When was the last time you mixed your songs in mono? Recently I wrote about why it’s a good idea to mix at lower volumes and along with that idea comes the concept of mixing in mono. Before 1958, albums were recorded, mixed, and distributed in mono. People’s radios and record players were built with one main speaker, suitable for mono. That in mind, recording engineers didn’t factor in panning and stereo placement into their mixing decisions at all. Seems crazy to us, but it’s true. However, today I want to briefly look at mixing in mono as a viable part of your mixing process and point out three ways listening to your mixes in mono will benefit you.
Via Jon Olav Eikenes Flickr
Mixing For The Worst Case
Not everyone will be playing your mix in stereo. I honestly have to give Kevin Ward props for reminding me of this concept. You just never know what kind of speaker situations exist, so worst case scenario your great “stereo” mix will be rocking through one crappy mono speaker. You might as well check to see if your mix sounds good in the worst case scenario. If it does, then chances are it’ll sound even better played back in stereo.
Now what do I mean by mono? Well, simply put when you listen to your tracks coming out of your DAW with either headphones or studio monitors, you are hearing a stereo output. This allows you to pan tracks left and right, giving you a nice wide spread for your music. On some audio interfaces and software plugins you’ll find a mono button that instantly takes your stereo outputs and sums them to one channel. Use this as often as you want to reference your tracks in mono.
Getting Proper Balance
When you mix in mono you tend to focus in more on your tracks volume balance. You aren’t given the luxury of placing parts in the stereo field to give them separation. Instead you hear it all coming at you in the middle. This forces you to analyze just how hot or low some tracks are. Can you still hear the vocals when the guitars are summed mono? Is the snare too loud when there is nothing in the left or right to distract you?
The same is true for your EQ decisions. When you take away stereo separation, do your tracks get muffled and hard to distinguish? Maybe your EQ is not right. Simply checking your balance in mono for a bit will help your mixes out tremendously.
The other great thing about checking your mixes in mono is you can reassess how good of a job you’ve done with maintaing phase. My piano track let’s say could sound nice in clear when my mix is in stereo, but summed to mono it disappears. Why is that? It could be that the microphones I used when tracking it were completely out of phase with each other. I wouldn’t quite hear that in stereo (even if it still sounded a bit off), but when summed together the phase issue will be come much more apparent. It’s super important to check stereo recordings (drum overheads, stereo guitar or piano) in mono for phase coherency.
Going Old School
I think there’s something to be said about taking music recording and mixing back to an old school method. There was great music being made in the early 20th century, by great engineers who were doing a lot with a little (by today’s standards). Mixing in mono is more than a gimmick, it is an opportunity to simplify, limit your options, and focus your ears on the tracks. Anything that helps you evaluate your mix decisions in this way is a good thing in my book.