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Q: I’ve plugged my guitar or microphone into my M-Audio interface, and when I try to record the signal it’s only recording to one channel of the stereo pair. How do I get my input signal to be stereo?
A: This is happening because a mono input source (such as a guitar or microphone) is being fed to a track in your recording software that is setup to receive a stereo signal.
Guitars, Basses, and most all professional microphones are monophonic (aka "mono") devices, meaning they do not output a stereo (2-channel, left and right) signal. Since most every form of recorded music is released in a stereo format in this day and age, it's quite natural for those new to audio recording to (incorrectly) assume that the average pop album is composed of several stereo recordings layered together. The reality is, however, that modern stereo pop recordings are most commonly composed of several mono instrument and vocal tracks being panned and mixed together to create a sense of stereo separation in the final mix*. The only typical situation where input from a guitar or microphone would be recorded in stereo would be a situaiton where those devices where being passed through a stereo effects processor before being plugged into your M-Audio recording interface.
If you are feeding your recording software mono input from a guitar or microphone (remember, the human voice is also a mono instrument), you will need to make sure you are recording to a track in your recording application that is setup to record in mono. The most important step in capturing a mono recording is to make sure that, in your recording application, you have selected the proper input channel from your M-Audio interface. By default, many recording applications will pair the mono inputs on your recording hardware into stereo pairs, so that input 1 and input 2 show up as “input 1/2”, inputs 3 and 4 (if you have that many inputs) show up as “input 3/4”, etc.
When recording a mono source, you want to record a single input from your audio interface, not a stereo “x/x” pair. Please refer to the documentation for your DAW/recording software for specific information on how to select the proper recording input from your M-Audio interface. On some DAW/recording applications, it is also necessary to first insert/add a “mono” audio track (instead of a "stereo" audio track) before selecting a mono input for recording. Please see your software’s documentation for more details.
Also see these Software Configuration Guides for many popular software applications.
Once you’ve recorded your mono sources as mono tracks, you can begin the process of mixing and panning them into a stereo mix, adding stereo effects and mixing them with natively-stereo recordings from stereo keyboards, samplers, etc.
Setting up your recording software to record a mono signal into both sides of a stereo track is never advisable, as this is a waste of disk space with no practical benefits to your final mix-down results.
*Note: in the context of classical music, recording a single instrument in stereo (by using mulitple mono microphone pairs at once) is a common practice. This practice of recording in stereo is usually not the most suitable approach when recording tracks in a pop, rock, hiphop, country, etc context.