Hey OP - can you post an example of anything you are making (or, an example of a song that does this really well that you like) ?
Some ideas for pads:
- Are you layering stuff? A lot of great pad sounds are 2 or 3 or more pads layered (with one pad providing the low-mid warmth, another providing maybe the mid-range melodic component, and another providing the top-end shimmer).
- What synths are you using/ are you only using synths? Stretched-out melodic sounds, especially reversed, drenched in reverb can make amazing, organic pads that no one has ever heard before. Synths like Omnisphere or Alchemy have lots of samples already for doing this, but you can just do it manually using warping in Ableton / Flex Time in Logic / etc.
- You said you are EQing out the mid frequencies - which ones? I usually use pads to add extra warmth, movement, and depth into the mid frequencies.
- EQ the left and the right channel differently! I like to boost and cut a few frequencies differently on left and right channels to increase width. Even better, slowly automate a different peak on each left/right channels.
- Delay, chorus, reverb are all good for this, but can maybe sound bland if they are just used as static effects. Do you automate your reverb sends or chorus amounts?
-- My favourite: I like to automate the reverb send up while automating a lo-pass filter down on the original pad. This will make it sound like it is moving farther away, giving a great sense of front-to-back depth. The reverse works well, too. Or with a hi-pass filter.
-- Try a chorus with a very low rate but high intensity, automate the mix from 20% to 80% every 1/2/4 beats, then quickly back down. This will make it sound like it is "pumping" from centred to wide with each pulse of the beat. I like to combine this with regular side-chaining to a kick etc.
-- Old trick: automate the delay send, and then send that delay to itself. Be careful because this might get loud, but if we do it carefully, we can make a pad (or any sound) turn into a completely different, ultra organic ambient soundscape of throbbing echoes. If you want width, use a stereo delay (or maybe a flanger/phaser on the delay channel).
- Panning rather than widening... less is often more in production. If you make everything detuned and wide, your song doesn't sound wide - it sounds like stereo mud. Panning some sounds left and some sounds right - and especially automating the pan - is often way better than just making something wide.
- Autopan plugins are great, but I like to automate the rate or width to keep them from sounding static.
- Sometimes mono reverbs work really well for localizing a sound in the mix. I like to make sounds panned left, send it to a mono reverb channel, panned right. On its own, this isn't as impressive as a big wide wet delay. But in the mix, it is sometimes so much more spacious. We can do the same with delay - then maybe try automating the pan of that delay from right to left again.
- Same philosophy, polyphony: too much polyphony can also make things unfocused, especially when working with bass/pads/atmospheres/multiple melodies. Sometimes I like to think like in jazz, where the bass can play the root note and the pads can play the 3rd/7th/9th etc. Leaves a lot of harmonic space for melodic instruments.
- My other favourite: you need a microphone to do this, but even a cheap microphone is fine because we are trying to make weird sounds anyways right? Solo the pad you want, put the microphone somewhere in the room, maybe pointed at a wall away from the speakers, or even in the hallway, whatever... record 8 or 16 bars. Move the microphone around to a totally different spot, do it again. Then, pan one recording left and the other right. We should have a very wide sounding pad, with lots of room echoes and reflections making it organic and interesting.
I have a million more ideas if this is helpful at all. Just remember - there is such a thing as too wide. 1 ultra-wide sound and 4 sounds swirling in automated panning will sound bigger and more spacious than 5 ultra-wide sounds.