Making Mono Sources Sound Stereo

There I was, on Christmas Eve Eve, listening to the rehearsal tracks for our Christmas Eve service, tweaking the mix and thinking, "Hmmm. something is missing." In fact, it wasn't that something was missing; it was a big band, with 11 vocals. If anything was missing, it was space. With all those instruments and vocals packed in there, the mix was sounding a bit dense. Whenever I get that many vocals on stage, I'll start panning them left and right. I typically break up each group—tenors, altos and sopranos—to left, just off center and right. That is, I'll have one tenor, one alto and one soprano panned hard left, another from each group hard right and a third from each group just off center. I'll split the off-center ones on either side of the lead vocal. That alone does wonders for spreading out a dense vocal mix.

And that was a good start, but I wanted a bit more. I had a lot of mid-frequency build up in the center with 2 electric guitars, sax, percussion, drums and B3/Keys. The piano & keys were already stereo, so I panned sax, perc and electric around a bit to open up the mix. I can't go too far with any of those since we don't have a really good stereo PA, but it does help open up some space.

That left the B3. I'm a big B3 lover, and I like it to be very present in the mix. But it was competing with the vocals. We mic our B3 top and bottom with AKG 414s. It's not my ideal set up, but it's what we have right now. I normally pan the top mic to 30-40% left and the bottom to 30-40% right. That helps, but it wasn't really giving me what I was after.

Then I thought about some recording studio tricks of double tracking an instrument and offsetting one track by just a skosh. On the SD8 (and almost every other digital board), that's pretty easy to do, so I gave it a try. I double patched my B3 High mic into 2 mono channels, one panned hard left, one panned hard right. I turned on channel delay on one of those channels and spun the knob. Wow! It didn't take long for the sound to almost explode out of the speakers. It went from this very tight focused sound to a huge sound field in no time. I played around with different delays and settled on about 5 msec for one channel. In our PA, adding more didn't really help a lot, and less wasn't wide enough for me. Your mileage may vary.

Once the whole band got going, the B3 sound was amazing. Instead of being in the middle, fighting for spectral room, it seemed to be coming from the sides of the room, filling in all around the rest of the mix. I was able to keep the level up higher than usual without any competition for the vocals. Kevin Sanchez, one of my FOH engineers stopped by for one service, and without knowing that I had done anything said, "What did you do to the B3? It sounds amazing!"

To give you an idea what I'm talking about, I've prepared 3 sample tracks. The first is just the standard, Mono B3 High mic from this weekend. The second is a recreation of what I did on the SD8; the same track, double patched, panned hard left and right with the right side delayed by about 5 msec. The third track is an intercut of the two. I recommend you listen with headphones or speakers set wide enough apart to actually impart some sense of stereo sound.

This is the B3 Mono Version

This is the B3 "Stereo" Version

This is the split track version

This technique could also be useful on guitars, or mono keyboard sends. It would also be really interesting to try this on a double mic'd piano (low and high), processing both the low and high separately. Now that we're running Ivory as our standard piano, I can't try that, but next time we bust out the mics, I'll give it a shot.