Some engineers talk rather disparagingly about ‘wide mono’, in other words the concept of panning everything in your mix so that it’s either in the middle of the image or spread evenly on both sides. So you might have your kick, snare, bass, and lead vocal all central, for instance, and then pan any stereo keyboards, double-tracked guitars/BVs, and effects so that they’re all neatly balanced between the left and right channels, such that swapping the stereo channels of the mix doesn’t appreciably alter the sound.
And this production is an obvious offender on those grounds, because pretty much the only section where hitting my monitor controller’s ‘L-R Swap’ switch makes any audible difference is the moment when a lone harmony vocal can be heard on the right for “we’ve been here before and I won’t be a victim” at 1:50. Furthermore, for the majority of the timeline, the stereo information appears to be coming exclusively from the effects returns, rather than anything that’s been panned – basically, the only things that appear to have been panned at all are the chorus-section vocal layers at 0:20, 1:13, and 1:58.
To be honest, though, I don’t have much patience with the panning mavens, because I think there’s actually much to recommend the way the stereo information has been managed here. First of all, I get no sense while listening that the mix lacks width, because the tasteful effects use provides plenty of space and depth – and the stereo width is also used creatively to enhance the song’s structure, with the extra width of the vocal layers providing useful buildup for the choruses, while some kind of automated modulation treatment on the main guitar part delivers subtle width adjustments elsewhere.
Secondly, the mono-compatibilty is exceptional. All you lose is a bit of reverberance and a little subjective vocal level from the opposition-panned layers, although the latter are doubling the lead (so don’t offer anything independent musically) and are pretty subsidiary in the balance anyway. And, thirdly, the one-sided ‘sharing a pair of earbuds’ listening experience is also excellent, because no musical parts (with the exception of that tiny BV fragment) are missing from either side.
So let the panning purists squabble amongst themselves, while the rest of us get on with mixing for the wider public, if you’ll pardon the pun…
The horrible house piano and “uh-k-ch” hi-hat pattern gave me an awful premonition that the music industry might now, having successfully rehabilitated some of their 80s back-catalogue through retro-tinged modern productions like Mark Ronson’s 'Uptown Funk' and The Weeknd’s 'Blinding Lights' and via viral media like Tim & Fred Williams’s ‘In The Air Tonight’ reaction video, they might now have the worst plastic rave excesses of the 90s in their cross-promotional cross-hairs. Save our souls…
Leaving my reactionary tastes aside, though, there is an interesting production moment in this track at 0:36, where we get the kind of sub-bass dive-bomb hit that’s far from unusual in EDM tracks these days – it almost par for the course, in fact! What’s less standard, however, is that the low reach of the pitch-drop appears to be unrestricted, where most EDM producers (or mastering engineers) have the sense to at least high-pass filter at 20Hz of so. As such, anyone listening to this with a subwoofer will be able to watch the cone merrily waggling around at well below 20Hz, such that what normally looks like something of a blur can actually be seen sedately tracking each waveform excursion. And, from a more technical perspective, what it means is that a bunch of signal headroom on the master buss is being used up for no audible benefit.