This seems like an obvious one. Stereo placement, panning things to the left or right, is a basic mix technique that we all know how to do. However I often see so many people neglecting this area in trying to get a good mix happening. So how does one maximise the use of the stereo field in electronic music? We all want a big, wide, sound, how do we acheive this without making a mix too diffuse? I've found a few of the following strategies really useful in adding an extra 10% to my mixes. In short, being conscious of the stereo field is as important as EQ in getting a polished, proffesional sound.
1. Have an idea of where something should be and how wide that sound needs to be.
I often see students at the school I teach fall into this one, they dont put any thought into how wide they want their sounds to be or where it should sit in the stereo spectrum. Generally speaking this is an often looked over area in electronic music, being that club systems generally sum to mono. This doesn't mean that you can't hace a mix that works well on both mono and stereo systems though. So next time you're working on a mixdown, don't just leave a sound at it's default width. Narrow or widen it as applicable. Keep lower frequency stuff more focused by narrowing it or making it mono, such as your kick, sub bass and snare. This is pretty par for the course, however the next part I hardly ever see anyone putting into effect: where do you want your midrange and top elements to sit? which element is going to be the widest and why? Personally I like making my midrage bass sounds nice and wide (as is often done in bass music) but be aware this may necessitate compensation through perhaps keeping a lead sound more narrow and focused so that they don't overlap too much. In this regards you are creating space in the mix, just as with EQ.
2. Mono elements can be panned to create a greater sense of space.
This is another trick I rarely see used, even though it's obvious. A lot of bass music production tends to focus on mid/side processing in order to make things sound lush and wide. However there are other tools available such as panning, often not even considered due to the aforementioned summing to mono in club systems. Try taking some of your percussive sounds, hats, cymbals or the like and move them out of the way of your central elements (for example the snare drum) by making them mono and panning them left and right. This keeps the element focused, but out of the way at the same time.
3. Make an element mono and diffuse it with reverb.
This is a classing way of using effects processing to widen a sound. When you send a mono element through reverb, naturally you are diffusing and widening the sound. However if you do this through a buss, you will always have a mono, focused version, and a wide, diffused version. You can balance the levels between them as applicable to get a wider or more narrow sound.
4. You can layer mono and stereo sounds.
Say you are making a snare drum, out of three diffeerent layers. You have a low type snare for weight, a midrange snap, then a clap to add in that high end fizz. In this instance, you could keep the two lower sounds narrow and focused for impact, only diffusing them with a little reverb. Then the top end element of your snare you can widen a bit so that the snare really comes to life. Just an idea.
5. For elements that need to be truly wide, create two slightly different copies.
This is a trick that I learnt from one of the Zombie Cats guys, Ross. If you want a really wide stereo image, create a mono, focused version of the sound. Then copy this and create a wide version of the sound, with perhaps some different effects processing ans slightly different EQ settings on it. For example, I might have a bass stab sound in mono, then a copy with a slower attach, slightly different distortion, a moving notch filter, some reverb and maybe a some light flanging, phasing or chorus on it. The ear is able to pick up on these differences, however at the same time the ear is unable to distinguish that they are two seperate sounds. Instead, the sound ends up being percieved as super wide.
6. Use mid/side processing.
Phetsta mentioned this one at a recent masterclass. Have an EQ that's capable of mid/side processing and apply this to sounds accordingly. For example, on a wide sound I might remove a lot of lower frequencies on the mid signal, then I might boost in the upper midrange are. I could similarly do the inverse on a a sound that's meant to be narrower or more focused.
7. Use a stereoscope.
Get a visual confirmation of what you are hearing through the use of a stereoscope. I always check each sound on a stereo scope in relation to the earlier point I made, being conscious of where everything should be and how wide it is in my mix. Is the stereoscope reflecting what you want to acheive? Maybe you've realised something is a little too wide now that you've examined it further and that it's going out of phase. Narrow it back down to avoid any problems down the line.
8. Check and double check your mix in mono.
A well executed mix works in both mono and stereo While some sacrifices will be made when summing to mono, ideally nothing too important should be lost form the mix, you want a compromise that works in mono and stereo. If anything dissapears, of the low end of an instrument drops out, or if anything becomes too loud, then you need to go back and re-adjust your mix accordingly.