How to add gentle ambiance to your mixes

I got a few questions about how I produced Paul’s track “I think I am in Love” with a gentle ambiance.

I will spill the beans here. I call it the "Hilltop Campfire Effect"
What it does is that it adds sort of a wide natural environment without adding the feeling of it being overproduced. It is extremely easy to ruin a good song with excessive effects like delay and reverb. Goal is to sound close and personal without squashing the feeling out by adding a giant concert hall behind it.

It can be done with free plugins (or once free now cheap). Here is how I did it for Paul’s song

Step 1: Setup two sidechained reverb FX channels , Pan one left and pan the other Right (but not 100% left and right) . Just make sure they are 100% wet and have a very tiny amount of predelay (< 20 ms).

Step 2: : You need an imaging plugin. Use the imaging plugin on the Same reverb Fx channel to tightly control the spread of the reverb directionally in an envelop

You can do the above 2 effects on the entire track but the vocals need a wee bit more love without making the whole track muddy. Step 3 comes in here.

Step 3: add another FX channel with slight mono delay on the main vocal 100-150ms, keep the delay panned dead center
See image below


Answered my own question, thanks for the tip!

That really sounds great!
Coincidentally, I am working on a track that will be used for a video I will also produce, about the great cycling tracks we have here… so will be an outdoorsy-type film and music. Problem is I will have no vocals on this track - do you think this “hilltop effect” can be applied to such a track anyway?
Paul’s voice is excellent in this track - you’ve really found a joint “sweet spot”…


It can be applied on any track, just a matter of how much. If the track has no vocals but still has dominant guide tones or a melody, then the effect has to be tweaked to make sure that melody or guide tones dont get muddled. In that case just dont have a delay but you can still have sweet reverbs panned aggressively left and right to create a gentle width.

Another thing to note is cross panning. A dry signal panned left could benefit from a complimentary wet signal panned opposite to the dry signal. Example a dry violin that is panned 30 degrees to the left can have a complimentary reverb wet signal appearing " behind the right ear" of the listener ( panned 60 degrees right with a 30 degree narrow spread away from the center) for a psycho acoustic effect. This creates even more width , but without thinning out the sound.