How To Mix In Mono – 3 Easy Steps to Outstanding Mixes

How To Mix In Mono – 3 Easy Steps to Outstanding Mixes

On my previous post, I talked about one concept that every music producer should know before diving into the world of mixing – which is to mix in mono.

It is imperative to understand the psychology behind this concept before anything else. The reason why I am sharing this with you is because I want you to start your mixes right, especially when you are still at the initial stages of your development as a mixer.

New to the music production world, my difficulty lay on training my ears to identify equalization, compression, reverb, and delay. During that time, I somehow had a skewed perception of my mixing ability.  Apparently, my brain tricked me into believing that my mixes had superb sound quality, which resulted into undesirable consequences. A repercussion from this belief that I could easily identify with, and maybe, just maybe, that you could also relate to as well, is negative reception to constructive feedback. Haha!

Since I thought my mixes were up to par with the big honchos of the mixing industry, this thought process greatly impacted my skills as a starting mix engineer. Instead of growing beautifully and gradually in this field, it evidently hampered my progress. For a time being, I was doing the work without any references at all; hence, relying on what I hear alone.

Let me repeat that – relying on what I hear alone.

Why It Is A Problem

Psychoacoustics, the study of sound perception, touches on the physiological manifestations of sound to the human nervous system and how we interpret sound. The brain, as the largest organ of the nervous system, relates to sound in various ways. As mix engineers, music producers, and musicians, we need to have a better understanding of recognizing sound. How so?

It is because you cannot believe everything you hear.

We all have different perspectives when it comes to hearing sound sources. One good example is the difference between loudness and volume. There’s a term called “perceived loudness,” and that is subject to interpretation.  A music playing in the background may be loud to me, but not to you. Notably, volume is entirely different, as it is used to denote the power of a signal or sound source. As an illustration, when you increase the volume knob on the radio, it just means that you are augmenting the amount of power of the sound signal, thus, telling your ears that you can already hear the sound coming through the speakers.

This is how our brain tricks us, specifically when we are mixing.

Let me demonstrate this further. Do this in one of your mixing sessions – listen to a mix using headphones, and then, try to listen to your monitors. Listening on headphones gives you a more pronounced stereo effect compared to listening through the monitors because of the closeness of the sound source to your ears.

Understanding Stereo Separation

Stereo separation can either help us mix or fool us. In the context of mixing, it denotes the spatial attributes it brings to the mix, likewise contributing to the shape of the sound. To achieve width and depth to a mix, stereo separation is the key. However, in this stage of the mixing process, problem areas pop out due to our brain’s judgment. Obviously, at this point, you think that you’ve already achieved clarity and balance because it sounds epic; on the other hand, when you listen to your rendered mix on other platforms, it seemingly sounds dull, dry, and muddy.

mix in mono

The brain uses more processing power when listening in stereo because it doesn’t precisely gauge the truth behind the volume, clarity, and balance of the mix.

In other words, mix in mono.

How To Mix In Mono

To accurately hear the differences in leveling and volume of your mixes, reference your mix in mono. Not only that it works wonders on your tracks, but also speeds up the mixing process.

Here are the steps to mix in mono:

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Check if your DAW has a mono/stereo button. If not, use a plugin that is able to check your mixes from stereo to mono. Insert the plugin on the master fader.

Here are free plugins to use:

It is a complete stereo imaging and analysis tool by Flux

Upstereo by Quikquak

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EQ in Mono – check if you can hear all your instruments in mono. When every track is centered, all the sounds come out from the left and the right speakers. This way, you can concentrate on adjusting the balance, clarity, and level of each track as well as arrange the proper EQ adjustments. If you cannot hear a specific instrument, it tells you that your EQ is not right. This gives you the ability to make the proper EQ decisions. Without stereo separation, you can straightaway identify if there are phase problems, too.

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Adjust accordingly – After making the necessary adjustments in mono, go back and hit the stereo button. Listening to the mix in stereo gives you a spatial context in depth and width. Check the delays and the reverb effects. So, it is extremely important that you go back and forth in listening to the mixes in mono and stereo.

In conclusion, learning how to mix in mono is not just an old school procedure, but a process that allows you and your ears to have laser-like focus and avoid analysis paralysis due to overthinking. After all, our goal is to make your music creations get better each time, right? So, go ahead and mix in mono!

How Mixing In Mono Remarkably Improved My Mixes

How Mixing In Mono Remarkably Improved My Mixes

mixing in mono

One learning I had during my first few years as a home music producer was to mix in mono. Mixing in Mono literally changed my perspective on the mixing process.

Say what?!

I feel you. That’s my first reaction, too. Man, I could hardly stand up from my seat while I watched Graham Cochrane, a freelance music producer in Florida, tackle the subject with gusto. How did I even get ahold of that video in YouTube?

But before we do our deep-dive, I want to point out a few things. This is targeted to:

1. You, who are starting out recording at home, working on your first project

2. You, who have the experience in the recording process.

3. You, who know music production but want to find out how to make your mixes sound better.

You need to know this concept right at the beginning of your mixing career. You’d know why as we move along

The First Time I Heard of Mixing In Mono

My main issue at that time was I couldn’t get my mixes to sound great. Devotion to practice was my number 1 rule. In addition to the hours spent in mixing, I also made sure that I had my attention to every detail. Definitely, I was learning a lot. However, it still didn’t make my mixes sound like the tracks I hear on the radio. The mixes were crappy, and likewise, I was totally getting desperate. Most of the time, I was exasperated figuring out what was wrong.

I knew the different approaches behind the principles of mixing, but it seemed everything was not turning out the way I wanted.

Please do not get me wrong. The learning I acquired from sound engineering school and music production classes were totally great. In fact, they are my core foundation.

You wouldn’t be a music producer unless you’ve gotten the depth of knowledge in the technical aspects of sound production, as well as the artistic and creative prowess in making music. You must possess the passion and understanding in these areas. I absolutely have all of these. However, there’s a perspective I didn’t learn from school. I didn’t know that point of view until I found myself banging my head on the wall, trying to figure out what was missing. Desperately, I searched the net for the answer.

To tell you honestly, I’ve already forgotten how I ended up watching Graham’s video. But, what I do remember is that I saw his channel’s subscriber count and the title of his videos. Interestingly, I began watching his most popular videos. As a result, I stumbled upon his video entitled,    5 Minutes to A Better Mix: Mixing in Mono, which really grabbed my attention. That literally was a light bulb moment for me.

Why Mixing In Mono Is My Aha!

The usual technique that mix engineers do is stereo mixing. Of course, the result of all mixes technically, is stereo. Nonetheless, what we don’t realize is that when we listen to the radio, car speakers, small room speakers, in the club, and even at the mall, we listen to the music in mono. Let me expound on this.

Mono simply means one channel. Stereo just means that the mix has two channels which are left and right. When you listen to music playing in the background inside the mall, you wouldn’t know if what you hear comes the right or the left speakers, and most probably, you wouldn’t even know where the speakers are. Even though that there are two speakers inside your car, if you are at driver’s seat, you are most likely listening to the sound emitting from the left speaker rather than the right, or vice versa. You are almost never in the proper listening position in a club. That’s why most of the time we are listening in mono, except when we are in the middle of two speakers or using headphones.

Most of the time, we are fooled by the stereo separation that we hear from our tracks. Our brain is telling our ears that our mixing is great because it sounds acceptable already. Then, when you listen to your track using a different set of speakers or your phone, you’d find that the mix sounds dull and muddy. This was my problem and it could be your issue, too.

As I listened to Graham explain the concept, it all made perfect sense to me. I immediately went to work and applied what I learned and voila, the result was mind-blowing!

 

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The Revelation

 

Here are the things that I found out while I was mixing in mono:

It reveals phasing issues – phase issues are often not heard in a stereo mix due to stacking of instruments in the track. The instruments will take up the same space in the frequency spectrum, thus, working against each other. This causes the phenomenon called phase cancellation. An example of this is two guitar tracks, one panned to the left, and the other, to the right. Sounds great in stereo, but hollow, thin, and dull in mono. In simple terms, if your recorded tracks sound good on its own but sound bad, flat, and dull together, that could be a phase problem.

mixing in mono

It tells you that your mix is not ready – every producer and mix engineer’s aim is clarity and balance. If it doesn’t sound punchy and clear in mono, it just means you need to work on areas like EQ, compression, gain staging and automation, etc. Mixing in mono reveals problem areas instantly. By this, you would know which area that you need to work on and fix.

It is harder to mix in mono – bluntly speaking, yes, but it’s worth the effort. Why? Mixing this way, your ears work harder to distinguish the differences in leveling and space the instruments are taking up in the spectral context. Separation is much tedious in this process, but this allows you to make the necessary EQ fixes and achieve the right balance. Spatial positioning or panning is what I found tough to execute. Switching the mix back and forth from stereo to mono helps to make sure the panning is correct. Despite the difficulty, once you get used to the process and make it a practice to mix this way, you’d mix better and end up with radio ready mixes.

To Sum It Up

If it sounds good in mono, then it will definitely sound great when you put the mix back to stereo.

So for epic recordings, listening and mixing in mono in the initial stages of your mixing session is good practice that you need to start doing.

Now that I have explained how mixing in mono dramatically took my mixes to the next level, I’d be happy to share the process of mixing in mono on the next read. I assure you that when you start applying this concept to your mixes, all you can say is, “Wow!”

Are you new to this concept? How do you think mixing in mono can help you? Please share your thoughts and comment below! I’d love to hear from you!

 

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