Tip 01 – Stereo Imaging

For this first production tip we’ll focus on the stereo image. More specifically; how to get a wide lead sound which sounds good in mono as well.
We won’t get into the science behind the techniques too much. If you’re interested in the scientific explanation of what’s going on; please check out this link. (SoundonSound)
Instead we’ll be looking at an easy and understandable way of how to get a good lead sound, that’s both wide, but has a solid mono body as well.

The stereo image is something you should already keep in mind when starting a track, and again when finalizing the mixdown of a track. The question you should ask yourself is: which instruments sound good in mono, and which instruments need to be widened. Do not use stereo widening techniques on every single instrument. If everything is wide, nothing is wide! By not using stereo imaging on everything you create room for the instruments that do need it.
Analyze other tracks, see what instruments they have in mono (or close to mono) and which instruments have stereo effects.

The lead sound

If you want to create a lead sound that sounds good in both mono and stereo, my advice is to layer it. Divide the sound into a mono layer and a stereo layer and have them on seperate mixer busses.
That way you have full control over both the mids and sides. So not just EQ, but also compression, saturation, automated faders etc. A good free plugin to use on these channels is the A1StereoControl plugin by A1Audio. (Available for both Windows and Mac OSX)

If you’re working on a big lead:

In the mono layer: create a sound that’s really full and powerful. Mids are usually the key here. Use any processing you would normally use on your leads, as long as it sounds good.

In the stereo layer: lows and mid lows are not that important. Higher mids and highs however, are important. Multiband stereo imaging can help here.
Besides that, you can go crazy with effects here. You’ll also notice that when you widen the highs more, you can cut the same highs with an eq a bit, while retaining the same impact. This also gives you more headroom in the mix.

Now route both the stereo and mono mixer busses to another mixer buss. This will be the main buss that combines both sounds. Decide the relative volume level of the layers, see how they sound together.
If needed, use tools like compression, EQ or any other processing that helps the sound reach it’s full potential.

Now if all is well; you will end up with a lead sound that’s both wide but still has a solid body when you switch to mono.
You can use a similar technique on a lot of sounds. For example; it’s perfect to widen the lead vocals of a track. 🙂

Hope this production tip helps you with your tracks. Happy producing!
And if you need any help, you know where to find me! 🙂

Michael de Kooker