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Author Topic: Panning for clarity in your recordings  (Read 1761 times)

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Offline Glenn

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Panning for clarity in your recordings
« on: July 13, 2015, 02:05:19 PM »
Just thought I'd share a few notes and thoughts about panning and how we might approach this aspect of production in our audio recordings.

I'd be interested in how you, and how others approach this aspect of mixing too.  8)
In fact, here's an example of a tune that has used panning as a way of creating impact and maintaining separation of instruments in a mix, that spawned this posting.
It's a cool instrumental that Way2lon posted and can be heard here.

When dealing with only a few elements in a mix, it's pretty easy to maintain clarity and focus, but when having to juggle say, 16 or more tracks, then things can start to get 'lost' in a mix, and the use of panning can really help to maintain the clarity and separation we strive for.

For me, I usually choose two instruments (might be two guitars, or horns and keys, or left and right toms on the drums, etc) to pan hard left and right (100%), while the main instruments that I want to keep the 'focus' on are often dead centre, as in a lead guitar or keyboard line, Vocal (main), bass, and kick are usually panned center in many of my mixes. This way, if by chance a mix gets played in mono, or if someone is hearing mainly one speaker, the listener will still get the main content of the song no matter which side they are hearing most.
    This leaves 'supportive' instruments to be panned either hard L&R or maybe a 70:30  30:70 set up and then for another set of instruments an 80:20 20:80 pan setting (hihat and ride or crashes maybe) ... and perhaps a 90:10 and 10:90 set up for yet another pair of elements, like percussive or other supportive elements.  I'll even use different reverbs panned for special effects too. Some things only get panned a bit off centre, (55:45) so they don't step on top of another element, and yet needs prominence on the stereo field sound stage.

Of course, it doesn't have to be 80:20 or 70:30 exactly, those are just ballpark figures for the sake of this discussion, each production will dictate how things might be approached depending on the instruments and what you are going for in the mix.  8)

I like to experiment and have fun with this aspect of mixing, and try vastly different approaches and A/B the mixes to see which has more clarity and impact.  It takes time, but the results from the effort are usually worth it.   :)

IMO, it's all about 'where you want the listeners attention' at any given point in the piece.  8)

For me, I find this approach helps give everything it's own 'space' to live in, just like EQ, most instruments need an EQ curve that is unique to itself and focuses on it's 'fundamental' frequency, allowing each instrument to shine in it's own space... like stair steps, each element in the mix can sit on it's own stair for the sake of clarity in a mix, I feel panning is a major help in this regard. 

In this way, you can build your own special character and quality into your mixes, creating soundscapes and mixes that stand out in their own way.  When mixing someone else's material, this mixing approach can really add something to a production that the original recording didn't have!   ;D

Also, thoughts on 'what makes for a bad panning approach?" what are the 'do's and don'ts' of panning... I have my own ideas of what works and what doesn't (I've made the mistakes too... lol)

Your thoughts and experience would be appreciated ...  8)

here's an example of a 'creative' approach to panning, on this old classic song...
"Drums on one side"

If you know of a tune that has a creative panning approach ...or want to share one you've mixed, post it here so we can share more on this topic.

 :)

« Last Edit: July 13, 2015, 02:12:44 PM by Glenn »
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Offline way2lon

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Re: Panning for clarity in your recordings
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2015, 02:45:34 PM »
One aspect of Mixcraft7 is that you can drop down from a track and either pan or play with the levels at will. In my mixes with electronica loops I sometimes like to use the 'pan' technique  at a point in the track and have the sound go around the speakers or headphones whichever you listen with.
When it's a straight 'pop' number with a vocal and has the backing of a 4 or 5 piece band, then I'll place the sound of each instrument as if you are viewing live on a stage I tend to put instruments as in a Beatles line up with lead guit on the left and rhythm guit on the right. Bass and drums will alwaysbe in the middle but I sometimes, if I haveseparates, pan the drums ever so slightly like a right handed drummer would set up his kit....high hat on right, cymbalson left with large floor tom. Snare, small tom and kick willalwaysbe centre.   Lead vox in the middle but with a little width and I will pan harmony vocals to one or both sides depending on how many perceived vocalists.
I can go back to mono days and pseudo stereo when the studio split the mono recording so that vocals would emit from one speaker and backing from the other aaaarrrrrgh!
However I love to experiment and I take every opportunity to try different things most of which I have never posted anywhere but, who knows, I may just post something unconventional one of these days. One does not always have to stick to convention or music would never develop. Interesting subject Glenn.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2015, 02:50:14 PM by way2lon »
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Offline way2lon

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Re: Panning for clarity in your recordings
« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2015, 02:48:03 PM »
Sorry, don't know what happened there to the prose but I'm too lazy to write it all again unless someone wants to read what I wrote.
REAL STUPIDITY BEATS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE EVERY TIME

Offline Glenn

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Re: Panning for clarity in your recordings
« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2015, 03:11:09 PM »
Sorry, don't know what happened there to the prose but I'm too lazy to write it all again unless someone wants to read what I wrote.
always interested in what you and others have to say!  :)

Old Eastern saying "Man who run in front of car, - get tired .... man who run behind car, get exhausted"
I like to ride IN cars, it's less tiring and less exhausting :)

Offline neilmac

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Re: Panning for clarity in your recordings
« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2015, 03:51:28 PM »
I tend to stick to the "stage" concept for full band type recordings...
Drums, vox, and  lead centre: rhythm guitars left and right :)
If I have a piano in there too I might go left hand left of centre, right hand right of centre :)
(If you're paying attention you'll realise I record each hand separately ;)
Yes it's cheating but whatever :P)
Since my drum tracks aren't separate they pretty well have to stay centred, although I might do some experimentation now :)


If the track is more intimate - say an acoustic guitar and vox, I might go slightly left and right with a doubled guitar, vox centre: or if there's two guitars, maybe a 40:60 60:40 split...whatever sounds best to me...

Offline Glenn

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Re: Panning for clarity in your recordings
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2015, 03:56:01 PM »
One aspect of Mixcraft7 is that you can drop down from a track and either pan or play with the levels at will. In my mixes with electronica loops I sometimes like to use the 'pan' technique  at a point in the track and have the sound go around the speakers or headphones whichever you listen with.
When it's a straight 'pop' number with a vocal and has the backing of a 4 or 5 piece band, then I'll place the sound of each instrument as if you are viewing live on a stage I tend to put instruments as in a Beatles line up with lead guit on the left and rhythm guit on the right. Bass and drums will alwaysbe in the middle but I sometimes, if I haveseparates, pan the drums ever so slightly like a right handed drummer would set up his kit....high hat on right, cymbalson left with large floor tom. Snare, small tom and kick willalwaysbe centre.   Lead vox in the middle but with a little width and I will pan harmony vocals to one or both sides depending on how many perceived vocalists.
I can go back to mono days and pseudo stereo when the studio split the mono recording so that vocals would emit from one speaker and backing from the other aaaarrrrrgh!
However I love to experiment and I take every opportunity to try different things most of which I have never posted anywhere but, who knows, I may just post something unconventional one of these days. One does not always have to stick to convention or music would never develop. Interesting subject Glenn.


good feedback and a good read on how you approach your panning.
I agree that  modeling a stereo sound stage as it might be set up on an actual 'live' stage is a great way to reproduce a 'live' act, or emulate a live act on stage, recording and mixing it in the studio.   I recorded and mixed 'live' stage acts for a number of years that were done exactly this way... placing the elements in the same physical relationship that you see them on stage, with the exception of panning the drums a little wider than seen on stage.

I disliked the old mono recordings that were quasi-stereo remixed... not sure what the thinking was back then to place a vocal on just one side and the instruments on the other  :o  - obviously there was a reason for it - when I'd hear one of these mixes it would make me perk up and say, ''wha ....??" lol .. at least it got my attention.

agreed, I'm sure there'll be new ways to mix and to use panning as time goes on, but there's only so much one can do with the use of panning, including having it sweep left and right for special effect, which is cool on certain sounds in the right genre. 
I find that the traditional way of placing some of the main elements dead centre simply works the best for the song.  A kick and bass act in unison, to add impact and creates a strong foundation spacially and the frequency of these elements helps to create a strong coherent image, and the frequency doesn't interfere with the vocal that can also be placed dead centre for coherence in the mix.

I think once the foundation of the mix is set up with the main elements, then the secondary and peripheral elements can be 'placed' where best suited when you consider the frequency of the element, and what impact you wish to give each element in the mix. 

Also, I've noticed that when an element is panned hard L or R, it's frequency can sometimes suffer, compared to when the same element is panned slightly toward centre.  There's an area between 95:5 and 70:30 that is very sensitive and where one places the element can have an effect on the overall sound of the mix and how well balanced it seems - overall.

I've noticed, that in so much of todays music, especially club music, hip hop mixes etc... that most of them are produced in a mono approach.. panning only slightly some of the elements in the mix.   Apparently it's because the mono approach allows the listener (dance floor listener) to hear the entire mix from any position in the room, even if it's right beside one speaker, you still hear the overall sound of the recording.    It's totally a trade off, in this case, and it works for the purpose I guess.  8)

Personally, I like a wide soundstage, - I enjoy hearing different things in the stereo field, the interplay of instruments, and a creative use of panning for balance and for effect - especially for the spacial (sp) effect one can achieve with various elements in a mix.

This was probably around the time when true 'quad' sound came into being, and I certainly wasn't the first to do this, but I came across the set up quite by accident, when I opted to purchase two twin amps and an extra matched pair of Sound Dynamics speakers.

I used to run the four separate channels from my four track Teac 2340 Reel to Reel, out to the two twin "Techniques" stereo Amplifiers - and ran FOUR speakers from those two amps, so that each channel had it's own speaker, which were placed (hung from nets) in each corner of the room.   8) With my four channel reel to reel feeding the Teac mixer, which was discrete 6 IN - "Four Out" - I could set it up so that my mixes would sound like a true 'Quadrophonic" recording in my listening room.  I could pan any instrument to any of the four speakers at will, and have the kick and bass and main vocal on ALL four channels, with some instruments having the ability to pan around from speaker to speaker in a circle etc ... pretty interesting mixes back then, and no way of relating that in a 'stereo' set up. So I couldn't actually record that particular mix to another media, like cassette or stereo Mastering Tape.  So, it was limited to just my room.  ahhhh, those were the days!   8)   

I can only imagine how limiting it must have been to mix in mono, especially things like a 64 piece Symphony.. or large band that had lots of instruments... it must have been an arduous task to find 'balance' in a mono world, and make it work without the use of panning.

puts a whole new spin on 'panning for gold'  lol  :P
 :)
« Last Edit: July 13, 2015, 04:29:32 PM by Glenn »
Old Eastern saying "Man who run in front of car, - get tired .... man who run behind car, get exhausted"
I like to ride IN cars, it's less tiring and less exhausting :)

Offline way2lon

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Re: Panning for clarity in your recordings
« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2015, 03:18:15 AM »
What a never ending view topic this could be. I think we are basically talking history of recording and playback techniques. I especially like your idea Glenn of hanging speakers in nets. Never heard of that and you've given me a great way to reposition my studio speakers. I had thought of mounting them in the ceiling using the loft and cutting holes. I gave up on that through my laziness  :-[ . Now I can think again. Simple solutions eh?
I have an old Dansette record player and a few 78rpmshellac discs which I sometimes play for nostalgia (that's a thing of the past). The scratchy sound and warmth of PCL84 valve into a 5 inch elliptical speaker brings back so manymemories but my grandaughter heard The Platters playing one day and could not stop talking about the sound she heard She has gone out and bought a record deck and amplifier with speakers but she keeps asking me to adjust it so it plays like my mono player ;D . Some of these old amplifiers had a stereo/mono switch though I have to wonder why when you consider how stereo is achieved on vinyl. This is why quad sound never took off like it was hoped. You could not use disc, only tape.
When you consider digital and orchestras now Glenn, you could actually set up a stage full of speakers (one for each instrument) and playback that way. Don't know if anyone has ever done that but it's possible.
My fear now is my ageing ears. I am losing high frequency response. I can hear up to 12Khz but start to fade quickly after that. That will mean that some of my mixes will suffer. maybe I should do like they do commercially for my loop compos and shove it all in the middle  :'(
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Offline Glenn

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Re: Panning for clarity in your recordings
« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2015, 02:59:47 PM »
What a never ending view topic this could be. I think we are basically talking history of recording and playback techniques. I especially like your idea Glenn of hanging speakers in nets. Never heard of that and you've given me a great way to reposition my studio speakers. I had thought of mounting them in the ceiling using the loft and cutting holes. I gave up on that through my laziness  :-[ . Now I can think again. Simple solutions eh?
I have an old Dansette record player and a few 78rpmshellac discs which I sometimes play for nostalgia (that's a thing of the past). The scratchy sound and warmth of PCL84 valve into a 5 inch elliptical speaker brings back so manymemories but my grandaughter heard The Platters playing one day and could not stop talking about the sound she heard She has gone out and bought a record deck and amplifier with speakers but she keeps asking me to adjust it so it plays like my mono player ;D . Some of these old amplifiers had a stereo/mono switch though I have to wonder why when you consider how stereo is achieved on vinyl. This is why quad sound never took off like it was hoped. You could not use disc, only tape.
When you consider digital and orchestras now Glenn, you could actually set up a stage full of speakers (one for each instrument) and playback that way. Don't know if anyone has ever done that but it's possible.
My fear now is my ageing ears. I am losing high frequency response. I can hear up to 12Khz but start to fade quickly after that. That will mean that some of my mixes will suffer. maybe I should do like they do commercially for my loop compos and shove it all in the middle  :'(

interesting!

yeah, I'm a real stickler when it comes to positioning speakers in a room, and then positioning my listening chair, so that I can hear the mix and stereo field in the most balanced way. The speakers hung from fish nets worked very well for me .... screw a hook in the ceiling in the exact spot so the speaker can hang freely without touching walls etc, and in this way, it's suspended in mid air and there will be NO vibration transfer to walls or ceiling or floor - so they're isolated.   Also, I positioned the speaker in the net so it was facing the opposing corner but pointing to the floor corner, so all 4 speakers were angled slightly downward and toward centre, and placing my listening chair in the center of the room - got amazing results. 
This works for a stereo set up too!  and if you want to increase the angle you can easily do it simply by twisting the hook in the ceiling a bit to swing the speaker one way or the other.

playing nostalgic recordings, can really bring back memories eh?  8)
I started recording records to tape way back when, and some of the records were pretty ummm... used ... so there were endless scratches and clicks and pops, all part of the 'nostalgia' as you say.  However, being somewhat of an audiophile, I experimented on reducing those scratches and ticks etc from the recording, and of course there was only EQ as a tool, to do this with, and that didn't work at all. However, having heard that an FM Radio DJ was doing this, I opted for spraying distilled water on the record after cleaning the stylus needle, and I'd play the record 'wet' which dropped about 80% of the scratchy sounds, and pretty much silenced any clicks and pops!!!  How cool was that. The distilled water would simply evaporate from the record grooves, leaving no sediment or trace that it was there!

yeah, as we get ol .... rrr  .... as we mature gracefully, lol, we should get our hearing acuity checked more often, so that we know what affect our lack of acuity has on our mixes....  and how we perceive other's mixes etc too.
As we lose top end, we'll tend to mix MORE top end into our recordings so we can hear the highs ...
so if you ask for the graphic read out of your hearing test, you can see that perhaps there is a 6dB reduction of acuity at 12KHz, so your tendency would be to 'add' about 6dB to the 12KHz region when you mix, thinking it's a balanced frequency range... but the young bucks listening will find the mix way too brittle, too crisp, too edgy, too zingy on the ears.   :-X

back to the panning topic .... lol  (us ol' dudes like to 'ramble' eh!  lol  :P

it would be interesting to have a mix challenge where we have to mix, say, the first half of some tracks in mono, just for fun, to see how clearly the elements can be heard in the final, and also to mix the last half of the tracks in stereo, with good panning etc. to hear the difference of how the mixes can vary, compared to the 'mono' versions.

Here's an interesting read that I just found, hoping it'll add some real meat and potatoes to this topic for those who want to delve into the world of panning and making the most of the stereo panorama.
Some excellent points in here that weren't mentioned above.

From Sound on Sound:
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar09/articles/stereotechnique.htm

happy mixing!
CHears
:)

P.S. > if you know of, or hear a song that has interesting panning - why not post it here for us to share a listen!    There's an interesting mix of the Turtles "Happy Together" in the post at the top of the topic. I'll post it here for your convenience:   http://www.gmhcafe.ca/gforums/index.php?topic=1355.msg7865#msg7865
« Last Edit: July 14, 2015, 03:22:32 PM by Glenn »
Old Eastern saying "Man who run in front of car, - get tired .... man who run behind car, get exhausted"
I like to ride IN cars, it's less tiring and less exhausting :)