Hi All,

I have been looking at moving me stereo short doco films with background music to a surround experience. At the moment the design is fairly simple, interview vocals center and music as it comes from the artist (stereo). What can you guys suggest to move the music towards using a full surround experience. I am looking at subtle exposure, not over the top use of the surround stems without compromising the original quality of the music. The sound effects are more natural to mix, so I am not too fussed about them.

I hope that makes sense.

  • A quick response to everyone below, you all rock! You have all given me something to experiment with.
    – Bruce
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 5:52

4 Answers 4


The way I normally start when mixing music for 5.1 (mostly in feature films, but sometimes also in documentaries), is to pull the music slightly towards the center, so that it isn't strictly L-R but more L-R with a little bit of center, so you don't get too much of the "hole in the middle" syndrome. Sometimes I pull it back a little too.

Normally I then apply a hall reverb to the surround speakers, leaving it pretty dry in the front and almost totally wet in the surrounds. This way the music surrounds you without having too much of the direct sound coming from behind you.

I will also send some of the music to the LFE channel.

If I have stereo stems of the music available, I will pan the softer elements more to the back than the percussive elements, and be more selective about which tracks I feed to the LFE channel. If there's no particular bass information in the channel, there is no need to send it to the sub.

The more tracks I have available for mixing, the more specifically I will pan them across the LCR front, for instance narrowing the bass down to the center channel (and LFE of course), or pinpointing the close mics of the orchestra across the screen. I may also use an extra reverb in the front, to give the narrower sounds a bit of spread. I will also narrow the reverb a bit so it isn't strictly LR.

The real advantage when mixing in 5.1 compared to stereo is in my opinion more the enriched clarity and higher fidelity that comes from using more speakers, than it is the fact that you can have sound coming from behind.

  • I was thinking the bass from the music would benefit moving into the LFE. I suppose then it would be a matter of taste to see where the cross-over point and how far down you extend it (all within reason). If was mixing an actual multi-channel recording, this could be easier, but the producer has given me straight stereo records from bands (not featured on screen).
    – Bruce
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 5:59

The simplest solution is to worldize sections using subtle reverb and send that to the surrounds. You have to be careful what you send to the surrounds and how often as sounds arriving from behind the audience can often make listeners feel uncomfortable.

I would leave the music as left and right and move some of the sound effects into the surrounds especially ambient sounds as this can help the audience have more of a feel for the locations.

  • Lots of docos I have seen do the worldize with reverb, but how does that affect the overall tone when collapsing it back into stereo?
    – Bruce
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 5:54
  • I believe that the surround tracks are added out of phase to the Lt and Rt tracks so shouldn't represent any problems in a stereo reproduction. The worst case scenario is that the sound effects sound have a bit more indirect sound, making them sound further away, but this would only be subtle.
    – user80
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 12:10

It depends what you're mixing in.

Logic is easiest for surround panning as you just change the output to surround and you can use the planner to position your centre point and alter the stereo spread across the 5.1 field. This also works for auxiliary busses for your reverbs.

Protools is a bit more faffy - you cant adjust the centre spread of the audio - only the centre positioning so the easiest way is to create 2 reverb busses for each reverb, Position 1 of them in the front 2 speakers and the other one in the back two. Copy the reverb parameters between both but slightly alter the back reverbs to compensate for HRTF and that kind of thing. Then send each track to both to create an imersive experiance,

This is best for atmos and ambience tracks and music can be altered in the same way.

Hope this helps!

  • I'm a bit confused by your, "can't adjust the centre spread," comment regarding Pro Tools. Can you explain under what context you're referring to, because I think I'm overlooking something in your argument. Have you considered the use of the "divergence" parameter in your panning? Commented May 26, 2011 at 15:17
  • @Shaun - I was thinking the same thing as you at first. I think what might be a foreign concept or confusing for those working in other programs is because with a stereo track in PT going out to say, the quads... divergence operates in reverse since the sound is already hard panned to the speakers and is as wide as it can ever be, so at that point divergence becomes more of a blending/narrowing/tightening utility as opposed to widening of a mono track. So it operates in reverse due to the default nature of how pro tools hard pans tracks by default when it comes to surround. Commented May 27, 2011 at 1:52
  • At the moment I haven't chosen an application. This was more of a general question to get my head in the right spot once I start production. Moving the overall sound towards the center listening position sounds like a good start with reverb to spread the tone a bit into the extremities.
    – Bruce
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 5:57

From everything I've heard, mixing music into the surrounds is supposedly a big no-no. Same goes for mixing dialogue in the surrounds. Personally, I like mixing music in surround, and depending on the context of the dialogue, I'll mix that in surround as well I'm not one for playing inside the rules or playing it safe unless it's a QC or broadcast spec I have to adhere to. With music you gotta show the people in the back a bit of love too imo. It's not like it's a specific sound effect that will really draw the listeners attention away, so it can be done... but simply done carefully and tastefully, same goes for certain types of dialogue as well. Personally I think surround mixing still plays it a bit too safe. We have this awesome technology and a lot of mixers are still afraid to take chances and push the envelope. Some I might add, are quite amazing at this. If you listen to the surround mix for Inception Gary Rizzo mixed A LOT of music into the surrounds... for that matter it was sometimes only in the surrounds.

When mixing music in surround (which I would typically do in Pro Tools), I'll usually have it in the Quads pulled back around 10-20% from the front and I'll set my divergence to 80% all the way around, that way I'm not hitting the LS and RS too hard, it's not too wide and I'm just giving it a bit of surround space to make it a little more immersive. Sometimes I'll send it to the LFE depending on the scene and what the mix needs. I'm extra careful with that though. I don't ever use verb on the music though. If it's incidental music all bets are off and it depends on the source location of the music in the surround field. In that case I would use verb on the music. On top of that, it also helps clean up a bit of headroom in the L+R and leaves a bit more space for SFX and DX.

  • How do you deal with the reverb in the collapsed stereo version? Surely it would cause some phasing issues.
    – Bruce
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 6:00
  • It's only incedental music I would ever use verb on (ie: music that is coming from a source in the picture). When I do happen to do that I try to use a very bare minimum of verb as well. That's why I don't use it on the score or soundtrack music. In that case I'll also use a surround reverb and for some odd reason I've never had phasing issues because it folds down like the rest of the surround audio. Commented May 27, 2011 at 6:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.