August 06, 2012

Music Production: What Is Panning?

So you finished recording this great track in Logic or ProTools and you've got you bass, vocals, drums, a keyboard, and two guitars. The song came out exactly as you imagined and yet something still doesn't sound quite right. Alright, so my posts usually deal with business and general intern tips, but there are some things I know when it comes to recording / tech. While I can't listen to your track and tell you that the 300Hz range needs to be bumped up a bit (and to those of you that can I am in awe), but I can tell you that most stereo recordings will benefit from some panning.

Centered Pan-Pot
What the heck is that? Panning is what gives recorded sound a sense of space and direction. It is what you hear when you listen to your iPod and notice that the piano is on your right and the guitar is on your left. For example, try listening to Britney Spears's song "Stronger" around 2:10 and notice how the line "here I go" seems to change location throughout the bridge (don't judge, it's a great example).

Pan-pot panned left
An easy way to apply this is to think about watching an orchestra perform. Each section is seated in a particular spot and that is exactly how you would hear it if you sat directly in the center of the performance space- the higher instruments to your left and the lower to your right. You use panning to create this same experience, but in the digital space.

Pan-pot panned right
A pan-pot usually looks like a knob, but it can be a slider too. Something panned center means that the sound will be played equally in both the left and right ears and create the illusion that something is dead center. When something is panned completely to the left it will only sound on that side and the same applies to something panned completely right. A skilled mixer can use these options and the various degrees in between to to create panning settings that will balance each instrument, help the most important parts stand out, and really bring a track to life.

What are your tips for creating a well-panned mix? 

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