Most pads are full frequency range instruments, from low to high. When listening to the solo’d pad, this fullness will sound great. But in the context of the mix, you will often encounter clashes with instruments that share similar frequencies, particularly in the low end. The simple solution is to use a high-pass filter to limit the reach of pads. As you pull up the cutoff, listen carefully. Ideally, you want to stop short of thinning the pad, but still allow important low end elements to come through with clarity.
Use this same kind of thinking when it comes to the reverbs and delays you add to pads or your implementation of any reverbs or delays built into the synth itself. Most effects plug-ins come with a filtering option, so be sure to cut to around 100 Hz to avoid buildups. Since reverb and delay effects often create additional frequency competition, the high pass frequency can be set a bit higher on the reverb and delay signal than on the original, dry pad.
Mid-range instruments, like synths and guitars, and those in a higher register, like vocals and cymbals, can also clash with your pads.
Imagine the bottom of a snare isn’t hitting hard enough because the pad is getting in the way. A static EQ cut might work, but this move affects your pad regardless of whether the snare is in the mix, which isn’t always ideal. Instead, set a dynamic node corresponding to the body of the snare (300–500 Hz) on the pad track with sidechain enabled. This way, whenever the snare is played, those problematic frequencies on the pad will drop in level, creating room at just the right time. Be sure to set an appropriate release time for this EQ node—too long a release time can result in a “pumping” effect that may interrupt the ambient effect of your pad.
Take advantage of filters: In many tunes, the intro will start with muted pads that slowly become brighter and build toward a high energy point, then drop out or get filtered dark, allowing the kick and bass and vocals to take the reigns. All this to say: your song doesn’t need to be at full energy all the time, and pads are a great instrument to help cool things off and prepare listeners for something exciting to come.
Since pads can take up a lot of stereo space, folding them down to mono and panning them to one side can help to improve clarity in a busy mix. If your pad is overshadowing the vocal or keyboards, give this a shot