How to Program Drums with Pro Tools
Introduction: Why Would an Online Session Drummer Want to Mix in Mono Anyway?
Why should you care about this little shortcut I’m offering you? Why would you even want to quickly change everything to mono? That’s a good question. As I’ve been learning how to program drums, especially mixing, one interesting concept I stumbled upon is that of mixing in mono. You can find a lot of information online about the theory behind this, but here is a short explanation of why you might consider it.
When everything is in mono, every layer of sound and every instrument is occupying the same audio space simultaneously. When you pan things in stereo, you create more space by literally putting instruments in separate physical aural spaces. It’s easier to make your mix sound good when you’re in stereo. Why? Simply because there is more space.
But by forcing yourself to make a mono mix, you have to use EQ and all of the other tools at your disposal to make the mix clearer. Of course you’ll begin by getting your static levels right, but there will definitely be more to it than that. You just don’t have the extra space in your mix that stereo panning naturally gives you. But consider the notion that if you can easily hear every instrument and voice on the track while in mono, your mix should be even more clear and spacious once you return to panning in stereo.
But here’s the kicker and it’s something that is often overlooked. Your listener won’t always hear the stereo elements properly anyway. How frequently are people using headphones or sitting exactly in the center of two balanced speakers? The exact numbers are not known, but you can be certain that a big chunk of listening does not occur in a way that allows the stereo image to be heard properly. Think about it: if you’re sitting in your car, you’re definitely on one side or the other–you’re never in the stereo sweet spot. And listening to the crappy phone speaker definitely doesn’t give you anything but mono. It just makes sense that a lot of listening happens in ways that don’t allow for a real stereo experience.
See the point? While you are learning how to program drums and create a finished drum track, you really HAVE to make your mix sound good in mono anyway. Lots of people are simply going to hear the music in mono. You ignore this at your own risk.
If you are interested in learning more about this, just Google “mixing in mono” and I promise you’ll find plenty to get you up to speed.
This Tutorial Video Will Show You The Stereo to Mono Trick for Mixing
And now; the video. Just watch and you’ll see a great way to easily switch your mix from stereo to mono without unpanning everything and then re-doing it. Check it out:
But for those of you who hate watching videos, I’ll spell out the details below. The reason that I wanted a way of quickly making everything mono was that I’d started mixing and done a bunch of panning already. Then, having already done all that work, I realized that I really should work in mono to make my mix better.
I got frustrated thinking that I was going to have to un-pan everything and then keep track of every panning setting I made and THEN redo all the panning after all of that. That definitely sounded like too much work to me.
So, instead, I did a little research and discovered that there is a free plugin in Pro Tools called “Stereo Width.” It’s made by AIR. If you simply put this plugin on your master mix bus and set the width dial to ZERO, your mix becomes mono instantly. That’s it. Just one little dial and you’re in mono. When you want to go back to your stereo mix you can remove the plugin or just set that same width button back to 100%.
Pretty easy right? I thought so too. You’re welcome!! 😉
Post Script: Why Pro Tools Tips for Beginners?
I want to explain why I even began this little series on Pro Tools. There are plenty of Pro Tools tutorials out there both in blog posts and videos. But what I’ve noticed, just like in a lot of the arts, many of the pros just don’t want to write about or create beginners content. My theory is that it’s too boring for them. Most great guitarists or drummers or audio engineers want to make content about the cool advanced stuff they know. And I think I understand why–it’s more fun for them to make that content. Perhaps there is a bit of ego involved. But the truth is that beginners need love too. Everyone was once a beginner and beginners need help. Thankfully, I’m not bored by it at all. In fact, at my blog about drumming, I’ve made a lot of content for beginners on that topic. You can check out some of that content here: The Drumming Blog
My point is that I’ve scanned the web and noticed that in “Pro Tools land,” there is also a shortage of content for beginners and those that need to learn how to program drums. I’d like to help remedy that, and thus, the “Pro Tools Tips for Beginners” series was born.
By the way, the first entry in my Pro Tools Tips for Beginners series can be found at this link: Beginners Pro Tools Tips 1: Why Does the Cursor Keep Jumping Back to the Beginning?
Thanks for reading!