interested in people’s thoughts on approach to mono - both in recording, mixing and mastering.
I ask as I’ve always defaulted to stereo as the only way, have spent quite a bit extra on a stereo-oriented set of gear, resolving stereo problems, needing stereo inputs, only wanting stereo aux send and fx returns, stereo eurorack gizmos etc etc
However I recall reading a few pieces over the years about mono - in a sense - being superior to stereo, both in composition, mixing and mastering processes - it causes you to focus far more on the core central space of your composition, the tone and eq balance, and ultimately finding a better recording.
I often find I am deluding myself mid composition by bringing in hats and percussion left and right, complicating the stereo field with wide pads and moving motifs and thinking ‘oh now it’s getting good’ but in hindsight I was just distracting myself from the core idea I started out with and end up going down a bit of a rabbithole.
Also, having picked up a great little mono speaker a few years ago (a minirig) I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to a lot of great legendary recordings on a single speaker and began to appreciate composition and balance more in this simpler rendition. It seemed more solid and authoritive, or at least more authentic if that makes any sense!
Anyway, idle banter, but anyone already ‘think in mono’ when it comes to how they write music?
You raise some interesting points. Like you, I’ve tried to work in stereo for the most part (mostly due to having a lot of elektron gear). Kind of a “smoke 'em if ya got 'em” mentality. I think, when working with gear that supports it, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the stereo field. It can offer an immersive experience, especially if that’s what you’re going for. I do think there’s a reason why people will do mono checks (which reminds me to look into a mono monitor) with their mixes. If it sounds good mono, then you know you have a well-mixed track.
I think I remember reading on here that one consideration that is often forgotten is how your music might be played. For example, it’s best to have a mono mix for a club setting because with all the speakers everywhere, they aren’t usually running stereo mixes. There would be too many phase cancellation issues, etc. Or, if you end up playing through a bluetooth speaker, or uploading files to sites like Instagram (but that’s a whole other can of worms).
also i’ve gotten quite enamoured with some of the more eclectic mono guitar fx pedals of late.
there is something very robust and visceral about a mono reverb or mono delay. certainly per instrument.
A guitar can hold its place with much more stability in the mix - with mono reverb and delay.
effected sounds needing to bounce around left to right or with superwide reverb, things I used to prize, are becoming less important.
conveniently a lot of devices, octatrack, OP-1 etc, function with far less clickiness given one zero crossing, if you adopt an initial mono construction path at the outset; and only apply stereo with mix pans far later in the process.
I play electric guitar, so I’m used to mono. Other than that I don’t really mind if anything I use is mono or stereo. In the end it’ll all end up panned in the mix, so mono is usually easier to deal with.
I also pan while composing, just so everything doesn’t sit on top of everything else.
When mixing, though, I use all the tricks — hard-panning and double-tracking guitars, putting a panning LFO on the hats, whatever works.
I think it really just depends on the music you like and what your favorite artists do…I was just re-listening to Little Dark Age by MGMT because ill factor (beat academy) was doing a video on it. The reverb on the vocal is SO stereo. The L and R are so obviously different signals and it’s beautiful and big. Same with the pad. And the bass. Kick, snare and dry, doubled vocal are right up the middle. The (very quiet) hat is panning between L and R–something I didn’t notice until just now when writing this paragraph.
So more things are wide than they are mono. I would argue that a lot of times the more stereo you have, the less stereo you have–capiche? If everything is wide then nothing is wide. It’s good to save wideness for when you want it and it makes a big impact.
But this is a masterfully engineered and produced track–we’re talking Dave Fridmann here. The guy knows his shit. If he’s not afraid to put most everything in stereo, you probably shouldn’t be either. Even though this track has wide, stereo reverb, he’s not afraid to make a synth part 80% wet, mono, and panned hard left just because it sounds good.
And yes, checking mixes in mono is good. No need to buy a whole speaker or anything…Most DAWs have the ability to make your main fader mono or if not, they have a plugin you can put on the main fader with a mono switch. Or your interface software can switch to mono.
I remember numerous painful experiences years ago when I’d spend way to much time perfecting my pieces, ‘impeccably mixed’ in my own mind through several speaker set ups and headphones, and then at the local 2 storey venue where I used to road-test for the public (me sat at the bar downstairs drinking rum on ice, chin-chining with the owner) and on comes my stuff, and ouch, bass upstairs, some drums at the bar, keyboard floating around the room, hats somewhere in the background. I should have been drinking doubles to desensitize my ears!
When I track anything (guitar, vocals, synths) I leave the time-based effects for the DAW so I can be sure I have that flexibility if I want it. If I want the guitar panned hard L and the reverb of the guitar panned hard R (Van Halen) I want to be able to do that. If I decide to have the guitar up the middle and I want it to have a big wide reverb, I can do that too.
So I don’t really care if my pedals are mono or stereo–I kind of don’t really use them anyway lol.
The vast majority of tracks in my stuff is mono, obviously especially bass, kick, snare, but also main synth parts, then the stereo field is just used for less prominent parts. I think the reason for this is because I used to make tracks for vinyl, so you don’t want any low frequency disparity between left and right, so it is a habit.
A couple of other considerations for me are club systems, and also having the odd few things in the stereo field gives them more interest when most of the tracks are centre.
I think for ambient and more experimental stuff though none of this need apply, at least as far as I’m concerned.
So I suppose it depends on the environment you see the listener being in, headphone stuff can sound too fatiguing if too mono or disorientating if too stereo with things flying about too much between left and right.
the other nuance I found was that complex multi-track pieces particularly if I integrated some samples (bass and key sequence snippits) that weren’t ultimately played by me but seemed to work, or even percussion/toms that had tone, but that I didn’t exactly know what notes were involved, when spread out in stereo in a larger space, tended to to much more reveal key or scale errors and misfits than as I grew comfortable with them on headphones or relatively small speaker fields that masked their presence. The errors were better hidden.
in a way, mono better blends everything together, including errors or atonal or badly judged key choices, they hide themselves better baked into the mono cake than standing proud in a stereo mix.
that’s a good rule; the one time someone says - hey lets hear your stuff it is usually by grabbing one pod of your headphones or played on a crappy little speaker.
If you can make it sound good for one ear, then you’re winning
I’m obsessive about balance, so I rarely pan things unless there’s something equal in the opposite channel, ie. usually only when double tracking guitars or vocals in rock/metal tracks. Also I hate that “default” drum panning of having the snare slightly off to one side etc., I prefer my drums mono.
The only time I consistently use the stereo field is for spatial effects like reverb, delay, chorus/unison etc. Sometimes even pingpong delay sounds unbalanced to me, especially (ie. in most cases) when it doesn’t allow you to specify which side goes first. I miss the X-Delay plugin in Buzz!
I’m one of those weirdos who almost always monitors in mono when creating and then references in stereo just to make sure is sounds ok there (usually just using some stereo fx). Was in a compilation where the mastering engineer needed to do some stereo fx to widen my sound a bit to fit with the other music but I think it is only really jarring if you are hopping between wide stereo and mono tracks on a single album. People can do cool stuff with stereo or quad, so no hate for it but there is no shame in working mono either.
Commenting mainly to acknowledge the previous comments and to follow what comes next. But checking things in mono really helps me with things that are too low in the mix and it’s only the chorusing or whatever that is coming through. So I checking mono, raise the volume of things getting buried and drop the stereo sends accordingly, then everything sounds much better on both ends - mono and stereo. I also like to remember that The Beatles stuff was all mono and later remastered into stereo. If they can work mono and be regarded as some of the greatest musicians and songwriters of all time, we all can assume mono isn’t at all bad - stereo effects are for later in the chain imo.