The term panning refers to the stereo positioning of sounds.
When you pan a drum, it means you place it in a particular position in the left or right channel of your stereo image. Panning is one of the most crucial things you can use to make your drum sound fill the entire room.
The kick drum, and in some cases the snare drum too, will usually be in the centre of sound, so it will not require panning. However, toms, cymbals and other percussions should be panned on either side of the stereo image, regarding what result you want to get.
Do you want to know how to pan drums?
Start by following our step by step guide to panning drums.
What is panning?
Before we introduce you to the steps to pan drums, let’s see what exactly is panning.
The “pan pot” (panoramic potentiometer) is a volume control that splits the audio signal into the left and right channels.
If you turn it left, the pot lifts the left speaker’s volume and turns down the volume of the right speaker simultaneously. Panning will distribute stereo or mono tracks throughout the left and right channels of a stereo field.
What is the pan law?
Pan law is a principle that states that any signal of equal amplitude and phase played in both channels of a stereo system will increase in loudness up to 6.02 dBSPL.
The panning law ensures that the volume level remains constant regardless of where you place the pan pot.
Step 1: The perspective
Before you start to pan your drums, you should choose the perspective.
You can pan drums from two different perspectives:
- Audience’s perspective
- Drummer’s perspective
Panning drums from the audience’s perspective means the drums will be panned towards the direction of how you’d hear these sounds if a drummer plays in front of you.
The drummer’s perspective is the opposite. You will pan your drum like how you’d hear them while jamming. Choosing the perspective is important for some panning elements when you have to choose the right or left side, as in the case of panning hi-hats.
While many drummers prefer panning drums from their own perspective, most engineers choose to pan from the audience’s perspective.
Step 2: Kick drum
The kick drum is always panned in the centre of the stereo field. It means the kick drum will be dead at 0 of your stereo image.
The most impactful element of your drums, such as the kick drum, should remain at the core of your beat. In simple words, the kick drum doesn’t require any panning.
Step 3: Snare drum
Some people like to keep the snare drum in the centre together with the kick drum. There are a couple of ways to pan the snare drum instead of just placing it on the centerline of a stereo track.
Some people like to place the snare slightly off centre, which can help it stand out a little more. In this case, you could place it at around 9 o’clock or even 7 o’clock (panned hard left), depending on how aggressive you want it to sound.
However, you shouldn’t have it at more than +/-20% left or right. The downside with panned snares is that they are one of your track’s most important rhythmic elements, and centring them allows them to take up the entire “middle” space in your mix.
That means that if you pan them hard right or left, they will be competing with other elements such as guitars or vocals for space in the middle.
Some people prefer to go less drastically left and right to get a less open stereo image. Don’t hesitate to experiment with the panning and different combinations.
You might discover new ways to pan your snare according to the result you want to get.
Step 4: Toms
If you want to get a wide-spread sound, the floor tom should be panned 50% left or right. You can then pan the two rack toms by less than 20% on each side.
This way, you will get a great stereo effect during fills. The best way to pan toms is to listen to your overheads. Pan the spot mics where you hear the corresponding tom.
For the more melodic and exotic percussion elements, like toms, bongos, and congas, you can use a more radical panning, like between 45 and 90%, on either side.
Step 5: Cymbals and other percussions
Cymbals, tambourines and shakers should be panned a little to the right and/or left from the centre. Anything between 10-30% to the right or left will do the trick.
You can create a bigger stereo image by panning the hi-hat a little farther away from the centre to the right side. That will make your kit sound more spacious.
If you want to pan your hi-hat from the drummer’s perspective, you can place it on the far right. Many drummers prefer this style since it’s more natural to them.
However, if you are panning from the audience’s perspective, stick with the right side to keep the sound close to what the audience would hear.
If you’re planning on mixing and mastering your music, then you might want to learn how to pan drums.
Panning the kick drum is easy since it will stay in the centre. The snare can also be left without panning. However, most people like to place the snare, toms, cymbals and other percussions right or left from the centre.
Ultimately, the panning technique will depend on whether you are doing it from the audience’s or drummer’s perspective and your personal preferences. Once you get the hang of panning drums, you will be able to easily throw them around in the left and right channels, depending on your creative choice.
It is a very important technique to understand and learn because, ultimately, it will give you the freedom to do pretty much everything with drums in the mix.