Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers and today you’re gonna learn everything you need to know about mixing in mono. But before we dive in, I also put together a free PDF with five more of my favorite mixing techniques just like mixing in mono. So, if you want to pick up a couple more techniques that will enhance your mixes, click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free PDF right now.
Now in the mixing process, often times we have tracks that are competing with each other for space, right? So maybe there’s a guitar track that’s getting in the way of the vocal and we can’t hear the vocal clearly. So often times the way that we solve this problem is we pan the guitar over to the left side, right? And so now, we can hear the guitar kind of over there and the vocal down the center, and the problem seems like it’s solved.
But if you think about it, things sound great when we’re sitting right in front of our two stereo speakers where we can hear the beautiful stereo image. But what happens when we step back 20 feet from the speakers, and suddenly everything’s kind of combining together into some degree of mono, and now those tracks are competing with each other again? Or what happens when you stick a pair of speakers in a living room and you have one speaker in one room and one in the other and so it’s kind of mono, right? So we’re not really hearing that stereo image.
In the mixing process, often times panning things to try to fix problems with tracks competing with each other can result in a mix that sounds good in some circumstances, but not in others. And so a better approach to try to fix these tracks that are competing is to create tonal differences between them. So to actually use EQ to shape the tracks so that they fit better together in mono, and then they’re gonna sound good in stereo, but they’re also gonna sound good in mono, right? Because we’re not using that stereo spread to kind of cheat by panning things left and right, and in a sense we’re kind of not really fixing the core problem right? Which is that these things are kind of competing for space in the same area of the frequency spectrum.
So going back to this whole idea of mixing in mono, and the reason why I think it could be really effective, is because it forces you to make things work together using EQ and tonal differences instead of relying on panning to solve the problem. So when you’re mixing in mono and listening to things in mono, you don’t have the luxury of panning things off to the left side or the right side to try to solve these problems with tracks competing, right? And so you end up working a lot harder to make things fit together, but the result is that your mix sounds a lot better both in stereo, but also in mono, and also in these circumstances where people hear it out in the real world in mono. Whether they’re walking down the supermarket aisle and they just hear it in that little speaker up in the ceiling, or whether they’re listening on an iPhone with one speaker, or whatever. So by mixing in mono, you’re making sure that your tracks are gonna hold up in the widest variety of listening environments. It’s just a great technique, I recommend it highly and it can be really an effective tool that you can use to improve the sound of your mixes.
Now there are a couple of best practices that I recommend you use to get the most out of mixing in mono. The first is to make sure you use it at an appropriate stage of your mixing process.
Now I find mixing in mono is most useful when you use it early on in the process; where you’re really trying to suss out the relationships between the different tracks in your mix. And if you use it early, often times it’s gonna set you up for success later on down the line.
The second best practice is you want to pay attention to the difference between pseudo mono and actual mono. So when you sum your tracks down to mono in your DAW, but you’re still listening through two speakers, both of those speakers are putting out the same thing, but it’s not quite the same as listening to things out of one speaker. And ideally, the best approach is to listen to the entire mix coming out of one speaker.
So what you can do is you can sum your mix down to mono, and actually turn off one of the speakers and then listen to the entire mix coming out of one speaker. And often times, that can actually be a better way to mix in mono, versus using two speakers and listening to things in kind of pseudo mono.
The third best practice is to not forget about stereo. Some people get so obsessed with mixing in mono that they forget that they’re still crafting a stereo mix. So you should still be paying attention to how your mix sounds in stereo, and I recommend doing the majority of the mixing process in stereo. You still need to pay attention to panning, and effects, and all those things that are gonna be really important to check in stereo. So using mixing in mono early on to develop those relationships between the different tracks, and then switching over to stereo and maybe checking your mix in mono every once in a while but relying on stereo, especially later on in the mixing process I think will give you the best results.
So the next thing you might be wondering is how to listen to your mix in mono while you’re working in your DAW. So I wanna jump into my DAW, and show you exactly how to pull this off.
Okay, so we’re here in Pro Tools, and I wanna show you a couple of different ways that you can check for mono in your DAW. So depending on which DAW you’re using, most DAWs are gonna have pan knobs on your mix bus or your master fader. That’s where all of the tracks in your mix are getting sent to. And by default, these are set to hard left and hard right. So you can see here in ProTools—100% left and 100% right. So if I hold down the Alt key, or the Option key and click on this, you can see it resets it to zero. Same thing with the right pan knob; and so now we basically have instead of hard left and hard right, we have everything being sent right down the center. So this is kind of a poor man’s way to check for mono if you don’t have any plugins or anything like that. And then once you’re done you can drag these back out to one hundred left and right.
Now my favorite way to check for mono is to use a plugin. I like using bx_solo. This is a free plugin you can download it right now, and it does a couple of cool things. You can solo the, you know, middle information or the sides but the stereo-with control is basically what we’re looking for here. And if you drag this all the way to the left, it basically sums the mix to mono.
So what I like to do is I leave this plugin on my mix bus and then whenever I wanna check for mono, I un-bypass it. Whenever I wanna just listen to the stereo mix I bypass it, so the plugin is in bypass you know 95% of the time, but when I’m checking for mono I just flip it in. So that’s a really cool, easy way to check for mono just within your mixing process if you leave this plugin on your master fader mix bus.
The other way you might do this is if you have a monitor controller or some piece of hardware control that has a mono button or something like that. Or some interfaces will give you software control over this. So Apogee, for example, there’s…I forget if there’s a mono button in there, but you can check either the hardware or the software panel and that might be a great way to do it too. But if you’re working in a DAW that supports plugins, which is pretty much every single one, bx_solo I think is a great plugin you can just flip it in and out and it will give you very quick, easy mono check.
Now I hope you enjoyed this video and if you’re looking to dive deeper, I also put together a free PDF with five more of my favorite mixing techniques just like mixing in mono. So if you’re ready to pick up a couple more techniques that will enhance your mixes, click the link in the description below, or up there in the video to get free instant access.
Now before you go, leave me a comment below this video and let me know, do you mix in mono? And if so, how do you do it? I’d love to hear from you. I read every comment and reply to as many as I can.
Thanks so much for watching. You can check out more mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.