I recently forwarded a Pro Tools Session to a collaborator friend who was surprised to see that I didn't use any stereo audio tracks in my mix. I wasn't working in mono, I recorded several stereo instruments. instead of using stereo audio tracks I used two mono tracks, something I've done for several years. My friend emailed me "Dude, why not use stereo audio tracks?" It's a good question; Why don't I use stereo audio tracks? Why do I prefer using two mono tracks for stereo recordings?
Control Surface At The Heart Of My Workflow
An Avid C|24 is at the heart of my Pro Tools tracking and mixing workflows. The C|24 features 24 motorised faders. Each fader has an encoder pot mainly used for panning. When working with mono tracks in Pro Tools a control surface encoder mimics the pan pot position in the Pro Tools Mix Window but when a stereo track is on a control surface encoder a two-step process is required. By default, we can adjust the pan of the left channel, if we need to position the right we need to hit the L/R button on the C|24. I know this is a simple process but I never really established this way of working with stereo tracks on Avid control surfaces. I prefer having two mono tracks, each with their own fader and pan control available to me at all times.
Balancing A Stereo Image
Sometimes the volume balance of stereo recordings need adjusting. One side of a stereo image could be slightly louder in volume compared to the other side. This can be easily balanced with a quick control surface fader push or pull. Clip gain can also be used to quickly balance the stereo image. If I did use stereo tracks then the Time Adjuster plug-in would be the best tool for sorting unbalanced stereo tracks, I just prefer using faders on my control surface.
Time Delays - Phasing Issues
Phase issues caused by slight time delays between two microphones are a common obstacle in production. Luckily, Sound Radix has a smart plug-in that quickly corrects such issues. Auto-Align is an absolute essential plug-in in my workflow, but it's not perfect.
Let's say I've recorded an acoustic guitar with a spaced pair of microphones and the performer has shifted position slightly causing one microphone to be closer to the guitar than the other causing a time delay. The resulting phasing issue can be quickly corrected with Auto-Align by using two instances of this plug-in - one on each of the mono tracks. Sadly, Auto-Align doesn't work in this type of application if loaded on a stereo audio track... meaning it can't correct time delays between left and right channels within a stereo track. The only way around this is to use two mono tracks:
- Load AutoAlign on mono track LEFT and set it to send
- Load AutoAlign on mono track RIGHT and set it to receive.
Plug-ins & Processing
You maybe wondering how I process my stereo recordings across two mono tracks in Pro Tools? Easy, I set the output of both mono tracks to a stereo bus and set the input of a stereo auxiliary track to that bus. Apart from AutoAlign, no other plug-in will sit on the inserts of the mono tracks, all processing takes place on the Aux track inserts - See image above.
Mini Mix Bus
I don't worry about my track count in Pro Tools nor do I worry about extra tracks taking up space in my Edit or Mix windows. I find this way of working with stereo recordings in Pro Tools to be beneficial to control surface workflow. I call this my "Mini Mix Bus" approach which works well for me. If I'm compressing a stereo recording laid out on two mono tracks I load a compressor on my Aux Track and can drive the two mono tracks (grouped) into the auxiliary if I need a little extra squeeze in the sound.
Each To Their Own
Some of you, like my friend, may think I'm mad for working this way. There could be another reason why I use two mono tracks instead of stereo tracks... Before I started using Pro Tools I was trained on a large format analog console that only had mono channels, no stereo tracks. If we wanted to record a stereo pair we used two channels, pan one left and the other right. Maybe my mono track persistence has stemmed from those days? Who knows...
How about you? Do you work with stereo recordings in a similar way to me in Pro Tools?