Dumbass noob trying to mix piano/strings/pads - make you experts laugh hysterically!!

Dear Anyone.

Pretty basic piece, 2 instances of a piano (left and right hands kept separate) sparkly pad panned left, soundfont choir panned right masquerading as the top end of the sparkly pad. Idea is, piano sits nicely in middle of pad-and-choir masquerading as One Beautiful Backing New Agey Sound. Was sorta working but didn't like piano sound. Too dull-thuddy. So I tried putting a touch of reverb on the piano top hand, then bit of compression after the reverb, loved it. But it was too loud for the sparklypad backing, you couldn't hear the backing. So I turned it down with automation, it got quieter (surprised, huh!?!) but it lost its niceness. So I put the automation stick back to original length and turned it down via channel track knob. And it seemed to keep the nice-reverb-and-compression sound, yet still get quieter.

Tried the same on the bottom hand. It worked - but the combined effect of both piano hands on the sparkly pad was to drown out the sparkly pad. Turned down the piano left hand via the channel slider even more and it got too SMALL somehow, a glittery diamond lost in a mass of sparkly cotton-wool! Turned it back up and the sparkly pad vanished again. Turned down the compression which comes AFTER the reverb on both hands - everything's insert effects so compression/reverb separately on each slider, NOT sends - and the reverb took over and drowned the piano bottom hand in the sparkly cotton-wool. EQd the sparkly pad, that worked, but killed the sound of the pad! Took EQ off pad, compressed pad slightly, that worked but brought pad too far forwards. Put reverb on compressed pad (which already was reverby) to push it back again and that KINDA worked but altered the sound of the sparkly pad in a way I didn't like. I don't think anyone else would notice because they wouldn't know what the pad was SUPPOSED to sound like but to One who Does - not good! Lowered compressioin but the amount was tiny anyway - it kinda jumped from Too Much to Not Enough in one mousetap. And the piano absorbed the backing sound like a sponge again So here's the wall.

Once you start putting reverb'n'compression on things, it seems to become a totally vicious circle. You're putting reverb'n'compression on things to keep them sounding clear from other things with reverb'n'compression on. Which makes things that are supposed to be background - like the pad - sound TOO clear but if you take the r'n'c back off again it disappears into a mist with a few bumblebees in it, assuming you can hear it at all. That's Wall One.

Wall Two is something I bet I SHOULD know but don't - never underestimate the depths of my ignorance! Piano Top Hand for example, this holds true on anything I've tried this trick on. So I have it the right loudness, put reverb'n'compression (in that order) on, it sounds clear - but too loud. If I turn it down with automation it gets quieter but loses the niceness. If I leave automation original height and turn it down with channel slider it gets quieter but KEEPS the niceness. So am I right in thinking that doing it that way keeps the same POWER going into the r'n'c plugins, so they've got the same level of sound to work on going in, but just turns down the output? That's a guess - that's Wall 2 - I dunno if that's what's happening or not. Last short para.

Forget drum'n'bass in the mix for this one. (It's got drum and bass but I can make them sound fine with the pad'n'choir, the problems only start with the piano. ) If you had a piano (top and bottom hand), a sparkly pad panned left, a choir panned right that's masquerading as the top end of sparkly pad (their top end's got a white noise hiss on it I hated so I EQ'd that off and used a soundfont choir to fake being the pad's top end) how would you keep it audible behind piano? If I don't put reverb'n'compression on piano that works - but piano's thud, thud, thud. If I DO put r'n'c on piano, ,piano sounds LOT better but doing that on both hands (2 piano instances) makes pad vanish - not sure why! Could use EQ but have to overuse it so much it kills all the sounds. Am going around the above non-solutions in circles cos I don't know what I'm doing.

HELP!?!?!?!?! (Hoping you won't say 'try a different pad', I don't have many others cos nobody says where to get them from, love the IDEA of this one and think I'd hit the same probs. with any other one TBH!)

Hoping I'll get from the answers a couple (or more!) go-to techniques I can use cos I LURVE writing main-sound-and-strings/pads style New Agey pieces but I often hit the above problems. Sometimes by a miracle something works, never sure what or why, just run with it when it happens. Much, much more often, nothing works and I abandon the piece in the end (but have 'em all in MIDI form to go back to when I have the answers)

Yours hopefully

I've never put compression after reverb... guess I will need to experiment. Or not. Your issue when turning down the piano parts could be Fletcher-Munson curve issue - lower volume changes how your ear hears it. But also - how are you monitoring?
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Some eq might help with separation and if two instruments are in the same pitch range it might be adding some sonic clashes
or lack of separation and clarity.
Reverb can be useful in separation when considering the ‘height’ of the instrument in the sonic space.
so depending on the reverb setting and type you can move the instrument placing in the sonic space
That said it can be a vicious circle as you say.
Consider that most listeners will only be focusing on 3 instruments at any one time maybe and you can drop some out for periods or accent when best suited to the musical passage.
A wash of sound can be very wearing on the ear
I hope you sort it out. Don’t give up.
My head hurts from reading the first few paragraphs...guess I am not cut out for being a recording engineer....way to detailed for this lazy ass musician..

If it sounds good , it's good...or so someone says anyways
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