How Mixing In Mono Remarkably Improved My Mixes
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.
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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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.
↝ 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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