Audio Panning Techniques

AUDIO PANNING TECHNIQUES

 

GENERAL AUDIO PANNING.

Panning is a very important topic. It increases the mix quality of a song or beat, and helps to determinate how wide the mix is gonna sound like for the listener . To make sure we are on the same page, i want to explain in a few word what Audio Panning is. Panning is the spread of a sound in a multi-channel sound system. Thanks to Audio Panning Techniques we can add space within a mix by manipulating the sound in the centre, left or right.

Usually the area with the most problems is the centre because it is the busiest part in a mix. To avoid any problem when mixing, the first advice i can give you is to keep instruments that give rhythm for example Kicks, Snares and even vocals, in the centre, so that the song has a strong foundation. Any other instruments like hi hats, guitars, pianos etc. it’s better to pan them either to the right or left.

The most common mistake producer do, is to pan too many instrument to the left and right. Yes, doing it can increase the stereo sound and everything will sound wider, but in my opinion and for my experience, panning too many instrument on the same side can be the result of a muddy mix. They can soon interfere between each other, giving a sens of confusion to the listener. An other advice for you, is to keep your mix as clean as possible and create a good balance between each sound. If you pan something on the left, make sure you pan something else on the right.

There is not such an Audio Panning rule to follow. Only by understanding the concept of  balance between sounds within a mix you can definitely improve your skills that lead to a better mix. If it sounds good, go for it. Following i am gonna explain you some Audio Panning Techniques that i personally use.

 

AUDIO PANNING TECHNIQUES AND GUIDELINES.

 

 

When panning sounds within a mix, all your attention has to go to the listener. Create an audio picture in your mind of an entire band on stage, and work out how you want it to sound like. If the guitarist in your imagination is on the left, the guitar in your song will be more in the left part of the song, and so on. Generally in a song the main audible points are the left, right and centre. All the other points between left and centre, right and centre  are less perceptible by the listener. Following these guide lines can help you a lot. Every instrument is different and has its own audio panning technique:

 

MAIN GUIDELINE TO FOLLOW

 

1. Panning balance

If in your mix there are a few instrument that uses the same frequencies range, giving the right balance to the mix is very important. Pan instruments of the same frequencies range to the opposite side. For example if you have a piano slightly panned to the left, try complementing it with a guitar panned slightly to the right. Complementing instruments on each side (left and right) will avoid the listener to perceive sounds coming from the same position making it easy for the listener.

2. Spread the Rhythm

Other then respecting the rule of the same frequencies balance, an other thing to be really aware of, is the rhythm of the song. When panning instruments that contain the same frequencies and a rhythm pattern like Hi Hats and Acoustic Guitars, panning them on the same side is completely wrong. You should spread the rhythm on both side (right and left) so that one side will not contain too many instruments playing the rhythm part in a song. If you do so, the mix will sound quite distracting, focusing the listener only on one side.

3. Headphone test

Before finishing a song, once the mix is done, have a listen to it in the headphones . Studio Monitors are fine, but the headphones can make you notice exactly what’s happening in the left and right channel. For this reason it’s easy to find out how your mix really sounds and if it needs to be correct.

 

4. Work smart

When working on a mix, panning everything doesn’t mean “good quality mix”. Sometime even picking out the most few powerful instruments in a song and just focus on their panning, can be the solution to a good mix. Everything else can just be slightly off centre and it will just sound fine. In some cases it works, in some other it doesn’t.

 

AUDIO PANNING TECHNIQUES : The Drums

 

SNARE

The snare is a very important instrument as it keeps the tempo. Different type of panning set up, can give two different feel to the listener.

Snare pan on centre:

When the snare is panned in the centre it will sound punchier and it will definitely sound noticeable to the listener.

Snare pan off centre:

Panning the snare slightly off centre, can focus the listener more on to the vocal or the kick drum.


Kick

The kick and all the other heavy bass instrument, need to be on the centre or slightly off it. Keeping the right balance of the track is important. Panning the kick to the right or left, will only unbalance the mix giving an unusual sound feel that the listener will dislike.


Hi Hats

Hi Hats contains high frequencies. For that reason, their position within a mix is much more flexible. Hi Hats can be panned to both the right and left, depending on what you want the listener to feel.


Toms

Toms are a bit tricky because if they are set in the wrong way, they can overpower the mix making it very distracting for the listener. Generally they need to be panned individually, one to the right and one to the left.


Overhead Microphones

Lastly, the overhead microphones. They are capturing the whole drum kit plus cymbals. The overhead michrophones can be panned widely to both right and left. Keep in mind that if the volume is too high, it can distract the listener making him focus on a part of the song that you really don’t want to.

 

AUDIO PANNING TECHNIQUES: Guitars

 

Bass Guitar

Bass Guitar is an heavy bass instrument. Like the kick has to be panned near the centre to give body to the song. Setting it slight off  the centre can be done, it all depends from your audio picture and how you want the listener to feel.


Rhythm Guitar

The rhythm guitar is different from the bass guitar. If you have recorded a rhythm guitar, double the track so that you have two of the same. Pan one track slightly on the right and the other slightly to the left.  This technique will give a more wider and fuller sound to the song, changing the feel of the listener.


Acoustic Guitar

Same concept for the acoustic guitar. Double the track and pan one on the extreme right an the other to the extreme left. This audio panning technique gives even more body to the song making it feel wide and solid.

 

 

AUDIO PANNING TECHNIQUES: Piano

The piano has two type of set up depending on the type of recording you have. If you have a stereo piano recording the best option you have is to pan the two tracks on the far left and right. Instead if you have a mono piano recording, panning it slightly off centre is the best you can do. Don’t forget go with your ears, if it sounds good, leave it as it is.

 

AUDIO PANNING TECHNIQUES: Vocals

Finally the vocals. Generally all the vocals should be on the centre because they are the main part of the song and the listener should be focused on it. You can also double the vocals and making two tracks, one of them stays in the centre and the other can go slightly off towards the right or the left to give a more wide feel. But be careful, because panning the vocals in the wrong way can lead to focus the listener too much on them and hide the actual instruments.

 

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