The Basics of Panning in a Mix
Now, many of you have asked me, either by email or leaving messages below to describe just basic panning in mixes, and I’ve been judging a mixing competition, and we’ve had hundred and hundreds of entries, and it has taken me ages to get through them all, because I listen to every single one, and I make comments and respond to every single one.
It’s a massive undertaking, but one of the things that I’m hearing a lot of is maybe not as much width in the mixes. Now, there could be a combination of the master buss being smashed, but most of the time, I just think it’s more a case of not using panning to a massive extent that you can to create more width.
So to answer your questions on panning, I’m going to show you one of my sessions, and just break it down and show you how I pan things around. Just to create more width and create dynamic feeling between verses and choruses.
So let’s get to it!
So this is a song by the band, Little Empire that I produced and co-wrote with, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to show you a breakdown of the song. So our basic drums are here. This is the live drums that we recorded in a little room in there.
So what I’ll do, I’ll go to solo drum kit.
Cool. So the basic panning is pretty straight forward. I always do this. Unless I’m doing something really fancy, and I want drums to be sort of panning around a little bit and creating — or two drum kits, or a percussion on one side, a kit on the other.
Unless I’m doing that, which is pretty rare, this is what I do 99% of the time. So kick. I have my kick drum coming down the middle. Always down the middle.
I know it sounds obvious to most of you out there, but I’ve had mixes where they’ve been panned around. Same with the snare top, snare bottom. Straight down the middle.
Now going to my toms, the way that I pan the toms is I do it from audience perspective. I’m not a drummer. Well, that’s not entirely true. I play drums, but I wouldn’t consider myself a drummer, and so even though I do play drums, I spend 90% of my life watching a band.
I’m not in the band, and when I listen to music, I imagine the band is on a stage. For me at least, I always pan the toms where they appear when I’m looking at the kit. Which usually means the rack tom is at 20%, and the floor at about 60% or 70%, and that’s rack to the right on audience perspective, and a floor on 60% or 70% on the left on audience perspective.
Now, the most important thing here is for me, when it comes to panning drums, is the overheads. The overheads are extremely important. For me, they must be an accurate representation of the drum kit. So if you watch any of my drum recording videos, you’ll know that I always measure my overheads in phase with the snare. That gives me a pretty accurate representation of the kit, and so if we were to solo the overheads here…
Obviously it’s cymbal heavy, because they’re overheads, but you’ll notice the way that the drums — the toms in particular, move around. So…
If you want to really correctly place your toms, use your overheads and pan so they match it.
Now obviously, that would be the same with just the hi-hat. The hi-hat I usually have at about 60% or 70%. Here it’s at about 70% off to the right hand side in the audience perspective.
So let’s put in the hat and the toms and the overheads together.
[overheads, hat, and toms]
Obviously, you can hear some additional reverb from the toms there. But again, to me, it’s important to get really well recorded overheads, because where if you look at my room in there, it’s a very small drum kit, and it’s — I’ve got eight mics on it, including snare top, snare bottom, and overheads, toms, kick, and a hi-hat mic. So it’s really, really minimal setup.
So if I want good phase correlation, I use my overheads.
So kick down the middle. Snare down the middle. Hi-hat at about 60% or 70% audience perspective right. Rack tom about 20% audience perspective right. Floor tom, audience perspective left, about 60% or 70%, and that will give me a relatively accurate view of the kit, and if you’re not quite sure what it is, what I would suggest you do is take maybe the toms and loop it in your overheads, and move the panning around so it sounds in phase.
[overheads and toms]
Cool. So that’s the drum kit.
Now, obviously, when you’re recording additional room mics, which I haven’t here, because I’ve got a small setup, I do the same kind of thing. I like to go hard left and hard right in my panning, then measure out a phase of your snare.
Okay, so with all my samples, obviously if I’m using kick and snare samples, which I am, those also are panned down the middle. Now, you’ll also notice that I’m using Addictive sounds, and some of them have ambience built into them. So it’s panned left and right. So it’ll be a central faced kick sound, but the ambience will be slightly different on the left and right to create a stereo effect.
But again, kick drums, snare drums, down the middle.
Here’s the drums together.
There’s the drum kit. Cool.
So the next up for me would be bass guitar, and again, unless you’re doing sort of like, a fun kind of Beach Boys, or Beatles ’60s style song where maybe you have the drum kit on one side, I know on things like Nowhere Man for instance, all the instruments are on one side, and all of the vocals are on the other side.
And it’s a cool trick, but it’s not going to fly on pop radio anymore. But if you’re doing a really cool album track and you want to have some fun with it, or you’re remixing it, or you’re doing a ’60s style thing, then obviously all of these things go out of the window, and you do whatever you’d like to have some fun with it. You pan things around.
But for me, bass guitar, 99% of the time is straight down the middle. So here’s your bass down the middle.
So just down the middle. So we’ve got kick down the middle, bass down the middle, snare down the middle. Next would be, of course, slap down the middle, lead vocal — again, if you’re doing something fun and you want to have the vocal panning around, you’re doing a ’60s thing or whatever, that’s cool, but 99% of situations…
[vocals with effects]
So that’s the vocal slap down the middle.
Great. So those are my always central, down the center instruments. Now we get to have a little bit more fun. Now, with the guitars, in this song in particular, if we go to the top, you can hear that I’ve got a delay guitar.
[guitar with delay]
So I played a lead line, and I have it at about 40% one side, and about 40% opposite. It’s doubled, and they have delays on them. A delay here, which is our…
[guitar with delay]
Old friend, SoundToys. EchoBoy. And a little bit of reverb.
And again, those are hard panned left and right. So what I have is I have a guitar here at 40%, another guitar at about 40%, then I have the delays panned outside of it, just to kind of give it some width. So instead of everything full like this, I’ve kind of got a little bit like this, guitars around the outside.
This is what I’m doing on the intro and the verse.
The guitars are playing for the verse like this, then in comes a pre-chorus guitar.
Cool. So what the guitar is doing there, it now goes to about 50/50, and — so basically what we’ve got is verse guitars here at about 40/40, and the pre-chorus guitars come in a little bit wider, then of course down here, we have a pad. String pad, which I added.
Alright, and so what that’s doing is it’s sort of creating a tighter sound, gets a little wider, then of course, we hit the chorus. Now, the chorus is where it all really changes. That’s where I like — just to add to the dynamic feel of everything kind of getting fatter and bigger in a chorus, that’s where I start panning stuff around.
Now, it’s quite straight forward, but I’ve got multiple guitar parts that I’ve done here, and they’re all panned opposite left and right with doubles.
So here’s the first pair.
It’s like a little funk part.
So that’s one hard left, it’s double hard right. The other hard left, it’s doubled hard right. Then what I actually do is I have multiple effects, like I’ll have a reverb panned opposite, so if there’s a guitar on the left hand channel, the reverb of it is on the far right. If the guitar is in the right hand channel, the reverb of it is in the far left.
So what you’re seeing here is I’ve got guitars in the verse. Pre-chorus. Then boom, full left and right for the chorus.
Now, what that does is honestly, it allows me to put a little bit more in the left and right channels, and doesn’t affect the vocals and the kick and the snare quite so much in the middle. It gives me more room to build, and then all of my synths and stuff, which are all done in Logic, are all panned hard left and hard right as well.
Now, obviously, some of these sounds have a center.
I’m using stereo sounds. Left and right.
Cool, so you get the effect. Let’s try a little bit of the verse. Go to the pre-chorus, then to the chorus.
Cool, so now, there’s nothing — I’m not doing any clever, clever stuff in here, but obviously for multiple effects stuff, if you want, you can do crazy panning of guitar parts. In the second verse, it’s the same as the first here with some keys added, but what I could do is I could maybe — if I had only a mono guitar, I could maybe have it go left, right, left, right.
I wouldn’t go full left and right in the verses, but maybe a 40/40 could give us some fun. Panning is a very interesting way to kind of create excitement. Quite often with cymbals, I’ll have a cymbal coming from the left. A reverse cymbal going to the right hand speaker for a chorus, like a, [imitates reverse cymbal]
Again, that just kind of throws you off for a little and helps the dynamics. So I do a similar thing, I think about, with the harmonies, say in the verses? So here is a harmony in the pre-chorus, but it’s in mono.
We go to the chorus, we have a double, which is down the center as well. I kept the double down the center. But then a harmony comes in that’s full left and full right.
Cool. So then we have the full left, full right harmonies coming in.
Now, with the H3000, the vocal thickening trick, those are all panned left and right. If you go back to my vocal thickening video, you’ll see it.
So basically what it is is a plus three on one side, and a minus three on the other, then I reverse them at six and nine. So it’s not always going down on one side and up on another, and that creates a natural chorusing effect, which honestly, I find better sounding than just using a chorus.
That helps push my vocal forward. It’s very quiet, but again, it’s panned super left, hard right. It gives me width around the vocal.
That also includes a distorted tape echo.
That’s slap bang down the middle.
There’s just the vocal thickening on its own.
Cool, so they’re quite straight forward things. Now, as far as the effects, etcetera are concerned, if I wanted super, super narrow, I might do a mono reverb and a mono delay only in the verses, or I might have a delay moving around it just to create a little width, but essentially I keep my delays and my reverbs pretty wide and stereo, and I have a tendency just to ride them.
You can see, here’s the verses here. Here’s the volume, and here’s the volume in the choruses. Those are all stereo effects that I’m using. So they’re proper stereo ones. Now, you can use split mono effects, where you just send to one channel only, so even though it’s a stereo looking delay or reverb, if I only send to the right hand channel, it only works on the right hand channel, if I only send to the left, it only works on the left.
So it really depends, but that’s — that’s my preferred way of doing it. I keep my effects in stereo and if I wanted to create a mono reverb or a mono delay, I would just create a reverb just for that, and use it just in the verses.
So thanks ever so much for watching. As ever, please subscribe, go to producelikeapro.com and sign up for the email list and you’ll get a bunch of free stuff. You can also try the 14 day free trial of The Academy where we have fun just talking about music. There’s further sessions to download, and we do mix critiques in it, so that’s quite a lot of fun as well.
Now obviously, there’s loads of different things you can do with panning. You can take different instruments and move them around so it’s a lot of fun to listen to on headphones.
Quite often, most of the top mixers that I work with, they get from A to B pretty quickly, so they’ll get a really, really good sounding track, and they’ll spend a lot of time doing finessing things like panning, delay effects, reverse stuff, all of that used subtly to make a mix very good to extremely good. It can just take over the edge.
So have some fun with this stuff. Really get into like, trying some panning effects, and you know, let me know what you think, and of course, as ever, if you’ve done fun things in panning and reversing and all of that kind of fun stuff, tell us about it, let’s have a great discussion about it. Thank you ever so much for watching, and have a marvelous time recording and mixing!