How to Pan Drums (Easy Guide)
When you are mixing your song, panning the drums can either make or break the whole mix. Panning is really important to create more width and dynamic feeling between verses and choruses.
Music production has come a long way and brought many new trends and technologies that allow us to create better mixes. When it comes to panning, for example, something produced in the 60s (all instruments panned left, and vocals panned right) would not work in today’s pop music.
When it comes to panning the drums, there are two different approaches you can take to deciding the perspective. The first one is the audience’s perspective which means that the drums will be panned toward the audience, and the second one is from the drummer’s perspective, where you pan everything in the opposite direction.
Best Approach to Drum Panning Perspective
As I mentioned before, there are two perspectives you can take when panning the drums. This is usually the producer’s decision, as there isn’t technically a rule to follow. Most often, people who do drum covers, or maybe live performances, tend to lean more towards the audience’s perspective as that would make the listener’s experience more immersive.
If, however, we don’t have any visuals to support the panning from the audience’s perspective logic, that would mean that it’s your choice of how you want your mix to sound. Many producers only pan their drums from a drummer’s perspective, and that’s fine.
Kick and Snare Panning
Unless you are doing some fancy song, or you have percussions in your song where you have them on one side and the drums on another, you should always stick with your kick and snare straight down in the middle.
The snare top and bottom (referring to microphone placements) should also be straight down in the middle. If you pan the snare and the kick, you will absolutely destroy your song in the middle of the mixing stage. Unless that is something you are going after, which in that case, have fun with it. The best way to learn this is to try and pan those and hear the results.
Panning the Toms
For most people, it makes sense to pan the toms from the audience’s perspective, as many people tend to imagine the band playing when they listen to the music. So, the best practice if you take this approach is to pan the toms to where they appear when you’re looking at the kit.
This usually means that the rack tom should be at around 20% on the right, while the floor tom should be somewhere around 60% on the left from the audience’s perspective.
One huge tip to help you pan the toms is listening to the overhead mics, as they are extremely important when panning the whole drum kit, not just the toms. They are the most accurate representation of the drum kit. That’s why it’s really important to measure the overheads in phase with the snare, so you can hear the best representation of the kit, which helps a lot with panning the drums.
Now when it comes to the cymbals, you have a little more room to play with, experiment, and see what sounds best for your song. Usually, panning the cymbals only a little to the right or the left (around 10-30%) works best, but try to find what exactly works best for your songs.
If you want to create more width for your song, panning the hi-hat a little farther away usually does the trick. However, if you decide to go about this, have fun with the cymbals.
Best Tips and Practices for Panning the Drums
The best tip to give you for great panning of drums is to record your overheads correctly. You should also plan ahead which perspective you will use for panning before you record so that you can label the overhead microphones in your DAW accordingly. If you prepare and decide this beforehand, your job mixing the song will be much easier.
Another great tip, especially for beginner producers, is to take notice of the levels of your tracks. When panning, there is usually a lot of space to be filled, and some instruments might seem louder than others. Make sure to adjust accordingly.
You should always pan the drums when you are mixing your songs. How you decide to do it will depend on what you feel is right for the song. One thing is for certain, your mixes will sound a lot better if you pan the drums correctly.