Dynamic symmetry? It’s something you have probably heard about before. Only not in relation to mixing music or panning audio tracks. More like visual art. Or sometimes even composition. So let me point it out right away. This article has nothing to do with the golden ratio. Nor Fibonacci numbers. Not this time. However, let’s go down to the gist of what “dynamics” means. Do the same with “symmetry” as well. If you understand these simple terms, you’ll get what our current topic is about. Regarding audio mixing, of course. And a little bit of arrangement, as well.
Are you too safe and symmetrical?
How many times you have tried to mix a song with simple elements? A limited amount of elements? Probably not once and not twice. The limitations themselves are nice. They force you to work quick. It makes one keep things in the creative zone. But in the end, it often just sounds boring. And you can’t quite put your finger on why it turns out this “nothing special” way. Let me tell you, it’s usually not because of the above mentioned simplicity. It’s probably because your mix is missing a certain amount of asymmetry. Why the heck would I need imbalance on purpose, you may ask. Well, check your panning, man. Chances are, it’s one of three common things. A: It’s either way too centered. B: Or almost perfectly symmetric around the center. C: Or it’s too imbalanced (this one has got the lowest chance, but hey, we needed to include it).
Panning between balanced and imbalanced
The cure, of course, is to only make it sound symmetrical from time to time throughout the song. How do you realize that though? Maybe you had your single hi-hat panned too much off to one side. Don’t center it! Instead, create another hi-hat, or a similar percussive sound, on the other side of the stereo image. One that plays a complimentary figure to the original hi-hat. So they do something interesting in tandem. Going on and off rhythmically, from one side to another. Dynamically in time. Surprised? Don’t forget, it’s pop music. If doing this kinda stuff becomes your second nature arrangement wise, it’s all the better. That way, you can plan ahead and come up with interesting little sounds. For example, an electric guitar on the left, and a piano on the right. Or a triangle with a cowbell. We always need more of that. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
But that’s still kind of, sort of symmetrical, because things are happening on both sides at once. Another trick is to be symmetrical in time. What do I mean? Well, imagine a sound, let’s say, a percussive, clean electric guitar playing on the far right in the verses. Your natural instinct would be to put something on the left side to balance it, right? Now the trick is to resist this urge. Don’t try to balance asymmetry right away! Wait for the pre-chorus or the chorus, and put your stuff on left and right only then. Even if that verse guitar’s not playing anymore by then. Music sounds the best when it’s both interesting and familiar at the same time.
It might not be a naturally relaxing sound you get this way, but it’s a pretty damn good one. You’ll soon realize that you can pan things much wider this way. And still not having to worry about the boring centered sound. Nor the dreaded imbalance. If your music remains symmetric only dynamically, it enables you to get a genuinely enjoyable sound right away. Just make sure you plan out to include a couple of similar sounding instruments/samples that you can pan around in the track.