I’ve done my share of drum mixes over the years, and I have to say that many producers tend to neglect their drum panning.
If you’re wondering why you need to learn how to pan drums, the answer is: to make your drums sound massive.
And if you’re wondering how to do it, the answer is:
Drum panning cheatsheet! This is the only way. pic.twitter.com/9ZHbgteCyy
— AudioHertz (@AudioHertz) March 6, 2021
All jokes aside, you most certainly should not pan your mix all the way to one side. There’s a basic set of rules you should follow, and it’s not complicated at all.
I did some additional research too, so I could have a clear view of what seasoned experts and aficionados have to say on the subject, sifting through interviews, social media, forums, and all that jazz.
In this article, you will learn about:
- Drum panning perspectives
- How to pan drums
- Center-line and clock face
With that said, let’s get down to business and teach you a few things about drum panning, shall we?
Different Perspectives for Drum Panning
When panning drums, you can approach it from these two perspectives:
- The player’s perspective, aka the drummer’s perspective
- The audience perspective, aka the crowd’s perspective
The crowd option places you in the position of the audience, or someone watching the drummer play. This option is praised for third-person videos because the sonic attach will match the perspective of the viewer.
Engineers who prefer this option typically praise its live feel and vibe. Producers taking this route frequently opt for a stereo sonic spread, placing the hi-hat to the right side of the mix.
The drummer’s perspective, on the other hand, places you in the drummer’s seat. Engineers who prefer this option praise it as the go-to option for all audio-only listening experiences, stressing that listeners prefer to do their air-drumming from the drummer’s perspective. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Mike Senior of SOS points out that the player’s perspective warrants a more immersive experience, stressing that drums rarely have a stereo feel to them during live shows.
The consensus among the drum experts I’ve encountered is that the audience perspective has its values for video-oriented recordings, while the drummer’s perspective is the way to go for audio-only.
Do note that perspective switches are also allowed, especially if the video footage you work on features camera angle switches.
Listening to records from the 60s and 70s, what was this obsession with panning the drums all the way to one side lol. Who told those old engineers that was a good idea
— Elaquent™ (@Elaquent) July 30, 2020
How to Pan Drums?
We’ve reached the burning question! So, when you’re setting the panning of your drum mix,
If you’re not sure where to begin, it’s simple: always keep your snare and kick drum at the center of the sonic mix – middle, zero-level. Do not pan your snare or kick left or right. They form the so-called centerline.
Then, you can use the so-called clock face technique. JH Drums made a great clip explaining this technique, and it comes down to the image of clock face.
So, snare and kick are at 12 o’clock, meaning 0 on the panning knob. Then, 9 o’clock indicates 100% left, 3 o’clock is 100% right, 10 and 2 o’clock are some 66% left or right, respectively, while 11 and 1 o’clock are 33% left or right, respectively.
No need to be super-specific; these are just rough numbers. And there’s usually no need to go all the way to 100%. 90% in either direction will suffice.
Based on the video above, the second tom would go 66% right, while the third tom should sit at 100% right. These are just examples based on one drum kit, and while you should adapt this approach based on your own kit, chances are you’ll get similar settings in most cases.
Also, as expected, pan the Overhead Left 100% left and Overhead Right 100% right.
I like to point out that all drummers should get acquainted with panning. You can check out our list of best snare drummers in the world here, and I’m pretty sure those guys knew a thing or two about panning.
Yes, live performance is awesome, but getting a grasp of basic production and panning knowledge gives you direct input on how your performance will sound when recorded. Check this video for a drummer explaining how he pans his recordings.
It takes a while to get the hang of this stuff, just like it takes a while to learn drums — more info on that topic in this article — so I figured to include a basic panning chart to help you along the way.
|Kick and snare drums||0|
|Cymbals, hi-hat, percussion||between +/- 10 and +/- 30
|Toms, exotic percussion||between +/- 45 and +/- 90
I should also point out that these are only general rules. And since we’re talking about music, where personal opinion is still king, you can still get interesting results experimenting with all this stuff. Just check this clip out!
panning the entire drum kit to the side for maximum kamikgaze effect (shoegaze but Inuk). is stacking 4 guitars too much? i think not. pic.twitter.com/rezg4oo8h3
— Aqqalu ❄ (@uyarakq) September 20, 2020
I also noticed that since many artists these days are on a tight budget, we should mention the Glyn Johns method.
Glyn Johns Drum Mic Technique Panning
Glyn Johns is a recording icon who worked with just about every music legend from the ’60 through the late ’80s. His resume includes the likes of The Beatles, The Stones, Eric Clapton, The Who, and many more.
The Glyn Johns setup only requires four mics: kick, snare, plus a pair of overhead mics. When it comes to panning, kick and snare go to the center, of course.
As for the overhead mics, the mic above the snare is panned 50% right for an ideal balance. Don’t go too far, or your snare sound will get out of balance.
The second overhead microphone, the one placed close to the floor tom, goes to the far left in the sonic mix, securing extra depth and a finer stereo image.
I have to point this one out, especially for the beginners: check your mix in the mono surrounding. You should be careful when panning all the way to the left or the right because of the mono listeners.
If your mix is played through a mono source or if one of the speakers is broken in the stereo environment, the elements panned all the way to one side will disappear.
For this reason, some engineers prefer never going 100% in either direction, stressing that 90 is the max they will consider.
Switching to mono will change your sound, no doubt about that, but as a general rule of thumb, make sure that your mix still works and doesn’t fall apart when switched to mono.
- Home recording studio 101: How to record drums →
- A step-by-step guide to mixing drums →
- Panning →
- Discover audio panning basics →
I hope you had fun and that you’ve learned something new today on drum panning! The main goal of this article was to help you improve the sound of your recordings, whether you’re a drummer or a producer.
So let me know in the comments how your sound changed after utilizing any of these techniques. If you have any other suggestions or ideas, they are most definitely welcome. Stay safe and rock steady, guys!