The secret benefits to mixing in mono
The Secret benefits of Mixing in Mono
The benefits of mixing in mono are pretty substantial yet also very little known. Most aspiring engineers might think of mixing in mono as a good way to find out if there are phase cancellation issues in your song. The best reason for checking these possible phasing issues is in the event that your song is played over a mono soundsystem (which may be more often than you think). Although that is a very useful technique, you are missing many great benefits of using mono to create a better stereo mix.
Now when I say mono, let's be very clear. I'm not just talking about using a mono plugin and running it through both of your speakers. I'm talking about turning off one of your speakers and running your mono signal to just one speaker. Preferably you would have this single speaker front and center, but as long as the speaker is directly facing you, this should work just fine. Most engineers that mix in mono has a separate center speaker for this. Why only one speaker when both speakers are sending out the same output? Because you don't want the extra sound bouncing of walls or getting to your ears at different times depending on your location in the studio. That would mean that in one position something can sound clear, and in another location the same instrument may sound a bit more muddy. Much better to have one speaker to focus on that will remain consistent. You also don't want the speakers creating a false sense of stereo as you mix.
Lets explore some of the benefits now...
No "sweet" spot
When mixing in stereo, as you move your head and body around in your studio you begin to lose the stereo illusion and detail of your mix. In mono you don't have this problem. You'll be able to hear everything in your mix no matter where you are.
Instruments panned opposite are easier to balance in mono
When mixing guitars to opposite sides of the stereo field, you may find it a little tricky to be that perfect balance so your mix doesn't start sounding lopsided. When the sound of both speakers are superimposed on each other in mono, it's easy to hear which of these instruments is dominant and balance that out.
Panning made easier
After getting your basic panning done in stereo, it's a great time to switch to mono to fine tune things. If you are looking for the "sweet" spot to put an instrument in the stereo field, do it in mono. As you make minor panning adjustments in mono, suddenly a clear spot will pop out at you. That is the spot! Mono reveals when an instrument is fighting for position or frequency much more easily. Try it!
Reverb settings made easier
Reverb settings also are easier in mono. If you are questioning whether you have too much or too little reverb, mono reveals the mud or the holes in your mix. As you start to tweak your reverbs in mono, you'll notice a whole new depth to your sounds. When it sounds good here, it'll sound great when back in stereo.
Less ear fatigue with Longer mixing sessions
Aside from the occasional switch to stereo to check your sub levels, you'll find mixing to be easier at lower volumes and thus you'll be able to trust you ears for much longer during a session. Nothing is worse than mixing for 8-10 hours straight and realize your ears stopped being reliable after the 3rd hour.
Stereo mixing can be complex and pretty daunting. Move your head too far in any direction and you lose that magic spot. Mono mixing puts everything into one simple box that will always sound the same wherever you move your head and body. Problems and solutions can be revealed much easier in mono and your mental perception sees your big project as smaller and more manageable. If you can get things sounding good in mono, they will almost always sound great in stereo.
Give it a try
Don't just take my word for it. Explore the benefits of mono mixing for yourself. It's safe to say that once you get your basic levels, panning and reverbs set in stereo, you can switch to mono for most of your fine tuning and mixing.
Now you are an expert in all things mono.
Next check out my 101 Music Production Tips for Computer Musicians ebook
Happy music making,
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