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Mono Compatibility:
Avoid Humiliation!


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Ignore mono compatibility at your own peril!

Why Even Bother With Mono Compatibility These Days?

  • Weak FM radio signal reception collapses to mono
  • Some television stations (internationally) still broadcast in mono
  • Many college stations broadcast in mono (college hallways are certainly in mono)
  • Some Internet stations broadcast in mono
  • Clubs play music in mono

So What?

If you want to get heard and stay in rotation in these scenarios, your mix had better be able to cut it with one speaker only.

And unless someone is listening on headphones, most casual listeners (more than you think) tend to hear your music in something resembling monophonic playback.

This is not to say a great stereo mix is no longer the goal.

That, gorgeous, wide, wall-of-sound verse-to-chorus impact we all know and love is still what we aim for.

However...

When a mix is great in mono, it'll be bigger, grander, and greater in stereo!

You want to make sure that impact is just as effective in mono as it is stereo.

How Do You Get This Compatibility?

Simple.

Monitor in Mono.

At EVERY stage in the recording process.

To insure compatibility when tracking with stereo mic pairs, use x/y or mid-side placement techniques. When using stereo-mic pairs, to make sure they’re wired correctly, monitor in mono.

When overdubbing multiple guitar layers to pan left and right later for that wall-of-sound assault, you may miss frequency cancellations that are happening (otherwise known as comb filtering). You can avoid that by moving the position of the mic; changing the mic; altering the amp settings; and so on, by monitoring in mono.

When mixing, to make sure things like choruses, or delays, really do enhance and thicken the sound rather than relying on phase inversion, monitor in mono.

To make sure you haven’t accidentally pushed a polarity button...well, I think you get the point by now...

Yes, Houston. Monitor In Mono

Mono will highlight errors you’d miss working only in stereo.

Listening to your mix in mono can be a harsh reality check.

Avoiding These Steps May Reveal This:

Important instruments suddenly become lower in level, or disappear altogether. Your impact is gone!

Trust me: this can happen a lot.

This is the phase/polarity issue.

The Warning Signs:

These problems do have a ‘sound’ in stereo.

If:

  • you hear a surround-sound-like effect from your stereo monitors;
  • the stereo image is wider than the width of your two speakers;
  • the sound seems to be right next your ears

...you most likely will have a mono compatibility issue.

Changing the polarity in one channel may solve the mono problem, but might lose your original intention.

That delay or chorus-type effect I talked earlier may be applied too thick. Ease back with the amount of processing on that instrument or experiment with a different effect – you may find something much better.

If I hear something like this in stereo when I start mastering a track, I hit the mono button immediately. If my worst fears are confirmed (and they are 99.9% of the time) I’ll be contacting the client.... Oh yeah...

“Houston - we’ve got a problem!”

My Experience

I was going to contact a client to inform him of a disappearing instrument (when listening in mono).

Yet, he surprised me when he contacted me first and said not to go ahead with the master because there was a problem with the mix. He was missing an instrument.

How did he find out about this?

He was auditioning his CD mix tracks for his parents. And he noticed an instrument was missing.

The problem was of course a polarity problem.

And...it turned out that his parents’ CD player was a simple table model with mono playback only!

So add this to our list of “Why even bother to worry about mono compatibility these days?”:

  • Some playback devices are mono only.

Granted things like this are increasingly rare.

But don't you find that when they do happen, it's always at the most inappropriate moment?

The Benefits Of Mono Compatibility:

  • You'll know the engineering is right
  • You'll know when you're tracking is right.
  • You'll know mixing is right.
  • You’ll know the mastering is right.

Final Words...

Although I have a few tricks up my sleeve, Mastering is definitely NOT the place to fix mono compatibility issues.

So avoid humiliation.

And remember the final benefit of mono compatibility:

  • If your mix kicks ass in mono, you are back in control, Houston!


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