For all you air drummers
Now this isn’t so much a tip as it is a poll of preference. But right out the gate, I’ll say I prefer the so-called “audience” perspective with drums and orchestra. That of course, assumes a traditional setup with a right handed drummer, and the orchestra arranged in the typical setting where violins are on the left, violas in the middle, and cellos and basses on the right.
Most all of my mentors placed the drums in the audience perspective and I found that was my preference as well. (Probably because that’s what I was used to.) So when recording I’ll have the mics set that way, and in mixing, even if someone recorded the drums in the drummer perspective, I swap them to my preference.
Of course at a live concert you really don’t hear the high tom far right and the floor tom far left. The drums really sound mostly mono and the ambience of the room does most of the work making things sound wide. Still, when making a mix, we’re really not seeking to recreate reality. Reality has it’s own extra magic seeing the performers and sitting in a room with its own acoustics. Our job in mixing is to deliver as much emotional impact as possible. We need to make it larger than life since we don’t have the added dimension of the live performance. So super-wide panning of the drums is what we often do to help create that extra excitement.
Sometimes I’ve had conversations with mixers about this and the question of how to pan a stereo acoustic piano comes up. After all, what’s an audience perspective for that? I prefer to pan it as if I’m playing. I get told it’s backward from my philosophy of the drums but for me it feels best to have the piano in the player’s perspective. After all, you never see a piano on stage with the tail facing the audience. So that comparison doesn’t work. And while most often I’ll pan the piano hard left and right, there are times I’ll pan in inside a bit if it feels better. Sometimes I’ll even mix the piano totally mono depending on what kind of record it is and what role the piano has in the arrangement.
There’s no right or wrong in this. And with everything in this craft, what matters most is that the mix communicates the emotion of the song and listener can feel it. The take-away with this is to at least think about panning when setting up your mix. Have some fun with it and try something new.