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Recording Recording a Jazz Backing Track - Guidance on Panning Instruments ?

rhysonsax

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I am starting to get to grips with Band in a Box (BiaB) for making backing tracks, mainly in different genres of jazz. There is lots of flexibility available and one of the issues I would like to be guided on is where to place the different instruments across the mix from left to right. And also how far left or right any instrument can reasonably be placed before it sounds "wrong".

I guess the same would hold true for live recording of real instruments, but maybe not.

I know we can be guided by our ears as to what sounds good or natural, but do any experienced mixers or recorders have some rules of thumb or words of wisdom they can share about what goes where ?

And if it is a backing track, should space be left for the solo instrument to be added, maybe in the centre ?

Thanks

Rhys
 
If you listen to stereo jazz recordings you'll find each instrument is usually given its own large space within the stereo spectrum. For example, drums centre, bass off-centre piano on the right, sax on the left. Most of the time you'll probably not notice how widely spaced the instruments are until you put headphones on.

Of course, the same is true for all professionally recorded music - you have to have separation otherwise you have audio mush. And that's before you use reverb to create different depths for each instrument. ;)

Since rediscovering the joys of recording I've realised that, unlike pretty much everything else in recording, spacing instruments is the one thing that you can't have too much of.

Okay, that's not quite true - I wouldn't recommend you have the drums panned from hard left to hard right, for example. ;)

And if it is a backing track, should space be left for the solo instrument to be added, maybe in the centre ?

Definitely. It doesn't have to be perfectly central, though. For example, if you've got the bass panned to 15% to the right, then pan the sax 15% to the left. There are no rules, though. If you think it sounds right, then it is right.
 
Thanks for those replies.

In my Band in a Box, panned hard left is -63 and panned hard right is 63 (with zero at the centre). That seems to give a wide stage to spread the instruments across, so maybe I should separate them by about 20 (whatever those units represent - presumably not percent). So maybe:
  • Drums 0
  • Bass +20
  • Guitar (or extra percussion or whatever) -20
  • Piano -40
  • leaving space for a soloist at +40
I'm also interested in setting the positions for a saxophone quartet, so maybe that wouldn't have anything in the dead centre and the instruments could be at -50 -15 +15 +50 or something.

And that's before you use reverb to create different depths for each instrument. ;)

Now that's interesting - I have never really understood about depth in front-to-back sense when it is just two channel stereo. Can you explain more ?

Thanks

Rhys
 
Headphones will not give a true representation of the mix imo. When two instruments play, in the room, the harmony happens in the room. Many jazz tracks have different front line instruments panned hard right and hard left. On headphones it sounds a bit odd but in the room it lets the harmony happen in a more realistic way.

I like the drums central, Bass maybe panned 20 left, Piano 20 right, if there's a guitar or other rhythm instrument a little further out than the piano. For two guitars and no piano I like them panned right and left maybe a little outside the bass.

Lots of the BiaB groups you can select for rhythm section are already panned for position. I like to adjust the tone and volume of each member of the rhythm section to suit the feel of the piece I'm working on too.

It's all very personal. You'll find how you like it and develop your own style. The tracks I use for gigs are played through a mono playback system, so it gets a little academic for me :rolleyes:
 
Now that's interesting - I have never really understood about depth in front-to-back sense when it is just two channel stereo. Can you explain more ?

The idea is that the closer the instrument is to you, the longer it will take before you here any reflections (reverb). I don't use BIAB so I don't know if you have the option of 'Pre Delay' on the reverb effect, but it you do, theoretically the longer the pre-delay, the closer you are to the instrument.

Then you can start getting more complicated. Instruments farther away supposedly have less audible top end as does the reverb they create. Personally, my little home studio set-up isn't really capable of mixing to this level/accuracy so I don't bother. If you've got decent studio monitors, though, it's something to try.
 
Headphones will not give a true representation of the mix imo. When two instruments play, in the room, the harmony happens in the room. Many jazz tracks have different front line instruments panned hard right and hard left. On headphones it sounds a bit odd but in the room it lets the harmony happen in a more realistic way.

That's a good point - I do most of my "mixing" with headphones on. And tracks do sound very different when I play them back over speakers.

When I listen to some old favourite jazz albums from the 50s and even the 60s, I find that sometimes solo instruments are panned hard over to one channel. I have got recordings by Johnny Hodges and Hank Mobley where you can remove the solo and make a usable backing track just by taking the other channel.

But I guess lots of people nowadays are also listening to lots of their music on headphones. And mono devices are also quite popular. Just like the early days of recorded music.

Rhys
 

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