Let’s talk mastering… here are some topics:
- What software/plugins do you use?
- What mastering tools (regardless of software) do you use (e.g. EQ, compression, reverb, harmonic exciters, etc)? What tips can you share?
- Do you master within your DAW, or do you master a stereo audio file?
- LOUDNESS… how important is it in the world of royalty free music? What’s too much compression? What’s too little?
- Consistency among tracks in your library. Is it important for your tracks to sound similarly mastered, or is it more important to master to the style of the particular track? Whereas, if you were mastering all tracks on an album for instance, you’d want them to sound consistent (maybe)
I think highly compressed music is more or less the standard these days. Certain types of music…I don’t think there’s much of an upper limit when it comes to compression. Obviously it can’t sound like daggers, but if the wave form of your song looks like a sausage…it’s what’s to be expected. Other types of music, orchestral music specifically…compression tends to make it sound less realistic, IMO, but will still makes it sound more “desirable” to the average buyer. I think every track should be uniquely mastered, as every track is different. If we were talking about producing an Album, there should be some coherence, but I think the goal here should be to try to make every track sound the best it can. I prefer to compress individual tracks than an over-all mix (it gives me flexibility) and I really prefer equalization over compression. Usually I will use a pretty low compression ratio, otherwise it starts to sound like someone is punching you in the ear. Sometimes I’ll use high and low-pass filters, but I think the most important tool with mixing and mastering is EQ.
- Izotpe Ozone – Great value for a full mastering suite
- The only things I’ll use on every song are EQ and Maximiser, most songs will also get a bit of multi-band compression. When I first started mastering I would put loads of everything on and think I was the king now I’ve learned that when mastering is concerned, less is more, and if I find my self needing to do a lot in mastering, I go back to the mix, and try and fix it there.
- I prefer to master in the DAW, as it means if I need to fix something in the mix I can, but for CPU heavy songs that’s just not an option, so sometimes I’ll mix down first.
- I’m firmly against the loudness war, when using a maximiser I aim to be applying minimal gain reduction, and normally have it peaking at -0.3 db. Even if my songs sound a bit ‘quieter’ than most, I like dynamic range
- Consistency doesn’t even cross my mind. I think as I’m still learning a lot about mastering, consistency is not really possible, as (hopefully) my masters are getting better and better. Having said that, if I was doing a whole album/collection then I’d use a reference track to try and keep some consistency.
I recently read that I should be mixing at 85db SPL in order to get the flattest frequency response, but according to my (admittedly cheap) SPL meter, 85 if funking loud, and I tend to mix around 70db SPL. My understanding is that at lower sound pressure levels bass is less prominent, which could mean I’m putting too much bass in my mix to compensate.
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I think that real mastering must be done inside a properly treated room with the right monitors. What I do is simply the best mix that I can do, then listen to it in a couple of audio system (ns-10, macbook speakers, earplugs) and put a limiter at the end of the chain withour squashing too much
I like Sonnox limiter, Equality eq and Brainworx BX XL (this, just to make mono a certain range of frequencies)
I will start by saying the single most important thing I learned in mastering my own stuff has been the use of a soft clipper. This has really helped get me in the ball park volume wise.
I used to export a stereo wav to WAVELAB, but now I do it in a new Cubase file so I can come back to it later, all the files in the same place.
My chain constantly changes but something’s in it remain the same like the clipper and Limiter at the end.
Right now im I mix in to what I call a SUBMASTER.
Here I will mix in to SATSON channel at -18 then ill have the SATSON BUS right after and use a temporary bus compressor, mostly the Vertigo-VSC-2 plugin. This gives me the glue I need and sense of mastering.
When im done I will remove the compressor and place TB_ReelBus to shave some more transients and add a little saturation. Then i might go back to using a compressor again, but only on the smallest and most transparent setting, maybe a ratio of 1.4 and gain reduction of about 1 to 1.5dbl just a tiny bit so its super subtle. Just to smooth things out a bit more.
For this I use Elysia Alpha Mastering Compressor but I also like Klanghelm DC8C After this I will use a M/S EQ, it might be Fabfilter Pro Q, Elysia Museq or something else, at the moment im enjoying Native Instruments Passive Eq, Its powerful and easy. To use. If there is a problem and I need surgical its ProQ or I might find what was wrong in the mix to fix it. With Eq i will cut the very low end around 39hz and the then shelf the top end at around 18khz, I might tweek the mids a little too. Sometimes the EQ is done in two parts, so the low end will be first the in the chain before everything, and then the mids and high end last in the chain before the Limiter.
Next I will use a stereo expander, again this might be before or after the EQ. I will use a just a tiny amount to open things up, less is always more. Then the final two powefull plugins in the mastering gain. the Soft Clipper to shave down all the spikes and bring up the volume, I will often push it up 6-9 dbl, this is what really gets me the loudness. The best one Ive used is the IK T-RackS single plugin, I don’t care much for the rest of T-Racks but it can be ok if that’s all you have. Then the limiter. The best there is Fabfilter PRO-L, it’s the only one that really gets me the volume and keeps the feel and dynamics. I’ll mostly be pusing in to it with the Clipper so I wont use much gain on this, maybe 1-2 dbl of reduction. Pro L is very transparent, and set to 4x over sampling really helps keep distortion away. I am still guilty of pushing the volume to far though, and it’s a shame, I hate this volume war, and thinking about it, music for Audio Jungle need not be so heavily limited as the end user will no doubt use their own volume and maximizing. Other importain things do when mastering. Listen out side the door, or in the car, or on a tv. Listen in Mono and come back to it a few days later after to hear if you where right that day. To thin? To bassy? Tweek Tweek Tweek! The joy of digital is we can just load the file up and do it again.
Good tips and feedback everyone. Here are my own responses:
1. I also use Izotope Ozone. I think it’s a pretty easy to use tool and is a great all-in-one mastering solution. They also have a guide that I use as my “mastering bible” called Mastering with Ozone. You can find it on their support page http://izotope.com/products/audio/ozone/support.asp. It gives tips not only on mastering with Ozone, but general mastering tips as well that can be applied using any software.
2. I almost always use EQ, band compression and loudness maximizer. Sometimes I’ll add subtle amounts of mastering reverb and stereo widening.
3. Mostly, I’ve mastered with a stereo audio file that I bounce out of Logic. I master inside of a AudioFile engineering’s Wave Editor. However, I think this is mainly just because it’s the process I’ve always used. I think I’m going to start mastering within Logic as per MattBearman’s suggestion, because then when you need to adjust the mix in the DAW, you can quickly remaster and spit out the output file.
4. Yes, I agree, I hate overly compressed music, and sometimes I feel like I’ve gone too far with my songs. It’s almost as if I feel pressured to make it LOUD. But I think that some types of music are OK with being maxed out, and others are better left to be more dynamic.
5. Because my goal is to eventually build a library of diverse tracks, from acoustic to alternative to jazz to electronic to punk, by necessity, these tracks are not going to be consistently mastered. Because an acoustic track is going to be much different from a punk track.
And in general, yes, I know I’m not going to be able to master it as well as a professional producer/engineer with a “real” studio, but I think with some of the audio tools out there like Ozone, we can get pretty close.