If you could only make one change to the way you mix your songs  I would tell you to mix in mono.

And I’m not the only one who swears by it.

As it turns out, Kendrick Lamar’s latest (and award winning) album To Pimp A Butterfly was mixed primarily in mono. Go figure.

derek ali

Mono Helps Define The Mix

One of the most intriguing mixers in the hip hop world today is Derek “MixedbyAli” Ali.

He’s only been at this 7 years but already has recorded and mixed chart topping albums, working alongside guys like Kendrick Lamar and learning directly from Dr. Dre.

In a recent Sound On Sound interview, Ali shared a surprising fact about how he gets his mixes to sound so good:

About 80% of my time mixing [I spend] listening to just one Auratone speaker, so yes, in mono! Dre always told me that if I could get something to sound amazing on crappy speakers, it’ll sound brilliant on normal speakers. So I try to get a great mix on the Auratone, and then I’ll go to the NS10s. – Derek Ali (Mixer, Engineer)

There you have it people. If you don’t believe me, just listen to one the industry’s youngest (he’s 25) and most successful mixers right now.

He spends 80% of his time in a mix, listening on one crappy mono (mid rangy) speaker.

Why?

I mix on just one Auratone, because I like specific elements of the mix to pop out, and listening in mono on that speaker really helps me define that. It’s difficult to assess your balance [in stereo], whereas when you listen in mono, you can gauge the true value of how everything sits in the mix. – Derek Ali (Mixer, Engineer)

Two huge points about mono – it helps you get the right elements to poke out in the mix, and it helps you get a truer perspective on the balance of everything.

And remember – you can sum up mixing in just one word, balance.

Two Mixing Hacks In One

What Ali is describing here is really two of my favorite mixing hacks put together.

First he’s mixing in mono.

Without the crutch of stereo to give your mix separation, you are forced (in mono) to make better EQ, compression, and level decisions in order to get your mix to pop.

Second, he’s mixing on a crappy mid range speaker.

If all you do is mix on nice studio monitors (or nice headphones) then you likely don’t have a good gauge of how your mix will hold up in the real world.

Most people tend to playback music on low quality systems (laptop speakers, iPhone, bluetooth stereos, car speakers) that are plagued by a common problem: lack of top and bottom end.

So the mid range becomes really exposed.

If you mix on a crappy, mid range heavy speaker then you’ll hear things you likely would have missed on your “nice” speakers.

This can help you really fine tune a mix so it sounds good not just in your room, but everywhere.

You don’t need an Auratone speaker to do this. I’ve shared before the best $99 you could spend to instantly get better mixes and that’s a great alternative.

Even cheaper would be a small bluetooth speaker or computer speaker. The concept of the crappy speaker for a reference is tried and true.

Ali takes the power of mono, and usefulness of a mid range focused speaker and puts them together by doing 80% of his mixing on a single Auratone.

It’s a powerful combination!

Have You Tried It?

Two of the most powerful things you could do to improve your mixes: mix in mono and on a crappy speaker. The results will speak for themselves. So let me ask you:

  • Are you currently mixing mono? And if so for how long in your typical mix?
  • Do you have a “crappy” speaker to check your mix on?