Three Ways to Effectively Use the Stereo Field When Mixing
By the 1960s, stereo records were being mass produced and mono recordings had fell by the wayside. This meant that rather than all recorded sounds coming from both speakers, producers could now work with a stereo image and decide where sounds were positioned in the mix. Listeners were now able to perceive sounds from the left, right, centre, front and back of the stereo field.
Making sure that there is some kind of symmetry to the panning used in a mix is vital to create a balanced stereo image. Whilst it is not essential to make sure there is an equal number of parts panned to each side, it is good to keep track of where things are panned in a mix and to pan parts to a similar position of the stereo field on the opposite side. Additionally, it is also important to pan parts relative to their function within the mix. For example, if you pan a heavy guitar part hard left, it would not be beneficial to the mix to then pan a light shaker hard right; this would leave the mix feeling uneven. To execute panning properly, a doubled heavy guitar should be panned both hard left and hard right in this instance. As for the shaker, a part that has a similar role in the mix such as subtle keyboard part or some more additional percussion.
Whilst there are no set rules as to where things should be positioned when mixing, it is generally accepted in popular music that the bass, vocals and drums will more than likely be positioned centrally in the stereo field. This means that if a part was to be positioned centrally, a useful technique would be to use reverb on any of the centrally positioned parts that you want to be perceived as further back in the stereo image. The More reverb applied to a part, the further away the sound seems to the listener. This means that whilst there will be some overlap between the position of parts in the mix, reverb can still be used to control the depth of which parts are perceived from, giving each sound their own space in the mix. Additionally, not all points of interest in a mix need to be positioned centrally to engage the listener with them. Whilst the centre can seem like the obvious place for hooks or important elements of the mix to be placed, the space on either side of the stereo field can be vital for key parts of a mix. Using space on either side of the stereo field and using an appropriately ear catching volume can be just as good a tool to grab attention as it is to place a sound centrally in a mix.
Effects That use the Stereo Field
As well as simple panning, there are several ways to utilise the full stereo image with effects. One effective way of doing this with time-based effects is the use of a ping pong delay. Ping pong delay is a stereo feedback delay that causes the delayed signal to bounce back and forth across the left and right channels of the stereo field. This can be an interesting and creative way of using the full stereo image and engaging the listener with both sides of it. Another interesting way of panning is using it in conjunction with automation. Rather than having set positions in the stereo field, this allows parts to have movement within the mix that functions as an extra point of interest within a song without creating new parts.