Pan Savvy

Crafting an ear-xperience

Acoustic diffusion panels in an empty concert hall

A Clear Mix

We want to hear a cello solo as well as the player, not like a bad recording or washy reverb like we're in a foyer. We want clarity. An ultra high res audio file doesn't impress most people. Perceived fidelity has more to do with how close a mic is to an instrument. Bringing the sound source closer = clearer sound. A room's color matters, but the more you add, the more perceived audio fidelity you lose.


Computers don't sum audio the same way players and buildings do. We listen and balance. Rooms color large ensembles differently than a solo. While a solo horn sounds great in a big room, if every instrument sounds that lush, mixing them mushes the mix. A fast violin or percussion part scrambles in a big room. I prefer to start close (dry) and add only enough distance to sound bearable. We can add more room later while writing.

Illustration of a percussion cymbal's sound waves
Haas Effect illustrated by a skewed and split-colored photo of a man wearing headphones

Extra Width

In acoustics, rooms that sound the widest for orchestras have measurably more side reflections (Lateral Fraction). Size, shape, carpet, wood— it all changes the amount of treble and bass detail is reflected. The simple gist: timing is what convinces our ear that space exists. Sound waves from the instrument (and room) reach your left and right ear at different times. Width = giving each ear a unique sound (timing, color, etc). How can we wield such power?

Don't Write Boring Music

Our ears get bored. Sometimes a new vantage point on an instrument is better than changing what the instrument is doing. Centuries before Hans Zimmer, instrument perspective was being experimented with. Off-stage brass, seating layouts, etc. Computers merely add options. Try moving around or shifting techniques like camera shots in a scene. Don't move just to move. Move to entertain our ears. Music shouldn't sit still. Panning starts with balance and clarity; it ends with painting a moving picture.

A skyscraper lookout in front of an unfocused (distant) city in the background

"All the ear wants is a different perspective."

—Alan Meyerson

(Score Mixer: DC, Marvel, Dunkirk, Aladdin, Mulan, The Lion King)

"The relationship of the player to the microphone is absolutely key."

—Simon Rhodes

(Score Mixer: James Bond, Harry Potter, Marvel, Avatar, The Hobit)