The Stereo Field

With early Music Players you only got Mono sound. That is sound from one speaker. With The invention of stereo, music and movie soundtracks became much more rich and dynamic. With Surround Sound they became lifelike.

The reason for this is simple. When you hear something, you hear it in a full radius around you, not from one or two directions. Stereo presents Sounds to you with two speakers, right and left. Also called Right and Left Channels.

Surround sound add a center speaker for increased “in your face” ability, rear speakers, to provide realistic sensations of far away noises and movement of noises. That’s 5. surround. 7. surround sound adds two more speakers directly on either side, this increases the ability of the system to give you a full 360 degree area of sound movement.

Pan is the ability to move sounds from the right speaker channel to the left. By panning any element more to one side than the other, you create both separation from the other tracks and the illusion of position for that element.

When creating music the ability to move elements of the song from side to side, can help create depth and color.

For example I have a dance track I created. I use one main synth loop for the majority of the track. By using Pitch shifting and effects I made the one loop sound different, while keeping the same rhythm. On some of the instances of the loop, I went in and used the Pan tool to bounce parts of the loop from one speaker channel to the other.

Like this: dunt(left), duh-dunt(right), dun-ti-dunt(left), dunt-dunt(right), duh-dunt-dunt(left) di-dunt(right).

You can also use it to create the illusion of sitting right in front of a band while they play.

For example: Pan the guitar off slightly to one side, the bass and keyboards to the other, with the vocals in the center. Maybe with additional vocals off to the side where the backup would be standing.

For drums you can keep the kick drum centered, with the snare and tom drums arranged around the kick in an arc. Say… snare 1 is 5% left, snare 2 is 5% right, snare 3 is 10%left, snare 4 is 10% right, Tom 1 is 20%left, tom 2 is 20% right, and the big tom they only use toward the end is 40% (either, but you should get what i mean by now).

Then lets say there’s a Cowbell in the center of the drum kit, so that stays centered. Lets say the band has a hi-hat and 4 crash cymbals. the first two crash cymbals are between the snare drums and snare and tom drums. So put them at 7-8% left and right, and the other two at 15% left and right. We will say the Hi-Hat is on the other side from the big tom, so we put it at 40% on the other side.

By using Pan to arrange the position of the drums in the song to match what it would be like to sit right in front while the band is playing, you create a life like feeling. You can also do things like using volume and different levels of reverb to create the illusion of distance. Softer things sound further away than loud ones.

In my track Demonic, there is a little beat that joins the kick beat very slowly getting louder, creating the effect of something creeping up on the listener. If you Pan Hard to one side and slowly bring it centered, while increasing volume, it sounds like something is coming closer from one side.

Here’s your Home Work Assignment for this article.

Listen to a song you like.

Listen to it 3 or 4 times, and pay close attention to where you are hearing things coming from.

. by Ryan C Murphy