There is a very simple but very helpful tool we have in our disposal when it comes to mixing. It’s so simple as long as we understand the usage and the simplicity of this tool. There is a knob on your mixer, it’s called Pan. What is Pan? Panning is the procedure of placing the instruments of a song in the stereo field. If you listen to a song using a pair of headphones, you will notice that the instruments are placed somewhere to the left or to your right headphone and some instruments are heard to the middle! Some of them maybe are a little bit more at your right or at your left
There is a basic theory that you can place instruments at your left in different positions ,for example the guitar L25 the piano L48 the pad R40 ,the strings R60 etc. This method of panning has helped us for panning the instruments in the stereo field and having better mixes. In fact this theory says that there are only three spots for placing the instruments: LCR and these are Left Center and Right. What do I mean by that? In older consoles there were knobs with only three choices of panning Left Center and Right. In the digital domain and the latest consoles have the selection of %panning. Let me tell you one secret that will help you get real good mixes.
When it comes to mixing think hard Left and hard Right! Yes my friend! This is the way you will get better mixes. If you eliminate all these precise positions in panning and start using the method that I just suggested, you will see that Center is the place where some instruments are heard equally from both speakers and headphones. I know that this maybe is a change for you but if you try it, at the end you will get more clarity and width in your mix.
Let’s say you have a song with a “basic” instrumentation: 2 guitars, bass, drums, piano and lead vocal. I suggest you keep bass ,drum kick , snare and vocals in the center. The first guitar pan it hard left and the other one hard right. Try to place the piano somewhere in the middle ,I mean 50% to the left or right. Place the hi hats somewhere at your left and the toms two of them at your left and two of them at your right. In that way you create a stereo width and you have more clarity to your mix.
LCR suggestions for better mixes
There are no rules for LCR panning but these suggestions are the basic and more useful to start your mixing!
We start with the center ( C): Kick drum,snare,bass and lead vocals always in the middle
One instrument and I suggest a midrange instrument like guitars or even synths hard left or hard right
And as I mentioned before there are no rules,Practice with other instruments and try to keep a balance in the stereo field.If you have any percussion like a tambourine for example ,you can put it somewhere in the half way,50% on the left or do whatever you think it’s best for your mix. Be creative and don’t hesitate to try some ideas you may have. If your “main” instuments are placed properly,then you have started right to get a very good mix.