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Panning - Where Sounds Should Go

Posted by Johnny Geib on April 25, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Johnny's blog for April 2017 - Panning

So for today's blog I want to talk about the art of panning instruments left or right. There has been some discussion on whether to use an LCR method or whether to simply pan instruments at a point that sounds best. For those that do not know, LCR is a theory of panning that everything should be either hard left, hard right or center and nothing in between. I myself have always been of the concept of panning to a desired position rather then a hard left and right and center position, to allow your ears to hear things in their natural positions rather than forcing a location during a mix.

I have created several charts over the years showing what I feel are the best panning positions for different instruments. Of course these are only thoughts and ideas of my own so please take from them whatever you feel comfortable with but know that everything that I show here is a suggestion and is to be added to your arsenal of knowledge.

So let's begin with the drums. I feel that the drums are probably the most important in this panning issue. For basic mixing keeping the kick and the snare in the center with a Hi Hat slightly off to the left or right depending on what perspective you're going for. The toms should be panned in the motion of play. For example, hi Tom on the left mid tom in the center and low time all the way to the right, so that you feel the motion of the drum roll across the toms.

Things like guitars should be panned to their general position and impact on the song. For example, putting two rhythm guitars left and right of a solo guitar that would be in the center. This gives you the impression of watching three guitarists on stage, two doing the rhythm left and right and one solo in the center, which will be the focal point in a song at some point.

Things like strings and piano can go into any position you choose more freely because there is not always a band with a piano player or a violin player (or even a string section for that matter) so you have some creative freedom.

So one of the last things that a lot of people think of is percussion. Percussion has probably more freedom than any of the other instruments. You can use an arbitrary panning method with things like tambourine and shakers, hard left and hard right, congas and bongos also hard left and hard right, and lastly things like a second set of drums which some bands actually use, you can pan the whole kit to one side if you wish to keep things full sounding.

So my best advice that I can give, when mixing, keep things in a natural position. A position that you feel sounds natural and that can have the biggest impact on a mix. The LCR method is a great way to make a mix more interesting then it would have been say on a life stage. Be creative and pan to taste so that you can make your mixes pop and keep your audience interested.

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