6.9 Instrument Placement

Placement of instruments within the stereo field is vital. As discussed in our ‘The Three Dimensions’ module, we need to make room for instruments.

Placement of sources is very subjective as it relies entirely on the song.
Some elements like to be centered (mono) whilst others like to be panned within the stereo image (left and right).

Centre Image.
Sources that are in the centre of the stereo image are generally the ones that are most important.

Lead Vocal – This is the most important source of any song. The lead vocal generally needs to be front and centre with great clarity. Panning the lead vocal (if not an effect) may distract the listener. Therefore, keep it nice and loud and in front of the other elements in the centre image.

Kick Drum – Another important source, kick drums often have a lot of the low end energy. This energy needs to be evenly weighted between both speakers to allow for an even mix.

Snare Drum – The relationship between the kick drum and snare drum is important. As the two main sources of a drum kit, keeping them centred helps immensely with the overall cohesion.

Bass – The relationship between the kick drum and the bass is also vital. Bass/synth bass has a lot of low information, much like the kick drum. The trick is to make these two feel like they are locked in together. Keeping bass centred will help tremendously.

Stereo Image
These are the sources that generally get panned left or right. Once you have your centre information balanced well, you’re ready to introduce stereo elements into your mix.

Piano/Synths – Piano and synths are often panned hard left and right. Hard panned means 100% left and right. This can be done within your DAW and will be mentioned in another module.

Electric Guitar – Electric guitar likes to be panned too. Instead of 100%, try panning them 75% to the right and left. This will keep 25% of the signal in the other speaker, which tends to feel more natural.

Acoustic Guitar – Acoustic guitar is often panned, more often than not at 100% (L&R).

Backing Vocals – Backing vocals are often 100% panned (L&R) also.

Tom’s (Drum Kit) – Start off with panning these 75% left on Tom1 and 75% right on Tom 2. This will help them to feel natural.

Drum Overheads – Overheads capture the full spectrum of the drum kit. For this reason they like to be 100% panned (L&R).

Again, these amounts are completely subjective. Listen to some of your favourite records and pinpoint the panning placement.

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