The piano is a wonderful and important instrument to use especially for the R&B and Neo Soul genre. however due to the large range of frequencies it occupies, it can often be difficult to get it to sit just right in the mix with other instruments. This is the same whether you sample a live piano or use a good piano VST.
Before we get into the mixing, it is very important to understand the role of the piano in your track. Is it chords, melodies? Are there any other instruments playing at the same time? This makes a difference as too how it needs to be mixed.
For an acoustic type track, the piano needs to be bright and stand out for example a POP type of track. A darker pr softer type of piano sound would go well with a jazzy song. Once you have determined this, you are halfway there.
Piano Eq Settings
Using a bandpass filter it is always a good idea to sweep across the frequency spectrum to look for the problem frequencies. Once you identify this, you can either cut of boost the frequencies in order to get the perfect sound.
See below for some general recommended piano Eq settings
50Hz-100Hz – Adds the low end
100Hz – 250Hz – Adds more roundness
250Hz – 1KHz – The muddiness area
1KHz – 6kHz – Add presence to the mix
6KHz – 8kHz – To increase clarity
8KHz – 12kHz – For that extra hiss
If you feel the piano sounds too muddy then cut the frequencies around 300 Hz. If the sound is too thin then try boosting around 100Hz – 250 Hz. You could also add some brightness around 15kHz – 20kHz to give it some air.
Compressing Piano sounds
When choosing a compressor it is important that it leaves the piano sounding as natural as possible so it doesn’t mess up the timbre.
Chords will typically need a compressor setting with a fast attack and medium to long release, whereas a solo may need a fast to medium release. The compression should be just enough to take out the high peaks only while preserving the natural tone and timbre of the piano sound.