Now since we’ve had a few tips about stereo imaging so far, and all the focus nowadays seems to be how to get everything to sound as wide as possible, I’d like to go down a different route and actually focus on the mono. As I’ve explained in my previous tips, the mono (or mid) information in a sound is the sound that’s playing through both your speakers and is exactly the same on both of them. The part of the sound that has a difference between the L and the R channel is what we conceive as stereo. This is the basics of mono vs stereo information. There’s a whole technical explanation behind this, what we’ve partially already explained in our previous tips, so check them out.
Back to the Center
Now because of the mono information is playing the exact same information through both of your speakers (or multiple speakers), this is also the part that gives your track a good solid and consistent feel. This is both important when listening to your track in your own little ‘sweet spot’, but is maybe even more important when your tracks are playing in a situation that’s not so ideal for the stereo image (venues, clubs, multiple speaker setups etc). Because of this your mid information is extremely important. A lot of studio’s actually have a separate single (so mono) speaker for this sole purpose. Back in the days it used to be the Auratone 5C that was hugely popular. Nowadays the Avantone Mixcubes are a much used, and widely spread, alternative to the classic Auratones.
Volume leveling and EQ’ing.
These are just two tools of the trade that come in quite handy when shaping the mono image of your track. Because you lose the stereo information, you suddenly can’t get away anymore with just panning a sound to get it to sit in your mix better. Because of that, it’s much more easy to identify any ‘masking’ problems you might run into. In case you are wondering what ‘masking’ is, it’s when a sound, or part of a sound / tone gets ‘hidden’ (pushed to the back) because a different sound with similar characteristics is playing at the same time. Now for a mixing engineer; masking can be used as a tool on purpose, or actually be an unwanted side-effect of the sound-design / processing you’ve got going on. Either way; it’s your job as a mix engineer to use or prevent masking, wherever it’s needed.
Because it’s easier for you to identify these issues, it forces you to decide and think consciously about which are the more important elements in your mix. You can completely re-do the volume leveling of your track; and start with the most important elements for the style you’re writing. In the case of EDM, I would recommend taking the kick and bass layers as the basis of your track. In case of vocals; they are often equally important. In some cases even the most important thing of your track. Do your volume leveling around these. And use your EQ to carve room for these elements into your other instruments. Try to give everything its own space, around these most important elements. Do this for your entire mix, until your mono mix-down sounds equally good as that of a the mono information of a high quality reference track.
From mono to stereo
Now when you have a solid mono image going, it’s time to revisit your mix and look into the stereo processing. You’ll probably be surprised that most of your mix already sounds pretty good, even without the stereo processing. That’s because of the importance of a good solid mono layer in your mix. So when doing the final stereo processing in the end, your mix is only going to sound better!