Not checking your mix in mono is a big mistake.
If you regularly check your mixes in mono, you’ll never run into stereo problems.
If you don’t, then this can happen:
- Guitars completely drop out.
- Vocals vanish.
- Effects disappear.
Check your mix in Mono
Just to clarify, since I’ve seen people get confused about what mixing in mono means. Mixing in mono does not mean mixing on only one speaker. Mixing on one speaker would end up sounding really weird since you would end up panning everything pretty heavily towards that one speaker, leaving you with a lopsided mix.
No, mixing in mono means flipping your song into mono, either on your interface(like I do on my Apogee Duet) or simply setting the master fader of your DAW to mono.
In mono nothing will escape your ears. And if something vanishes, then something is wrong.
For instance, a common problem with using cool stereo effects on synths or guitars is that once you listen back in mono all those effects disappear. Once you sum the stereo effects to mono the effects on each side of the stereo spectrum essentially cancel each other out.
Just imagine if your awesome stereo delay for your guitar solo would all of a sudden vanish! No cool solo sound for you!
Mixing in Mono Creates Better Stereo
When you sum to mono, panning or stereo problems jump out at you immediately.
If you listen in mono and suddenly the backing vocals sound weaker or the guitar solo almost disappears, chances are you need to ease off the stereo processing.
If you add too much stereo delay on a guitar solo, it might disappear when you sum everything to mono. The combination of the different delays creates phase problems that result in a small or non-existent guitar solo.
The same goes for any instrument. If something disappears when you’re listening in mono, it’s time to take a step back and ease off the stereo effects.
Panning in Mono?
It’s also a good idea to pan in mono. Sounds crazy but it does seem to work for placing certain elements in the correct place.
Using stereo imaging to make things sound bigger and wider is great and all, but make sure it sounds good in mono too.
Make it a necessary precaution to check your mix in mono.
Stereo can be a big fat liar.
But you can always trust in mono.
For a quick guide on getting a good stereo image once you’ve made sure nothing is out of the ordinary, check out Zen and the Art of a Strong Stereo Image.
One time I was workingon this mix and did all the usual stuff:
- Grouped similar instruments together.
- Did some levels.
- Added some compression and EQ.
- Added 3 different reverbs to the drums, guitars and vocals.
The intended exercise was to mix quickly and simply. Also, I tried to mix at a very low level just for fun.
But during all of this I always felt that the mix was a little flat. Nothing was necessarily competing for space or frequencies, it just sounded narrow.
Then it hit me.
I had been mixing in mono!
I had forgotten to turn my interface from mono to stereo from the day before! I was mixing in mono the whole time.
However, the mix had sounded pretty decent up until this point. Especially considering the fact that I had used the bare minimum of processing and effects.
But once I flipped it to stereo everything fell into place.
It was beautiful.
The vocal that sat on top of the mix fell into place in the center of the stereo spectrum. The drums, backing vocals and guitars that were filling up the “center” were now panned around the vocal, making it fit perfectly in place around the supporting instruments.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself: “Why is he telling me this if he already recommends mixing in mono in the Strategies bundle, alongside dozens of other tips?”
Well, because I usually “check” my mix in mono, like I advised above. I had never done most of the mix in mono before flipping it back into stereo. It was just a stupid mistake.
A mistake that paid off really well, and something I think you should try next time you’re starting a mix.
Keep Avoiding These Mistakes
This is the 10th and final lesson in our course. I hope you’ve learned a lot and will try to avoid doing these mistakes again.
Just to recap, this is what you should have learned from the course.
- Making the most out of editing – Editing prior to mixing is a very important part of making the mixing process enjoyable.
- Setting up your mixing session – The volume of your individual tracks is a crucial aspect of giving your master bus enough headroom. By using metering and gain staging correctly you can confidently hand off your mix to a mastering engineer.
- Learn to listen to your compressor – Use the right compression model if you want a certain character to your compression. All of the parameters of the compressor contribute to the final, compressed sound.
- Preset Mixing – Presets aren’t made with your mix in mind. They’re a great starting point but you need to tweak them to suit your sounds.
- Drums are supporting actors – Loud drums just get in the way. They need to be punchy but they can’t take up space from the vocal.
- Simplify your mix – Use groups and busses to make it easier to navigate a session. Reducing your track count can significantly reduce the headache of a larger session.
- Routing is not sending – There’s a difference between routing and sending, and using either one incorrectly can cost you dearly.
- Don’t be afraid of filters – Using filters can clean up the frequency spectrum quite nicely. Don’t be afraid to use aggressive filtering or cuts to make your instruments sit together.
- Be careful with the reverb – Reverb is a great thing to add space to your mix, but overdoing it will sound amateurish. Sometimes, delay is better.
- Mono is your friend – Mixing in mono lets you avoid stereo problems. Checking your mix in mono is a great way to make sure all your stereo delays and processors won’t sabotage your mix.
In addition to the ten installments above, the supplemental video package goes into greater depths about the nature of all these mistakes.
Can I ask you a favor?
I sincerely hope you liked the course. I would really appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to let me know what you thought of it and how it helped you with your mixes.
Let me know your comments in the box below of what you liked/disliked and if you want anything improved.
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