Creating Realistic Stereo Image with Panning

Inquiry about panning- using it along with reverb

I received an inquiry relating about panning in an audio mix from one of the readers of this blog:

I’m Ricky; I am already finishing my song, the details is as follows:
1. Adobe Audition 3
2. My Panning setting is:
a. vocal (center)
b. vocal backing (R-10)
c. Piano (L-40)
d. String low (R-40)
e. String high (R-60)

Would you kindly share your input & tips concerning my panning setting above?

Thank you for your time 🙂

My reply:

Hello Ricky,

Thanks for writing ! First, to create a great mix using effective panning techniques; I would use a reverb effect along with it. You know why? Imagine a stage with performers and you are directly in front of them in the center.

panning and reverb

panning and reverb

But since you are in the studio instead of watching them performing live, you can visualize all of your panning settings by stereo imaging using nearfield monitors:

nearfield monitoring

nearfield monitoring

Credits: Yamaha HS-80M

The panning settings are OK. This would be my approach If I will be mixing your project.

1.) I would move the backup vocals way farther at the back of the lead vocalist while maintaining the same panning setting of R-10. To move farther, the reverb setting of backup vocals is somewhat around 50% wet and 50% dry (use your ears which sounds nice to you). This will make the backup vocals sounds somewhat less prominent than the lead vocals which is the way it should be.

2.) I would pan the strings in both left and right, not only in the right. The primary reason is to add more ambiance and depth to strings which are very important in modern music production. I would also apply some reverb on the strings to make it sound farther back but not too far from the lead vocalist (e.g. 40% wet, 60% dry)

3.) The piano can be panned at the farther back and left (like L=40) with more reverb than the strings and the vocals. Also the size of the stage and room is very important to consider when panning and applying reverb. Supposing you would like your mix to sound as if the musicians are performing on small live stage. So this means that the reverberation of the environment is less and the stereo image is not that wide since musicians are closer to each other. If you have some plug-ins, there are some reverb presets whether you are mixing for a small and big room. You can try that along with your panning settings.

Also the ratio between reverb dry and wet is important in relation to panning. Since the lead vocals are on center of the stereo mix and “up-front”, the reverb is less. So in your reverb plugin, you can set a low %wet and high % dry for the vocals (which is very common today typically in country music). If the instruments are placed at the back, the farther they are from the lead vocalist; the higher will be the %wet settings of the reverb. This simulates actual condition that supporting musicians (pianist, guitarist, back-up vocalist) are performing at the back of the lead vocals rather than all of them directly in front of the stage.

But I think in your case, you are mixing for small room because there are only few musicians. Your case would be comparable to jazz or country musicians playing at the bar or having sessions in a small room. If you listen to some acoustic jamming sessions of popular artist, you will notice that there is almost no reverb applied to the lead vocals since it simulates small room conditions. As a summary, feel free to experiment a lot to discover which would really sounds best for your projects. It’s simply sticking to some panning/reverberation guidelines and do some adjustments not necessarily re-inventing the wheel. For more details about using panning along with this effect, you can read this tutorial.

Content last updated on October 21, 2012