Panning in 2012.

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by sachit, Jun 23, 2012.

  1. sachit

    sachit Active Member

    May 20, 2011
    Recently I've had a sort of revelation when it comes to the spatial placement of sounds. The revelation was chiefly due to a sudden interest in Kind of Blue and other jazz standards. I've realized that good panning is essential to getting clarity in a mix, something which was not apparent to me before. Well-placed tracks with a tight direction do wonders to the overall clarity of a mix.

    But Kind of Blue was in the late '50s, and those were all acoustic instruments in a real live room. Today there's one major difference: the advent of simulation instruments, samplers and synthesizers, which are NOT actual recordings of real acoustic instruments.

    How do you pan these? Where do you place a filtered synth sweep? What about a synth bass? Or a VST piano? Or a Wurlitzer emulation? And why do you place them where you do?

    The traditional concepts of panning were based around simulating the direction of sounds in a real/unplugged performance, where actual instruments are played. But there's no such thing as an 'unplugged' electric clav, or a Juno 60, or a Yamaha Motif!

    Basically my question is this: Where do you position those instruments that have no real acoustic counterpart in a mix, and why?

    This question might not make sense if I'm working on electronic music, but I've got an equal mix of both. So I've got well-placed acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and vocals. Atmosphere synths and backing tracks are still okay, and drums, whether real or not, always have a fixed position; but I'm totally lost as to where I'll place a synth solo...

    A related question is on pianos. I know we've got 'stereo' piano sample instruments today, but pianos are stereo only for the pianist! How do you pan a piano?

    I know this is a long post. Thanks a lot if you've taken the time to read through the whole thing, and thanks if you've got some advice! :redface:
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    Interesting question. You realize that your example of something like Kind Of Blue being recorded in the 50's was a mono recording? THAT placement is all about tight mic patterns and real engineers understanding the relationships between sound sources and an arranger who understands that every note has its own voice....... but I digress....

    It is hard to get a proper soundfield and separation using stereo sources such as electronic instruments and synths. I suppose you could make a patch mono for panning purposes but this kind of defeats the sound itself which usually has a plethora of stuff in its stereo spread which wouldnt be heard as a mono source.

    So it gets down to using less of something in the arrangement. Placement of notes. Perhaps finding the basic stereo soundsource you want as the foundation of the song and then adding mono sources to the mix at different points in the panoramic spectrum.

    I think if you want to discover new territory for yourself in this you have to start by collapsing different sounds into mono sources and placing them at different spots within a soundfield. experiment and have fun.
  3. Kapt.Krunch

    Kapt.Krunch Well-Known Member

    Nov 21, 2005
    Wouldn't it depend on the "importance" of the part? A piano might be lows-left to highs-right...if you wanted to make it the featured instrument. Otherwise, you may just collapse it all a bit more to one space, and that depends on what else you have in the mix that it may be competing against. If you had something like a Rhodes or a Wurly, or a Hammond/Leslie, that often depends on the "stereo vibrato/tremolo/rotary", then you may just want to pan those more R/L for the effect, and put other things between them?

    For something that is basically in one space to more left or right, maybe a little fairly wet reverbed copy to the opposite side...just to give it some space?

    For synth pads, it depends. If it's a lead, say, sawtooth...may be good to keep that in lead territory, near the center? If it's an ambient background synth...strings, atmospshere, brass sections...may be good to pan them more L/R, and maybe have some things more centered?

    Lead vocals centered, background vocals panned? Bass and kick centered, etc.

    Maybe a synth pad panned more to one side that is a bit more prominent, and a similar-but-different patch on the other, maybe less prominent and reverbed/delayed, etc.?

    It probably all depends on what the main focus needs to be, and what the supporting parts are. A filtered synth sweep can even start out on one side, and move to the other. Or, start in the center, and move away to one side, the other...or even both...while adding constantly increasing reverb. Stuff like that.

    I've used different brass/horn patches for the same copied MIDI tracks, and added panned-to-opposite wet reverb, with some lows EQ'ed out, to throw the sound...nearly behind your ears with headphones.They aren't REALLY there, they just sound like they are in comparison, with everything else panned less extreme. It's an illusion. If you only listen to one channel, it's clearly not quite that spread out. If you mute all the other "non-brass" tracks, same thing. It's just left and right, probably because the other stuff isn't in the middle to provide perspective.

    Also, I THINK when the cymbals and all the other instruments that make up the main focus of the tune are confined to a less-than-extreme left and right area, anything panned further out, and less prominent...especially with reverb...appears to move further back. By making the main brass patch on, say, the left, more direct (less reverb), and panned slightly in from left, and then placing its wet-reverbed copy full may give the illusion of the sound source moving from slightly left-front to rear-right.

    Any of that make sense?

    Just some stuff I've noticed. Then again...I could just be hearing what I think SHOULD happen, and my mind is playing tricks on me...

  4. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    Oct 31, 2009
    Vashon Island, Washington
    Home Page:
    Some basic guiding principles can be found in an article I wrote for Victory Review in 2010:
    MIXING MAGIC: Guiding principles for achieving great recording mixes

  5. sachit

    sachit Active Member

    May 20, 2011
    Wow guys, thanks! This was a post I'd nearly given up on as unanswered. Been a while since I came to RO, and surprise!

    You're not digressing. That's the background behind the issue: that the ideal 'stereo mix' with a firm soundstage was meant for acoustic mixes, not for the wubwubwubs, sweeps, and other modern madness. Once we figure out how these contribute to the mix, we'll be able to effectively pan them.

    Some stuff is obvious. There's a distinct analogy to be drawn between atmospheric synths and a backing orchestra in a concerto. Going by that, atmospheres would sound good at the back of the mix, with a wide and less defined stereo spread. Then a simple Moog solo is like an acoustic guitar: a short reverb and appropriate placement - a little off to the left, opposite the rhythm to the right or similar.

    And I think Kapt. has something very similar in mind:

    In fact, you've given me a lot to think over here.
    I've tried some of those tricks. I'm bad with sweeps, basically because they're not my genre.. but then you'll eventually have to figure them out, right? :|
    And using different tonalities on either side (and sometimes even slightly different notes - but the same harmony) sounds really good. There's a lot more to this though, and I've to see how stuff sounds when it's far out in the field like you say.
  6. sachit

    sachit Active Member

    May 20, 2011
    Thanks for that article Jeff. It will definitely help in the basics, and the basics is what will lead me on to more experimental stuff.

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