Believe it or not, you hear a lot of music today basically in mono. When you’re walking around your kitchen listening to your stereo, you are basically hearing the song in mono, unless you stand on front of the stereo perfectly. Many small radios only have the ability to play in mono. Most clubs and bars that play music almost always play it in mono. Wide and rich stereo sounds sound attractive at first but your music simply won’t always be heard in perfect listening environments to appreciate or notice it.
Mixing in mono will help you get a truly balanced mix. While mixing in mono, you are getting a very clear and concrete idea of how loud or quiet things are in a mix. If you are sitting on front of you speakers with Pro Tools open for the last 30 minutes or listening to your mix with headphones for a while, your ears go tired and don’t perform well and you get an incorrect idea of how loud or quiet individual elements of the song are. You may pan a guitar 55% to the left and it will separate itself from the rest of the track and seem of a good loudness level, but when you hear the mix in mono somewhere else, the guitar will disappear.
“Hey it was loud enough when I was mixing it!”
That’s why it is so important to balance your track levels in mono. Because you are hearing the mix in it’s averagely heard condition and you know in reality how loud or quiet something is. Also, mixing in mono can bring to light any phasing issues that may be there for you to fix. Mix in mono, I can’t stress it enough.
So now I will go through how I mix a song, using the ‘mixing in mono’ mindset.
Mixing a song is all about balance. To start off the mix I get a good balance of my faders and my panning. I usually have a pretty wide guitars and keys signal which is why mixing in mono helps me a lot. I then do my gating, equing, compression, saturation, etc, etc. Everything to get my mix sounding like a song that I can bop my head to.
What I do next is put my master fader into mono. In some DAWs there’s a button for this, sometimes you can pan the left and right panning to the centre and other times you may have to throw a stereo spread plugin that can put stuff into mono into you master fader effects chain. Every DAW should be able to make the master fader mono so find out how to do it in your DAW.
Now I listen to my song back again and see what just got lost in the mix. I nearly always say “Woah where the hell did the guitar go?”, or something along those lines. So I move up and down a few faders so I can hear everything again. To achieve that balance again.
Next I usually get a reference track and make sure that’s in mono too. Always make sure to get a reference track that you know is an awesome mix and has a good balance of instruments and sounds good in every listening medium. I then bring the level of the reference song down to match the level of the song that I am mixing. In this reference track that I know is well mixed, I get a clear perspective of the levels in which instruments should be, so I balance my own mix accordingly, usually starting with the bass drum. I usually have a pretty damn good balanced mix at this stage.
Now listen to your mix in stereo again. It’ll sound amazing.
So I hope this article has shone some light onto why people always talk about mixing in mono.
I hope you have a nice day.
Look forward to more mixing tips.