How do I get an urban ‘mix tape’ vibe from my recorded studio track?
A question I have been asked and at first I didn’t really understand, but after talking to a couple people I now understand what effect they’re after.
The YouTube listener has been listening to low quality mp3s for a while now, and you know the funny thing, those low quality downloads have something appealing about them … Certain song or music styles can benefit from a narrow, mono audio picture.
Simply put, the lofi, mixtape audio quality sometimes adds punch to a track and can sound cool! Crazy but you should try it as an effect!
How do I get a mono effect?
Next time you are doing a track in the recording studio, before you mix it down, try putting a stereo expander over the whole mix. There are several free ones on Google if you do a search for “free stereo expander”.
What is a stereo expander?
A stereo expander will take a mono or narrow spectrum mix and widen it so your music will sound ‘spread out’. That is it’s main job, however, it can also do the opposite.
If you set the expander to between 0-15% narrow mix you will hear all the instruments and vocals centred with no stereo expanse, or very little depending on the settings you choose. In other words you are turning your stereo mix (left and right) into a mono mix (centre).
When trying this on your studio mix you may not want a totally mono mix, a small hint of stereo (say, 10%) will give it a little width without taking away from the centred ‘punchy’ effect.
The effect is a tight, punchy/boxy mix tape or lofi vibe and in some instances can make the track sound better, depending on the music style.
Hip Hop lends itself to this technique as it produces punchy and hard edged mixes, but this is an ‘effect’ and in most instances you would want to keep the traditional stereo mix so as not to lose elements of the musical ‘picture’… but try it and see the results!
Remember that your mix levels will appear very different with a harsh stereo expander setting so you’ll want to redo the mix to suit your song.
Something else that is worth mentioning in this article is the use of stereo expanders as a mixing tool. A lot of producers will test their mix in mono as this highlights problem areas in the mix.
If you have a mixed song, take a listen to it with a stereo expander set to 100% mono and notice how some instruments seem way too loud and others are lost.
The instruments that are lost may be smothered by frequencies in other sounds. EQ is vital to a good mix, so when you set your track to mono you are effectively putting everything on top of each other. The only way to clarify the individual parts is to fix EQ issues and volume. There are no hiding places in a mono mix!
Once you have sorted the mix in mono you can switch back to stereo and see how clear your mixes are!