Composing Part III – Balance & Panning

Mar 05, 2022

In this post we are going to be discussing a subject that has been mentioned and eluded to repeatedly throughout these tutorials. 


Now, if you are only joining us, or if you haven’t caught up on all of our previous emails, then you may wanna go back and familiarise yourself with our discussions on organization, workflow, arrangements, and inspiration. 


The post on arrangement is especially useful in relation to this one on balance.


Anyway, back to today’s topic.


 BALANCE: the key for a realistic orchestral sound

Balance determines whether your orchestral mockup sounds realistic or not. No matter how skilled you are at mixing and mastering, or how great your instrument or reverb plug-ins are, your musical ideas will not sound authentic if the balance is wrong. 
A basic example of incorrect balance is having a flute play louder than a trombone. Another common mistake is to have the woodwinds a bit too ‘hot’ when producing an orchestral track with samples when in a live context they naturally sound lower in the mix as the winds will naturally seek to blend unless instructed to do otherwise for example in a solo passage.
I sometimes hear examples of brass instruments playing forte, but sounding softer than they should. In reality, when a brass instrument plays forte, it is loud (compared to the other orchestral sections). If it sounds too loud, perhaps your arrangement needs more elements to help compensate for the weight of the loud brass. Maybe some low percussion will add some support. Or maybe adding some bassoons will very subtly soften the tone color of that brass chord. 
Understanding how to balance the different orchestral sections is the first part. Once you understand that then synths, sound design, and non-orchestral percussion comes in.
In recent years, the rise of hybrid scores has lead to composers dealing not only with achieving the perfect recreation of a pure orchestra but also about blending the orchestra with synths and sound design to create new textures.
Balancing non-orchestral percussion or synth percussive beds with the orchestra is another area of difficulty. You have to find the right balance so that the percussion sounds loud enough to bring that punch, but not too much that it overpowers the orchestra.
Balance is a very subtle matter, but it can make a big difference. If you want your tracks to sound balanced you will have to learn from others. Taking an orchestration course will help. But you will need to practice.
*TOP TIP*: Listen and compare with other tracks and you will get better over time.
Remember that balance and arrangement are closely intertwined. You will need to set the right levels in order for your arrangement to sound good, but at other times you may need to review your arrangement for possible changes before making any changes in levels. 


PANNING: widen the sound and gain clarity 


There are two rules when panning. 


The first one is that at the end the mix should sound compensated. In other words; Left and Right balanced. We do not want more weight to the left or the right. We want both sides to be balanced. 


The second rule is that any low instrument that serves as the foundation of your track should stay in the middle. 


However, in orchestral music, you should always follow the original position of each instrument. You can find many charts online. Here is one from the Cakewalk forum. Use it as starting point and tweak it as needed. 



A common mistake is leaving everything panned center because some libraries come with pre-panned instruments. While this is a good starting point, it is important to accentuate it a bit more. Never go to extremes, unless you are trying to create a very specific effect. The idea is to enhance the width; moving things a bit more to the left and to the right.


*TOP TIP*: I pan in Kontakt, so the panning settings are saved the next time I load it. 


Read our organization post if you want to know more about saving Kontakt instances and how that can speed up your workflow.


Alright! We are halfway through!


In the next post, we will rap up the Composing Section with the last topic: creating depth and clarity with reverb and EQ.


Then we will dive into Mixing and Mastering orchestral mockups

AUTHOR - Orlando Perez Rosso

Orlando is Colombian composer based in Los Angeles. He is a classically trained composer with a profound education in popular music and Sound Engineering. His work can be heard in worldwide trailers, national commercials, and worldwide distributed films. In 2016, Perez Rosso co-founded the Music Agency LoudMono in Los Angeles, CA.




    • Paul Gilreath, The Guide to MIDI Orchestration, 1997.
    • Andrea Pejrolo, Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer: A Practical Guide to Writing and Sequencing for the Studio Orchestra, 2nd edition, 2016.

Do you like the content? Access to a lot of premium content with:

CC Membership

  • Unlimited access to all the courses in Cinematic Composing Membership.
  • Access to new lesson content.
  • Access to all the Masterclasses with Industry Professionals Invitations to our regular Q and A sessions.
  • Access to our regular Chat Sessions on all facets of composing.
  • Amazing discounts on a big selection of Top Shelf Sample Libraries *.
Click for more info

Do you like the content?

What If I Could Show You...

How To Get A Realistic Hollywood Sound 

Out Of Your Orchestral Mockups in 10 Minutes Or Less!

When I started in Hollywood 9 years ago, and I wanted to learn how to mix my orchestral mockups. I asked the top Mixing Engineers and Score Mixers in town if I could sit down in their studios while they were mixing soundtracks. Some of them were happy to have me and I would take notes of everything I'd see and I'd ask questions at the end of the session. I've compiled them all for you in this guide!!

Get The FREE Guide