Stereo ref­er­enc­ing

Computer Music - - Make Music Now / Stereo Mixing Strategies -

Once armed with a ca­pa­ble M/S tool, spend time analysing the width of well-pro­duced ref­er­ence tracks you like. Load a stereo file of a song (ide­ally in loss­less WAV or AIFF for­mat) in your DAW. Use your M/S util­ity plugin to solo the track’s mono sig­nal, then the side sig­nal, lis­ten­ing care­fully as you do so. Af­ter that, go back to the full stereo mix and de­ci­pher the re­la­tion­ship between them. As men­tioned, any­thing stereo in the mix will dis­ap­pear when you solo the mono com­po­nent, and that mid sig­nal is what will be heard when the track is played through a mono speaker setup.

Us­ing our M/S ‘iso­la­tor’ plugin to flick back and forth between a com­mer­cial track’s mid and side sig­nals, we can judge which mix el­e­ments have been panned or widened. How does this af­fect the mono mix, and also the full stereo mix? For ex­am­ple, you’ll prob­a­bly no­tice the floaty tail of a vo­cal re­verb or a synth’s out-of-phase stereo con­tent in the tracks’ side sig­nal. Do the stereo el­e­ments get qui­eter or dis­ap­pear in the mono sum? Get fa­mil­iar with how a ‘good’ mono mix sounds in re­la­tion to the stereo mix.

The best com­mer­cial re­leases will have all sorts of stereo tricks go­ing on. In­di­vid­ual el­e­ments will be panned apart by vary­ing amounts. Synths may fea­ture mul­ti­ple uni­son voices spread out to the sides of the mix. Guitars, pads and vo­cals may have been treated with mod­u­la­tion ef­fects such as cho­rus­ing, phas­ing and flang­ing. Pseudo-widen­ing plugins could have been used to in­ject cen­tred sig­nals with ‘false’ stereo con­tent. And, of course, there’ll likely be vir­tual am­bi­ence (aka re­verb) and stereo de­lay re­peats in there some­where.

Now that you have a bet­ter idea of how a mix is made up, it’s time to mon­i­tor your mix. Pop your M/S util­ity plugin on your project’s mas­ter bus, then re­peat the mon­i­tor­ing process. Keep in mind your men­tal ref­er­ence point of a ‘good’ stereo mix in re­la­tion to its equiv­a­lent mono mix. Do this reg­u­larly as you write and mix a track to get a grip on your stereo ef­fects.

De­ci­pher stereo tech­niques by com­par­ing your mix’s mid and side in­for­ma­tion against a pro ref­er­ence track

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