We all love to play around with panning when mixing, but when it comes to when and where to use it, there are some generally accepted ideas that will help you make best use of it. Here are our top 8 Panning tips for you.
Don’t start off creating your track with things panned by default. It’s worth panning everything to the centre to begin with to get an idea of the overall balance of the track and acheive a decent general mix. While you are doing this you can make a list or mental note of the track’s elements so you can think about what might be moved around in the soundstage.
Don’t start off your track assuming that everything needs to be panned. Go through the mix gradually assigning further and further pan positions to tracks. Just think about the elements that need to be emphasised and try panning them. If it doesn’t sound right, bring them back to the centre.
As a general rule, keep your low-frequency elements panned closer to centre. The more prominent the low-frequency in your sound, the more central you should generally pan it. This tightens up you mix and creates a solid “core” to work from. So…kick drums, basses, and anything below 120Hz should be kept centred.
If your bass source is coming from a stereo instrument (as is the case with many VST basses these days), it’s a good idea to bounce the audio and send that out a mono channel – or you could send the audio bass channel to a mono bus.
As a general rule, lead vocals should be positioned in the centre.
Try not to pan instruments sharing the same frequency range to the same positions if you want to give them space. If you aren’t sure, just solo your instruments in question and look at a frequency analyzer. Are they very close? Then pan them differently from each other. Unlike more bass-heavy sounds, high frequency sounds like strings respond particularly well to wide panning.
Many hardware and software instruments have stereo outputs, so it’s tempting to pan sources like keyboards, strings and synths hard left and right. This often sounds good in isolation, but ironically, when you hard pan a stereo sound source this way it often ends up sounding almost centred. If you do this with more than a couple instruments, you end up with a stacked, cluttered, and muddied centre.
Trust your ears.
Many thanks to Hollin Jones for these guidelines in his article in Music Tech’s Mixing issue.[Loopmasters]