Saturday morning, when i checked my email I got an invitation from the guys from the “Chaos Computer Club”, Munich to spin at their “Neujahrsempfang 1984” the very same night. At a 1984 themed party. Pretty spontaneous thing. But hey, spinning Electro at a 80’s party - Count me in. ;) This is the recording of my DJ-Set. Have Fun!!
What? Are you insane? Everybody is using stereo! Hmm, nope. Not everybody. Not even in these oh so modern times we live in.
Most of the discotheques are mono so you get the same sound and volume throughout the whole room. The speaker of even a modern smartphone is mono. Most kitchen/bathroom/shower radios are mono.
A lot of great songs/tracks created during the last decades and known by everybody are mono. Or at least part mono. The ear can be tricked pretty easily.
Shocking isn’t it, all the monoesqueness (yes, it’s a word now) that surrounds us?
Don’t worry. I am still releasing my tunes in stereo. But I am switching to mono in my studio. For my production process. Before I create the final mix. And I do it for pretty pragmatic reasons, too.
To clarify what the idea behind this swithing to mono business is all about and to maybe give you some insight, inspiration, or at least a different view on things, I have to explain my studio setup and a couple
of other things first.
So bear with me please.
Until a couple of years ago I found it weird myself to do anything in mono.
I mean doesn’t stereo sound so much better than mono? Aren’t hifi systems stereo, 5.1, or even 7.1 nowadays? Yes, Yes, and yes! Whenever I’ve seen something that was mono it kind of amused me.`
Later on I started reading books about mixing and mastering. I read about the big studios that produce the “Top 40” hits and how some producers use mono as their main tool. What??? Really??
So there must be something to it. Until then I never even thought about the way monophonic synthesizers output their sounds even though I knew there are alot of them out there.
I didn’t own a monophonic instrument back then and I also didn’t think much about mixing in general. It was kind of a magic thing to me and I was pretty helpless.
Especially in my very first tracks one can hear that there are absolutely no decent mixing techniques involved.
Over the years my studio grew to what I think is a pretty standard studio setup: Some synthesizers and drum machines which are connected to a patchbay and then to a couple of audio interfaces which are daisy chained via Firewire. The audio interfaces are hooked up to a computer which runs a workstation. In my case Ableton Live.
Which doesn’t matter anyway. I could use a 4-track tape recorder which would basically do the same.
And yes, some (or most) studio setups look different, but the basics are the same:
instruments -> some sort of mixer/audio interface/microphones/etc -> something to record the sounds.
I also own some hardware effects which are connected to the patchbay and where I can route audio thru.
Okay, still awake?
Nowadays most of the synthesizers and drum machines I own are mono already. That’s not a problem because you can (and probably will)
create something called “pseudo-stereo” later on in the mixing process. This is done more often than you think. Most (electro-)acoustic instruments are recorded in mono.
Take electronic guitars for example. They output in mono only. Stereo is created later, if this is even wanted. But I won’t explain how this is done now. I save this for the next blog entry.
Let me just tell you that creating stereo yourself (which is pretty easy anyway) creates many more possibilities for placing audio in the tonal panorama and avoiding blurry sounds that overlap each other. On a mono radio overlapping sounds will block each other and you won’t hear them - oops.
So what for the devices that are stereo already? Why do I make them mono now as well? The first reason is basically the pseuso-stereo/panorama thing I explained earlier.
Most of the stereo sounds from a synthesizer are so wide anyway that I have to narrow down the stereo panorama to make them fit in the mix.
The second reason is that most of my hardware effects are mono as well. That means I won’t be able to route any stereo signal through it unless I make it a mono signal first.
Therefore the usability is somewhat limited and by switching to mono I gain much more flexibility that way.
And third, I am able to connect some more devices to my audio interfaces. The way you connect stereo devices to an audio interface is
by grouping two solo (mono) inputs and make them a left input and a right input. So this safes some money as well since decent audio interfaces are pretty pricey.
That’s it basically. I hope I was able to give you some insight into this whole “why mono is still usefull” business? The next time I will tell you how to create pseudo-stereo and make your mix sound a bit
cleaner that way.
And at last, to answer those of you who think “switch to software synthesizers, they are cheaper!”. You should switch to hardware synthesizers and experience the creativity of an instrument you can actually touch. Even more, try a modular synthesizer! The most unlimited experience you will ever have. And possibly the most inpiring, too.
I used software synthesizers before and they have always hindered me. And are even responsible for not starting to make music ten years earlier than I did because I thought this is not for me. But this is an entirely different story.