Simple retro

This song is not much, it’s a glorified loop, but it’s a very interesting experience and makes me question my whole approach to that music thingie, because I didn’t do much in terms of mixing and mastering and to me it sounds much better than what I’d get after spending a week on stacking eqs, delays, compressors and reverbs and god knows what Waves has on sale (fun fact: I’ve never seen Waves not having a sale. Is there any person in the world who ever paid the original price for a Waves plugin?).

Besides many many things I was again wondering about the topic of mono compatibility. This song is not sounding nice in mono. But I’m not doing anything. The sounds are more or less out of the box. These are emulations of widely used synths, CS80 and Prophet 5. In almost all tracks I also cut the side information at 200hz - 300hz. I could make it more mono compatible with some effort, using mono effects and relying more on panning, but the thing is that I don’t think they did that back in the 80s with synthesizer music. A chorus simply will create some phasing issues and to my knowledge they put a chorus on everything. What am I missing?

Interesting track and creative one even if you kept it simple using samples and loops. I like the contrast between the dynamic synth feel that drives the song and the laid back and more moody vocals in the background, it gives a nice feel to the all track between something driving but also easy listening at the same time.

It can be much more easier to get a good Mix just using samples & loops, especially if they are of good quality and already processed, so called “ready to use” loops & samples. It’s more a matter of making them sit well together and then enhancing the final mix-down. As soon as we start using effects, we’re introducing harmonics, phase shift, noise & other artifacts and it can quickly get more difficult to mix the all song because we’re dealing with much more audio information competing on the full spectrum. So yes, adding our own effects to sounds can be very tricky. We also have a tendency to be very subjective to what our ears perceive and we often think that this delay or that reverb really makes a difference and improves the sound, but there’s a all bunch of math rules behind those effects, parameters like delay timing, reverb pre-delay & tails length should not be the same at different tempo for example, because hardware gears or plugins emulations are designed to follow those math rules that makes them sound great or be more efficient when we dial in the correct values. But let’s be honest, most of us are only paying attention to how it sounds in the end than following the math rules, right ? Sometimes we even push those effects really hard on purpose in order to get a different sounding result. So yes, tricky & much more complicated when you start to process sounds and it also takes time to learn to draw the line between what’s too much & not really doing any good to the sound, and therefore the all mix, as opposed to just dial the right amount : I love plugins with a WET/DRY knob for that reason :smile:

That said, if you’re curious about the math approach, check apps like “MusicMath” ( but it’s MacOS only & paid software ) or take a look at this website too : the first link has a similar calculator & the second is probably a golden mine if you’d like to dive into math & music but I have to put a disclaimer here : I can’t be held responsible for the number of paracetamol & headaches painkiller pills you might need if you decide to dive into this… :smile: :smile: :sunglasses: ).

I won’t say that the Mix sounds “bad” in Mono TBH, it just sounds,well… Mono !! :wink:
It would have been bad it it sounded muddy or if you really had too much differences between sounds placement ( from forward to back especially ) but in this case the mix keeps it’s clarity and a right balance for this “sound field” thing, so I won’t bother too much about it if I was you.

And yes, it’s due to the synths loops being already processed with effects like chorus, delays & reverb which indeed are creating that stereo image. You can probably tame this using Mid/Side EQ or M/S audio separators tools like Eventide “Physion” but I don’t think it’s a real issue for this Mix.

Unless you have a true Mono recording audio source on a true Mono channel ( and even how it always ends up on a stereo channel on the master ) nothing is really Mono, it’s more about the way our ears perceive sound. A perfect Mono signal is just the exact same audio information sent on the L & R channels, therefore “collapsing” the signal and giving us that “Mono” perception like the sound is really coming from the center when listening back to it. As soon as you use choruses, delays and many other effects, it’s basically creating a different signal on the L and R channels and that’s precisely what makes a wider stereo image & spread the sound, but again it’s just because our ears perceive 2 different signals in time from L & R, so it’s not only about cutting/removing frequencies even if you’re using M/S Eq, the L & R audio information would need to be realigned in time, which is more difficult to achieve. One trick when you really want to get something in mono is to choose only the L or R signal from your stereo channel and record it to a new audio track, but if panning was involved or if the effect was quite drastic, you might end up with a loss of audio information on each channel, so it’s not always easy to get a correct L or R source retaining a good signal.

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Hey, the song is more or less the same plugins I always use. But it uses so much less effects following common basic rules and no attempt “to be clever”. The part I found interesting was that for every effect I could explain why I’m using it. Maybe I’m wrong in my reasoning, but for change I have a reason. In other songs it turns at some point into an effect orgy just because “it doesn’t sound right” and I try to fix it with another eq or another compressor without really knowing what the problem is. Probably the lesson here for me is: keep it simple, because you don’t know how to make it complicated.

For the mono topic, do you think it’s a valid approach in electronic music to make every synth and sample mono at the source and then add stereo information only after that mono signal? I was playing around with that idea for a while and on one hand it sounds weird but on the other hand everything gets much cleaner and better defined. I like that there seems to be always enough free space to add something more to the song, instead of everything being crowded and fighting for attention.

Yes, I think that trying to keep it simple is a good rule. Ideally you should only use effect that are really doing or adding something to the source sound ( unless done on purpose for sound design & more creative things of course ). Adding another effect in the chain to correct something that isn’t sounding right might not be the best solution, instead it’s better to check back the source & the settings of the previous effects. You can add another effect in the chain to “control” something, like for example having an EQ before a Compressor and another one after just to fine adjust the compression results, but if it’s really sounding bad/worse after the 1st EQ & Compressor, you might want to check your sound source, EQ settings & Compressor settings before trying to add another EQ or effect to get it sounding right.

For the mono thing, it’s a tricky question and I think it really comes down to workflow and listening habits as you mix in the end. Some people like to have all their sound source in mono or/and do the all mix in mono before taking care of the stereo image during a later mix-down stage. While it’s true that it helps with clarity, it can also brings issues with the low end dueling in the same frequency range, but it also gives you more control to dial in the stereo effects amount and to control the spread & space of the final mix.

Then other people will mix in stereo right from the start ( and I think it’s the most common technique used ), because they need to hear how a wider mix will sound in the end. Like you mentioned, It can quickly sound very busy when adding channels to the mix, but again it’s a matter of dialing the correct amount and you’ll have to go back & forth between listening to different channels, in isolation, against each other and in the full mix context. For example if you start a track by a great sounding pad and a lovely chords progression, you gonna think it’s the fundamental element of the mix and start to build on this, but soon the all mix will sound cluttered & dull because that nice pad was taking a lot of space in the mix right from the start, and it’s gonna give you a hard time to hear what you need to make the right mixing decisions. So this channel needs to be muted when introducing your bass and lead synth for example, then play the pad against the bass, synth and all track together and you’ll be able to tell if this pad was taking too much space in the mix and dial some settings back to make it fit with the other elements. And so on & so forth when adding a new element. So again, it’s more a listening & workflow habit or liking here I guess.

And finally many people don’t really care about mono, you’ll find plenty of commercial mixes that aren’t really sounding nice when switched to mono, they might not sound “bad” in mono, but they often sound drastically different and very thin, some sounds might even almost disappear and that’s probably because the producer only took care of getting a mix sounding huge & full in stereo and not paying attention to retain some mono-compatibility.

Who’s right, who’s wrong ?? It really depends of the rules / goals that you decide to set for your own mixes right from the start and the habits / preferences you develop over time. It can also depends of the “target” and destination of the final mix. If you’re sure it’s only gonna be played on a stereo system, you might not care about mono but if it’s gonna be played in a Club with an older mono PA system, you really need to care about the mix sounding good in mono then.

In the end, I think it’s a good thing to check your mixes in Mono on a regular basis during mix-down and to try to retain a certain amount of coherence between stereo & mono. Now for a 100% mix in mono workflow at first, it’s again about habits & preferences over time, if it makes things a lot more easier for you to listen & mix, then it might be a good workflow, at least experiment with it and it might also help to learn to dial in the correct amount of stereo processing, again, starting with a huge spread sound will make things more difficult.

EDIT : Editing this since something else came to mind later on, which is the notion of “contrast” in a mix. The above is rather theoretical & maybe more on the technical approach but musically speaking in the end and thinking about this notion of “contrast” :

  • What’s stereo in a Mix if everything is stereo ?
  • What’s mono in a Mix if everything is mono ?

I think it’s important to have a good balance between the two in the end.

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Thanks. It’s tricky indeed to understand what the best practice is supposed to be here. Online you see all kind of opinion on that mixing in mono topic and that a song should sound good on a kitchen radio. I understand the pro-mono arguments but the question is also: are kitchen radios still a thing? And no club will ever play my music, so why thinking about them having a mono pa system?

I mean, if you say that it’s kind of ok how it sounds in mono then I would prefer to stick to that approach, trying to have a much mono information as possible without obsessing over it. For the reasons I mentioned: it feels so much easier to add more elements without making instruments fight for attention.

It’s not really about those playback systems being still used or not actually, it’s about how your Mix is gonna translate on those different systems. Next to keeping things Mono & adjusting the stereo image, a lot has to do with cutting unwanted frequencies & boosting others to retain presence & punch.

Let’s say you have a kick with too much sub bass and ramble, if you don’t use a high pass filter to remove those unwanted frequencies, as soon as you’re gonna playback this kick on a kitchen radio it’s gonna sound completely distorted & very boomy, even if it was sounding good to you on your monitors. That’s simply because the radio speaker can’t reproduce such low energy as your monitors. When it comes to DJ playing their music in clubs they have to pay attention tho this as well, too much unwanted sub can even damage a system but the most common scenario is not enough “good” bass information and the mix won’t sound punchy enough for a Club track.

So it’s not only about keeping things in mono or not, it’s also what information in terms of frequencies your are making central or spreading to the sides and creating space by cutting unwanted frequencies right from the start. Keeping that sub & ramble on a Kick & making it 100% mono isn’t gonna help.

So people would test their mixes on different monitors ( like 2 mains covering more or less the all frequency spectrum depending on their specs ) and a pair of Auratone or Avantone Mix cubes that can’t reproduce sub & bass that well ( the Auratone go from 75 to 15,000Hz and the Avantone from 90 to 17,000Hz. But they will also test their mixes on a “Kitchen Radio”, a stereo “Boom Box” radio, inside a car and more and more people & even mixing & mastering studios are also checking Mixes on small Bluetooth portable speakers since a majority of music is now played back on those via phones & other portable devices.

Mono can help, but there’s more than this involved and again it’s a matter of contrast, if everything is mono, it’s not really possible to create depth & transmit the notion of space to the listener, so it will work for some genre but definitely not for others.

The latest tutorial from Phil Johnston on Understanding the fundamentals of Mixing is really a comprehensive & must watch course IMHO. It really covers simple techniques, workflow habits & mind set about mixing and just using inside the box tools that are available in any DAW. I highly recommend this one.

You seem to often go through experimental territories when making music, which I understand because it’s the inspiring & fun part of music, but we also have a tendency to over complicate things by adding effects & trying out things when going via this more creative side, simple workflow, rules & techniques and having a clear picture of how you’d like your mix to sound in the end can really make a difference IMO.