I’ve been thinking a bit about panning and stereo field lately. I’ve previously dismissed panning as an effective mix tool, yet I myself use panning for many mixes.
It’s really a question of how we use the stereo field. Panning is one common tool, but it’s by far not the only. I’ve written before about using tools such as chorus, phasers, delay and micro shifting to control the stereo field. And of course reverb too.
On reflection, I think there are three reasons to mix wider than mono:
- Diffusion. This is about making the sound source less distinct. By using the stereo field to spread a sound away from pure mono, we break down the illusion that the sound is emanating from a single definable location. The reasons to do this are obvious – to make the sound appear bigger or to push it further in the background. Chorus, delay and micro shifting are common tools to do this. I also include double tracking and panning in this – common techniques for rhythm guitars and backing vocals.
- Creative. This is about using location as a creative tool to surprise or delight the listener. Listen to Vertigo by U2, or anything from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for example. Being only 1-dimensional, the stereo field is quite limited in its opportunities, but it’s available nonetheless. Obviously you should be aware of the environments in which your mix is likely to be played. Some environments are less forgiving of creative panning than others.
- Problem solving. This is where people get into trouble by using panning to solve problems such as masking. And this is what I’ve written about in the past. The short version is: I honk this is a bad idea. Every mix problem solvable by panning is better solved by other tools or techniques.
Do you agree? How do you use panning?