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

  • Emerson Maningo

    Panning is both and art and science. It is a science that most engineers prefer panning low frequency instruments (such as a kick drum) in the center of the stereo image so that it would have a more even distribution and clarity. And higher frequency instruments can be panned farther from the center.
    It is an art that you can choose where to put your instruments in the stereo field as long as it make sense and it contributes to the clarity of your mix. So the answer could be no. You have the options where to pan all your instruments in the stereo field. But you need to ensure that your sound stage sounds great and clear.
    Personally I prefer bass percussion instruments to be at the center as well as the snare. Then all hi hats and other high frequency instruments to be panned slightly farther from the center. All it takes is a little experimentation to see which sounds best for your mix. Good luck!

  • Daniel C

    In a classical concert setup or for example in an electronic music setup; there are many more percussion items than in this arrangement; does it still follow the same rules; or for example for a wood type percussion could that be hard paned L or R?

  • james

    I have recently purchased the line 6 podx3 live effects modualer and one of the neat things that come with it is the ability to play with a dual guitar setting with two amp output signals.adding to the feature it offers a left and right panning option for both signals,from there you can also connect from the two left and right outputs of the line 6 console into a two track recording interface.with these dual settings set at full,panned left and right,when I record in stereo on my interface the two panned signals come up on the one channel,is this real stereo recording? and if so would it be effective to pan these tracks on the stereo field like I would with say” mono tracks any feedback would be great………………james.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Chris,
    My apologies for the late reply. You can read more about your inquiry here:


  • chris mithcum

    I am in the middle of a home recording session and am wondering what you recommend panning setup for a 3 piece would be? wouldn’t bunching everything in the middle would cause cancellation?
    your thoughts? Thank you

  • AndyX

    Hi Emerson,

    My BOSS Drum Machine is panning drumsets according to a drum player’s point of view. Is it acceptable for commercial mixes or should be “repanned” to look like from listener’s point of view? Thank you.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Chirs,
    Creative mixing and panning is OK, it all depends on the plan. The mixing locations is actually based on the location of strong energy (not strictly on persons placing in front of the stage though the picture above show it, but it will be flexible like what you have stated) which I favor to have the bass (low frequency signal) and kick placed on the dead center.

  • Chirs Downing

    Your bass player is actually in the wrong place. A right handed bass and a right handed drummer should be positioned so the bass player is to the drummers left and the drummer is behind and to the bass players right. These two need to work and have eye contact and be able to watch each other. Move the bass to 2nd Guitar and 2 guitar to where the bass is.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Also your idea about having the drums off-center is a creative one. It is very possible for some rare mix scenarios. Thanks for the tip.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Thank so much for the feedback. It was my mistake, sorry for that. So for 25 panning units total, it should be only -12.5 to 12.5.


  • Anonymous

    Things seems a bit more insteresting if you try position the drums within the whole mix. Thus on a 40 feet sound stage the drums occupy 5 feet, but the drums can be off center, so there should be an offset added to the panning figures to shift the entire (panned!) drum set to the proper area on the stage (+ designates the center of the sound stage, drums are located to the right of the center):

    right half stage (20 ft)
    |    Drums (5 ft)
    |      |…….|

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t there a mistake: drum set width is 5 feet which takes 25 panning units total. Which means that drums should be panned from
    -12.5 to +12.5 but not from -25 to +25 (which would actually give a 50 units span)?

  • Anonymous

    Hey! Thanks for the post about the panning of drum sounds. It was really informative. Keep up the good work!

  • Anonymous

    Question…Where do i pan the snare? Should i put it on the center or each on the left an right?

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi, thanks for the comment. I will make a separate post about panning drum instruments. Check my blog for updates. Cheers.

  • Anonymous

    one picture worth 1000 word

    thank you so much

    keep it up