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When do you pan?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by ClarkJaman, Jun 7, 2014.

  1. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    When you're mixing, when do you guys start panning? In other words, at what point in the mixing process do you turn your focus onto creating a good spatial landscape?

    When I'm mixing, I usually start by getting all of the tracks to sound good on their own, and then get them to sound good with each other. But up until this point I am mostly using EQ, Compression, Reverb, etc. One of the last things I do is hit the panners hard, and focus on creating the left-centre-right panorama. I think I've adopted this method because panning things wide to the sides early on can make the collective mix sound really good really quickly, but make it harder to hear what is going on with each instrument.

    I remember hearing a pro mixer say that he likes doing wide mixes because panning things hard makes mixing easier. That might be true, but I would rather leave almost everything in the centre until I'm getting near the end of a mix, and then spend the last few hours panning things hard to the side and enjoy the pleasure of feeling/hearing a mix open up and become panoramic.

    That's just my method. Do any of you guys hit the panners hard early on?

    Pax Caritas et lol,
  2. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    I usually visualize the entire sound stage while tracking/overdubbing and almost always set my panning WAY before any serious mixing. The placement in the panorama affects how we perceive each instrument/voice and thus affects what needs to be done to each to make the mix gel. How can you properly EQ, compress etc. when you don't yet know what company a track will be keeping?
    Things panned to opposite sides will not fight with each other the way they might if both on the same side or center. If you try to set the EQ so they fight less when panned center, and then later pan to opposite sides, won't you have likely applied some unnecessary EQ?
    To me, attempting to apply EQ, compression, reverb etc. to everything while panned center would be crazy-making, but that's based on what works for me, not saying your way is wrong! If you get good results, keep it up!
  3. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member


    ewwwww ... why would you do that? how a track sounds on its own has absolutely nothing to do with how it sounds in a mix.

    i start by putting the drums up with panning in place ....... add the bass then guitars / keys / pads etc. again with panning in place. i always check phase by flipping the phase switch as i add each track with the choice being made by which sounds fuller as it is added to the mix. last thing to go up would be vocals with panning again checking phase relationships .... i also listen in mono as i go to make sure nothing is cancelling out. (a hang over from mono days). then i start with effects and last compression (as little as possible) although i may add limiting or comps to the bass / drums / guitars as they are added.
  4. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    The only thing I do consistently is listen to the song. I don't have a "set routine" by which I mix... But assuming more traditional "modern music", (damn if that ain't a sign of age!) I start panning first thing... before I do ANY compression, EQ or much level adjustment, and certainly before I do verbs & timebase.

    I try to get the song to tell me what it wants to say by the 3rd or 4th pass... making notes on when certain things happen... Like solo's and harmonies. I establish fairly quickly, what's where and make notes of when.

    You know that certain things will be placed center, so you leave those be, and start getting everything else out of their way.

    Once I've got everybody sitting pretty happily, I'll start carving up.

    But I've done the process completely backwards and been happy with the mix. So, there ain't no rulez. Do what makes you happy. If it makes other people happy, then fine... That's what matters.

    Serve the song and you serve the client.
  5. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    You're right. But if a track sounds downright bad on its own, it will still sound downright bad in a mix. To clarify, when I say "make them sound good on their own," I really mean "make sure they don't sound bad on their own" and "make sure they sound the way I want them too on their own." If a shaker has a bunch of low end in it, most of the time I know that I'm not going to want those frequencies, so I'll cut it out before I even look at how it relates to the other tracks. Or if I know I want to bury a guitar track in a dotted eighth note delay, as an effect, then I'll add an effect like that before I worry about making the track sound good with the other parts. "Making the tracks sound good on their own" is a simple step for me that doesn't take much skill, although it effects the direction of a mix immensely. Does that make sense?

    Jeff, you make some good points. But here is my question: Does it make it harder to hear the flaws in a track if it is panned hard to the side? And if so, how do you "fix" the flaws if you can't hear them? Most of us would agree that soloing a track to "fix" it is generally not a good idea. Or maybe those flaws don't matter if you can't hear them.
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink .....

    that is not the way to do it. the way i described is ..... what a track sounds like alone has nothing to do with what it sounds like in context. add tracks one at a time and soloing them as they are added. take the advice of someone who has years in the vocation and a track record. ask anyone else who knows what they are doing and they will agree...
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I really have no set way of working. Much of the work I did early on were commercials, voiceovers, for big-time ad agency. Everything was produced in Mono. The commercials, the jingles. Getting a good mix in Mono can actually be more difficult than getting it, in stereo.

    But then again, I'm also a liar. I've done lots of television production. I match positioning with picture from the center wide shot. But then I also have my stereo pair which may also be supplemented with highlight microphones that are in turn, positioned where they are supposed to be emanating from. Of course there are those crazy when they switch from one camera to the other but we leave the audio consistent. Otherwise there would be virtually unlistenable with changes in perspective. Or what on some video switchers is referred to as " audio follow video ". Which simply means whatever camera is punched up? That's the microphone that will also be activated. Where the other microphones are muted. But when switching cameras than the microphones also switch simultaneously and that can get pretty awkward sounding if not downright bizarre.

    So I work one way for television another way in radio and a different method for recording albums. With radio and recordings, you can place anything anywhere. When doing it for television? Make it sound like the picture looks, from the center, wide shot. And keep it like that.

    The discussion of panning, was a discussion I and my other audio colleagues had with NBC-TV, engineering management, in 1984. Because in 1984, we were one of the first stations in the country, to debut stereo television. And the discussions we had about doing news were idiotic at best. Should we put Jim in the left channel and Doreen in the right channel? What do we do when we switch cameras? What are we going to do for the stereo on live shots in the field? My suggestion? Was essentially a three channel system. The camcorders were capable of four channels. My recommendation was the news anchor gets the wireless and is assigned to channel 1. While the on camera shotgun microphone, originally Mono, should be swapped out for MS stereo. This will be laid down on Channels 3 & 4. This way when the bus behind Pat Collins drives behind him from left to right, you'll hear the bus go as the picture goes. While Pat Collins will be panned to center Mono. But they didn't want to do that because they felt that would be too complicated for the camera guys and for the editors. Give me a break! But it is par for the course since they couldn't even figure out how to get there left and right tracked properly. Much less have to deal with a third channel. So three channels of audio was way too complicated for NBC-TV News. So I convinced them, we play the bumper music in stereo and we keep all of the talking heads, center Mono for highest intelligibility. I told him we'd shriek that like primary dialogue in the movies.

    When it comes to stereo production, like Kurt and others, I'd start with the basic rhythm section drums and bass. Beginning to Bring up the guitars, keyboards, ancillary percussion. Then start bringing up the vocals. And I too first see the mix and the stereo, in my head. Then I just twiddle my figures until I get what I want.

    I have no set way of how far left or right I may place something? I don't try to analytically think out what you have been describing. I push up all the faders and will just start mixing. The music will tell you what to do. But it's not like I'm making something deliberately moved from left to right or vice versa. But we've also all done that.

    Bottom line is you just make a good sounding stereo recording. If you want something wide sounding? You could do it more than just with the panoramic potentiometer. This is where you might hard pan, say, the guitar, hard left. But then, you send a little bit of that guitar (now only in the left channel of the stereo mix bus), through a 10/15/20 ms delay and put that into the right channel. Now what you get that way is considerably different. Signal source strength in the left channel will become additive with the right channel. This will give the track more than just a monaural positioning in space. This will give you the HAAS, effect. So while it is actually sounding like it's coming from the left channel, it's also equally of the same level, in the right channel. But you don't perceive it that way because of the time delay that had been added. But then this also provides for more robust energy and a thickening of the sound, one does not get merely by positioning a single source somewhere between the left and right channel.

    So some of those are just things that you do to create a feeling of spaciousness. And not just stuff coming out of this channel or bad channel or swooping back and forth. Which most of the time, sounds like real doggie Doo Doo.

    Wow... it's 4:20 AM and for a change... I'm getting sleepy? It must be old-age? Or maybe I've been panning too much to the left and right, left and right, left and right... whoops... I think I'm getting sea sick? No more panning.

    I was trying to sing myself a lullaby but I kept falling asleep?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    "...You're right. But if a track sounds downright bad on its own, it will still sound downright bad in a mix...."

    That's not nearly as true as I've found the opposite tends to be. I've worked with many tracks that, on their own, sound pretty bad tonally, but that work with - and in the context of - the other tracks very well.

    If you also happened to be the recording engineer on the song, then there shouldn't really be any "bad sounding" tracks to begin with. You should pretty much have your tones in place before you even hit "R".
    The mix should be fine tuning and sculpting. It shouldn't be a repair session.

    I don't really have "one way" of doing it, no standard method that I always reach for every time. Each individual song drives the process differently. But, if pressed to come up with a "common" method, I would say that I generally work with EQ first, HP'ing each track appropriately and according to instrument... then, imaging is next, which also handles much of the volume balancing at the same time as well. Pan is nothing more than turning something down on one side while turning it up on the other, so in itself it is a form of volume/balance control.

    If an instrument is jumping out at random points, I will work with volume envelopes first, before I reach for GR.

    Then - again in a very generalized description of order - I move onto gain reduction, where I will use it for two purposes: the first is to catch those transient peaks, and the second is to add "glue" and cohesiveness to the mix. But the type of GR will vary greatly from song to song. I may look towards peak reduction, but I may also look at something like a parallel compression - (the classic "New York" compression) - for things like drums and bass. But then again, maybe not. It really all depends on what the song needs.

    I work with effects last. I find it far easier, and also find I use far less of them, if the mix is in place on the whole, and for the most part, I use them as sweeteners to a mix, and not something I would rely on to form a foundation. There are rare cases, of course... PF's Us and Them could be an example.

    What I don't do is use presets for EQ or GR. I don't mix in a cookie-cutter fashion from song to song, they are all independent from one another. What worked on one mix doesn't mean it will fit for another, even if it's the same artist/musicians.

    Pre's and mics may differ, as will the rooms in which the performances were tracked, as well the performances themselves, even from the same performer. I've tracked a vocalist on one day, and then the very next day, they sound different. Same pre, same mic, same room... but the vocalist still sounds noticeably different. Generally it's because the songs also differ, so projection and dynamics will change which in turn effects the tones - but it could also be because of voice strain, or allergies, or even the weather... but there have been times when this was the case... so using preset templates would be futile.


  9. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    Clark, in my opinion it is easier to hear 'flaws' in a track if panned hard to one side. That being said, why are you working with 'flawed' tracks in the first place? My approach is based on one of my most important principles: 90% of a good mix takes place in the tracking process. I don't have to 'fix' my tracks because they were properly recorded in the first place, with good equipment in a great sounding room. I specialize in acoustic music, and often my tracks require no or little EQ because they were tracked accurately.
    As for soloing tracks to make them sound good (or 'not bad') on their own, this is not a good approach or even a good way to be thinking. I could point out dozens of instances where a track may sound not very good on its own, but in the mix it works just fine.
    How I EQ any instrument depends, in part, on what role it plays in the entire piece. For example, an acoustic guitar that comprises the primary accompaniment to a vocal will need to be full sounding, whereas an acoustic guitar used as only an additional rhythmic element in a more dense mix with other instruments comprising the primary accompaniment will usually end up with much of the lower frequency and possibly some mids being reduced. If you solo that guitar it will sound somewhat thin and tinny for a guitar, but it works in the mix just fine. If I were to first solo it and make it sound 'good' for a guitar, I will be adding mud to my mix by including frequencies which are unnecessary for its role in the mix and which are already occupied by other elements.
    I could give other examples, but you get the idea... you can't perfect on part without regard to how it fits in the whole.
  10. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Mono mixing forces me to address tonal interactions (other than bleed/phase) that aren't apparent when elements are panned apart.

    For things like drums I like to pan them early on and compare with the mono sound to find phase interactions from the bleed in addition to general tonal interactions.
  11. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Clark, you got very good advice here.
    I try to visualise the band in a space and pan everything as it would sound if I was listening to it in the room.
    It's better to put everything where it should be right away before processing because some tracks may end up with no processing at all because they sound good within the mix. If you already processed them, you may miss that. I mean, the end product will be the tracks together right ? who care if they sound good alone !! ;)

    Well, you know, it's simply that your choices will be different that way!
  12. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Well, I am definitely going to try panning earlier in the process in my next mix (Tuesday).

    In regards to soloing tracks, I definitely do it less than I used to. But I probably still do it too much. I'll try and cut back on that too. When I talk about fixing flaws, I'm partly talking the song I'm working on right now. It's a live looping session with tons of tracks. Some of the instruments use the same mic with the same pre-amp settings, so it gets messy at times. Plus, I'm singing through the whole thing while I play the instruments, so there is a lot of bleeding between the 7 live mics I had running. It's a pretty cool concept though.
  13. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    i get a rough balance of everything w/ faders and pan in the first pass or two, if i tracked it, then ive already rough panned as we are building the song. then i usually mute everything but the drums, start w/ them then bass, ect.

    one interesting concept my mentor came up w for the senior engineer who tends to spend way too much time was to start w/ the vocals, and any special effects, that pertain to the song. like if a vocal moves left to right, or maybe a word or two has a flange, ya know the creative ear candy.

    the reason for this is after 8 or 10 or 18 hrs (yes ive been on 18 hr mixes w this dude) of obsessively eqing, compressing, you not only lose your ears, you become exhausted, and lose your creativity, ya know your fire, the thrill, and just wanna get it done.

    oddly working 'backwards' worked very well for this 30 yr vet, and by the time he got to the drums they didn't touch them. just a thought.
  14. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Do you find that it's the veterans who take longest on mixes? In my experience, the guys with 20 or 30 years of experience whip through mixes and hardly touch them. Which seems to work well for them on country or rock songs. But a lot of the time their pop mixes sound boring and unexciting.
  15. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Hey Clark. Great info from all the group here.
    Post some stuff if you like?

    Here is another angle.

    Coming at mixing specifically from a "Mixer's" pov, meaning (I never had anything to do with the tracking), I may or may not do many things which can also be quite different from the recordists mixing his or her work.
    Most of you whom are not solely mixers, have less reasons or understanding why I may do a certain step or process. Everything I do is dependent on each song I get but the basics are usually the same. Hard LR center.

    When I mix other peoples work, the focus for me is usually space correction first.
    In the 38 years I have been playing around with music, space is where I get most excited.
    When I started mixing other people's work, their rooms are almost always in the way. We all tend to get used to our room and that is the reason why mixers can usually mix your work better than you.
    Mixers are basically Mastering engineers going backwards. We have an arsenal of specialized gear that is often mastering quality.

    I want to hear a scratch mix from the engineer/recordist/producer.
    As Max put is so well, I listen to the song a few times before I do anything. I am basically studying the sound of the room(s) which tells me everything I need to know.
    I load in all the tracks, verify what I heard and begin.

    I mix OTB into an analog mixing console that uses hardware to distort the center image followed by an analog mastering console that has mono or stereo tools ready on hand in an MS matrix.
    I designate channels both itb and otb which are set up for how I space everything. As I mix, I am always working the space within the hole mix.
    EQing is another process of spacing to me. So, I am dipping, boosting or carving to create space, widening/ shaping the "center mix" towards the sides or bringing things closer or further away . I do this via MS and panning. I am Hard LR or center in the beginning of this process. In a nut shell, I listen to the center and use MS to create a big center image that has clear connection to the sides of the whole mix. Mono may not sound stereo but it is all created using panning and MS processing.

    My analog mixing system is designed to be dead lock center so I take advantage of these settings at different stages. This is extremely helpful, critical, especially when I am depending and building on the center, which I do not want pulled away into the sides. I will use reverb to bridge this MS which creates a wall of sound that has clear LR and center imaging. (Its hard to explain. I've never tried to explain this actually).
    I put everything choice for mono or stereo in those stems or groups and send these OTB to my console(s) for further shaping.
    My LR panning (automation LR) is done ITB, however, I may tweak those OTB for various reasons. My analog console has very accurate mono settings that are calibrated via the Mastering DAW. I monitor everything on the master DAW.
    I use the capture DAW to mono sub freq on the overall mix.

    I study mixes in mono all the time and use cubes or full range monitors to keep me accurate.
    I use digital and analog hardware together in a MS matrix to widen or center all or parts of a mix. I mix and pan into the Matrix while always monitoring the end result on the Capture side right before the internet. Its all about LR and Center . Wonderful topic.
    that I'm sure was near impossible to understand lol.

    It all varies one song to the next. Using analog gear in an MS matrix is the bomb. :) Sheds a whole new light on panning.
    kmetal likes this.
  16. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    I wasn't going to post anything, because this was the first song I had mixed in almost a year and through the whole process I didn't feel confident at all. I used way too much compression/eq/reverb at first, and it took me a long time to step back and lay off the effects.

    View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Xsut3fLdpA&feature=youtu.be

    Don't go too hard on me! Hahah. All the instruments were recorded live off the floor in one take, but I overdubbed the vocals, as I'm sure you will all be able to tell.

    Let me know how the mix sounds. I think it's almost done. I'm going to do a stereo flip when I "master" it, because I want the floor tom, tambourine and the cymbal rolls to match the Left-Right of the video.
  17. audiokid

    audiokid Staff


    I would put a wider reverb on the synth. Other than that, kudo's. Reminds me of Owl City. The world needs more positive music. Your talent is bursting at the seams.
  18. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Thanks man, that means a lot. You're right. The world needs more art that points to truth, beauty and goodness. I hope my life and work can contribute a little.

    That's what I thought too as the mix was coming together! It's like a guitar driven Owl City song! The beat I made with the little pad thing was partly inspired by Owl City's song "meteor shower." Although now that I listen back to that song, the beat is quite different.

    Chris, did you recognize your old MA-100s in the video? I was using the cardoid capsule on the floor tom and the omni capsule on the left one. I recorded an acoustic guitar with them this afternoon and was really impressed with how it turned out. I haven't found the omni capsules very useful though, yet. Maybe I'm just scared of the sound of my room.

    Also, with the reverb on the synth, were you talking about the pad-like string synth or the lead synth that kicks in during the last chorus?

    Pax Caritas et lol,
  19. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Nice... PURELY suggestions to get a few things corrected you may not be hearing.
    (Not because you CAN'T hear, but because you don't yet KNOW to listen, and/or it's being masked by your mix set-up/environment.)

    Your 2-bus is getting a little crowded in the lower mids/upper lows. It's fairly common when your room response isn't true to what you're actually recording as a 2 track.

    One thing I would try is to throw an spectrum analyzer on your 2-bus... the go through and solo each channel and look to make sure you're actually getting an accurate visual representation, compared to what you're hearing. (All to often in the DAW world, we make the mis-step of mixing with our eyes instead of our ears.

    Your vocals are a tad crushed into distortion in a couple of places... probably because its getting masked by something(s) else in the low mid/upper low end.. probably 180 out of phase... bass maybe... or the sequencer most likely... and it will prolly allow things like the floor tom to come into the mix and sit well.
  20. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Thanks Max!

    I just tried flipping the phase on the bass and it definitely made an improvement. Thicker and easier to hear now. I should have done that earlier. :/ I can't hear what you're talking about regarding distortion on the vocals though. Can you give me an example? A particular point in the video that gets distorted?

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