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Panning Stereo Tracks

Todays tip was inspired by a question from the Gear Slutz forum. How should you treat your stereo tracks when thinking about panorama? Just because a track was recorded in stereo does not mean it has to be mixed in stereo. In fact, some tracks should not be stereo.

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Panning Stereo Tracks

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Hello again! Dezz Asante from the TechMuzeAcademy with yet another MixLessons.com video quick tip. This one comes to us again from another…a question that was post by a fellow Gear Slutz member and it concerns panning and stereo tracks.

He says, “I’m often recording something to stereo tracks from a Motif keyboard which has stereo outs including drums, base and synth. It’s easy to pan mono tracks but with stereo tracks, you have to decide on two pan knobs. It’s very difficult to decide. For example, base – you could pan left 100%, right 100% or left zero and right zero which means centre. Or even something like left 20 and right 20. I don’t understand clearly how the sound works when you pan left 100, right 100 versus left zero, right zero etc, etc. I feel when its centred, its like a dot that gives more gain while the left …full left and full right is more wide and quote unquote 3D. What do you think is the best situation. Have you practiced?”

Well, there’s a couple of ways to approach this and right of the bat, there’s no single definitive correct way. It really does boil down to your creative expression and what your trying to achieve with that track in you mix. The most important thing to consider is your 3-dimensional strategy including your panorama strategy. And I think that’s a better place to begin and when you start to flash out exactly what you want to do with the elements in your mix in your panorama then a lot of these questions will answer themselves.

I’ll give you a quick example of what I mean. This is a…an example of a 3D strategy that I put together for a mix that I did for a client sometime ago. And this…I put this together just to illustrate the concept of 3-dimensional mixing and how you can plan things out.

If you look at this, I’ve got in the green box in the centre, I’ve got my sort of sacred centre instruments. Your vocal, any features, your base, snare kick drum and things of that nature. One thing to consider is when it comes to the base and kick any of those low frequency elements, it’s advantageous to place those on the centre. In other words, make the mono and have them come equally out from both speakers. Part of the reason is that, those high energy,low frequencies…they perform best when the drivers of your speakers are moving in sync with one another. Okay!

And then of course, features like the vocal and things of that nature, the snare drum oftentimes which is a driving rhythmic element. Those types of things I prefer to keep in the centre and I don’t believe I’m alone in that preference.

When we start to consider the other elements of our mix, this is where we can start to put together our panning strategy. So, you can see in this demonstration, I have my room mics in stereo but not quiet as wide as say, you know some other element in the mix.

I’ve got this hand claps, that was a group of 5 or 6 people clapping in certain sections of the tune, that are also in stereo but again a little bit less wide than the room mics. So, this is an example of when you could use that stereo dual panner and pan them in a little bit. So, maybe your… you know left 40, right 40, not a 100% wide, full hard left and right, but just narrowed in a little bit but still having a stereo perspective to them. With my room mics, there maybe hard left and hard right, so they’re stereo but wider. Again this is not a rule. This is just how I chose to approach this particular mix.Okay!

So, what to do if you have captured a stereo sound from your Motif as you say, but you don’t want it to be necessarily stereo like base for example. Well, let me show you how I approach that. So, here what I have is a little synth base thing that I generated from Omnisphere and as you can see here, its stereo – there’s the left channel, there’s the right channel. Okay!

If I want to as I mentioned use the technique I was describing where my base frequencies I want them to be mono so my drivers are pushing and pulling at the exact same time.Then what I would do is, I would convert this track into a mono track. And the way its done at least in Cubase and you’ll find similar functionality in whatever DAW you use is to export that track as a mono mix. So, let me demonstrate that for you. So, I’m going to grab a…an audio mix down from this track and I’m going to call it synth mono and I’m going to export it as a wav file at a bit depth and sample rate that I’m using in this project. I’m going to import it into an audio track in my session and I’m going to click this button right here which is called the mono down mix. Okay!And I’ll hit export and you’ll see in a moment what happens when the computer is finished crunching its numbers. So, now what I have is the same track but as you can see now, its mono information. And if I solo that and play it, you’ll hear what it sounds like. Okay!

Alright, so a simple mono base like and then what is I can do is I can take that stereo version and I can mute it at the track level. And what I’d like to do in Cubase just for organizational purposes is I like to create a folder track and I’ll call that folder back-up. In case I do change my mind and I want to revisit that later then I can put this stereo track inside that folder, close it up, shrink it up and its out of the way. And now I’ve got my mono track which I can either leave mono or I can then pan to the left and to the right and treat it as a mono source. Okay!

So, the morale of the story is you’ll have to make your own decision as to how you want to treat the panorama in your mix. But this is a method that allows you to take a stereo audio file turn it into a mono audio file and then you have a single panner that you can then choose where in your horizontal spectrum you’d like that element to sit. So, I hope that you find that somewhat helpful and we will see you on the next quick tip.

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