I’ve been spending a lot of time over at the Recording Revolution. It’s possibly one of the best resources for a home producer because it is marketed exactly towards the skillset and gear of the home studio. And the video lessons you find there are short and each one is packed with just a single lesson, making it easy to absorb as much or little information as you have time for.
One of the best lessons I learned there recently is the value of doing a 30 minute mix. To refresh: you pull your faders down, zero out plugins, set 30 minutes on the timer and go for it. The objective is to get a good mix in 30 minutes without tweaking plugins. When the timer rings, step away.
I won’t go on and on about the value of this practice because I want to talk about panning. During these 30 minute mixes, you’re moving fast, so you don’t want to fuss over panning. That’s where LCR panning will help.
When you give yourself only 3 panning options, you have few choices. For instance, I leave lead vocals, bass, and drums in the center and pan most everything else out to the sides. Voila! Panning is done in about a minute.
The funny thing is that as the mix progresses, I don’t deviate too much from that. Most signals stay right around those marks. And there are some mixers out there that swear by LCR mixing. And a few that think it’s rubbish, like Ian Shepherd:
A 100% LCR mix will have huge holes at “10:30″ and “1:30″, and throws away a huge opportunity to make use of space. Mixerman is encouraging us to use the whole range of frequency and dynamics in the book, why limit panning to only the extremes ?
You can find more of his thoughts on the matter in this article on Production Advice. He makes some great points and I do find that I’m straying from hard panning techniques as a mix grows. There’s a full stereo field out there to exploit and using every point on it is one step to making a full sounding mix.
But the strength of LCR panning lies in the fact that we can’t really perceive minute differences in panning. The difference between 12 to the left and 14 to the left is inaudible, so if you want to really pan things for separation, pan hard. It also keeps you moving, instead of laboring over very discrete pan pot positions, trying to find the perfect spot.