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Stereo tracks are hard to place in a mix?


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I hear a lot of mix engineers saying that stereo tracks can be difficult to mix because "it's hard to know were to put them in the mix". I've even heard some people say that you can't pan stereo tracks well.

 

I already understand the reasoning for not wanting to have too much stereo stuff/wide stuff in a mix - If everything is wide then it makes it more difficult to create the perception of width in a mix. Width is all about perception. You need a certain amount of mono/narrow stuff in your mix to make the wide stuff seem wide. So I get that. (If anything I've said here is wrong feel free to correct me)

 

But, you can pan a stereo track, right? So why is it that people say that it's hard to place stereo tracks in a mix? Obviously there is some negative drawback to panning stereo tracks that I am unaware of. Is it that it's harder to pan a stereo track? Do you lose some of a stereo track's good qualities when you pan it? What is the issue?

 

NOTE : I understand that when you pan a stereo track right in Logic, you're not actually panning the whole track right. You're actually just turning down the left side which isn't really panning. But for the purposes of this conversation let's assume that the engineers who I've heard say that stereo tracks are hard to place are using a DAW that has two pan pots for a stereo track, making it possible to actually truly pan the stereo track.

 

As an example, listen to what this guy says. This is not the exact same topic as I discussed above but it is related -

 

 

He says if you had a stereo hi hat which was a bit louder in the left side and a bit quieter in the right side, the sound wouldn't be as distinct as it would if the track were mono. This confuses me because if you pan a mono hi hat a bit to the left, you're going to have the same thing happening - it will be a bit louder in the left side and a bit quieter in the right side. I don't understand what he is trying to say. Can anyone explain this?

 

 

Thanks for the help

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I already understand the reasoning for not wanting to have too much stereo stuff/wide stuff in a mix - If everything is wide then it makes it more difficult to create the perception of width in a mix. 

I don't want to put words into "their" mouths especially since I'm not sure where you heard that or who said it, but my guess is, what I just quoted is what they meant. 

 

Another thing is that when using a stereo sound, by definition there are differences in the L and R channels, which means your speaker membranes are not moving in sync. In mono, both membranes are always in sync. When one pushes air, the other pushes air as well. So automatically mono sounds, even when panned, are more powerful and more defined than stereo sounds. That's one of the reasons why kick and bass are nearly always mono (and centered), to get maximum power and definition.

 

If mono is the porterhouse steak, stereo is the garnish on top. I'm not sure what that means, I was just trying to find a metaphor. 

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Just to touch on what David mentioned, there needs to be a blend and proper usage of both mono/stereo in a mix. Your bass frequencies should typically be narrower in the mix, but you don't usually want to just pan to the left or the right because you could be losing signal that was on the opposite side. You'd be better off using a Direction Mixer and try to merge the stereo more towards the center to taste. Again typically bass frequencies sound better as mono, especially a bass line or kick, but some synth bass notes can sound really cool if they are in stereo. The big issue why most engineers say that mixing stereo is so tough, is because there needs to be a balance. You have to keep monitoring your Gonioscope and that way you can see what individual mono tracks, and the entire mix is doing. If it's starting to go out of phase, or too stereo, then that means that your mix is too wide and will sound bad if played as mono, like through a bluetooth speaker that could be in mono. Mono compatibility should always be taken into consideration when mixing, and mastering. With headphones, your mixes may sound really awesome if they're "too wide" but this is dangerous. The meter will help guide you, and you should be creating mixes to where they will be compatible on multiple setups, including mono/stereo. Again, it should all be in taste. The real magic comes down to the mix and where the individual instruments and tracks lie. You want to make sure that everything has it's own room to breathe, so you can hear all the instruments in all their glory. Imagine an orchestra. Now imagine if you had every instrument in an orchestra hall, panned to the center. Every instrument would be fighting for each others spaces. Now think about how a real orchestra hall is set up, (they can be set up multiple ways). For example, furthest from left to right could be, Basses, Violas, then Violins, then Flutes, then the right side could be Oboes, French Horns, Cellos, and Clarinets. This is just an example, but this should help you imagine in a real depth of field. You want to think about physically where your instruments would be if you were to have them in a live setting, and USE YOUR EARS! Play around with the panning and Direction Mixer to put the instruments where they best sound for you.

 

Happy listening!

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Wow, I was just getting ready to ask about this EXACT subject :)

 

I want my tracks to be defined but it's hard to do because I use a lot of stereo tracks for guitar, synth, piano, organ, strings, horns, etc. and I pan them as the might be if on a stage at a concert, but I only do the panning by each tracks pan knob.

 

So in as few a words as possible (at least for me :) ), would it be better to keep the tracks as stereo, panned dead center and use the Direction Mixer to pan

 

OR

 

make the stereo tracks mono and pan with the track pan knob?

 

Thanks,

 

Jerry

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Hi David :)

 

How's the family, I hope all is well with my buddy!

 

If I had to genre my songs I would possibly call them Pop Songs.

 

Specifically:

1) Pop like Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Chris Cornell, etc.

2) R&B Pop, again like Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Prince, 80's R&B like Babyface, The Gap Band, Michael Jackson, etc.

3) County Pop like Lady Antebellum, Trace Adkins, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, etc. as well as older Country like George Strait, Alabama, Ronnie Milsap, George Jones, etc.

4) Jazz like Chick Corea, George Winston, etc.

 

So will that affect your answer?

 

Thanks!

 

Jerry

 

PS

 

I AM curious that if you pan a stereo track using the Direction Mixer, say to 9 o'clock, how can the instrument be "stereo" if it mainly coming out the left speaker?

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All is well, thank you! :D

 

It's really hard to answer how I would mix something based only on genre. I would need to consider the genre, but also the instrumentation, the arrangement, the structure, the singer, the song.... but yes in general for pop/rock I like to use a fair amount of mono tracks, for example guitar, bass, vocals, kick, snare, hat are all mono tracks. Keyboards may be mono or stereo depending on all the parameters I've listed.

 

PS

 

I AM curious that if you pan a stereo track using the Direction Mixer, say to 9 o'clock, how can the instrument be "stereo" if it mainly coming out the left speaker?

Panning the Direction Mixer to 9 o'clock (-90 degrees) is the equivalent of panning a mono signal (the sum of both L and R channels) all the way to the left speaker. So you are now dealing with a mono signal.

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Another thing is that when using a stereo sound, by definition there are differences in the L and R channels, which means your speaker membranes are not moving in sync. In mono, both membranes are always in sync. When one pushes air, the other pushes air as well. So automatically mono sounds, even when panned, are more powerful and more defined than stereo sounds. That's one of the reasons why kick and bass are nearly always mono (and centered), to get maximum power and definition.

Thanks David.

So would I be right in saying that when this guy (

) says that a panned stereo hi hat wouldn't be as defined as a panned mono one, what he really means to say is that a panned mono one will cause both speakers to move at the same time in the same way (although not at the same volume) and that this will result in more definition? He seems to suggest that the fact that the panned stereo track is louder on one side than on the other is the problem but that could be said of the panned mono track too. What he really should say is that the panned stereo track won't cause the speakers to to move in sync, leading to less definition. Right? 
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He seems to suggest that the fact that the panned stereo track is louder on one side than on the other is the problem but that could be said of the panned mono track too.

You're right about that. It's hard to guess what he really meant. Perhaps when he talks about a mono hi-hat for him it's obvious that it's also centered - which would then give sense to his remark.

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A common mistake people make when arranging and mixing is going crazy with all stereo presets and stereo effects, but layer them together and they can start to sound washy in a whole mix.

 

Its a much more powerful move to limit the amount of fully spread stereo tracks and use the Direction Mixer or something like bx_control or Waves S1 and narrow a lot of your sounds, even collapse them to mono.  Pan them in the mix offsetting something on the left side by putting something similar sounding on the right.

 

Techniques like this will both add to the presence of the sounds and the whole mix will benefit with more focus and won't be as washy.

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