5 Minutes To A Better Mix III: One Stereo Track

| 5 Minutes To A Better Mix, Audio Example, Mixing, Pro Tools, Tips, Video

Part 6 of 31 – Want a bigger sounding mix with more width and clarity? Then pick one stereo track to stay stereo and fold the rest down to mono. Ironic, isn’t it?

Mono Tracks Are The Secret

I always thought big wide stereo tracks were the goal. Have stereo piano, stereo guitar, stereo drums, stereo loops, etc. That much stereo should equal one big ole’ mix, right?! Wrong. The secret to wider mixes is simple: use mostly mono tracks. A bunch of stereo tracks just cover each other up and wash out your mix.



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58 Responses to “5 Minutes To A Better Mix III: One Stereo Track”

  1. Yaniv

    Hi Graham,
    The sound is a lot bigger hearing through speakers but i have a question, how will it sound to people when they use headphone?

  2. Norman

    Mixing everything stereo is like dancing by jumping just up and down on both feet, as opposed to going back, forth, left, right, up, down and everything inbetween.
    I remember someone calling it ‘BIG MONO’ for there is no movement between the channels.

    Panned mono tracks will not only make the music more interesting, because of the better perceived location and interaction between the instruments/musicians, but will also need less EQ power to separate the elements in the mix.
    EQ power that can then be put to better use , like enhancing the sonic quality of the tracks, (all within the context of the mix, of course).

    Especially when listening through headphones one will find oneself, even with the eyes closed, trying to follow the musical landscape with ones eyes.

    So, besides effectively making it sound big as Graham points out, there are more advantages to using as little possible stereo tracks.

    • Dave Sinewave

      Where’s the “like” button? 🙂

      I always tell people to use as much mono tracks as they can, especially on drums and bass, to get a solid mix, greater separation and image. Make your own stereo mix by panning the mono tracks within the stereo field, helped by stereo aux FX, early reflections, reverb, delay. It’s like painting an audio painting. And some tracks just sound good stereo, so leave them stereo if they do. I mostly leave the background tracks stereo. All solo and up front sounds are left mono, panned and “moved” further or closer with FX. It’s all a bit oldskool, so DAW people don’t know this. I started with a hardware console, and that taught me a lot about mixing.

  3. Eduardo

    Hi Graham,
    and what about the doubled tracks like harmony vocals or doubled guitars? Does it going to make my mix less wider (like stereo tracks do)?

    • Graham Cochrane

      Great question. I have cut back on doubled guitar parts for that very reason. One pair of doubled guitars is great. More pairs is worse IMO.

  4. Roger

    Hi Graham. Thanks for this new video.
    I believe that Claude noticed the same thing as myself (the pads are still in stereo), but I would add the electric guitars (which I believe they were doubled) acting as a ‘stereo’ track.
    There’s no doubt that the guitar and piano got a lot easier to identify on the mix (I always listen to your videos on headphones), and this is a improvement, without a doubt.

    The only thing that got me thinkin is that if it would have the same effect with less stereo information on the track?
    I mean, even if you would mute the piano and the acoustic guitar, we would still have a lot more stereo cues on the track.

    Just wondering…

    Thanks again

  5. Noah Copeland

    Graham! Awesome advice! I like this one a lot. After watching this I was listening to Van Halen’s new album. The electric guitar is recorded in stereo (one performance into two amps simultaneously) and everything else is mostly mono. Even drums are surprisingly mono-ish. I say mono-ish because they are not completely up the center, but no more 20-50% left or right on some toms, but that’s it (similar to that soundgarden example you showed earlier). everything else up the center.
    So that’s cool because that album is totally following this principle!

    I like how this 31-days series is going so far. It’s got less focus on the flashy tips and tricks from the previous two series (which i still love and watch) and more focus on the foundation and important things that aren’t as “cool” and “sexy” as all the other plugin tricks. very helpful!

  6. Daniel Booth

    Cool idea, kinda like the bookend to the stereo field. When I was working on my Haas effect video for YT I noticed that for the instruments panned hard left or right, it was like I was standing side-on to them whilst they played in the room, and so I can definitely understand how this would clear up the centre and add a sense of width.

  7. Donnie Alan

    I’ll often leave the pads on a stereo track, but I’ll pan it like mono and put both L/R pan knobs in the same place. I find this keeps the texture if the pad more whole than bouncing it down to mono ( or laying it down mono). But Graham is right on! I much prefer mono tracks! If I get vocal tracks in stereo, I’ll make them mono.

  8. Roger

    Donnie Alan,
    Sorry, but could you please explain your technique?

    I’m probably getting it wrong, because if you pick a stereo track and pan both channels to one side (let’s say right), you end up with mono track just like a mono mixdown.

    I guess I didn’t understand what you are explaining.

    • Graham

      I’m saying you pan all your stereo tracks WITHIN a mix to mono. Not your final master fader, which is stereo. You want a stere mix, just one made up of mostly mono tracks.

  9. Nate L.

    Graham, I like this idea. Question though, how do I apply this if I am using a stereo reverb plugin on multiple tracks? Should I just limit the use of that reverb as well? Thanks for the great ideas.

    • Graham

      Hi Nate,

      It all depends. I don’t mind a stereo reverb plugin since it puts all the tracks in a space.

  10. Donnie Alan

    Roger – Let me try to explain a bit better. Let’s say I’m going to use a pad off my Yamaha Motif XS8. Most of them are stereo. But, if I turn off all the on board fx in the Motif I find that many of them are fine as mono. In that instance, I keep the fx off and just send the pad as mono to a mono audio track in Pro Tools. But, some pads have certain character in stereo even with all the fx turned off in the Motif. In that case, I will lay down the pad as a stereo audio in Pro Tools. In such a case, I find that even if I place both the pan knobs of that stereo track left or right that the over character of the sound remains more or less whole than if I just laid it down mono. In other words, the mono version just sounds different to me. Sometimes that’s okay, but often not. So it depends on the situation and the sound I’m after. Also, I sometimes won’t set the pans at the exact same level…I might do 1 left 60 and the other left 45 or something. That can have a nice effect overall in the mix, but still keep the pan where I need it to be. There’s no 1 right way on this, but just a way I’ve found that works. But to Graham’s orginal point, totally agree: the more mono, the easier to get a good stereo mix! I can’t tell you the number of times someone has sent me,say, their drum tracks and they would ALL be stereo! So I spend the first 1/2 hour or so converting everything to mono!

  11. Jeff

    Maybe I’m old and like the clarity of so many mixes in the 70’s. They were so clear and I think there were fewer options for stereo versus now with DAW’s and parts were more textured.

    From stuff I’ve learned here, I now avoid the ‘true’ stereo guitar but opting for a mix with different guitar, keyboard, mandolin, acoustic or….well, whatever parts..to balance the stereo field. So far so good but I’m learnin’.

    The video really shows what a simple act of panning does to a mix….Great job Graham!

  12. James Hicks

    You beautiful beautiful man! haha

    Been struggling for AGESSSSSS with getting a hole in the middle for my vocals in a particular track – this suddenly made me look at my guitars in a different way and i realised despite them being 2 mono tracks panned hard left hard right, the lack of separation was making them seem more like 1 guitar mic’d in stereo washing over the whole stereo field. worked on getting the 2 guitar tracks to feel much more like 2 seperate mono tracks and voila, massive hole for the vocals in the middle!

    you legend!


  13. Cheskie Fisch

    Hi graham

    For me as a beginner (relative speaking), this tip was a home run, i immediatle applied this tip for a mix, and it added so much clarity and crisp.

    My question though is, what if i have a virtual instrument that has stereo output effect like a piano that has stereo-miked-effects, should i keep the pan knobs on the track hard left and right?

    Keep on, we need you…

    • Devon graves

      If I may… If you choose to fold the piano to mono you should pan the channels both to the same direction. In the case of stereo mic’d guitars though, I would listen for the best sounding of the two mics and just toss the other track rather than panning them to the same spot so I have no phase issues. With piano though, you have to keep both sides so you don’t loose the low or the high side of the keyboard. Depending on the space you need to fill, you can pan them somewhat apart like hard left, and 9 o clock for example. That is good if you have fewer instruments though.

    • Graham

      Exactly what Devon said. Fold the stereo instrument tracks to one mono position and call it a day.

  14. micahelhayes

    Thanks for all the tips and BTW I’m really enjoying dueling mixes. Let’s say I have a symphonic rock song – full orchestra (virtual instruments EWQLSO recorded in their stage positions) with a rhythm distorted guitar, 1 or 2 lead guitars, and of course full drum kit.

    Would you recommend narrowing the different sting, woodwind, and horn sections and panning to their stage positions or would you leave them the way they are recorded.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Graham

      It’s a great question. If you can adjust the panning position I would experiment with a few options and see which opens up your mix more.

      • micahelhayes

        Graham, followed your advice to try it and see. I created a mix narrowing the stereo width using the Logic Pro direction mixer to 0.4 and then panned the orchestra sections to adjust for that. Then created a mix with the stage mic positions as recorded by EWQLSO and did not pan anything (because in theory the sections are already recorded in the correct stage positions).

        For reference, I used a midi file I snagged off the web of a soundtrack orchestral piece I was familiar with and had a CD to use for reference against the EWQLSO midi created version.

        Comparing the two mixes I came to this opinion. In the narrowed stereo/panned version it was easier to hear the different sections clearly; just like I could hear in the reference recording. The stage mic version was louder and all sections were in the correct location; but, to my surprise (per the stage mic positions hype) it was not as clear sounding and was less close to the reference recording.

        Interesting and very educational exercise. Thanks!

  15. Nathan Dingle

    What about stereo miking acoustic guitar ? i like to use this technique of mixing the body up the middle and the rhythmic crispness of the strings to the left/right to match a tambourine or ride cymbal pattern. I guess its on a case by case scenario…

    • Graham

      Definitely depends on your tastes. I’m personally not a fan of using two mics on guitar. Just one, in the right spot should get it. If I’m given stereo miked acoustic to mix however, I will make sure there are no phase issues with the mics and then fold them to mono and treat it as one track.

  16. Ruud Degelin

    Try this: when wanting a stereotrack (yes, that happens) but not in the way that it is everywhere do this: make your stereotracks mono or just use a mono track (left) and use a send to create an aux (right). so far so good but there isnt really a difference with regular stereo (makes sense no?). Here is the trick: put a little delay (miliseconds with no feedback) on your aux, This will give you the ´stereo sound´but with a hole in the middle where you can place the vocal. It is called psychoacoustics which is in fact fooling your brain. just start the delay at zero and increase it very slow and you will hear the widening, go to far and it will fall apart.
    Happy experimenting!

  17. Beerski

    Great advice but what about the Haas effect? That kinda makes mono into stereo right?

    • Ruud Degelin

      I proud myself of being a non technical mixer so please dont ask me the technical stuff about it, if I find something that works and how to create it that is sufficient for me. But I know there are people who would like to know the how and whats so I have found Bruce Swedien commenting on it (he is my hero), unfortunately he advises against it (maybe not entirely)…bummer. Just give it a try and see if you like it, no obligations!

      happy mixing

      • Ruud Degelin

        (Go to bed earlier!) You can find the Bruce Swedien comments if you type “haas-effect-bruce-style” in Google.
        I could give you the whole adress but that wouldnt be fair to Graham and his delicious site….maybe I will get banned?

  18. Marcus

    Hey There!

    Thank you so much for what you do! Quick question…what would you recommend doing for return tracks?

    • Graham

      Just depends. I do a combination of stereo or mono returns depending on what sound I’m going for.

  19. 6pound

    Great Video. I have recently realised that I will be minimising tracking layers on vocals especially with harmonies for the same reason as this tutorial…it drowns true notes out!!! Awesome work man

  20. Donnie Alan

    What Devon said earlier about panning both stereo parts to the same position is what I was trying to say in my earlier comment. Works well with most synth pads. For some (like piano, or others) I might separate them just a bit, ie hard left and maybe 8 or 9 O’clock left – depends on the harmomic content and make up of the pad. But it does get the over-all pad to the correct position in the over-all mix….which is the goal!

  21. Yaniv

    You right Graham, it does open up the mix – SO THANK YOU AGAIN.
    so if i understand it right, all instruments are panned left or right except one that you want to “emphasize” (like the drum in the above video) but vocals need to be centered – am i right?
    is it true to all genre?
    is it true for songs with only few instruments (drums, bass, piano, vocals – for example)?
    i find my self panning some hard left and some hard right but some just a few % to left or right – does it open up or close or effect the overall sound? (it sounds good to my ears but still i will appreciate your opinion..)

    and another question, let say you have 3 different vocals on a track. the main vocal and two more, and you want them to be heard and blend well together, how do you handle those?

  22. Rico

    I have a question regarding the mono/stereo topic. In most situations when I search for answers on this topic the videos/articles I find are about “recorded” tracks. All of my production comes from a DAW and are MIDI tracks so nothing is recorded with a microphone. When I bounce everything down and import the tracks to Pro Tools every single track is in stereo (by default I would guess,) but my question is should actual tracks be split into mono or panned to center for example (kick drum, hi-hat,snare,clap,) I’ve been told that drums should be in mono and also other instruments such as a guitar or sub bass ? I’ve heard that there are no “rules” to mixing but I’m sure there are guidelines as to what instruments should be placed where and what should be in mono/stereo…….especially since in my situation because all of my production is from a DAW. I could really use some advice or guidelines to go by because I’ve expiremented with splitting tracks into mono but it seems as if the tracks lose power if this makes sense. I’m trying to figure out the correct way to mix the tracks I produce please help me out……..

  23. Randon

    Say you have three different mono guitar parts and you want to keep them up the middle as mono as can be, but you would like to put them on one fader so you can save cpu by using one plug-in for them. If you send them to a stereo aux they sound more stereo than if you sent them to a mono aux even though the audio tracks are all panned up the middle.

    Of course this is not a great example because the answer would be to just use a mono aux, but I was just wondering why it would sound more stereo even though all my audio tracks are mono.

    This is on ProTools by the way.

    • Randon

      Just answered my own question. When sending a mono track to a stereo aux you lose 2.5db, (In ProTools) when sending a stereo track to a mono you gain 2.5db. So what I was hearing was actually just a db reduction not a channel difference.

  24. Umair

    Hi Graham,
    Some times if we turn any track to mono, to loses its structure ? what to do in that case ?

  25. Umair

    Hi Graham,
    Some times if we turn any track to mono, to loses its structure ? what to do in that case ? should we change the tone or to minimize the stereo width ?

    • Graham

      Not sure I follow what you’re saying when it loses it’s “structure”. Could be a phase issue.

      • umair

        actually when i am minimising the stereo width the coloration meter is ok, when i am minimising centre its showing phase issue. but when i apply s1 imager with centre being low volumed, it again solves the phase issue. but my question is that what is the best way to place stereo pads or 80 style strings based pads.

  26. Rachael

    So say you’ve decided that you’re going to do stereo overheads in your mix. Does this mean there’s no point to recording acoustic guitar with an xy with 2 matched pairs? Would it be better to just use one mic since it’s just going to be mono anyway? rather than having two parts blended as mono? thanks

  27. Kh

    Thanks man for video,helped me a lot
    but there is a question i want to ask, i am producing electronic music,so lots of synths and pads have better character in Stereo the question is it write to export my midi channels all in MONO
    all in center ? then when i want to do a mix pan them if i wanted?
    and what if i want to keep more than 1 track stereo ?

    love peace

    • Graham

      You can definitely keep your synths as stereo tracks. When it comes time to mix, simply pan some of them mono (so both sides of the stereo track in the same place) and leave the others in stereo as you decide.

  28. Jem Holter

    I’ve always used loads of stereo tracks and the mix is muddy and indistinct. Nobody has ever explained to me why that is until I came across your video. Thank you very much! I thought mono would weaken the sound and make it too thin but I was wrong. Nice one!

  29. Ken Kasriel

    Revisiting this video after first watching it a while ago … great tip, as others have pointed out. I also like the simplicity of the approach — positioning mono tracks along the spectrum is like painting, and done right, can sound fantastic.

    However, I’m also trying to square this with your mantra to mix in mono. What does this mean? For example, taking a mix such as this, i.e. a number of mono tracks, suitably panned, plus a stereo track or two, with only the master buss summed to mono? Or should all the tracks, including the stereo ones, be summed to mono as well?

    Also — however it’s done, can it be monitored correctly with headphones, or does that defeat the purpose, and if so, one would then need to mix through a single speaker?

    Sorry, there are, to me at least, a lot of conceivable permutations behind the simple phrase “mix in mono”. I’m a bit lost :-/ Grateful for any advice!

  30. Jonah Dempcy

    Great advice.

    I just want to add that I started using Mid/Side processing and compression a couple years ago and it became another arsenal to add to the toolbox. It works in a similar way.

    You take the master track (or a bus track like the drums) and you duplicate it, and make one of them only play the bass and the other only play mid and treble.

    So, I could split the master out from my DAW into two tracks and make one of them only the low-end by putting it through a low-pass filter, or an EQ with a hi-cut. Then, I take the other one, which contains everything above ~500-900 (or just experiment with the cutoff), using either a hi-pass filter or a lo-cut.

    Make the bass track mono, and leave the mid-high track stereo.

    Just making all the frequencies below a certain range mono is another trick for opening up the stereo spread of the song.

    You can experiment with adding stereo widening to the stereo track, and you can compress the two tracks separately, as well as applying mastering compression to the whole thing after they are recombined, of course.

    With this setup, you can do master-channel (or drum bus, etc) signal processing before it’s split, on either of the channels separately, or after it’s recombined. This flexibility lets you tweak just the mono bass or the stereo main track. The downside is that it can sound weird in some cases because of the cutoff so make sure to A/B your changes and be sure you aren’t adjusting the overall volume level when A/B-ing, as that will skew the result in favor of the louder one sounding better.

    For others who have used Mid/Side processing, what are some of your favorite tricks?

  31. Claude

    Hi Graham,

    I have a question about the pads. I notice in your video they were left untouched (stereo).
    My guess is, that would be good as for one thing the only other stereo instruments are the drums, and the pads are more for ambiance (non percussive or melodic).
    But I am curious as to what is your take on it, I do (try) to apply (mono tracks) as much as possible, but often get….I guess confused when it comes to pads, fx, anything other that rythm or melodic instruments.

    Thanks……Love what you are doing, always great tips.


  32. Graham Cochrane

    Yeah, I always forget about pads 🙂 Sometimes I leave them stereo, other times I make them mono and treat them as a texture like an organ.



  1.  5 Minutes To A Better Mix III: One Stereo Track (Recording Rev) This is a good one. | therecordinghomepage
  2.  The 4 Rules Of Acoustic Guitar Recording | The Recording Revolution

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5 Minutes To A Better Mix III: The Static Mix

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