"PANNING DRUMS- AUDIENCE OR DRUMMER'S PERSPECTIVE?"
Updated: Jul 5
For those who know me, it should come as no surprise that I'm the kind of person who likes structure. I love practice and I follow process to feel best prepared. I don't like improvisation and I feel uncomfortable "winging" it. When I started recording, I was hoping that it would be somewhat like following a recipe when cooking, the steps of a mathematical formula, or travel directions to obtain near perfect results. After scouring the internet for an industry standard, the magical formula, or the master panning chart that would make my mixes sound huge and professional, I was disappointed to learn that there are no hard and fast rules for mixing and that everybody mixes in their own way. Insert sigh here. The common answer I found was essentially, 'if it sounds good, that's what matters'. In my research, one of the biggest and most interesting debates I stumbled across was how drums should be panned. Do we pan them how the audience hears them, commonly referred to as audience perspective, or the exact opposite and pan them how we hear them from playing on the stage, which is known as drummer's perspective? Curious, I needed to learn more. Keep reading below to discover what I learnt.
The Drummer's Perspective Argument - This states that drums should be mixed as you would hear them on stage because this is how they're organized within the assembled kit. High hat, snare, rack toms, floor toms are organized from left to right respectively (if the drummer is right-handed). Because this is how they're organized, this is how the drummer and the rest of the band hears them onstage. To hear them any other way would sound unnatural and wreak havoc on air drummers so this is how they should sound when you hear them, right? Not necessarily.
The Audience Perspective Argument - When we're audience members listening to musical performance, either recorded or live, we generally face it. That means the sound is coming straight at us. Because of this, we hear the drums opposite to how they're set up on stage. Using our setup example from above, we would hear those same drums organized the same way with our opposite ear first (unless the drummer is a lefty of course). That being said, it should be completely logical that drums should be mixed from the audience perspective, right? Not exactly.
Again, what is boils down to is this...whatever sounds the best to you is what you should do. Both arguments have logical merit and neither is wrong. I personally mix my backing tracks from the drummer's perspective because it feels right to me as I imagine that's how I would hear it if I had a real drummer behind me on stage. I try to pan the drums within the stereo space as they are organized within the kit to simulate the most accurate mix I can. When in the studio, I've had the privilege of working with two very good engineers. One is a drummer, who, not surprisingly, mixes from drummer's perspective. The other is a bass player who mixes from the audience perspective and both of their mixes sound great! If this topic interests you, I'd encourage you to listen to your favourite music (wearing quality, over-ear headphones if possible) and try to determine how the drums are panned and if you have a preference. It's amazing what you hear when you start to listen for it.
As engineers, artists, or audience members, do you prefer to hear or pan drums mixed from the drummer's perspective or the audience perspective and why? Let me know in the comments below.