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Stereo Image

This piece is going to look at the importance the stereo image within a mix and what tools can be used to create a 'wide' sound

This is the second blog in a four part series looking at how to create a professional mix, the first blog can be found here.

Mixing is an art form as much as a science and is often affected by music technology developments, genres and personal tastes. This is true when thinking about placing instruments across the stereo field, as many successful tracks have instruments placed in 'unconventional' positions such as vocals panned to the extreme right or left to create a certain feeling or even drums placed extremely to one side (The Beatles song Taxman comes to mind).

Wide stereo mixes in my opinion tend to sound more pleasing to listen to and can even be used creatively depending one what you are looking to achieve. For those that aren't familiar with the concept of the Stereo Image it could be described as; the audible width of your track or perceived spatial locations of sound sources within a mix. Where and to what degree the individual tracks are panned (positioned) left, right & center will help shape the stereo image.

There are certain mixing conventions that have evolved with regards to panning, most likely due to different genre influences, technologies and the mediums that people are listening to music on. Examples of some panning conventions are; having lead vocals, bass and drums in the center of the stereo image (most likely for mono playback compatibility), having three vocal takes simultaneously playing panned left, center and right to make a pop chorus sound bigger or having instruments panned to replicate how you listen to a band on stage.

One way to approach panning instruments is to try and replicate how a band might be set up on a stage so to recreate a live feel for the mix. For example a five piece band might have vocals, drums and bass in the middle, guitar panned to the right and keys to the left.

Another way that panning can be used is to separate two sounds that occupy a similar frequency range. For example, you might pan a piano recording to the left and a electric guitar to the right if they are occupying a similar frequency and thus helping them have their own clearly audible space within a mix.

Main Stereo Image Tool - Pan Control

To move and place individual sounds across the stereo field ranging from extreme left, center and extreme right an audio tool called a pan control/Pan Pot is used. This is typically found on the individual channel strip of a mixer and is sometimes displayed on the track section of a DAW and often looks like a turn-able knob.

There are other tools and processing techniques that can help create a stereo image however these audio tools don't always come as a standard within a DAW or mixer unlike the humble Pan tool which is the most effective tool in placing sound sources within the mix and creating a stereo image for your mix.

I hope this blog gives you an understanding of how a Pan pot is used to create a stereo image for your mix as well as some ideas and conventions to think about when you are panning sounds.

The next blog within the series is going to look at the how to control the Frequency content of your mix and what considerations you should take when using the tools to achieve this.

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