Using silence – mixing with the gaps
Using silence is one of those tricks that require a certain kind of “maturity”. It’s pretty much like when musicians finally realize that playing a million notes doesn’t automatically equal coolness. It’s about the same in audio engineering as well. Many beginners (and a lot of “forever n00bs”) will try to crowd the mix with everything always turned up. But that kind of mistake is sort of expected, at least at the first couple of times. There are more subtleties to it though, when it comes to mixing. If you want to be a pro, you have to learn the technique of using silence.
What does that mean? Well, have you ever heard a dense mix, where every little space between the notes was filled with another note? That’s what we want to avoid. While it might sound big at first, the novelty of it wears out quickly. All you end up with is a tiring mess with no dynamics, and no drama.
Drama?! Yep. When you want a sonic explosion (so to say), you need to be able to put the whole thing in context. With using silence correctly, you can put a momentary gap just before the big, loud part happens. It means, you need to mute the whole song for a moment. This way you can create anticipation, tension & release, drama – whatever way you prefer to call it. Even if you leave a quieter, glue element playing, the abrupt volume drop will highlight the loud, full sound that follows.
So when to use this trick? Interestingly, you don’t need to execute this device too many times during a song for it to stay with the listener. On the other hand, overuse of it is very unlikely. If you use it a lot throughout a tune, it will just sound like a healthy amount of dynamics. That’s not a bad thing either, especially when you want to keep up the listener’s interest. It will also sound more hi-fi when it’s not slamming the limiter/converter constantly in the mastering phase. Which is against today’s standards in mainstream pop music, and it’s a shame.
If you can place your silent gap right in the golden ratio point on the timeline of your tune, you’re, well… golden. You can actually be pretty fine with that one gap. Silence is your friend.