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  • Writer's pictureTina Van

Using Panning To Setup A Mix

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Today’s post is all about panning and using this valuable technique to setup your mixes. Using panning can greatly affect a track in a good way by giving different elements their own space within a mix. So how do you use panning within your mixes? Well, let’s dive in..


WHAT IS PANNING?

Panning is the process of moving sound left or right within the stereo field. This is the most common way of using panning but it can also be used to spread elements of sound in a multi-channel environment as well, like when mixing for film and TV for example.

A big reason why you would use panning in a track is to give different elements or instruments their own space within a mix. For example, you can pan an instrument like a guitar to sound like it is coming out of the left side of your speaker/headphones and then pan another guitar to the right side of the speaker/headphones so that they can be heard more clearly.


Panning is a great way to avoid clutter in a mix by not having everything in a song coming straight down the middle. This is a necessary step when you are hearing a song in stereo. If all the sound was coming through straight down the middle, that mix would technically be a mono mix because there is no perceived left or right. Panning allows you to make the most out of sound by controlling where you hear everything.


So let’s get into when to use panning in your mixes.


WHEN TO USE PANNING

First off, there are no hard rules when it comes to panning – or anything in mixing really. It might be a little confusing at first when determining when to use panning but let’s look at it this way…

When thinking about panning, just imagine a stage. When you go to a concert you don’t see the whole band lined up in the same spot, you will usually see the drummer in the back, the guitar and bass player on the left or right and then the singer right in the middle. This is a good way to look at panning. There are exceptions of course, like the bass in a song but I will get into that in a minute.


So when is it a good idea to use panning? I would say that anytime you have more than a couple of things going on in mix, panning is going to come in handy. The more elements you add in a song, the more crowded the mix will probably get. If you only have a piano and vocal in a song, panning may not be as necessary.


Now, back to the bass..


Again, there are no hard rules when it comes to music but a general guideline for low end instruments such as the bass guitar, bass synths, kick drums, etc. is to stick to keeping these instruments straight down the middle. The reason for this is that those frequencies provide a foundation for the rest of the mix and when panning to the left or right, you will lose out on the support and clarity those low frequencies provide.


HOW TO USE PANNING

Within your DAW, there are going to be these little knobs on every track, and they are called “pan pots.” These are the primary knobs to use when panning.


When you turn the pan knob to the left it will show up as a negative number (-40 in this example) and will show up as a positive number when you turn the knob to the right (+40 in this case). When turning the pan knob all the way to the left or right (also called “hard panning”) you will only hear that sound on one side of the speaker.


Starting your mixes with panning is a great way to see how different instruments sit within song before making any edits or using EQ, compression, and effects. Most of the time, half the battle of mixing is just giving different elements their proper space within a song.





PANNING TECHNIQUES

Here are a few starting points in case you aren’t sure where to start with panning:

  1. Pan copies of instruments to the left and right. For example, if you have two different guitar tracks, try panning one to the left and the other to the right. This will make them sound bigger and provide a stereo image when listening back.

  2. Pan a drum kit like you would normally see it setup for example, the kick drum in the center, snare slightly to the left, hi-hat slightly to the left, overheads to the left and right, and the toms spread out slightly to the right.

  3. Backing vocals sound great when there are two separate tracks panned to the left and right as shown in the example below.

  4. Low frequency instruments such as the bass guitar should be kept center along with the lead vocal.

That’s it for now! I hope you found this information helpful. The great thing about using panning in your song is that it is non-destructive, meaning that you can pan to your heart’s content and change it very easily if you don’t like what you hear in the mix.


So, I would say to experiment with panning by putting instruments in different areas of the stereo image until you hear everything sitting right where it should be.


Thank you so much for visiting this post today and have fun recording!


For more information on everything you need to make professional music from wherever you are – download my FREE home studio gear guide!



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