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All about......
Panning

Let's talk about panning, shall we?

Mmm, I love to pan fry Southern Fried Chicken. Well, yes, so do I, but I was thinking more along the lines of music ... panning various tracks to different positions in the stereo field

You've lost me already. A little too GeekSpeak again? Yeah. But we just went through this in the Backstage Quickie about Stereo vs. Mono. Sometimes I forget things. I see, well, click the link and give that a quick read, let me know when you're done... I'll just wait here for you to finish.

Just wait right here ...

Waiting for you to finish...

standing here...

I'm back. Great, so you understand Stereo vs. Mono, and what a stereo Field is? Yes. Are you lying? No. Okay, good... Well maybe. Read it again. Okay ... Got it. Good, then let's move along, shall we...

In stereo panning we are trying to Create, Reproduce or perhaps Enhance the wide stereo field of a something we recorded. In a typical home studio one might use a single mic to record vocals, or guitar amps. In instances like these we may want to Create a stereo field. If you're lucky enough to have a setup of multiple microphones to record drums, you will likely also want to Create a stereo image of the drums. So how do we do this?

Hire someone that knows what they're doing? That would be one way, but with a little practice you can create some wonderful stereo images using the tools GarageBand offers.

Let's start with an example rhythm guitar track we've recorded. We used one Shure SM57 Microphone on the amp, so we recorded the track in mono
pan 1

And the track looks like this
pan 2

When this is played back the sound will come out of both speakers, and if you're positioned equidistant from the two speakers, it will appear to come from directly in front of you. But suppose that isn't what was desired. Suppose on the imaginary stage I'm creating (The Stereo Field) I want the guitar to appear a little toward the left. I can alter the Pan
pan 3

And her guitar will be pushed towards the left, i.e. louder in the left speaker than the right speaker. When all the other tracks are added this can help to create the stereo cues that the brain needs.

Suppose rather than pushing the guitar slightly to the left, I wanted a wider sound, one that appeared to be coming from the Left and the Right, it's... you're going to say it! ...shush! It's not much more complicated. First we duplicate the track (Make sure the track is selected and then use the Duplicate Track MenuItem)
pan 4

I also like to rename my tracks so I can easily tell which is which ("L" for Left and "R" for Right)
pan 5

Now copy the region into the second track by Option-Dragging the guitar region into our new track (see: Moving Regions for tips on accurate region moving)
pan 6

Now we add the panning
pan 7

And we have ... Stereo! YAY Stereo! I'm going to do the Stereo dance now. Yay! Well, no, what we have is still mono. Huh?

Remember what we learned in the Stereo vs. Mono article? Ummm, maybe? We need Different sounds coming from each speaker. What we have now is the same sound coming from both speakers at the same time which gives us louder mono. Oh yeah, right.

So the next step is to offset the second copy just slightly from the first. Off who? Offset. We're going to shift it just a little bit in time. You know time travel? I know many things. In this case you do too. The GarageBand timeline is a representation of a song through time. We can easily move through time, shift time and even jump back and forth through time just by scrolling the timeline, dragging the playhead, or sliding regions around (to name a couple of the methods available) Oh. Right. I knew that.

So the first thing we're going to do is zoom in really tight because we want to make a very small adjustment.
pan 8

Move to the very beginning since that's where our recording starts
pan 9

Make sure Snap To Grid is Off.
pan 10 Bad.

pan 11Good!

And then we make our adjustment, sliding the second region just a little bit to the right
pan 12

Remember, we're zoomed All the way in, so while that looks like a large move, it's really not. In fact, if we reduce the zoom to only half way
pan 13

You can't even tell that there is any offset at all
pan 14

But your ears can tell. And of course you can experiment making the offset larger or smaller, widening the Pan difference....

Okay, I think I understand how to do it, but how do you decide which instrument should go where in that Forest thingie?

Field, Stereo Field. What goes where in the Stereo Field is entirely up to you. You might try listening to some of your favorite music (especially through headphones) to try to pick out where the engineer placed different instruments. Or think of a typical stage set up and try to emulate that. Or just put them where you want them. You are also likely to find that different setups work best for different songs. IOW, don't think that in every song the guitar should go here, the bass there. Perhaps that is the correct choice, but it also might not be. Listen to your songs and do what's best for the song.

If you have a lot of instruments you may find it helpful to spread them around throughout the stereo field so that the mix doesn't get too muddy Ewwww, that's yucky. And I don't record outside anyway. No, Muddy is just a term that engineers use to describe a mix where nothing is very distinctive, it's hard to pick out instruments, and they overpower each other.

Oh wait?! I Totally get that! You spread them out in the Field thingie and your brain can focus on each instrument because it's like it's in a different place. Exactly!

Coolness!

One other instrument is worth mentioning because it's a bit different than most others, the Drum kit. I like drums! Uh, okay, good. You can of course record them any way you please if it works well for your song, but most engineers will want to record the drums in stereo, so you need at least 2 mics. If you're only using 2 mics, it's pretty straight forward, once you're happy with your mic placement. What's that? Something best left for another article. It just means putting the mics where they will record best. Once your mics are placed (you've listened to some test recordings and you're happy with the sound you're recording) you have a choice: Record to a single stereo track, and let your mic placement take care of recreating the stereo field, or record to two Mono tracks and use GarageBand to pan each track Left and Right to recreate the stereo field.

What about that offseat stuff? It's Offset and we don't need to worry about that because we've recorded actual stereo with two mics. Each mic picks up slightly different sounds so our brains can recreate the stereo image when we listen to it.

Awesome.

firewireAwesome, indeed, but there is still one more popular way to record drums. Yeah? Yes, a more professional way using multiple mics with an interface that can handle all the mics. GarageBand (since version 2) can record up to 8 tracks of audio at a time, so if you have 8 mics and an interface like the PreSonus Firepod you can record each of the drums to its own track allowing you _great_ flexibility to fine tune the sound in the mixing process. In a case like this each track is mono, however each mic is picking up different sounds, so we don't need to offset anything (generally speaking this would be a very Bad-ThingTM since you want all the drums in sync), we just need to arrange each track in the stereo field (assuming that's what you want to do) by setting the pan of each track. You might keep the Kick in the center and move the Hat a little to the side, etc. Experiment and find out what's pleasing to your ear.

Remember the only hard and fast rule in art is that there are no rules. Umm, that seems to be a contradiction since there is one rule. Well, yeah, I guess, but you can't break that rule. But the rule says that you have to break it. Okay, fine ... There aren't any rules, so don't go looking for them, or breaking them. Boom! I'm getting to like when that happens.



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