Panning techniques can be used to create space, and a much more immersive musical experience.
In much of today’s music, the central rhythm and solo voice are the main focus of the mix. Because of this, the bass drum, snare and singing voice are centrally located – usually called ‘C’ or ‘0’ in most DAW software.
Usually, the rest of the elements in the mix is what the engineer, technician or producer uses to create a stereo image of the track. Our ears tend to focus on the elements of the mix that are in the center or panned at the left or right ends, while the rest becomes more diffuse.
￼The idea is to create an image in audio to obtain movement and excitement, making elements appear in the stereo field to maintain attention of the listener. In many cases you can close your eyes to visualize the musicians playing their instruments as if they were positioned on the stage.
We provide some guidelines, along with certain tricks and practical advice.-
- 1) Duplicates Guitars: When you record doubled guitars (recording the same part twice on separate tracks), if you separate one track completely to the left and the other fully to the right, you will get a much fuller sound without needing to saturate the whole arrangement.
- 2) Complementary Panning: If you have two instruments in your mix that occupy a similar range of frequencies, try to pan each one opposite the other. It does not have to be to extremes. For example, a guitar slightly panned to the left could complement a keyboard that is slightly to the right. This creates a better balance in your mix, and the listener does not perceive all the instruments as coming from the same position, which can fatigue and make the listening boring and confusing.
- 3) Snare in the center or outside it: Pan your snare completely in the center makes your sound with much punch. While sending it slightly to one side, it can make the listener focus more on other elements, such as the lead vocals or bass drum.
- 4) Closed strophe, wide chorus: Try a more closed stereo image throughout the mix during the strophes of your songs, but apply a more open image when panning the elements of the choruses beyond the center. Keeping certain elements in that way – or simply at specific moment – will create interest in your tracks.
- 5) Listen to it in mono: Try listening your mix in monophonic mode to make sure you are not missing out on the process. You may have spent a lot of time working on the panning of all the tracks, just to realize after your mix sounded much more shocking at first!
- 6) Keep in mind clubs: If you are mixing any type of electronic music that is susceptible to be played in a club, keep in mind that many of these systems sound works in mono. The provision of identical audio signals panned left and right may cause phase cancellations during monophonic playbacks, particularly in the bass area. Create a good and wide stereo mix, but go alternating mono to make sure you will not lose anything when playing your music on monophonic systems.
- 7) Check with headphones: Listen to your mix with headphones to make sure it does not sound incoherent or unbalanced. Your studio monitors may be excellent, but since your headphones will not have crosstalk problems (right speaker information interfering with your left ear, and vice versa), your experience will sound different. Remember, perhaps most of your audience will eventually hear your music through headphones!
- 8) Do not overload: Try that items that pan on the left or right do not overload too much, rhythmically speaking. For example, mixing two rhythm instruments that occupy a similar range at high frequencies – such as an acoustic guitar and a hi-hat – you can locate each on opposite sides. If these two instruments normally play a similar rhythm (1/8 or 1/16 measures), holding them in opposite panoramas will create a similar rhythmic feel on both speakers. Panning too many rhythmic elements in a single channel can distract too much.
- 9) Give it a vintage air: That said, some old recordings – or modern mixes made with nostalgia and classical methods – tend to pan the battery almost to the right of the whole set, while the bass is in opposition, to the left. Doing this may compel listeners to listen with more effort and attention, but could result in interesting textures for your music.
- 10) Less is more: Many times, the broadest mixes do not come from panning everything, but from doing so only in certain interesting elements, while maintaining a balanced center and with footprint. This type of mix usually sounds correctly in mono, too.
Try to give space and amplitude to a single element of your mix, such as double guitars, a piano track or aerial drums, and leave the rest around the center, taking care of the levels and applying an EQ with judgment and moderation.
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