miele - Safari Pedals

Abi Asks: Jack Miele

Howdy Safari Blog People!

Many many moons ago, when I was a young and spry audio school student, I produced a fun lil Indie Rock track and played it for one of my teachers. The biggest piece of feedback I got was: “It could use some width”. Since then, stereo width and widening has been something I’ve been very aware of. I’ve been putting an emphasis on bettering the way I go about imaging/widening elements in the mix, or the track as a whole. I haven’t YET mega slayed the stereo widening game, and have a lot to learn, but as the wise philosopher Shawn Mendes once said: “All we can do is hold on”.

So to learn more about slaying the stereo imaging/widening game, I chatted with Engineer Jack Miele (American Horror Story, YUNGBLUD, Jamie Foxx- to name a few)

I asked him: How do you approach stereo imaging to create a wide mix? Do you have go-to methods that help you achieve stereo width?

He said: “When approaching the stereo image of a mix, I consider several factors before implementation, starting with the style of the track. What type of music is it? Is a super wide mix appropriate? These fundamental questions guide my decisions. For a retro-sounding song, a super wide mix may not be appropriate, so I might only widen certain elements instead of the many things within the mix. Conversely, a modern track might benefit from a wider approach, focusing on specific aspects to create a spectral effect.

I tend to widen guitars, backing vocals, strings, and vocal doubles strategically throughout the song. For example, during a chorus, I might activate a widener to make the vocal doubles broaden, enhancing the lift and openness of the moment. The same applies to chorus guitars.

There are various techniques to achieve this, each with its unique sound:

  1. Chorus Plugins: Tools like the UA recreation of the Roland Dimension D are excellent for widening strings and guitars. Alternatively, a stereo pitch plugin can be used to slightly detune each side by a few cents up or down, creating a widening effect.
  1. The Haas Effect: This psychoacoustic phenomenon uses a very short delay to make the sound seem directional rather than delayed. Applying a stereo delay, setting one side to zero delay and the other to around 17-30ms with 100% wet mix can achieve this effect. Plugins like Soundtoys MicroShift, which also incorporates chorus, are based on this principle.
  1. Phase Wideners: Manipulating the phase relationships between the left and right channels can also create width. Shifting one side by 180 degrees can be jarring, but smaller increments can subtly enhance the stereo image. Plugins like Waves S1, Plugin Alliance "The Oven", BX_Digital V3 EQ, and FabFilter EQ in mid/side mode are useful here. However, excessive phase shifting can degrade the mono compatibility of your mix, so frequent checks in mono are essential, especially when tracking drums, which I initially monitor in mono to ensure robust sounds.

In my mixes, I typically keep kick, snare, bass, lead vocal, and lead guitar centered, with the widest elements being percussion, auxiliary or distorted guitars, backing vocals, and strings.

Achieving width is simpler than depth, which involves managing elements like fader levels, high-frequency diminishments for farther away instruments, reverb settings, and compression judiciously to maintain dynamics and depth. Avoid overcompressing unless it serves as a desired effect.

Ultimately, the most critical aspects of my mixes are balance, excitement, clarity, movement, and dimension. Always trust your ears and use them as your primary guide amidst the endless galaxy of available plugins.”

There were three major takeaways for me from Jacks answer:

1) Before grabbing my favorite widening plugin and doing what I think will sound great, stopping and thinking “is this even relevant for the style of music I am working on??”, like what Jack mentioned regarding the more retro sounding track- the extra width may not be appropriate or necessary. I have the tendency to sometimes fall into the hole of technicalities, so this was a great takeaway and reminder for me personally!

2) To get more creative and thoughtful with the ways/the plugins I use to widen sounds or the mix as a whole. I haven’t yet tried the HAAS effect for example, or the Roland Dimension D. This has inspired me to set out on a stereo width quest and try new tools that will perhaps become some of my go to’s for achieving the sound I want!

3) TRUSTING YOUR EARS! It may seem like an obvious thing, but I find myself (and my debit card) often floating in the endless galaxy of available plugins, and sometimes do forget that our ears are the best and most important tool we have!! This def got my priorities in check!

Thanks so much Jack for your insightful answer!
Catch y’all next week!
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