Trouble with panning stereo sources

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losthighway
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Trouble with panning stereo sources

Post by losthighway » Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:02 pm

Lately I've been doing a lot of recording and mixing with bands that have caused me to confront a tricky problem and I wonder if any of you all can help me.

Take a great sounding stereo source:

- Stereo mic'd piano
- Stereo digital keyboard
- Mid-side mic'd acoustic guitar (or group vocals)
- Head spinningly awesome stereo mic'd Leslie with speaker spinning

Now, you're dealing with this source in a way where you just need that source to sit on the side to give room for another guitar, or some other thing in the other speaker. You have a L and an R track, but how sad is it to push your nice wide stereo image so the right side is hard right, but the left is close to center? Or... why would you ever want to have mid-side anywhere but spanning across the middle, and hard panning the sides?

I guess what I'm saying is great stereo sources seem to become pretty mono when you can't have them occupying the center of the sound stage.

Thoughts? Ideas?

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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:33 pm

I have this issue all the time when I'm mixing things recorded by other people. If you go with the sounds as tracked you can often end up with a wide sounding mono record (because everything is stereo and panned center). My solution is usually to pan both sides together or pick the best sounding side and throw the other track away.

If I'm the tracking engineer I'll usually only record something in stereo if I know I want it to sit in the middle of the sound stage - drums, acoustic guitars, piano (if it's the focus).

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Post by ott0bot » Mon Jan 07, 2013 5:08 pm

I know exactly what you mean. I've found a few solutions...David mentioned a couple good ideas. toss the extra track unless its the focus. if its the focal point of the build the mix around it.

also, I automate pans all the time for this. for instance: I had an acoustic song where the guitar was the focus and it was stereo mic'd and DI'd. stereo mics hard panned, and DI was up the gut. sounded gourgeous and huge. during the outro there was an accompanying acoustic guitar that I dropped hard left, moved the other guitar from left to center with the DI track, filed phase and dropped the volume. made just enough space while keeping the tone and not stepping on the brushed snare or organ.

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Post by Bro Shark » Mon Jan 07, 2013 5:15 pm

In an ensemble there's nothing wrong with collapsing stereo sources to mono, and then placing them where you like a stereo field. Either that, or you record the group live and try to spread its actual collective image across the field. If everything's recorded individually in stereo, things start to make no sense at all.

I used to record acoustic guitar in X-Y or M-S all the time, until I realized I had no use for that unless it's playing all by itself. In a band context mono is so much easier to fit into a mix.

Even when stuff is multi mic'd (e.g. close guitar + room guitar) I often pan them in the same spot and leverage the depth caused by multiple mics, as opposed to adding width.

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Post by Nick Sevilla » Mon Jan 07, 2013 6:46 pm

1.- What will be the most important instrument, apart from the lead vocal? Keep that in Stereo.

2.- Everything else needs to be listened to inorder to determine if in fact it IS Stereo. Can you tell left from right?

If yes, then you kinds could keep those in Stereo.

If no, throw away one side. Pick the uglier sounding side to toss overboard.

Then create your own Stereo imaging. And above all, have fun.

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Post by losthighway » Mon Jan 07, 2013 9:15 pm

Yeah, I did love using some panning automation with this sweet Uriah Heap style band. We stereo mic'd a Leslie, but the guy would only spin the speaker at really key moments where I'd automate the panning to go from pretty hard right to head swimming stereo. His musical instincts were really easy to follow into the mix process.

I just started doing M/S acoustic guitar and it sounds so gorgeous, but I have also realized that it makes more sense for a solo guitar performance than adding a little acoustic to a dense ensemble.

I guess it goes back to one of the first things everyone learns with eq and tones: not everything can be huge. This is where that happens with width and depth. Sometimes its gotta be a lot of perfectly placed, tiny sounds that add to a really big picture.

Thanks for your thoughts folks.

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Post by cgarges » Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:15 am

If you're doing mid-side correctly, it doesn't work to start panning things to one side or the other. You get extreme cancellations that make things lopsided. You can pretty much only adjust the width effectively.

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Post by vvv » Tue Jan 08, 2013 4:07 am

Hmmm. At that point, then, couldn't you just submix the M/S tracks to a stereo pair to preserve the ratio of M to S, and then pan that pair?

I haven't tried that, just theorizing ...
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Post by cgarges » Tue Jan 08, 2013 7:30 am

vvv wrote:Hmmm. At that point, then, couldn't you just submix the M/S tracks to a stereo pair to preserve the ratio of M to S, and then pan that pair?

I haven't tried that, just theorizing ...
Yes, that would work. I didn't think about that because it was late and I was REALLY tired when I posted that, but you're totally right. You could manipulate the panning and such after the mid-side array was decoded to left-right. At that point, you start losing the point of mid side (mono compatibility and beautiful stereo width), but you totally could do it.

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Re: Trouble with panning stereo sources

Post by ChrisNW » Tue Jan 08, 2013 1:36 pm

losthighway wrote:You have a L and an R track, but how sad is it to push your nice wide stereo image so the right side is hard right, but the left is close to center?
I do this all the time without sadness or guilt.:wink:

I may capture a wide stereo image on a source and later decide it'd work better with a narrower width (and leaning to the left or right.)

For example:
Gtr 1 L panned 50
Gtr 1 R panned 100

Gtr 2 L panned -50
Gtr 2 R panned -100

I could decide to use only the Left channel of each guitar and work with that but a panned stereo track sounds entirely different and may be preferable.
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Re: Trouble with panning stereo sources

Post by Dakota » Fri Jan 11, 2013 12:49 pm

losthighway wrote:Thoughts? Ideas?
It can also be good to have nice sets of stereo pairs shifted to "interlock" with each other in a balanced way, but not completely eliminate their stereo information, like:

pair1: L=-30 R=100 (perceived center becomes soft right)

pair2: L=-100 R=30 (perceived center becomes soft left)

Another way to create some additional stereo elbow room and sonic differentiation out of thin air (for a price) is to carefully invoke some anti-phase into the blend - make a copy or extra send that goes through a polarity inverting plug, mix a small selected amount of some of that back in, like:

pair1: L=100 R=100, and a polarity flipped version of the right channel mixed hard left, volume of that at something like -30 to -12db of the original, to taste. This will probably push the perceived center of this pair to the right.

And perhaps do the symmetrical opposite for pair2...

This is of course not fully mono-compatible, but if you aren't bringing the levels of the anti-phase components up very loud, it's not a big deal. It just puts some of the stereo field information "outside" the speakers, so you can avoid having the clutter of all tracks perceived as centered in the middle, but not have to reduce all your nice stereo air information.

And the first example can certainly be combined with the second.

Also: reverbs and delays can be hard panned differently for each track pair, this can get their perceived centers to differentiate from each other as well.

Another also: leave the pairs each hard L/R, but use stereo EQ to make L a little darker, R a little brighter, & the the symmetrical opposite with another pair. Or paired mid cuts and boots, you get the idea...

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Post by losthighway » Fri Jan 11, 2013 4:03 pm

Thanks Dakota. A lot of great ideas, I'd never heard of the phase flip for depth idea. I'll have to fool around with it.

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Post by Theo_Karon » Sun Jan 13, 2013 12:50 pm

Lots of good suggestions here. Yeah, stacks of stereo images start to get weird REALLY fast.

One thing nobody's mentioned (this obviously only works if you are tracking, and know in advance where you want something panned, but still can produce really excellent results) is to place your stereo pair in such a way that the panning is baked into the image, then supplement with a mono close mic if the off-axis response of the pair is no longer capturing the source to your liking, which can be panned to correspond to and naturally fit into the instrument's placement in the stereo field. Mid-side works great for this because the further off-axis the mid mic is, the more on-axis the side mic is as you turn the pair - the sweet spots are large.
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Post by mindsound » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:08 pm

One thing you may think into account is that a track with more hi freq. content will be interpret by our ears as panned more toward the extreme of the stereo field. So this is something you may have in mind when making your balance and panning. Also, playing with depth-of-field among the stereo elements of your mix will help to prevent your mix turning into a mono soup. Finally, when I record in stereo, I may use 2 different mics instead of a matched pair. It helps.

But I have to say that I record more than ever the sources in mono. Suddenly, at the mix, you have more space to fill....more creatively. A lot of times, I'll prefer to transform a mono track into a fake stereo track using delays, early reflections, phasing devices etc....
I just prefer a "patchwork" mix made of mono sources than a "white blanket" stereo mix. But again, the song who call the shot.
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Post by Dakota » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:03 am

losthighway wrote:Thanks Dakota. A lot of great ideas, I'd never heard of the phase flip for depth idea. I'll have to fool around with it.
You're very welcome, losthighway!

I'm fond of using little small amounts of blended phase flip here and there in a mix - it has to be pretty restrained though, unless one is doing abstract sound art.

& oh yeah! Related technique: deliberate Haas Effect delays. Times less than 1ms, no feedback. Example: Take a L/R stereo pair, scoot one side or the other 0.4ms later. Do the opposite for a different stereo pair, and using a different delay time, less than 1ms. It'll really differentiate things, but leave your actual RMS energy balance pretty much the same.

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