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LCR Mixing Sucks

by Ian Shepherd

OK there, I said it. I just don’t get the fuss about LCR mixing.

I’ve been reading Mixerman‘s superb “Zen and the Art of Mixing” book recently, and really enjoying it – not so much because I’m learning a huge amount, but because he has a unique and refreshing take on things. It’s fascinating reading his perspective on issues that I’ve thought about over the years, and seeing where we agree or disagree.

And at times, he brilliantly crystallises something – one of my favourite quotes is his observation that

“Your job as a producer or mixer is simple – follow the song

Maybe out of context like that it sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a point that’s all too easy to lose sight of, in our obsession with the mechanics of recording and mixing.

I strongly recommend you get hold of a copy, either real or Kindle – there’s a link to it in the Production Advice bookstore – click here.

BUT I do disagree with him on various points and one of the biggest is his suggestion that

“When in doubt, pan hard or don’t pan at all”

This is a technique know as “LCR panning”, meaning sounds are only ever panned in the centre, hard left or hard right. The idea is that this opens up space in the stereo field, adding excitement and apparent loudness in the process. To be fair he also says

“This isn’t to say there aren’t times to soft-pan parts”

but then concludes that

“in my experience this should be a rare occurrence in most modern music mixing”

Well, I completely disagree.

I certainly agree that hard-panning sounds great in some cases, and personally I prefer a much wider image than is necessarily “natural”, but an entirely LCR mix just sounds bizarre, in my opinion.

Mixerman’s argument is intended to encourage us to use more panning, which I approve of, but I really think people should avoid taking this advice too literally ! 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 ?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you micro-pan every element of your mix to a different location – be bold and pan hard, some of the time. And I love Mixerman’s concept of creating drama an tension in a mix using unbalanced panning. But to say that soft-panning should be rare – ie. hardly ever used – I don’t buy it. Hard pan, then use those spaces in you mix to add even more interest.

Don’t take my word for it, though – take a look at Graham Cochrane’s video demonstrating the technique, above, and see what you think. It’s part of his excellent “5 minutes to a better mix” series of blog posts which is running right now – it’s full of great tips and ideas – plus a few more that I disagree with ! Make sure you check out his site, here.

That’s what makes music and audio such fun, though. What do you think – does LCR panning make sense ? Have you tried it in your mixes ?

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55 Responses

  1. PG says:

    For me, its quite simple. I just pan hard something. If i found it too much, too ditracting, i try narrowing the pan. LCR is so cool when used well and can be veryy annoying when used badly!!

  2. SoulChorea says:

    I’m just not sure why studio heads get so argumentative when they disagree with a technique. You can be sure that an article titled “such and such SUCKS” was not written with helping people as the priority; it was almost certainly written with the writer making themselves look smarter than the other engineer first and foremost. Not necessary, and especially cringe-worthy when the title of the article is a misleading blanket-statement

  3. Ian Shepherd says:

    Did you read the post ? The title is meant to be provocative, yes, but I stand by the value of the content.

  4. Andi says:

    Thank goodness someone else has said this, I’ve actually had moments of doubting my own judgement because results so often fail to match expectations of what is written. Hard pan then bring parts in and you can HEAR the soundfield fill and smooth, you can easily hear it. Can make collapse to mono better too.

  5. Ya says:

    There are no holes in LCR Panning, you fill the space between the positions with your mono and stereo fx returns. For example, hard pan some mono keys then send them to a mono reverb panned center. IMHO that is how you use the technique. Of course the dry source sounds odd hard panned, it should but it opens up all that space for effect returns.

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Ian Shepherd

BBC Radio 4 Interview

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Ian Shepherd from Production Advice discusses the Loudness Wars