There is a simple way to get instant separation and clarity in your mix that you might not be taking advantage of. It’s fast, easy to learn, and takes immediate effect the moment you implement it. And best of all it comes bundled free with your DAW, no matter which platform you mix on! Do you know what it is? Your pan pot!
Via Mark Catoe Flickr
Are You Halfway Panning?
OK, so my intro paragraph might sound a bit sarcastic, but don’t discount what I’m about to say. I get so many people emailing me mixes of theirs for critique. I try to listen if I have time and give some honest, helpful feedback. One suggestion I consistently find myself offering is to stop panning just halfway. What I mean is so many of these mixes I’m hearing where people complain about the lack of clarity and separation, I notice that most of the tracks are jammed up the middle or close to it. What a waste!
If the organ and electric guitar seem to be fighting each other AND the lead vocal, but as it turns out they are all panned somewhat center, then do yourself a favor and pan them out hard left and right. This will get them on opposite sides of each other plus it will leave the vocal freed up in the middle. Bam, problem solved.
Three Points Of Mixing
As I’m sure you’re aware, you have the option of panning a track anywhere from Left to Right across your speakers. But in reality you have only three distinct points in space to work with: hard left, hard right, and up the center. You should take advantage of these points and move all of your tracks to one of those three spots. This is sometimes called LCR Panning or LCR Mixing, but in reality it’s simply a smart way to work that makes mixing easier for me.
I like to put foundational tracks up the center: kick drum, snare, bass guitar, and lead vocals. Then I pan the rest of the band (guitars, pianos, synths, toms, percussion, backing vocals) out hard left or right. I try to balance the left and right out so the mix doesn’t become to lopsided for most of the song. So if I have a punchy acoustic guitar I’ll put it on side and compliment it with a piano track on the other. This makes your mix sound huge and all the while nothing is covering up your kick, snare or vocal. Sweet.
Don’t Waste Space
The big thing I’m getting at is this: what good is all the mixing training and plugins in the world if you are leaving empty mix space behind? You should do yourself a favor and fill up the entire width of your mix and take advantage of that big space you have to work with. Once you start thinking of mixing this way it will become natural for you and you’ll likely never look back. I know I haven’t!