Zone Recording: Panning for the Golden Sound!

Hello all. Dave here checking in to make sure that your mixes are the best that they can be. Have you ever noticed that your mixes sound good on the left and right channel but there is a huge hole in the middle? This seems to be a recurring problem with many mixes that I have heard.

Picture if you will, that the audio plain goes from 0 degrees on the left to 180 degrees on the right. This would make 90 degrees the center.

We as mixers must fill this plain in properly or instruments will be fighting for space in the mix and thus causing a confusing mix. First off, all of the low frequency information should be at or around 90 degrees. This would be the kick drum, bass guitar and any low frequency synth bass etc that might be in your mix. Of course any lead or main instrument should be panned very slightly off 90 degrees such as the lead guitar/sax/vocal etc.

When it comes to stereo guitars, keys, synths etc we are all guilty of panning them hard left and right or 0 and 180 degrees. This does sound great because of the wideness that the mix achieves but on the other hand we are missing out on the area from 0 to 90 and from 90 to 180 degrees. This is where the golden sound is. What we sacrifice in special-ness for the stereo instruments we will make up with other instruments in a minute. With the stereo guitars panned more at 45 and 135 degrees we get a great punch with the mix and make that whole I was talking about disappear. If you have stereo synths you could place them beside it at 35 and 145 degrees. Nothing should cover any other instrument. We are carving out areas of our mix so everything will "fit" in without clutter.

Now we get the mix sounding wider with other parts of the track. I would pan the overheads of the drums hard left and right. This gives us the space with the cymbals and crashes to open up the mix. Also all ear candy such as percussion, shakers, weird bouncing things to take care of the full special-ness. Remember that nothing should cover any other instruments so if the OH L and the OH R (overhead L and R) are panned at 0 and 180 that the shaker could go at 10 and the triangle could go at 170 degrees for an example.

The snare drum I usually place just off axis of center because there is already enough center information, approximately at 85 or 95. You will be surprised at how this will help clean up your mixes and how things will now be heard without raising the volumes of everything until your kick and snare disappear!

Hope this helps.

May the tone be with you.

David Martone is a guitarist from Vancouver, Canada who has released seven solo CDs which showcase his musical diversity and brilliant guitarmanship.

His 2007 CD is entitled "When The Aliens Come", which features a progressive sound incorporating jazz, rock, fusion and metal influences.

David Martone