The Soft Tyranny of Modern Panning Expectations
by, 08-30-2012 at 08:31 PM (1406 Views)
There are times when you look around and wonder aloud, "When in the world did this happen?!", followed by, "Why?"
The modern orthodoxy for panning expectations of other folks who record music seems to have the following rules... Stop right there. No nonsense about "breaking rules is what I'm about, man" and "I'm too rock-and-roll for any of that 'rules' jive." I hear this from virtually everyone's mouth and a vast majority of the rock records made in the last twenty years. I've heard the comment, "Things aren't panned the way I'm used to" many times.
Anyhow, the rules as I understand them, are these.
The following instruments will be panned to the center:
Solo Instrument (not always)
*Notice that these are predominating elements of a rock song.
Hard panning is discouraged except for reverb returns and the following -
Toms are individually panned across the stereo field. Sometimes the high and low tom are outside the rest of the resultant drum kit image.
Guitars and other instruments are panned to one side or the other but never all the way.
This results in records that are very mono-sounding. So much so, I can sum them to mono and sometimes can tell almost no difference. Even worse, when you're listening to a song and it strikes you as "not very stereo", you check it and find it's not. You can tell how this sounds. It's a very predictable sound we've all heard. I like the people who say, "I'm not going to check my mixes in mono." I don't know why the hell not. You're probably making stuff that's mostly mono to being with. You might catch some phase issues or something else stupid gone wrong.
Think about (and listen to) some records that actually are stereo and maybe have really weird panning assignments. Start with any of the Hendrix records. I have a Temptations song in my head that's real stereo.
So much of what I hear is just wide mono. Stereo is a powerful psychoacoustic effect. It's a shame to make music that's indifferent to it.