Are you unhappy with how your mixes are turning out? Do you feel like your song is missing that ‘pop’, that brings it alive? If you can’t get your song to sound great outside of the studio, you’re not alone.
In a sea of tricks and tips, there’s one sneaky hack that you’d be surprised makes a huge difference.
So what is it….well, our trick is to mix in mono.
Before you exit this page in disbelief, hear us out. We realize the irony here, but it’s the truth. Tons of industry professionals mix this way and for good reason.
Kendrick Lamar’s longtime mixer, Derek “MixedbyAli” Ali famously revealed that part of his process was mixing in mono:
“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.”
Well if Dre said so, it must be true. But let’s break down why it’s so effective.
Fixes Phase Problems
By bringing your mix into mono, it will help you eliminate issues caused by tracks in phase. For those of you who are unsure, phase is what happens when two identical signals are played out of phase with one another, cancelling each other out as a result. This frequently happens when two mics are placed close to each other, usually on drums or acoustic guitars.
Let’s say you have two identical guitar melodies panned to either side. If they are out of sync you won’t be able to pick unless you have an exceptionally keen ear. Once they are brought into mono, they will cancel each other out, eliminating some frequencies and boosting others. If you’re able to tweak it so they don’t phase each other out, they are going to sound so much better back in stereo.
If your problem is that your song lacks a balanced sound, it may seem counterintuitive to collapse your tracks down into one channel. Once you do, you will notice that your mix sounds completely different. Some tracks sound louder than others, and some get lost altogether in the mix. This is because you haven’t mixed it well enough yet.
If you are unable to hear certain tracks in mono it reveals issues in mixing like compression, automation and overall levels. Now you may lose your guitars, harmonies and other auxiliary instruments you have panned to the side, but that’s okay. What you are listening for is building a solid foundation of your core elements. In a mono mix, you should be able to hear kick, snare, bass and voice distinctly.
Makes EQing Easier
Similar to phase, tracks that are panned all the way left and all the way right won’t sound that bad in stereo, but when you bring them into mono you may notice some huge issues. Songs that have overlapping frequencies will clash in mono mix.
Control Your Bass
When artists started playing around with stereo sound as it became widely available in the digital age, one thing didn’t change for the most part: bass. Partly that’s to do with vinyl not being able to support the low frequencies through stereo, but there’s another more human explanation why. Our brains can’t determine the location of noises lower than 80 Hz, so panning bass has a lesser impact than other instruments.
When it comes to your mix, it’s important to make sure that your bass isn’t overpowering the rest of your sounds. Since lower instruments physically move more energy, they can easily drown out the rest of your mix. In mono, you’ll be able to hear how the rest of your track measures up to your bass and find the right levels. Plus, subwoofers only play in mono, so you won’t be doing yourself any favours panning your bass all the way left for effect.
If you can’t get on board with mixing in mono, do yourself a favour and meet us halfway. Continue your mix in stereo, but sporadically check how your mix sounds in mono.