One of the most elusive instruments to mix is the acoustic piano. Thanks to such a wide range of dynamics, tonal range, and overtones; there are virtually an unlimited number of sonic textures and moods you can produce from a piano recording.
It’s important to start with a good-quality recording before you start mixing. For tips on getting a good piano recording, check out this article.
When thinking about mixing piano, it’s easiest to think in terms of EQ, compression and reverb. If you’re going to have a stereo mix of piano, then you can add panning to that list as well.
It’s often best to start with EQ in your signal chain, so unwanted frequencies don’t get passed down to subsequent processing steps.
When equalizing piano, a lot of what you do will be determined by the other elements in your mix. It also risks muddying up your mix by interacting with several other instruments because the piano has such a wide range of tonality.
If you have a lot of bass and/or kick drum in your mix, it’s generally a good practice to put a high-pass on the piano around 200 Hz. To keep it in the back of your mix, behind vocals and guitars, you may want to dip the piano around 6dB at the 2000 Hz to 3000 Hz range.
If the piano is going to be a solo instrument in the track, then it’s best to only EQ minimally to your taste. However, ideally you would want to procure the tone by taking the time to place the mics properly during the recording process.
Like EQ, the application of compression when mixing will have a great deal to do with the context. What genre is your music? What other instruments are in the track? Traditionally, a more classical or jazz piece of music will try to preserve more of the dynamic range of the piano recording, while pop and country tend to use more compression.
If you’re wanting to preserve much of the dynamic range of your piano track, it’s best to try a smoother compression. Try setting the threshold to around -7dB, the ratio at 3:1, the attack at 10ms and the release at around 1,000ms. If you want to make it more aggressive, drop the threshold down and make the ratio 2:1.
In our next post, we’ll cover tips for reverb and panning.