We all want to produce huge, swirling, spacious mixes. Utilizing the stereo field by panning tracks left or right is a powerful tool for expanding the scope of a mix. However, mixing solely in stereo can lead to problems you might not have foreseen.
You may notice that your mixes don’t translate well from your stereo monitors to your earbuds or car sound system. The beaming clarity you recalled hearing in your home studio suddenly turns to mud in other contexts.
You didn’t mix in mono. Here we’ll go over the why and how of mixing in mono. By the end of this article, you’ll have some actionable tips that you can put to work in your mixes today.
Mixing in mono might sound like a counterintuitive and outdated pursuit at first. After all, most modern music is in stereo, and your mix is no exception. You want your mix to be heard in all of its broad, dynamic glory. Remember, however, that the mixing process is not the final result. Like crafting a clay sculpture or sketching an outline, you’re simply laying the groundwork for the finished product. And in order to get the best result, you need to make sure the skeleton is strong and sound.
There’s nothing wrong with mixing in stereo. In fact, you should do this intermittently, especially at the very end of the mixing process. But neglecting to listen to your mix with every aspect stacked right down the middle will lead to those previously mentioned translation errors. By mixing in mono you can begin to hear where the mix truly lacks clarity. Those once panned rhythm guitars might suddenly start eating the bass or lead guitar tracks. Vocals that seemed to blend well in stereo might stick out like a sore thumb or get lost in the mono world.
In other words, only mixing in stereo can give your mix a false sense of clarity. Yes, instruments are separated in space, but what about on the frequency spectrum? By mixing in mono you get a better sense of how to EQ different elements to further clarify the mix. Likewise, some tracks may need more or less compression, and some tracks may need their levels cut or boosted. All of this is harder to notice when only listening in stereo, but ever present in mono.
There are several ways to turn your stereo mix into a mono one. You’ll want to find a way that doesn’t interfere with previous panning or stereo effect settings so you can easily switch back and forth between stereo and mono without redoing past work.
Some preamps have a stereo/mono switch built-in, but cheaper ones might not offer this feature.
Fortunately, most DAWs make this easy. In Logic Pro X, for instance, simply place the Gain plugin on the output channel strip. The plugin has a mono on/off switch in the bottom right corner. Simply hit this button to switch from mixing in mono to mixing in stereo.
Other DAWs have similar methods of doing this, and third-party software developers have also found solutions. Waves Audio, for instance, has a stereo enhancer/imager plugin (S1) that can be brought into any DAW and used as a mono switch.
In the end, you’ll probably want to hear and bounce your mix in stereo. Just remember that you’ll get more clarity and depth by at least checking your mix in mono as you go. It’s also worth noting that some people might only ever hear your mix in mono, depending on their sound system.
Remember, you want your music to sound as clear and full as possible – and mono doesn’t lie.