Kim Lajoie's blog

Think before you pan

by Kim Lajoie on May 12, 2014

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

-Kim.

4 thoughts on “Think before you pan

  1. Matthias says:

    Yeah that’s a good point about masking. I think Panning definitely helps create finer pockets for each sound, used correctly.. Being able to make a song groove in mono is an important skill though, Its a good idea to listen to all the great records made before stereo and make sure you can do THAT, before indulging in the luxury of stereo panning.. I think of the stereo field as 4 dimensional but I guess if you’re just talking about left/right panning.. Yeah great post, I would say feel before panning, listen, does it really need it? Or are you just pushing things round for the sake of it. I’ve heard people suggest that you should mix in mono first and only pan at the end, but I think there’s definite pitfalls to this technique as well.. but yeah definitely don’t use it as a substitute for eq. Nice one..

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    Thanks Matthias, those are all good thoughts. I think you and I are in agreement. 🙂

    -Kim.

  3. Mixerman mills says:

    Recently I have been doing most of my processing in “mono”. Definitely is better to find problem areas among competing sounds, also better when balancing sounds, then from there I switch to stereo and “boom”. Levels are almost perfect…the eq I did to unmask sounds are more on point. This is because of I can get a good separation between two sounds in mono then imagine how separate they will be once I switch to stereo

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