Get Instant Separation In Your Mix

| Mixing, Tips

There is a simple way to get instant separation and clarity in your mix that you might not be taking advantage of. It’s fast, easy to learn, and takes immediate effect the moment you implement it. And best of all it comes bundled free with your DAW, no matter which platform you mix on! Do you know what it is? Your pan pot!

Are You Halfway Panning?

OK, so my intro paragraph might sound a bit sarcastic, but don’t discount what I’m about to say. I get so many people emailing me mixes of theirs for critique. I try to listen if I have time and give some honest, helpful feedback. One suggestion I consistently find myself offering is to stop panning just halfway. What I mean is so many of these mixes I’m hearing where people complain about the lack of clarity and separation, I notice that most of the tracks are jammed up the middle or close to it. What a waste!

If the organ and electric guitar seem to be fighting each other AND the lead vocal, but as it turns out they are all panned somewhat center, then do yourself a favor and pan them out hard left and right. This will get them on opposite sides of each other plus it will leave the vocal freed up in the middle. Bam, problem solved.

Three Points Of Mixing

As I’m sure you’re aware, you have the option of panning a track anywhere from Left to Right across your speakers. But in reality you have only three distinct points in space to work with: hard left, hard right, and up the center. You should take advantage of these points and move all of your tracks to one of those three spots. This is sometimes called LCR Panning or LCR Mixing, but in reality it’s simply a smart way to work that makes mixing easier for me.

I like to put foundational tracks up the center: kick drum, snare, bass guitar, and lead vocals. Then I pan the rest of the band (guitars, pianos, synths, toms, percussion, backing vocals) out hard left or right. I try to balance the left and right out so the mix doesn’t become to lopsided for most of the song. So if I have a punchy acoustic guitar I’ll put it on side and compliment it with a piano track on the other. This makes your mix sound huge and all the while nothing is covering up your kick, snare or vocal. Sweet.

Don’t Waste Space

The big thing I’m getting at is this: what good is all the mixing training and plugins in the world if you are leaving empty mix space behind? You should do yourself a favor and fill up the entire width of your mix and take advantage of that big space you have to work with. Once you start thinking of mixing this way it will become natural for you and you’ll likely never look back. I know I haven’t!

 

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88 Responses to “Get Instant Separation In Your Mix”

  1. Sebastian

    Hey Graham,
    nice tip. I want to share another approach to get separation.
    At first, I listen to everything in mono. I try to get as much separation as possible by using EQ and reverb. Only after I got a more or less nice balanced and separated mix in mono, i use the pan pots.
    If it sounds good in mono, there’s a good chance, that it will sound decent with panning too.

    Reply
    • Mike

      The problem with that approach Sebastian, is that it is destructive. EQ and reverb are destructive processes to your signal. Panning is not. If you can clear your mix with panning FIRST, you will likely be using less destructive effects like EQ and reverb and will get the highest fidelity.

      Also, it will save you the time in applying now-unnecessary effects.

      So for me it goes gain-staging, panning, then effects… which gives me the highest quality in less time. I learned this from “Mixing With Your Mind” by Stav.

      Reply
      • Graham

        I agree that I try to do as little destructive mixing as possible, but EQ is more helpful than just panning because panning does nothing for you the moment you walk away from the middle of both speakers (i.e. in your car, in the kitchen, etc.) They go hand in hand, but frequency overlap is more of a problem then stereo placement. Just some thoughts.

        Reply
  2. Ben

    I’m going to whine a little bit – LCR sounds so incredibly weird in headphones. It’s uncomfortable for a sound to go in one ear and not the other at all. I’ll do 90% (roughly) but I won’t do 100%, unless I’m recording a doubled part. I know that this was The Way many years ago, but it’s just not for me.

    Still, this is a great way to get started – you really do get everything separated this way. I encourage everyone to try it and listen to it and then if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I only know I don’t like it because I tried it when it popped up in the first 31 days to a better mix series. How will you know if you do or don’t like it unless you try?

    Reply
    • Mario

      You could consider to use a stereo narrower plugin on master channel when mixing in headphones, so that you get a nearer result to standard monitors…

      Excessive stereo separation is one of the main reason mixing in headphones is to difficult.

      Reply
    • Graham

      No sweat if it’s not for you. Glad you tried it when I first mentioned it here on the blog!

      Reply
  3. Wayne

    Doesn’t this assume that the original track is mono? While recording mono vocals or most instruments makes sense, my Korg has multiple outputs for a reason.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Not necessarily. I pan stereo pianos and keys hard left, right or center in mono all the time. Less muddiness.

      Reply
  4. Frank Nitsch

    Hi Graham,

    it doesn’t sound right when you suggest to put everything to either hard left, hard right, or center. My instant feeling was that you would recommend to use all the space available, but it doesn’t make sense to hard pan toms or cymbals, does it? I would say you may not leave the “edges” of the stereo image empty, but I agree with Ben when he says that hard-panned instruments sound irritating on headphones. As a matter of fact you need to take into account that a huge number of listeners of your music uses headphones… I see an opportunity for using hard panning without the isolation feeling: something of the hard-panned instrument should “bleed” to the other side of the panorama. You could use a stereo delay for this purpose or just have a mono delay panned to the opposite side. I know some albums, which use hard panning without the effect Ben describes. Most times there is either some reverb or delay, which provides some sound of this instrument to the opposite side.

    Another thing popped into my mind: you often mentioned the value of mixing in mono. Your recommendation was to get a mix right in mono first, then enhance it using the panorama. How does that go together with this article’s message? It sounds like giving up on the mono thing and choosing this hard-panning weapon instead. Did I get anything wrong?

    Thanx for sharing your experience and take care

    Frank

    Reply
    • Graham

      Frank, I don’t understand why people have such a hard time with LCR. It’s SOOO common in mixes these days. Yes I pan toms hard L and R, same with stereo drum overheads. I agree that using tiny bits of reverb and delay can help put hard panned instruments in a space, always a great idea. But if you really tried mixing LCR you’d probably see how much it opens up your mix.

      I’ve never given up on mono. If you follow my any of mixing products you’ll see that I tend to mix in mono for 75% of the mix, when I’m getting EQ, compression, and volume balances right. But eventually I have to print a stereo mix so I look at panning. That’s when I go LCR to get the most separation possible.

      Hope that clears things up!

      Reply
      • Frank Nitsch

        Hi Graham,

        thanx for the instant reply. ;-)
        Considering the recommendation to pan the single pieces of a drumkit as they are placed in the real world, and assuming that you have up to 4 toms, you wouldn’t want to hard pan them all, that is the two left ones hard left, the right ones hard right. So you end up with all kinds of “in between” positions for parts of the drumkit, which just don’t sit on a single extreme position in the stereo field.I admit that the drumkit is very special in this way. I don’t have a problem panning instruments like guitars hard left or right. But even there I move the pan sliders to the left/right until I hear the mid to loose to much of its fundament. If you are after a fat sounding mix with powerful guitars, panning them hard can easily let your mix sound thin in the middle. As you often mention there is no silver bullet, and when it comes to different target sound or genres, one or the other recommendation might not work as easily.

        Thanx

        Frank

        Reply
        • Cameron Norman

          Yah a good panning method is to pan hard right, soft right (halfway), center, soft left and hard left. But the concept is the same: keep your panning options as simple as possible. When you caught up in all those tiny tweaks like ‘oh I’ll move this pan over five’, you can’t make the best of decisions.

          Reply
          • Frank Nitsch

            Hi Cameron,

            the idea of 100% left, 50% left, center, 50% right, and 100% right sounds most reasonable to me. It in fact simplifies things a lot. I caught myself searching for most detailed recommendations for positioning all pieces of a drumkit. There are precise descriptions, even more detailed than in steps of five…
            I would say you are fine using the simplified panning scheme as mentioned above as long as you don’t have any overhead mics you want to blend in. If you have overheads, you need to pan the drumkit elements in a way that it matches the panning defined by the stereo overheads.
            What I did like to do recently is binding the pan controls of “opposite” instruments, while one moves in the inverted direction of the other. Having two guitars this would mean to bind them this way and being able to control the width of their combined stereo image. Finally I like to judge by ear to decide, when the optimal width is achieved. It’s a different kind of panning simplification, but on the next song I will try the “hard-soft-center” thing. ;-)

            Thanx & regards

            Frank

  5. Kelton Gomes

    Hi Graham, I’ve been using LCR with great success, but also found out that panning a instrument just a bit away from the center can help to create depth in the mix – thats when I need it to be a little more burried by the other sources, without volume drop. I think it’s a interesting alternative to reverb or low pass filter for that matter, might work in some cases! =]

    Reply
  6. Michael Adjei

    Hi Graham, thanks for all that you’ve taught me thru your videos and the Rethink mixing videos. Am experiencing a problem that i haven’t found a solution to yet. I use pro tools 8 LE. I realized that as i applied plugins to my mixes I detected a slight delay of 88 samples on my VOX BUS affecting the overall song so i reached out for a Time adjuster (short) delay to compensate the rest of the tracks. But to my surprise, as i try to adjust or compensate the other tracks my SUBMIX BUS doubles the delayed samples. This has made it difficult for me to stop the delay…
    I really need your help on this please……My email is (unclemyke2000@yahoo.com)
    Thanks.

    Reply
  7. croaky

    What were they doing at Abbey Road when they mixed drum and bass one side, vocal guitars the other, not talking about the first three albums but the later ones and Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album etc, how did they pan and yet balance things…I suspect they mono checked them at all stages to see if the balance was right. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Andrew Bauserman

      Croaky,

      Early stuff was on tape with just a few tracks. Bass & drums were actually on one track. So they couldn’t pan them separately. Most radios and record players of the time were mono as well, so stereo wasn’t such a big deal. For example, the Beatles’ first ten albums had mono releases. Only their final 3 were available stereo-only.

      According to the mono boxed set documentation at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B002BSHXJA/
      “Stereo mixes, particularly for the first five albums, did not include as much critical listening from George Martin, and almost none from the Fab’ Four.”

      Personally, I don’t like early Beatles in stereo. It was so well mixed and mastered in mono (lots of depth, dynamics, etc.) that I don’t miss the width unless I’m listening for it. But opinions vary ;)

      Reply
  8. Sivert

    Hi Graham! I’ve seen a lot of your stuff, and it’s helped me a lot, but here’s where I disagree with you.

    I’ve tried the LCR-panning on stuff, and the philosophy is simple enough, however I find it somewhat misleading. For instance you say there’s only three distinct points in space to work with: hard left, hard right, and up the center. Actually there’s only two physical spaces to work with, hard left and hard right, the center is an “illusion”. But thats the beauty of our brain, we can hear things 360 degree around us, and with two speakers there’s maximum 180 degrees around us where we can separate instruments (this would be in a headset). You’re saying we shouldn’t waste space, yet you only encourage us to use three points in space.

    Don’t get me wrong, you definitely should pan things hard left and hard right, but only when it sounds good, not because of a principal. I find one of the best things about listening in a headset is to listen to the panning, because you can literally hear the small differences in pan that separates some instruments, toms on a drumset for example, I like hearing the first tom somewhat to the left, the next somewhat to the right, and the third hard right. Why should we rob the people of their panning happiness?

    I say don’t waste space, use the full panning spectrum.

    Reply
    • Graham

      That’s what I thought till I started LCR. Now the more I move tracks away from the center, the more space the Kick Snare and Vocal get. Helps me a lot.

      Reply
  9. ntnsystems

    I am going to agree with what Ben said: “LCR sounds so incredibly weird in headphones”. For me it is very jarring and it takes me away from enjoying the song, and instead focusing on the individual instruments. If this is the intent of the engineer/band, then I get it and can move past it. If it is a typical rock song, for example, and one guitar is jangling in one ear and another guitar is panned 100% to the other ear… I just notice it too much. I have been using 75% panning for a while, but maybe I should try 90%. It has become more common to listen to music on headphones. I wonder if I am in the very small minority (that it can be a jarring experience to listen to), or if non-engineer listeners also notice this. Should I just suck it up and move to LCR regardless of whether I like it personally?

    Reply
    • Graham

      You should only do what sounds good. Not what some guy on the Internet says :-)

      Reply
  10. Dave Percell

    LCR was the absolute best thing that could have happened to me. It is almost impossible to get a disappointing mix if you eq for your initial separation in mono first, add the correct compression if needed, and of course apply any delay and reverb. I think a lot of you are avoiding the critical first steps. My mixes literally sit outside of my speakers, I live on headphones and they are true to what I am hearing out of my speakers. Thank you Graham for sharing this information.

    Reply
    • Graham

      I fel this way when I first started LCR panning. So simple, yet so helpful.

      Reply
  11. James McKay

    Hey Graham,

    Im a big fan of your work. Definitely found the LCR method to work well. I think it works better for mixes that don’t have a huge number of tracks. If a mix only has 10 – 12 tracks (including doubles) it works best but when you start to go higher than this I’ve found it gets a little confused in the outer range of the stereo field. As Cameron Norman said above, I generally move to the Hard right, soft right, centre,soft left, hard left method.

    Anyone complaining about Graham telling us to use all the space but only using 3 points. I think what Graham is getting at is to spread the sound as far as possible. Instead of just panning things 50% of the way, take advantage of the space and move it the full 100%.

    The LCR Method is great if your just starting out and don’t know a lot about panning and stereo field placement.

    Keep up the good work graham

    Thanks

    Reply
  12. Bertrand

    First of all everybody has different approaches to mixing so there is no right or wrong. This is just my opinion and i agree mostly what Sivert said, especially about the fact that there are only two physical spots in stereo, left and right. The phantom center is merely a signal that comes with equal amount of power from left and right combined (excuse my english here). Therefore there is a whole range, or may i say canvas, that a mixer can use to paint his sonic image. You say to not waste space,but in my opinion that is what LCR is actually doing by ignoring the space in between these three positions.

    As far as i know LCR was used on old boards before panning pots. They had just a three-way switch with left,center ot right. So it was actually a technical restrictions, not a preferred mixing technique. So why should we now decades after this go back to using LCR? I have tried it and i noticed that most of the times instruments are not playing all the time so that you get a nice balance. When an instrument stops playing for say just a quarter or half note the mix tends to lean to one or the other side for a short while, for me this brings some strange effects in a mix, it sounds weird. I agree that we should use all the space in the mix and should not be afraid of panning things hard, as long as it is in balance. I double a lot so i don’t have too many stuff to pan hard except effects or some mono instruments. But because a lot is doubled, i need for these mono instruments exactly this space in beetween L and C or R and C.

    Anyway use a lot of your great tricks, but LCR is not one of them, and regarding Mono i go with Dave Pensado that officially announced mono as dead ;-)) As he said, a movie director should also not worry if his movie looks good in black an white these days…

    Peace
    Bertrand

    Reply
    • Graham

      I understand people think it’s wasting space, but in actuality I find it to create more separation between the sides and the center. Less cluttered. But again, if you try it, and don’t like it, scrap it.

      Oh, and the whole mono thing isn’t to deliver it in mono or in case someone might hear it in mono, it’s because mono forces you to EQ properly without the “trick” of panning. Very useful tool.

      Reply
  13. BHG

    I think most of the comments against LCR panning are not trying it on a full song before speaking on it because it really does work and sounds much better on a finished song than % panning. A example of a hit song with it Kings of Leon “sex on fire” like a month ago listening to the radio inthe car trying to figure out panning on the songs i would turn the speaker balance knob all the way left then all the way right. and on that song one of the guitars is hard left left and one hard right as one disappears left one disappears right where bass vocals drums center. The song is like 5 years old still in radio rotation and a hit.. LCR.. man LCE

    Reply
  14. Grant Tregellas

    Hi, first off, thanks for all the great info on the site.

    I’ve tried the LCR panning method, and in theory it should work perfectly, but I often seem to have this problem with perceived volume level. If I sit dead center between my monitor speakers and pan, say an electric guitar hard left, if often seems too loud from the listening position. If I move it to about the 11′ o clock position, closer to the vocals it just seems to blend better.

    When I pan it hard left and then adjust the volume to taste, it sits better volume-wise, but now if I listen to the mix in mono, it seems to have disappeared into the background.

    I tend to find that finding a “space” for each part rather than piling them all on-top of each other in hard left/right makes my mixing process easier.

    Ok, bear in mind, i’m relatively new to the whole mixing process, so there is likely something I’m not taking into consideration(such as ninja EQ tricks etc), but have you ever had these issues?

    Thanks

    GT

    Reply
    • Graham

      Grant, it could be your pan law settings in your DAW. Some pan laws actually make the track quieter when panned out wide.

      Reply
  15. BHG

    Tested a few more songs today for the LCR panning

    “Meant to Live” by Switchfoot is another example using of LCR panning

    few years old but grammy winning

    and brand new song from the Avengers movie released may 1 2012 “live to rise” by soundgarden.

    again tested it in the car turning balance knob hard left then hard right throughout songs to hear which instruments disappeared on either side and everything except lead vocal, bass & drums was either hard left or hard right on those current hit songs so the 10% left 28% right mess is out the window for me now LCR is the way to go

    Reply
    • Frank Nitsch

      Hi BHG,

      interesting to read that. LCR is pure simplification and I love simplification as there is almost enough complexity left everywhere else… ;-) As you can see in my earlier comment I was most concerned about panning the individual pieces of a drumkit to the extreme positions on the left and right. Your comment sounds like the complete drumkit in these songs is centered. Is that right? Or are only kick and snare centered and the rest isn’t, i.e. the rest disappears partially or completely when turning the balance knob hard left then hard right? I’m very curious about that. ;-)

      Thanx & take care

      Frank

      Reply
      • Graham

        Frank, I like kick and snare to be centered, but I’ll play with toms hard left and right. It doesn’t sound “natural” if you think about it, but it actually works well in mixing and SO many mixes are done this way and it works well in those cases also. Then again, I sometimes just pan my entire drum kit up the middle :-)

        Reply
    • Graham

      I was thinking about the new Soundgarden song as well. The moment that opening guitar line kicks in hard left I’m like “Oh yeah baby, here it comes!”

      Reply
  16. Tiago G

    All this LCR panning subject and the controversy that arises from it, got me curious about two things. I got your bands EP a few days ago, Graham (Congrats guys… Excellent work!) :). Knowing that you advocate LCR, and reading some of the above comments where a few mates noted that this kind of panning technique sounds weird for them on headphones… well… guess what I did?! I listened to the entire “Grace And Truth” on a “proper” set of headphones (whatever that means…), and I must say that absolutely nothing sounded strange/distracting/etc. for me… Only beautiful tunes well played, well recorded and well mixed. Guess my questions are:

    a) Did you use exclusively LCR for mixing the EP?

    b) If so, are there any kind of reverb and (or) delay tails/etc. panned to the opposite side of certain instruments?

    Just trying to figure out a few things myself, because I read the different (legitimate) opinions here, and the analogy with drums panned from the drummer “point of view” vs the listener “point of view” comes to my mind. Some find the first one highly distracting, some see it as a mere producing and (or) aesthetical choice and don’t get distracted at all by it (to which is own I guess). So, no offense intended to anyone. Just my 2cents, a couple of questions, and a highly confused mind right now (but that happens a lot, so it’s old news lol)

    Peace
    Tiago G

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Tiago, thanks for downloading our EP!

      1) Yes I mixed exclusively LCR for this EP
      2) I panned most reverb tails to the center I believe.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  17. SteveB

    Graham and company,

    LCR mixing is not a silver bullet. It is, however an approach that seems to have the internet buzzing with guys like us trying figure it out and how to use it in today’s mixing process. Sure the Beatles, (out of need and a four of eight track tape recorder), made daring choices in their day (drums left /vocals right). The old Abbey Road Emi Consoles had 3 positions: LCR. Flash forward to Pink Floyd and the Dark side of the Moon, and low and behold, realtime panning audio throughout the album. They used what they had and made daring choices. Today, we can make more daring choices with the access to the tools we have that the Beatles and Pink Floyd never had in the early days.

    While LCR panning is attractive to some genres of music; restricting to only LCR could have one ending up with Roey Izahki calls a “W” mix; reference his book “Mixing Audio” to understand his viewpoint which I don’t read as gospel, but there is some wisdom there. Much has been written above about LCR, I find it as an option, one that is not exclusive, but can be blended with panning to create a full sounding spectrum.

    Great Website, Graham!

    -SteveB.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Steve, thanks for the comment and book suggestion.

      Like anything I teach or suggest, it is never a fixed “rule”, but mearly a helpful suggestion. I wasn’t taught LCR in school and working at studios. But once I started using it, things changed for the better. It makes sense to me as a tool, not even genre specific. So I throw it out there since it’s easy and FREE to implement. Might help some!

      In this post in particular, I’m dealing with the issue that I find that many people pan so narrow that they don’t even TOUCH the hard left and right which is a shame.

      Glad to have you around the site!

      Reply
      • Paul Hake

        Graham,

        I strongly favor the LCR technique in the overwhelming majority of instances, (though occasionally there may be reason to add in some soft-left / soft right.) What I don’t like is when an entire recording is soft-left / center/ soft-right. Or worse yet, check out several historical examples of “barely-left / barely-right” mixes such as the Synchronicity album (and some other Police recordings from the early eighties). Similar effect with the 1981 and 1983 Genesis albums. (Same producer, btw.) Not to pick on anyone in particular though, this lack-of-separation seemed to be a trend of that 1979-82 time period. I cite the J. Geils Band and Billy Joel as further examples of that. The cause? Perhaps the production emphasis was shifting to the video side of things during that time that MTV was gaining popularity, and thus the audio mixdown became an afterthought?
        Fortunately, on a positive note, The Cars, Van Halen, and The Who were exceptions to the narrow-soundstaging trend of that time in our history.

        Regards, Paul

        Reply
  18. kamal

    i disagree with LCR panning concept as presented.
    it creates mixes that give an unnatural listening experience. on any given real life soundstage rarely something is panned hard L or R. it might make it “easy” for the mixer to create separation, but the listener is subtly alienated because the brain constantly has to work more to make “natural” sense of what it hears.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Kamal, LCR is a pretty standard way to pan in modern music across all genres. So clearly it doesn’t throw people off that much. For most music you don’t need to create a “natural” panning balance, you just need the mix to sound full, clear, punchy, and exciting so people focus on the music. You may not like it personally, but I present it because it’s a common tool for making great mixes. Not a rule, but it’s pretty widespread.

      Reply
  19. Robert

    Just latched on to this string yesterday and thought I’d add my 2 cents. I’ve been playing for more years than most of you have been around and when doing a sound check out in front of the stage I always hear the instruments panned hard left, hard right and in varying degrees to the center. To my mind, it only stands to reason that a recording should reflect the same aural image. Definitely the vocals and/or lead instrument and drums should be right in the middle. That’s where they are usually set up physically on most stages. The other instruments however can be spread out all over the place.

    Karl Coryat, in his book “Guerrilla Home Recording” talks about this same placement of instruments and I tend to agree. I’ve tried LCR panning but either because I’m too old or too ingrained in my ways, it doesn’t sound natural to me. Yes, I have used it for effect a couple of times but I would not use it almost exclusively. I just move everything out of the way of the lead, bass and drums.

    Reply
  20. Josh Mono

    Hey there Graham,

    I’ve been experimenting with LCR panning for a bit and honestly I’m a bit confused about it. You know, even though it’s so incredibly simple! There’s something that troubles me about the sound I’m getting. I’m currently working on a song which (amongst other things) features a banjo, a guitar and a flute. The flute is panned center, the banjo hard right and the guitar hard left. I find that I actually lose a lot of ‘oomph’ when I pan these instruments hard left or right. The sound seems to become ‘floaty’, if you know what I mean. Is there anything I’m doing wrong?

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Josh, If I were mixing a track with ONLY those three elements I likely would pan them in a lot closer. Make it a smaller, simpler mix. But if there is other stuff happening with this, I’d still pan them out.

      Reply
      • Josh Mono

        Hey Graham, thanks for responding!

        The instrumentation is a little more complicated than that. Besides the three instruments I mentioned there’s also a mellotron, a double bass and a drum kit. Mostly center stuff except for the mellotron, actually.
        About panning them in a lot closer: How would you do that whilst staying true to LCR panning?

        Reply
        • Graham

          OK, in this case I would do things LCR. Double bass, kick, snare, up the middle. Mellotron, banjo, guitar, flute, and overheads out L and R. Just balance them and you’ll be all set!

          Reply
          • Josh Mono

            Again, thanks for replying! I’ll just go ahead and try that. One last question though. Since the flute is the lead instrument, would I be correct to place that in the center as well?

          • Graham

            Josh, that’s how I would do it. Put the lead instruments up the middle as much as you can.

  21. Grant Tregellas

    Help! This question is related to LCR and checking your mix in mono. I’m using ProTools 8, Digidesign Eleven Rack (as audio interface) and Rockit 6 monitors.

    When I switch my mix to mono (using a submix before the master fader as you suggest) I find certain elements get louder and some softer. Its normally vocals, or snare drum that seem to get louder and things like guitars that are panned hard left or right seem to disappear a little.

    I though it was just me not used to listening to mixes in mono, but then I did a test on my setup.

    I added an additional stereo aux track (call that Aux2) next to the regular stereo aux submix (call that Aux1)

    From the mono vox track the output goes to the Aux1 as usual. I then added a stereo send on the vox track going to Aux2.

    All the levels (faders and sends are set to unity gain)

    I left Aux1 as normal with the pan positions left and right and then set the pan positions on Aux2 to both center (ie. mono).

    I solo-safe’d the vox track and then switch between the 2 aux’s and I can hear a difference. Aux2 (set to mono) is louder than the normal stereo Aux1.

    How is this possible with a mono signal being sent? It should be the same, right.

    So this is what happens to me when I switch to mono (in a regular mix situation), I can’t trust what I’m hearing as the volume levels change when set to mono. I notice my guitars (panned left and right) get softer, I adjust them for mono and then when I switch back to stereo they are too loud. Conversely, my vocal track are always louder in mono than stereo.

    I can’t figure this out. I don’t see any sort of setting in the preference’s in ProTools.

    What’s up with this. Any suggestions most welcome.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Andrew Bauserman

      Are you using any effects (reverb, chorus, delay, stereo widener) on either the vocals or the guitars? Are there 2 different guitar parts, or a doubled guitar panned L/R? Vocal effects panned wide then collapsing to mono might emphasize (or cancel) the center vocal. Guitar effects panned wide could collapse to mono with some cancellation (or build-up) due to phase shifting. And doubled guitars (same sound) could add or cancel when collapsed, depending on where they line up phase-wise.

      So that’s 3 random possibilities you can try to rule out. Maybe Graham will think of something more obvious…

      Reply
      • Grant Tregellas

        Thanks Andrew. I had thought of that as well, especially the stereo FX part, so I removed all FX from the track. So its just a dry mono signal, no automation of any kind. Yet there is still at least 1db increase in volume.

        As far as the doubled guitar parts are concerned, yes, your are right about that. I checked this against a part that I had panned hard right and then nudged a bit to create a stereo spread. That did have issues, I switched the phase on the one part and it did change the sound. But that I can sort of understand. Its the mono part dead center send to the stereo aux (set to mono) that is the issue for me. Why is that louder?

        Anyhow, I scrolled up through the comments and found a post I had made I will back that was similar to this problem. Graham mentioned it may be the “Pan Laws”. Don’t seem to be able to change this is v.8.

        Also, forgot to mention that the meters on both aux’s are showing the same output in my DAW! So the louder Aux2 registers the same as Aux1, just that it “sounds” louder.

        So, now Im wondering if its my Eleven Rack’s output to the monitors that has some weird calibration issues? But again, there is no setting to adjust any of that on the unit itself.

        Or is it just my room sound that is fooling me?

        Reply
        • Andrew Bauserman

          Grant – I was also thinking about the “pan laws” (under the pseudonym “pan depth”). When you run mono via 2 speakers, you need to decrease the volume in each speaker vs. what it would be hard-left or hard-right under the assumption that the sound from both speakers will add back up at the listening position. There are several options for this, and I believe ProTools v.8.1+ will allow you to set it from the menu:
          ProTools Setup > Session > Format > Pan Depth
          with these options:
          -2.5 dB = only on ProTools 8.x and lower
          -3 dB = standard on ProTools 8.1+
          -4.5 dB = SSL analog console mode
          -6 dB = true mono compatibility

          Not sure which specific version of ProTools v.8 you have – but maybe this will help…

          Reply
          • Grant Tregellas

            Thanks for the help. I have version 8.2 and there is no pan depth option under Session > Format.

            Apparently that only became an option from version 9. From what I’ve read its fixed to -2.5dB. I read somewhere that you can change some setting when setting up a new track. Tried that, and I don’t see any options for setting Pan Laws (now called Pan Depth).

            Suppose I should upgrade sometime :)

          • Grant Tregellas

            Andrew – Ok, I think I’ve solved it. Sort of a combination of your advice and me being an idiot :) I went back to the original track and inserted the AIR Stereo Width Plugin and used that to change it to mono. Now, I had done this before and its when I noticed the drop in vol. But in retrospect, I think what I hearing was the drop in volume from the out of phase guitars and without really listening closely enough it seemed to me that the volume of the vocals had dropped. When it actually had not. Just checked it out now.

            I’m sure if I get the phase and EQ correct on the parts that are doubled they won’t combine in mono and drop in volume. At least that’s my theory.

            Will try this out. Thanks again for the help.

  22. marty

    great site. i just stumbled on here having recorded a gig and a.b-ing it with other favourite live recordings. i found that (of relevance here because my band is two guitars, bass, drums and vocals) that the old school live recordings are panned with the guitars hard left and hard right and everything else in the middle. my question is – in a band which shares lead guitars, could you, in mixing, pan whichever guitar (who are panned hard left and right) is soloing to the centre only for their solo. would this boost the ‘presence’ of the solo and would it be a more subtle way of boosting volume?

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Marty,

      I do this all the time. Bring a guitar to the center for a solo if it makes sense.

      Reply
  23. mouglee

    kind of unrelated to my question {but info was very useful} i make hip hop at home and want to collab over email and dont know of any websites that bring people that want to collab togther if anyone knows of one id love to guve it a try email me thxs
    smokedoutpro@hotmail.com

    Reply
  24. Steven Borden

    For every one a good read on panning law:

    So, what is Panning Law and does anyone really care?

    Hell yeah!

    In fact, I can state that many producers/engineers that I meet have little or no clue about the panning law.
    As far as they are concerned, you turn the knob and the sound moves from one side of the stereo field to the other.

    What is not understood is that certain things happen to the sound when it is panned from one side of the field, through the centre, and then to the other side of the field.

    When you are dealing with monaural sounds you have to take into account the dynamics of the sound when it is moved and summed.
    This is very important when it comes to the mix stage as many people seem to complain about how the sound behaves when it is panned, to the
    point that most software developers have tried to accommodate for the panning law in their coding.

    The problem facing most newcomers to this industry is that once a project is mixed in certain software and the project is then imported in separate mix software, the panned levels go for walkies.
    This is down to how the softwares behave and process the panning law, compensating for the characteristics of the process.
    When a signal is panned centrally, the same signal will be output (identically) on both the left and right channels. If you were to pan this signal from the extreme left channel through the centre and then onto the extreme right channel, it will sound as if the level rises as it passes through the centre. The panning law was integrated to introduce a 3dB level drop at the centre. If you were to sum the left and right channels in a mono situation, the centre gain would result in a 6dB rise, so attenuating by that amount became a must in the broadcast industry as mono compatibility is always a prime issue.

    So, what the hell is the panning law?

    The panning law determines the relationship between the sound’s apparent image position and the pan knob control. This refers to the way the sound behaves when it is moved across the stereo field.
    The usual requirement is that it moves smoothly and linearly across the field. This is, of course, pertinent to log/anti-log laws.

    If there was a linear gain increase in one channel and a linear gain decrease in the other channel to change the stereo position, at the centre position the sum of the two channels sounded louder than if the signal was panned full left or full right.
    Ah dem old school days.
    Why do you think we had to attenuate the gain whenever we panned a sound central?

    Digital consoles and the digital domain started to change this thinking and accommodate and compensate for this behaviour.

    It became necessary to attenuate the centre level by four common centre attenuation figures: 0, -3. -4.5 and -6dB. The -3dB figure is the most natural because it ensures that the total acoustic power output the studio monitors remains subjectively constant as the source is panned from one extreme of the stereo field to the other.
    However, it also produces a 3dB bulge in level for central sources if the stereo output is summed to mono, and that can cause a problem for peak level metering for mono signals.

    So, most broadcast desks employ a -6dB centre attenuation so that the derived mono signal is never louder than either channel of the stereo source. However, sounds panned centrally may end up sounding a little quieter than when they are panned to the edges.

    Confusing huh?

    Well, the answer is to simply compromise and split the difference and this is what led to most modern analogue consoles working off a -4.5dB centre attenuation.

    So, what does this mean to you and how does it help you, particularly if you are working ITB (in the box) and with different softwares?

    The answer is quite simple: find out what the software panning preferences are and adjust to taste.

    Most of today’s softwares will allow for fine tuning the panning law preferences.

    Cubase, along with most of the big players, has a preference dialogue box for exactly this. Cubase defaults to -3dB (classic equal power), but has settings for all the standards and I tend to work off -4.5dB.

    If you stay with the old school days of 0dB, then you are in ‘loud centre channel land’, and a little bit of gain riding will have to come into play.

    Check your software project and make sure you set the right preference, depending on what the project entails in terms of the mix criteria.

    Reply
    • Frank Nitsch

      Hi Steven,

      this is really a very good summary of the panning law topic. I had read a lot about it in the past, but this brings together all aspects in a nice way.
      Is there a source for the explanation? Or is it written by you?

      Thanx for sharing. :-)

      Reply
  25. SteveB

    I could only wish that I wrote the above…

    Credit goes to Eddie Bazil http://www.samplecraze.com

    I found this article after fighting the idea of mixing in mono and struggling with concept of mixing in mono. My conclusion is that it is more like “eq-ing in mono” is the way to say it since the panning law varies the volume as much as 3db-6db compared to stereo image. One cannot make such critical level adjustments for a final mix in mono (imho). That being said, thans to Graham and Kevin Ward, em-ing in mono has become priceless to my mixing process.

    Reply
  26. Mathis

    Something I’ve found to be very interesting is to apply the principle of golden ration to your mix.
    I read an article about it in a magazine and the easiest way to do it is to pan very few items or part that you want the listener’s attention to be especially focused on, in the golden ratio.

    If your max pan value is 100 that would make the golden ratio 24.
    It works excellent for me. But it’s something you save for a certain special element in your arangement.

    Thank you Graham for your awesome work. Your help has made my mixes way better already!

    Reply
  27. lucas

    I often find that mixing in mono can yield a wide sounding mix when panned even at 50% (assuming every instrument has its own frequency space ofcourse). Which is exciting to know that if you really wanted to pan 100% it would be crazy wide!

    Reply
  28. Brian

    While I agree with this article I also take into consideration that most devices that consumers use to stream audio nowadays is completely in mono. People don’t take the time to sit in front a sonically great 2 way system in a perfect tri-lateral position and really use their ears. A heavily stereo mix will not translate well into a ringtone or a mono laptop/iPod speaker and will fall apart to say the least. Use your ears. When I pan nowadays I don’t usually bump anything more than 25% left or right. Then every once in a while I have something pop in way off in the 75% range to “stick out” and give more separation instantly , and not “spread everything every where” like I used to.

    Reply
  29. Mike

    Panning toms hard right and left is plain wrong in my opinion. Rhythm guitars maybe if there’s a guitar on the other side to balance it. Backing vox too if again, they have balance. But toms are usually hit in isolation. I can’t think of a commercial recording with toms panned in such a fashion.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi Mike, not trying to argue with your opinion as you should mix music the way YOU like it. But there are COUNTLESS commercial recordings with toms panned hard left and right. Maybe not tracks you’ve listened to, but it’s very common. Cheers.

      Reply
  30. T

    LCR is another punch in the face to the art of music and mixing. To clarify, there are only 2 physical points of reference, not 3, so every other phantom point between extreme R and L is just as valuable as phantom center, the whole 180 degree canvas should be used if the music calls for it, and no one should ever dumb down a mix to satisfy an inferior format, or playback system, or someone who walks away from the speakers and isn’t paying attention, and doesn’t even care to know the difference? really? Show me a single LCR mix that comes close to being in the same vicinity of Dark side of the Moon?, actually, turn me on to a single LCR mix that sounds good? I personally haven’t heard one yet…,I’ve heard really wide, cluttered on the edges, separate from center, un natural sounding LCR mixes, but then again i love music, so i listen on a sound system that is of high quality, and reveals the inferior concept. One day mp3′s will vanish, sound systems will be much improved, and bad LCR mixes will be scoffed at.
    L.C.R. is a fad, and it sounds B.A.D.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hi T. I’m not sure what music you listen to, but so, so many mixes are based off LCR. It’s so common. Here’s a very recent example from Philip Phillips. Acoustic tune: http://youtu.be/HoRkntoHkIE

      If you don’t like LCR then PLEASE don’t do it. There are no rules. But to me it makes more sense to space tracks out wide rather than crowd the middle. As simple as that.

      Reply
    • Graham

      5 Toms!!!??? What are we doing people?! :-)

      If I had to mix 5 toms I would pan them 100 L 50L Center 50R 100 R. Something like that.

      Reply
  31. Craig

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. Just wanted to verify. I was listening to some 80′s bands that I love and I’m starting to notice the LCR panning technique more and more. Tried it out on a few tracks I’m working on and sounds pretty good so far. Just have to figure out what to do with back vocals. Lets say I have 3 stereo pairs of back vocals. A high, med, and low. I plan on panning them hard left and hard right. How would you mix them? Would you say the lows and mids are more pronounced than the high parts? Always wondered if there was a standard to follow or should I just follow the whatever sounds good is good philosophy???

    Reply
    • Graham

      No rules here. Just experiment. I’ve heard Dave Pensado speak to this specific situation. And he offered some thoughts, but yeah, just put one pair our wide, one up the middle, and maybe one in between. There’s no rule that you can’t put something not LCR, it’s more of a general philosophy for most of the tracks.

      Reply
  32. Drew

    Ran across this from Sound on Sound. The whole Lumineer’s album was recorded using LCR…so another example of a very successful and great sounding record using the technique:

    ” ‘Ho Hey’ involved stripping away half the tracks, re-recording a few bits and pieces, and then laying everything out over his custom-made 16-track monitoring board which has only LCR panning and no inbuilt EQ or compression. The only effects he used were a Studer B67 for slap tape delay and the reverb from his studio’s echo chamber, and the only outboard was a Fairchild 660 compressor and a Pultec EQP-1A3 EQ on the lead vocals, and an old Universal Audio EQ on the stereo mix.”

    Reply
    • Graham

      Great article in that issue if anyone cares to pick up the whole magazine. Cool stuff!

      Reply
  33. Atin Dasgupta

    The no.1 rule to achieve instant separation in your mixes is the intelligent use of eq. What good is panning the instruments if they are competing with similar frequencies and getting lost in the process?! Using low cut filters on all most of the tracks will help you clear the room and make way for the low frequencies. Similarly removing all other unwanted artifacts by using high and low ‘Q’ will greatly improve the clarity of the instruments thus separating them clearly in the panorama. Use of a spectrum analyser for every track is another useful visual aid to help in the mix process.

    Reply
    • Graham

      I 100% agree. That is why I recommend people mix in mono and get EQ right. Panning is only icing on the cake.

      Reply

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  1.  Get Instant Separation In Your Mix | Acoustic
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