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.
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:
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.
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!