Panning: The Difference Between Mess and Masterpiece

Hey there again! Have you ever wondered why your music doesn’t have that professional-sounding edge that other Producers seem to be enjoying? There are a number of ways to improve the production quality of your sound. Mixing your vocals properly can make the vocal line stand out more, but what can be said for the rest of the music? A professional studio will spend thousands of dollars, expertly crafting every line to make a single track sound the way it does, but you can make leaps and bounds in the same direction with only a little research and practice. One solution to help bridge that gap is to wrap your mind around the concept of panning.

In modern music file-formats, we use at least two channels to carry the sound waves; one for the left ear/speaker and one for the right. Panning makes the sound play more on one side than the other. This gives the sound the illusion of coming from slightly to the listener’s left or right. As simple as this concept is, its intelligent use can make the difference between a mess of instruments clamoring for your attention, and a masterpiece that sounds like you’re at a live performance. To put panning to work for you, it’s best to first learn a few things about how instruments are situated when performing.

Orchestral panning is very similar to real orchestra placement.

Above is an image of the standard placement of instruments in the orchestra. The image is taken from Garritan, home of one of the more popular synth orchestra providers. Click the image for the interactive version at Garritan.com, where you can learn more about each instrument and section.

I had actually started writing a really long section on the orchestra, but decided against it. You are likely not going to be using a full orchestra, and even if you did, the most popular orchestral sets come pre-panned anyway.

No, you’re probably here for a performance of a different sort of instrument group… something closer to the eye-catch image.


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What you really came here for… The modern band!