I finished my first ever track roughly ten years ago and when I think about it now, I really didn't know anything about the process of creating music. It's funny how creating something out of nothing makes you discover new unrecognisable things and once you master them, you become an expert... at least in your own mind. So, Mono. Is it true, that you really have to check your mixes or even mix in mono? To answer this question, I'll recall my experience that helped me solve this situation.
There were times when I simply thought that knowing what side-chain is and abusing it would make me a professional. My studio environment was a bedroom with a pair of hi-fi speakers which I've combined with precious Technics 1200 headphones. After struggling for a couple of years, I've managed to get a decent Monkey Banana studio monitors and Beyerdynamic DT990 headphones (which I still both use). That made me realise how bad my mixes actually were; I mean you can't notice mistakes if you can't hear them, right? At the time, I was working at a local bar which happens to had an old club speakers that were banging pretty nicely. I always checked my tracks on different systems; car, headphones, clubs, you name it. So, once I've started checking my tunes on bar's speakers, I've realised that my tracks sounded pretty decent on the low end, but mid and sometimes even hi-end was a bit sloppy. It took me few weeks before I've realized that the sound system is in mono. I did know that low end in my tracks should generally always be in mono, but that was pretty much the line where my interest in the whole mono situation ended. So that got me thinking. My vocals, synths, hi-hats, snares,... were sounding thin in the bar; they weren't there. What could be the case? In my next studio session, I've tried to mix synths, hats, and all other elements that were lacking, in mono. It instantly hit me... how stupid and ignorant from me, that I neglected this simple yet important thing. After practising and learning for a couple of months, I've managed to understand why mixing and checking your mix in mono is important. One of the main reasons for that is to make sure that your track will work great on both stereo and mono systems. For example, loads of portable radios are mono as well as car FM systems which turn mono whenever there's weak signal. There are also still a lot of clubs with a mono system, so that brings us quite a few reasons for not ignoring this.
Mixing in Mono
To finally answer our main question... checking your music on mono is necessary, especially if you're planning to make music for masses (clubs, radios, etc.). Mixing in mono is a bit harder but if you can manage to mix your tune in mono, it will sound marvellous in stereo. The thing is, when mixing in mono, you can only separate elements based on their loudness without moving them left or right, which feels harder. On the other side, when mixing in stereo, you can quite easily come up with something that will sound great, even if you have two identical sounds which you can simply pan left or right. Problems will occur, when you'll try to check the same mix in mono and then those elements (their frequencies) will clash and therefore create muddiness. I always try to check my tracks in mono during the creational process, because if you do it once you've finished your tune, it could be a lot harder to make it work in mono as well. Sooner you'll start paying attention to this topic, the better your mixes will sound.
Tips & Tutorials column is curated by producer Alex Ranerro. The articles are created with a simple aim to share his experiences and knowledge with SolvdMag readers. If you would like to contribute or you have any other questions, please write Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.