Should drums be in mono, panned straight down the middle? Or should drums be in stereo, spread across the entirety of the stereo field?
You should keep your individual drum hits in mono if possible, especially the kick drum, though you should also use stereo effects or panning decisions to create width and separation in your sound to add more variety to your mix.
Let’s dig in a bit deeper and get to know the differences between mixing your drums in mono or stereo.
Why Should Drums Be In The mono?
One of the primary reasons that we like to keep our individual drum hits in mono is that having them in stereo has the potential to cause unnecessary masking or phasing problems.
To avoid that, always keep in mind to use Stereo Analyzer that will show you how wide is the stereo for the individual drums. There are plenty of plugins that can help you with that. For instance, you can go and buy A.O.M. Stereo Imager, or you can get a FREE plugin like Izotope Imager 2 or great Flux Stereo Tool v3.
Also, the next alternative would be the IXL Stereo Analyzer that you can see in the picture below. In this example, under “Balance” you can see as sound has a narrow stereo wide that is close to mono but still includes stereo information. Under “Correlation” the candle is on the right side and that means no stereo cancellation issues (the more it’s in the right, the more safety the stereo correlation is.)
Of course, it doesn’t mean you want to have the same stereo wide on your other sounds. If you are mixing percussions, the stereo would be pretty wide as percussions don’t have such a big impact like a kick drum that is very low-end focused.
And this is how it looks like by using Izotope Imager 2 :
Check this video that will explain you further how to mix in Mono:
In the end, mono drum hits are incredibly solid. They behave well in mixes, and you can pan them wherever your heart desires. Plus, you will likely be using stereo effects on your various drums or drum samples, so you don’t need them to be stereo to create width in the first place. For further information on how to make your drums punchy, compatible, and transparent, check this post on Mixing & Producing Drums.
Should I Always Mix The Kick In Mono?
Kicks are sub-oriented instruments. They contain tons of low-end information. We don’t want low-end information (below 200Hz) spreading out and taking up room in the stereo field. This sentiment is especially true if we have busy mixes with lots of other elements that need space. Anyway, check this article if you decide to add stereo wide to your kick drum without stereo correlation issues.
You should always pan your mono kick to the center for the most impact as well. This is especially true when mixing EDM. Essentially, when you pan your mono kick to the center, both your left and right speakers will reproduce its impact equally, giving you an even kick sound no matter what kind of system you are listening to. However, you can add a bit of ambience to your kick by adding Reverb.
Should I Mix Snares/Claps In Stereo Or Mono?
Most of the time, the main snare and claps in a mix should be mono for the same reason as the kick. Mono hits provide the most impact. However, there are a few exceptions.
If you plan on stacking snare samples, you may consider putting them in stereo to provide each hit with a bit more width. You often hear stacked snare samples in EDM to create thick, hard-hitting snare sounds.
Whether your claps are in mono or stereo depends on the type of claps that you are using. If you are using a one-hit electronic clap, then it is likely very similar to a snare in quality. You can keep it mono and stack it atop your snare for the most impact.
On the other hand, if you decide to use a group of natural claps or various clap samples, you may consider bouncing them down to a stereo track to create width where needed. You can do this by panning your various claps or clap samples across the stereo field from left to right, sending them to a bus, and freezing the bus to create a new stereo clap sample.
There are plenty of ways to add width to snares and claps if you feel like they are too mono-sounding in your mix.
Should Overheads Be In Mono Or Stereo?
Drum overheads can be in mono or stereo, depending on the sound that you are going for. There are benefits to both as well. Let’s start with a few reasons that you might want to mic your overheads in mono.
Mono Getting Rid of Phase Issues
One of the biggest issues with recording overheads in stereo is phasing. When a signal hits multiple microphones at slightly different times, the tracks become out of phase with one another. This results in recordings that can sound weak, or in some cases, canceled out altogether.
Of course, there are plenty of different ways to avoid this problem, such as using the Glyn Johns Technique, though we find that it is even easier to track mono overheads to get clean, punchy overheads right off the bat.
Mono Overheads Promote Focus
One great reason to record in mono is that the overheads will sound much punchier in your mix. We’re not saying that stereo overheads don’t sound punchy. However, when it comes to getting stereo separation and clarity in a mix, it’s much easier to have your mono overheads up the middle and other instruments panned wide.
Plus, mono overheads sound far more natural. Your drums will sound as if they are coming from one location in the recording space, which creates a more cohesive sound too.
“All I Need” by Radiohead is a wonderful example of mono overheads:
There are reasons to pan your overheads out and create stereo width, though.
Taking the Overheads Stereo
If you find that your mono overheads sound a bit boring when listening in headphones or close up to a stereo system, you might want to consider panning your left and right overheads out a bit. Having your overheads in stereo is especially helpful if you feel that your mix is lacking sound across the stereo field. Having larger-than-life stereo overheads can help create an out-of-this-world sound.
For the most part, if you are planning on putting your 0verheads in stereo, we find that it is best to keep them panned slightly inwards, meaning don’t pan them hard left and right. Overheads that are hard-panned tend to sound artificial and detached from the rest of the mix.
Save the hard panning for other instruments, such as keyboards or guitar, and keep your stereo overheads no more than 80% or so to the left and right.
Should I Mix Percussions in Mono or Stereo?
For the most part, percussion should be treated like regular drums in that it should be recorded or sampled in mono and panned throughout the stereo field. Of course, as always, there are a few exceptions.
For starters, people often use stereo percussion samples that have built-in panning, such as shakers. In this case, bouncing that shaker sample down to mono wouldn’t make sense.
Another example would be multi-mic’ed hand drums. When recording engineers record bongos, for example, they will typically use stereo mics to capture each side. How you eventually mix them will depend on the density of the mix.
A mix might not need stereo percussion elements if it is already very dense. This is especially true if you have a few instances of percussion that can you can pan opposite of one another to create a better balance.
However, if your mix is very sparse, you may want to consider spreading your percussion out a little bit to give your listeners a better sense of the groove.
Check out Bonobo’s “Linked” for a great example of stereo percussion. Around the 0:55 mark, we hear a stereo set of woodblocks hold down the groove for the majority of the song:
What Instruments Do You Keep Mono and Stereo When Mixing?
The general rule of thumb is to keep all low-frequency instruments in mono and panned down the center while giving higher frequencies the additional stereo space in the mix. For this reason, we typically mix instruments such as kick and bass in mono.
The same thing goes for elements that require focus. A snare in a groove-centric song should be kept mono for the most impact. A lead vocal is typically the start of a song, meaning it should also be kept mono and centered.
This methodology slightly changes when we begin adding stereo effects, however.
There are a few mixing cases where you might want to add a bit of stereo reverb to a kick drum during sparse points in a mix or to create a larger-than-life feel. You also might want to add a bit of chorus to the higher frequencies in a synth bass to spread it out a bit and give it more real estate in the stereo field.
Of course, you could go beyond the norm of modern recording and mixing techniques altogether and bounces all of your drums down to a single mono track and pan them to the left or right.
Here is a brief video with few tips that would help
All-in-all, there are benefits to having drum sounds in mono or stereo. It truly depends on the style of music you are making and how you want your drums to fit in your mix.
Don’t be afraid to use mono drums and tweak them with stereo effects such as delay, reverb, chorus, imagers, and more!