Panning vocals. Always centre for the main... so I thought. 

In 2010, my best friend and I produced and recorded a record entitled "maybe soon" in which Genesis Elijah (an established uk rapper) featured. He sent me his vocal and as soon as I imported his vocal into FL7 I saw something in the meters which I didn't quite get but it changed the world of panning for me. His vocal was panned ever so slightly to the left. It was uncomfortable to listen to for the first time but I grew to the idea. I should have corrected it - to this day I have no idea if it was even intentional on his end but receiving a vocal from a much more established musician than I with considerably more experience... I just went with it.

So for the following few records I thought the smartest thing to do would be to blindly pan my vocals slightly to the left... Soon after listening to my mixes with one headphone off it became obvious why this is in fact a terrible idea but not without its uses. 

What it did for me is broke me out of the thinking that lead vocals have to be dead centre for the entire track. Or that they have to be for any part of the record. An example of this is I Care Less Now on my portfolio where the vocals sit slightly to the left or right but never in the middle during the verses creating a conversation type effect between KYM and herself. Would I recommend hard panning a main vocal like this? No... but you can see how it works in moderation here. 

Waves by Esskay - mixed and mastered by me

To this day I play with the pan massively when mixing records. Leaving the main vocal or in fact any stem to sit in its place for the entirety of a record has to be a creative decision or else its just a lazy mix. I'm a big believer of hard panning in choruses and often I'll compensate a vocal that's been panned left and right with another set of layers closer to the middle to fill up the space if need be. A really good exaple of this is the record Waves (from Esskay's White Noise EP)  during the chorus (1m 23s) where I hard panned the backing vocals and some mains whilst having the stabs fill up the narrower stereo field.

For me, if something gets to sit in the middle it often becomes the focus of the record as if it were taking centre stage. There's no harm in moving the vocal slightly to the side or pulling it out wide just to show off a guitar solo, kick drum or whatever else you choose to present.

(Of course, the downside is that someone listening with only one headphone on gets only half the experience of the mix but... if you're going to listen to only one side you never really intended to enjoy it anyway and it could be mono for all you care.)

Oh Well - from the Soul Searching EP - mixed and mastered by me

Side note: I worked again with Genesis in 2014 (via Abby Power) on the record Oh Well and his vocals were sent to me yet again - this time he'd kept them centred. I suppose that answers the 'if it was on purpose' question.


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