wide-pan mixes

Gary: What are ‘wide-pan’ mixes?

Zig: It’s an approach to mixing that I started doing a while back. It was inspired by old 2-track and 4-track and 8-track recordings from the 60’s. I love the separation and the roominess of those old mixes – the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver, Aretha Franklin, the Doors’ ‘Light my Fire’, Hendrix, Coltrane. In that time period a lot of records were mixed so that all the drums were on one side, or all the horns on one side, or all the vocals, and so on. Well, the emptiness on the opposite side of what’s going on has a roominess and a realness that is lost in most of today’s mixes.

Gary: I know that all the CDs I hear now have most of the music on both sides and occasionally something more on one side than the other.

Zig: Now engineers put almost everything on both sides and what we all call ‘stereo’ means the lead vocal, the drums, bass and lead guitar always right in the middle. The only thing ‘stereo’ is like a stereo guitar or keyboard patch that’s a little different in phase on one side than the other, or when we double the back up vocals or double the acoustic guitar and put one on each side.

‘Wide-pan’ is just a different definition of ‘stereo’. It’s more like 2 speakers, each with completely different imformation as opposed to the current norm. ‘Depth’ in most mixes today is accomplished through the use of reverbs. In ‘wide-pan’ the space or emptiness on the opposite speaker gives a depth or distance that’s not just perceived – it’s really, physically there – 3 feet away or 10 feet or whatever.

I sometimes use the word ‘discreet’ but that’s not necessarily accurate – it’s not totally discreet. It’s a blend of the 2 fields. So it’s NOT discreet – it’s most of the sound on one side but some on the opposite side, blended to achieve some ambiance or roominess, like blending the tom mics with the sound of the toms on the overhead mics instead of gating the toms except when they’re hit.

Gary: Man, you’re really into this.

Zig: Well, I started panning things like the old records because you can hear what’s going on more and it sounds more roomy and raw and real. AND here’s another plus that still amazes me – when you mix this way there’s actually 3 speakers – left, right and center – or I should say 3 places to put things (there’s still of course only 2 speakers but it sounds like 3). So on some mixes I use 2 places and on others I use 3. It’s a trip because it’s so simple and obvious.

Gary: When did you start mixing ‘wide’ ?

Zig: I started doing ‘wide’ mixes about 8 or 10 years ago and then over the last few years as I started using ProTools I noticed that it seemed to limit the wideness of the left and right. ProTools makes the whole mix sound a little more flat and one-dimensional. I hear so many engineers complain that they hate it and talk bad about it but we all use it because of the editing features, and the low price (and peer pressure). But that flat sound made me want to pan things even more, so now it’s become a whole style of mixing that offers an alternative to the ‘modern country radio mix’ where everything sounds automated and the dynamic range is squashed and the stereo separation is more like doubling.

Gary: So are you the only one doing ‘Wide’ mixes?

Zig: No, the concept is floating around out there, but I have spent more time on it than anyone else I know of, and I’ve done it more regularly and consistently so I have worked through a few of the common problems. And I have a few pieces of equipment that I’ve altered to give me the ability to bring out certain special characteristics that are key in the eq and compression and reverbs when you do a ‘wide’ mix.

I’ve heard some indie college age bands doing it a little, but not fully commiting to it, or grasping it.  When I first started doing them we sometimes called them ‘retro’ mixes because they were inspired by those old records, but now it’s become just another approach to mixing a song and there’s nothing really ‘retro’ about it. It doesn’t sound old and I don’t try to make it sound old. In fact, the result is that it has a very new and fresh and different effect on the listener because it doesn’t sound like every other recording that you hear.

Gary: Do you use this kind of mixing on the artists you work with?

Zig: I used it on the mix with Frankie Moreno on a CD that was kind of ‘retro’ – the style of the songs was old rock and roll and old r&b. It came out great and I’ve gotten a lot of comments and compliments on it. I’ve also mixed a few song demos for a few people ‘wide’, but again it was because they were looking for an effect to give the song an older feel.

If it’s important to you that your record to sounds like everybody else out there then this is NOT for you. It WILL be different. 

Recently a group, Smith Street Compass, is wanting me to mix their entire CD ‘wide’ – and they are very modern – like a combination of Vertical Horizon, Radio Head, Pink Floyd, U2 and throw in a little Neil Young. I’m actually looking forward to doing the mix.

So, now I’m starting to tell the artists that I work with about it and let them hear the potential. I even offer to do 2 mixes – normal and ‘wide’.