Do you think you know everything you need to about panning? Don’t worry, I used to think that, too. The secrets of a correct and artistically pleasant panning technique are really obvious. Maybe too obvious, so they fly over the heads of most us. If you slow down a little and think about it, there are only two different ways you can go about it. The real problem is, most people go down one of these paths, and never even dabble in the other one. Are you brave enough to be different from them? We’ll see.
Symmetrical panning is really the single most popular technique, at least nowadays. You put stuff either down the center, or place it around the center in a way that the right side is the exact mirror image of the left side. It’s instantly balanced and works perfectly in most cases… and it sounds pretty boring. Yep. Kids and amateurs just learned about double tracking, so they stack their guitar tracks like the pros. So they think. In reality, it just doesn’t require all that much creativity to do so. EDM guys do the same with their synths. It can get worse though. When people are lazy or simply can’t play it correctly even twice, they just delay one side slightly. It works, but gets even more phasy in mono. And by mono, I mean all situations when there’s no perfect stereo separation, like in a club or at a friends party. You can do better.
This is where mixing talent really comes out of the closet and bites you in the crotch. Because you can achieve a balanced mix without perfect symmetry. How? Think about a balance with two elephants in one pan, and seven giraffes in the other. It’ll be perfectly balanced. Let’s pretend; it’ll be pretty close anyway. How does it translate to the world of audio? Quite simply, my friend. For example, guitar on the left and electric piano on the right. Or electric rhythm guitar half right and an acoustic guitar hard left, with some soft background vocals half left. You can also make them come and go at certain parts of the song, dynamically. It doesn’t have to be well balanced all the way through. The brain will notice when the balance is off, and pay attention to what’s happening in the stereo field. Immediately. You can keep the music interesting with using such a mixing technique. Happy pan knob tweaking.