5 Minutes To A Better Mix: LCR Panning – Part 4 of 31

| 5 Minutes To A Better Mix, Audio Example, Mixing, Pro Tools, Tips, Video

Day 4 of this mixing tip marathon has arrived and it’s time to talk about panning. You may be like me and think you already knew everything there was to know about panning in your mix. But until you’ve tried LCR panning, you truly are missing out.

Take Back The Stereo Field

This simple yet powerful mixing tip can truly help you shape and focus your mix with just a few quick turns of a knob. As you’ll see in the video, by moving parts farther away from the center, you open up a pocket of space that allows your mix to shine. Enjoy the video everyone!

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70 Responses to “5 Minutes To A Better Mix: LCR Panning – Part 4 of 31”

  1. Randy Coppinger

    Also known as Cardinal Positions, this technique has really helped my mixing. I’ve also found that once I get everything working LCR, some things benefit from panning back in between. It typically isn’t more than one or two things though. So like any “rule” in audio, know it well enough to decide when it’s appropriate to break it.

    Reply
  2. Graham

    Definitely Randy…rules are meant to be broken in the audio world. It really is a great mental shift for the mixer though!

    Reply
  3. Robert Weber

    I’ve thought about this technique since I first heard about it, and it does open things up nicely on speakers. However, how does it work on headphones/earbuds? I re-listened to the segment on my earbuds after asking that question, and it sounds a little odd. That’s because the L and R elements are completely in a single ear, which is of course unnatural. It’s for this reason that I don’t pan anything hard L/R – so that earbud-wearing listeners don’t get that out of balance feeling from not having certain sounds showing up in the other ear.

    I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t bother you the way it bothers me. Still, a good mix tool, but I don’t think I would leave it that way in the final mixdown.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Robert – You get over how “odd” it sounds. So much modern music is mixed this way that it might actually surprise you when you go back and listen. So much is panned hard left and right and it sounds really good.

      Brad – Stereo keyboards can definitely be hard left and right if you want. That won’t simply put them in the center because the low keys are more left balanced than the higher keys. Just like if you stereo miked a piano. You can of course also pan them mono…more on this in a later video!

      Philip – Not sure if Kevin mixes this way. You’ll have to ask HIM :-)

      Reply
  4. Brad G

    Hmmm so what do you do with Stereo tracks like keyboards? Wouldn’t Full Left and Right just put it in the center?

    Reply
  5. Tom

    Great post Graham! This is tip instantly improved my most recent mix! Thanks for sharing all of this great information and keep up the awesome work!

    Reply
  6. Joe Gilder

    I probably lean more towards Ian Shepherd’s view on this, but I haven’t tried it a lot. I tend to stray away from hard panning left and right, but I can definitely see how it might be a cool thing to try.

    Always something new to try…thanks Graham!

    Reply
  7. Chris Wetterman

    Graham,

    What’s your take on this when mixing an acoustic solo artist where you may have 1 or 2 rhythm tracks, multiple intricate guitar fill tracks throughout, main vocal with multiple harmonies and light percussion (shaker, tambourine). Same approach?

    Reply
    • Graham

      Chris, with fewer tracks it’s not as hard to get separation (which is the goal of LCR panning). But I would still say take up the whole spectrum (hard left and right) rather than pan conservatively in the middle. Just me.

      Reply
  8. TOMMY

    Iknow this is late ,but should someone pick up on this I would appreciate a thought or an answer, etc…You are most likely aware that in PRO TOOLS, it doesn’t matter where you pan your AUDIO TRACKS. Point I’m trying to make is that if you group any of your tracks to a AUX BUS, the PANNING there is what you will get and the audio panning had been all in vain. Am I right or did I overlook something. I hope I did.
    Thanks,
    TOMMY

    Reply
  9. TOMMY

    Try it! Route an audio track, or tracks to an aux. The routing on the AUX will take precedence. Say -1 mono L GUITAR TRACK + 1 mono R GUITAR TRACK can be panned anyway, until you say, route them to an AUX, ETC.. Now wherever you pan the aux channel will govern the panning.
    Take Care,
    TOMMY

    Reply
  10. TOMMY

    Try it! Route an audio track, or tracks to an aux. The routing on the AUX will take precedence. Say -1 mono L GUITAR TRACK + 1 mono R GUITAR TRACK can be panned anyway, until you say, route them to an AUX, ETC.. Now wherever you pan the aux channel will govern the panning.
    Take Care,
    TOMMY

    Reply
  11. Robert Weber

    I’m not a Pro Tools user, but I’ve gotta believe that if you pan something hard left and send it to a stereo bus (panned left and right) it will stay panned hard left. If you take that stereo bus and pan it all the way right, then yes, I imagine that would override the panning of the individual track.

    Reply
  12. Graham

    Tommy – That would be incorrect. The purpose of the stereo bus (aux track) is to pass audio through it. Whatever your panning positions are in the individual track basis, will remain the same when passed through a stereo bus. It doesn’t force new panning on it.

    UNLESS however you adjust the panning of that stereo aux track to something other than hard L and R. But that would be weird.

    Reply
  13. Puneet

    Graham – So how would you mix the guitars where you have a lead vocal, 1 Rhythm guitar, 1 lead guitar for fillers and solo, drums and bass? Would you create 2 tracks for the rhythm panned hard L&R? And would you keep keep the lead guitar in the center so that it’s frequencies don’t interfere with the rhythm guitar? Thanks.

    Reply
  14. Nathan Hulse

    Thanks for your blog and tutorial videos. I also like that you manage to get some Christian message out there (subconsciously) with the music on the tracks you use.

    I tried this on a live track I recorded at a gig onto 8 tracks. Drums, Bass, Lead Vox center. Normally I would pan a little left and right lead and rhythm guitar, maybe ever so slightly b.v’s. I went for full hard LR on those tracks. It worked really well, even the B.v’s. And, I’m from a band that still listens to music in Mono, and most recent release (not recorded by me) was done in Mono.

    Reply
  15. Barry Bianco

    I belive that, in Protools, if you want the track panning to remain true to the track when sending the track to a Aux buss you need to set the send to FMP , Follow Main Pan” in the send. If you don’t do that, the send panning will default to center…Bye the way, I,m new to your site but you post some very nice material, easy to understand and , best of all, it works! Thanks!

    Reply
  16. Chris M.

    Hey Graham, it’s been a number of months since this post. By way of an update, how has this particular technique panned out (no pun intended!) for you so far? What are you doing these days?

    Thanks! And as always, love your work and sincerely appreciate you..

    ~ Chris M.

    Reply
  17. Filip

    I’ll have to try it out on my next song.
    My only concern is how does this technique sit with toms?
    I’m used to have the toms paned from left to righ so the fils naturally progress from one speaker to another.
    How does it sound with the LCR technique?

    Reply
    • Graham

      It works great. Toms pop from left to right (or vice versa). You hear this on a lot of tunes these days if you listen closely.

      Reply
  18. Rob

    Hi graham

    I just sent you a tweet but realised I can contact you in more detail here. My question is similar to the one above about toms.
    I’m hearing a lot more LCR panning around in tracks but I wonder about hard panning on drums incl overheads.

    I remembered Paul White discussing drum panning in sound on sound back in June 2007′, he said
    “No article on drum mixing would be complete without a word about panning. Try to avoid panning the kit too widely, as it makes the drum kit sound as wide as the rest of the band. How far you pan the overheads depends on the original mic spacing and mic characteristics, but your ears will tell you when the result sounds realistic. You should then pan the tom mics to match their apparent positions in the overheads, leaving the kick and snare in the centre. Drum panning is generally done from the perspective of the audience, which places the hi-hat on the right of a kit played by a right-handed drummer.”

    I’ve also heard guys talk about panning drums too far making it sound like the drummer has arms the length of the stage!!

    This all kinda makes sense to me but then so does the LCR panning idea. Obviously ultimately the answer is to trust our ears but I was wondering what you thought about the above quote vs LCR?

    Rob

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Rob,

      I used to think like this (pan the drums to seem “realistic”) but after extensive listening to tracks on countless records I’ve realized that so much of the time drums are simply panned KICK, SNARE, HAT, up the middle, and TOMS, OHs out wide. Simple as that. It’s not “realistic” in the way we think of the kit in space. But it works in mixing very well. In fact, sometimes I just pan everything up the middle.

      Graham

      Reply
      • Rob

        Cheers Graham for your reply and also your reply on twitter.

        Been looking at various views on LCR and it seems to be a hot topic. Some guys saying about “keeping it natural” and others guys (Chris Lord Alge comes to mind) being full on LCR.

        I guess it’s one of those suck it and see things (as so often is the case in mixing) where just giving it a try and see how it sounds is the answer. Thanks for getting the ball rolling in my thinking onto is with your blog post.

        Rob

        Reply
        • Graham

          No problem Rob. Yeah people get split down the middle on LCR. Totally fine since this whole art is just that, an art. Very subjective. I’m just think people don’t realize just how common this is until they go and listen. If people would give it a chance they’d be blown away.

          Reply
  19. Tony B

    Graham your videos have been a God send for me, i am new to the whole mixing thing, but your videos were a great jump-start for me!!

    Reply
  20. Jeremus

    Might this also apply in Electronic Music, when you have up to 120 layers (mostly stereo MIDI instruments)? Given that these aren’t the traditional “recordings” however when bounced/rendered down to audio, could I get away with hard panning. All this since usually I leave everything right up the middle, as some of these synths are really wide to begin with and get hi-passed near 130kHz. Using my ears afterward, I’ll usually apply a stereo widener to a few select tracks…as you can see this is a totally separate realm than that of the aforementioned recorded rock/alternative music. Rules are blown wide open, but what is correct technique to maintain a tight mix when you have stereo exploding everywhere. Pro-Tools is the only DAW I know of that splits up tracks, whereas my DAW Ableton Live, tracks are always one region without a choice. I know this may not be completely relevant, but it was not discussed otherwise. Thanks & EPIC videos!

    Reply
  21. James

    It’s probably too late to benefit Tommy (the commenter above) but it might clarify for others wondering the same thing: when you hear panning changes after sending your track to a stereo aux track in Pro Tools, it’s likely because you have a stereo reverb on the aux track. The output from the reverb is panned as wide as the channel is, regardless of the original source and it’s location in the stereo field. This can be a useful effect, particularly with early reflection reverb. Hope that helps.

    Reply
  22. Daniel-Gabriel Serdan

    Hi,
    I have to say that I have listened this LCR paning stuff . I am agree with just few things , not that i am some audio freak scientist , such as : bass, vocal , kick in the center . But , hey , all that hard panning left or right , sorry . I’m not comfortable with that ? Why ? Sounds , for me I’m talking , very tiring . I couldn’t focus on the mix . For real . Although , there are instruments that sounds good or great in mono but hey , a piano sounds bad panned hard . It may be possible , in my humble opinion , to add a send track ( like in Cubase , I hate Pro tools is for Mac and I don’t have an apple -God help me with that ! LOL ! ) for spread the sound of the piano into the whole stereo spectrum . I did an experiment : Piano panned 9 o’clock and add a send to the left as I had the taste for it . In addition I have played with some reverb attached to the piano . And … it came up something nice , I guess . Anyway , a saxophone, a violin , a cello , an accordion or a conga , etc. could be panned hard , not 100% it’s not natural even if looks futuristic , but a piano ? Sorry , I can’t , won’t , wouldn’t , will not do this . It’s a sacrilege for my ears. I had a band and played as a drummer . I know a little .
    I see a song like a life experience where is an open space and sounds come from all directions and distances but not divided in 3 directions . And yes , as a ex and actual drummer I like to hear high hats on the right from the listner position but not 100% to the right . And snare is not in center , in reality . And the trick is to have the snap on the center but the room of the snare panned somwhere else but not 100% .
    Anyway I like the tutorials be cause I have much to learn and I love to learn .

    Reply
  23. Josh

    Hey there Graham.

    I’ve got a quick question again. What if you’re dealing with an ‘asymetrical’ mix? For instance, I’m currently working on a composition that features:

    * A fingerpicked guitar
    * A sexophone
    * A bass guitar
    * Drums

    That’s all. Would that even work with LCR? Since the saxophone is playing the lead melody, it needs to be dead center, which is also where the bass guitar will be. Then I’ll have to place the guitar somewhere. If I were to place it left or right, the mix would sound lopsided, wouldn’t it? And if I would put it both hard left and right, wouldn’t it just sound like it was coming from the center?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Josh,

      You could make it mostly a mono mix, with the guitar and drum overheads a bit out wide from center. LCR really is most helpful in a dense mix IMO. Fewer tracks like this and you don’t have a big problem with clarity.

      Reply
      • Josh

        Wow, really? Haha, it’s kind of funny, I never even thought about making a mostly mono track. That’s still okay nowadays? I almost feel obliged to pan things, simply “because stereo”.

        Reply
        • Graham

          Dude, listen to some Red Hot Chili Peppers. Those guys made some almost entirely mono records when everyone else made huge wide rock records. Do whatever works!

          Reply
          • Josh

            Seriously! I never knew! That’s awesome, thanks Graham!

          • Josh

            Graham, have you heard some of Pat Metheny’s music? I’m a big fan of him, and I was always wondering about something. I’ve been listening to “Slip Away” (from the album “Letter From Home”) a ton and I was wondering… Is this mix mostly done in mono?

  24. John Lardinois

    No!! For the first time, we actually disagree. Only slightly.

    I think LCR panning is a good concept, but executed not so well. If you pan LL-L-C-R-RR, then you leave room for timed effects and the vocals.

    But the issue is that most young kids share headphones, meaning they only listen to the left or right ear bud, and some broken/cheap speakers, and even car speakers, only play the right or left speaker.

    So if you pan LCR, then if you listen on a single speaker, you literally lose half the song! instruments panned right will not be heard, or left, etc.

    Now the other issue is that centered information is an equal volume combination of Left and Right, there is no “center” track. So if a teenager is on their school bus sharing ear buds with their friends, the center vocal loses half its volume because the L or R speaker is cut out, and in that case LCR actually makes the vocal HARDER to hear.

    The solution is to pan LL-L-C-R-RR, and then put a stereo width processor on the master buss and pan it roughly 70% wide, or 30% center, however your plugin puts it. This means that if you only listen in one speaker, you will still hear a pretty roughly accurate representation of the original mix. Things may be a little off balance, but its better than hearing only half the instruments!

    Hope this helps people. For the record, I monitor my mixes on several systems – HQ headphones – noise cancelling phones – car speakers – radios/boomboxes – and a pair of crappy computer speakers missing the right side. This is something I’ve dealt with lots, so take my word on this one :)

    Reply
    • Graham

      Good thing those “kids sharing earbuds” don’t listen to any old Beatles or Hendrix albums :-)

      Reply
      • John Lardinois

        Mono will always be king :) All my primary mixes are in mono, with a highpass and lowpass filter and a little compression on the master buss. It makes me make decisions that focus far more on getting the right initial balance rather than thinking “I’ll fix it with a plugin or something”. It also makes dynamic issues stand out A LOT. If the first mix is a mono, dry balance dynamic issues like over-peaking instruments or ducking instruments will stick out noticeably. My next step, then, is to solve dynamic issues! Instruments that compete in frequency with the kick and vocals will stand out too.

        Reply
        • Josh

          Interesting… I never even gave that a thought. To make a mono mix. I do check in mono a lot, but I almost feel obliged to make an ‘interesting’ stereo mix. Sometimes that means I sacrificed clarity and oomph for the sake of the stereo image.

          It makes sense though. I think I’ve heard it before on professional records, where both channels seemed quite similar. So mixing in mono is still acceptable? :D

          Reply
  25. Graham

    Josh, I love me some Pat Metheny. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did a mono mix to change things up.

    Reply
  26. Herb

    Hi, Graham. If you have two tracks that share the same frequency range, one panned hard L and one hard R, does the rule of thumb to not have them share the same frequency range still apply? Or, is it less important since they’re in opposite channels?

    Reply
    • Graham

      Still applies. They have to sound great in mono, not just when panned and listening in headphones.

      Reply
  27. Ryan

    Hey Graham! Really great suggestion. I always read and watch all your stuff. What about drum overheads? Do you usually keep them in them centre or do you pan them hard left or right?

    Reply
    • Graham

      I used to pan them Hard L/R, but these days I prefer a more narrow image of the drum OHs. Then I treat the entire drum kit as one stereo instrument that’s mostly mono. If that makes sense :-)

      Reply
  28. Mzie

    Hi Graham

    hei man i’ve been download ur videos tuturial its helped me so much, and im new in mixing i think you can help me. Its for me to pan background vocals in a mix like pros. So most of the time im recording Gospel with lot of background vocals for example i record 4 takes of soprano, 4 takes of Alto and 4 takes ok ternor so how i do i pan them reply

    Reply
    • Graham

      Pan them however you like :-) Try a few combinations and see which fills things out the best to you with the rest of the mix.

      Reply
  29. yitzchok

    I relay don’t no what to say…
    you’r 5M. videos is something special!!!
    AMAZING. AMAZING. AMAZING. AMAZING.
    THANK YOU TEACHER THANKS A TON!!!!
    I Have a new good view on mixing.

    Reply
  30. Red

    Hi Graeme,

    Thanks for the vids.

    I am an electronic producer and since all of my sounds (besides vocals, bass, kick and snare) come from stereo synths, how should I pan those? I see you have left your stereo sounds alone at 100 left and 100 right. i.e. leave the panning alone. That would mean that on ALL my tracks, I would not touch a single panning knob. According to your LCR rule, is this the right thing to do? Is this what you would do?

    Red

    Reply
      • Red

        So am I right in saying for each momo synth I create, I will have to create another complimenting momo synth so that I can pan one left and one right. Otherwise the tune will sound out of balance?

        Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1.  Panning Drums – Perspectives
  2.  Panning Drums – Perspectives | Indablog
  3.  Get Instant Separation In Your Mix » The Recording Revolution
  4.  Everything new mixers should know about panning | MixCoach

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