Panning Drums – Perspectives

Most every mixing engineer that I’ve ever spoken to about recording techniques always begin their answers like this: “There are no fast and hard rules…”

The point here is that it’s true. When it comes down to it, there are no rules when it comes to recording. There is certainly some great advice out there to get you in the right direction, but in the end all that matters is that the music SOUNDS good.

That being said: Today, I want to discuss panning drums. There are basically two perspectives that are most common when it comes to dialing in the drums mix:

Drummers Perspective vs Audience Perspective

Let’s assume that you have eight to ten tracks that you’re working with. There are basically two approaches to panning the drums mix: From the drummers throne or from the front of the stage. For starters, I would always do one or the other. Don’t just leave each drum track sitting right in the middle of your mix. Give the rest of the instruments room to breathe! Second, you don’t always have to hard pan everything either left or right by default. Choosing the correct placement of the drum tracks in your mix is an art form.

On the other hand, LCR Panning is very useful when you have a lot of other instruments filling up the mix. Meaning: Hard pan everything left, center or right. Center being only the kick and snare. Everything else gets hard panned. Again, use your ears. But when you ARE panning the drum kit – pay attention to the perspective:

From a drummers point of view

For me, when I’m mixing the drum kit – I tend to pan from the drummers perspective. As a drummer myself, it just doesn’t sound natural to me to hear the floor tom in my left ear. So, what I’ll do is pan the OH’s first and foremost. (High Hat on Left, Floor Tom on Right) Then, I begin panning each track as I hear the kit when I’m playing. I also position the tracks in the mix window to mirror a “pyramid like” panning scheme.

The Audience Perspective

The obvious second option would be to pan from the audiences perspective. If you’re listening to a band play live, your ear hears the kit reversed. In other words, the hat is on your right, floor tom on the left. (Unless the drummer is left-handed) If this is the preferred perspective, you would want to simply reverse the above examples and pan accordingly.

One last tip

When naming your overhead tracks in your DAW, instead of deferring to something like: OH Left and OH Right, try labeling these OH Hat and OH Ride. This will make it easier for you to determine what panning technique you want to apply.

Again, there is no right or wrong here. When it comes down to it, what matters is that the entire song sounds good and the instruments blend well with one another. Are you panning your drum tracks in your mixes? What do YOU prefer?

Be sure to leave your comments below and thanks for reading!

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