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Cheyne

Mastering

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SO everyone has their own little techniques when mixing down for their final master..    Id like to know what you guys tend to do when your polishing off a track...

What plugins are your reaching for , and what are you immediatly EQing ....  Whats your normal habits when mixing down and mastering ?..

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While I'm acutely aware that any blanket techniques are totally against the whole principal of mastering ;) , here are a few 'habits' of mine that I often find myself slipping into:

- Note the sub bass level, and typically hi-shelve @ around 40Hz.

- Run a gentle notch filter in the boomy 150-300Hz region to separate bass from midrange/treble, keeping an ear out for losing the body of a track should too much energy be removed.

- Slight lift in the EQ beyond 12kHz to enhance hi-fidelity without harshness.

- Introduce a subtle ambience 'verb to particuarly dry tracks.

- Then a compressor, sometimes a multiband.

- Then a lookahead 'maximising' limiter for that volume boost that we love to hate (but deep down know we really do love).

While I might drop compressors/limiters across the main mix while composing to get a feel for the final result, I take 'em off for the final 'unmastered' bounce-to-disc. Note, that's not to suggest I've not applied compressors to sub groups, wild synth/bass lines, vocals etc. during the mixing process. The mixdown is all about getting all the individual elements sitting perfectly, so EQ and compression will play an important role here, taming a pad, pumping a bassline with the kick, pulling the low end out of the lead synth to not compete with the bassline, muffling a accompanying percussion loop so as to push it to the back of the mix to not distact one's attention from the vocals, and so on.

With my 'unmastered' track now imported into a new session, I often load up a 'professionally mastered' commercial track that I aspire to, and A/B the two while making adjustments to keep me on track.

Now, of course, all this suggests a mixdown that's been 'mixed down' with excessive sub-40Hz energy busting to be removed, boomy mid bass, dull top end needing a lift, an overall lacking in reverberation, and not already loud enough. But why wasn't it mixed properly in the first place?

Or was it?

Am I fixing for the sake of of habit rather than listening for what needs correcting/enhancement?

One could listen to a speaker with a blanket thrown over it for long enough and one is likey to soon start 'hearing' the high frequency detail again. Then crank the hi-freq EQ for 10 minutes, then remove it suddenly. Whoah! The tracks now 'sounds' muffled! But is it really?

Frequency balance is very much relative to what's going on around it, so one has got to keep grounded with a reference (or two), hence the commercial track to make a A/B comparisons throughout the tweaking process.

Plug-in wise, being a Pro Tools (RTAS) user for around 7 years, I started out using a bastard copy of Waves L2 plug-in for that LOUD mix. Quite amazing what that one plug-in was able to for home studio peoples. Too bad the premium price has kept it out of all but the premium home studios and pro facilities these days. Today, and perhaps a better solution, is http://www.masseyplugins.com/ and his L2007 Mastering Limter. Clean, detailed sound, with all the same maximising potential, and for a most respectable USD$89. In fact, the entire range is more than worth the USD$365 asking price. What's WAVES cost again?

Typical plug-in effects chain:

1) 4-Band Parametric EQ

2) Single and/or Multiband Compressor

3) Look-ahead 'Mastering' Limiter

I also might slip a 'valve/tape' plug in there, at the head of the chain, to warm (<--dreadful overused meaningless expression) or more correctly dirty things up a bit, though I prefer to have already done this during the mix session. Mastering should, IMO, be fairly transparent, so artistic decisions, such as distortion, should really be in the picture before sending the track off to the (in-house) 'mastering engineer'.

So that's what's going inside my box...

...we haven't touched on the mercy we are within our listening environments. Do I need to give a little bass boost, or just sit back a bit in my chair where it 'sounds' bassier? What is normal?

With the typical 'home studio' rig, I say it really takes careful attention to learning exactly what impact your room has on the sound between leaving the speakers and ariving at our ears.

So what can we do in cases where the concept of puring a few thousand dollars into acoustic treatment simply ain't gelling with the wallet, partner, landlord, future baby who's likely to end up sleeping inside this 'padded cell' for the first few years of its life?

Play lots of varied, other peoples material on the studio monitors, and equally important, play lots of your own material on the other people's speakers. Learn what's 'normal', and learn what constitutes a happy compromise to get your mixes translating across a variety of systems.

Or simply hand it over to a facility with a mastering room that's honest in revealing exactly how your mix sounds, without inflicting it's own 'bedroom studio' acoustic signature all over it... and perhaps more importantly, over to someone who knows what they're doing, and ultimately won't fvck it up. ;D

That said, happy DIY Mastering.   :cans:

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Whoa ! Monster post man , well done ! ...  Thats pretty much want i wanted to hear !

Im oozing with bad habbits  ... You walk in my room and you can smell the cheap exciter plugins dripping from my cold cathode lit PC ..       

I dont get enough bass response in my room , and my only really test , Is simply mixing down to what  i think sounds ok , then burning to a CD and playig in my car ...  I know my car system very well , so It easy to pick up the faults there ...

I do tend to reach for certain plugins time after time , although while it may sound monotonous , they are good plugins and have made the difference in the past ...

They were:

PSP Vintage Warmer  (does "warm" things up nicely, never over apply though , just use enough to gel over some other wise outstanding sounds you cant seem to EQ in)

Sonic Maximizer :  very handy little plugin .. very simple to use ,but ad's sparkle to otherwise dull sounds ...

Izotope Ozone: My mastering plugin ;)  Does it all and pretty damn well too !

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I dont get as much as out of vintage warmer as most people that crap on about it do  ... I use it very lightly , but it does fuzz things over nicely ..

Ozone is wicked , it does it all ...  also has some very good package presets to get the juices flowing ...

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I used to do a lot of stuff with WintageWarmer as well.. Heard comments from people like "sounds old-shool, but kinda rough, nice!".. (Guess I overdid it back then) Worked ok, though.

When I started with all this mixing and "pre-mastering" business, I thought it would be easy, like, you know: a little bit of bass control, some multiband here, L2 the hell out of it and you're done. When I listened to the stuff that i "mastered" like that, the sound seemed always to be hit-or-miss. Either it was really nice, or it was totally overdoing it. This got me really lost and for years, I didn't know what to do.

Then I remember seeing one documentary about Drum&Bass production where they interviewed a famous d&b mastering engineer and he said "Dillinja is the most level-conscious engineer he has worked with".. that kinda stuck to my mind. It made me think that the levels and dynamics in a mix are one of the most crucial things in a club track. So I started looking at the faders in a new way, taking them a bit more seriously.

Nowadays I barely do anything to my mixes, a touch of L2 to bring it to level is usually all. I have turned my back on compressors (still don't know how to use them ::) and bass-processors/enhancers, and somewhere along the way I somehow learned to make everything sound better at the "grass-root" level: using the right sounds, and the right gain (preamp gain, that is),vol and pan. I can make a track sound better now without any processors than I ever could have done with even the "best" of tools..

I don't know if this helps you guys with mastering. Another point of view perhaps: Always question yourself - don't try to fix things in a wrong stage of production. When you can make a track sound like it's "pre-mastered" even before any premastering, you are truly making wonderful results.

I have to admit one thing, though.. Nowadays I always do my mixes with "loudness" on from the monitor amp =) Somehow it helps me from overdoing the bass (this of course, depends a lot on your amp & monitors!) If you have active monitors, I suggest using some outboard to emulate the "loudness" effect

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Ok dudes you get two secret weapons, actually given to me by someone else but in the interests of passing on the knowledge...

Won't get into compression and EQ, done so well by others here anyway.

TIP #1: Apply a small dark reverb to the whole mix, with HPF on it so it only verbs the mix from about 500Hz and up. Below 500 stays dry. Adds an overall depth to the mix and brings the sounds together into a more cohesive space.

TIP #2: Apply a small amount of flange to the whole mix, HPF'd so it tickles 5kHz and up. Makes preprogrammed hats and percussion have more motion, and swirls vocal sibilances nicely.

The main thing is don't overdo it - too much and the mix is muddy. Should only be noticeable when you turn it off  :)

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TIP #1: Apply a small dark reverb to the whole mix, with HPF on it so it only verbs the mix from about 500Hz and up. Below 500 stays dry. Adds an overall depth to the mix and brings the sounds together into a more cohesive space.

Yep, and it'll help shape several tracks into the same space for an album/compilation/whatever.

TIP #2: Apply a small amount of flange to the whole mix, HPF'd so it tickles 5kHz and up. Makes preprogrammed hats and percussion have more motion, and swirls vocal sibilances nicely.

Oooh, that sounds so naughty and dangerous, I might just have to try it. ;D I like the sound of flange on the delay returns, just never considered a subtle - and like you say, it's gotta be SUBTLE - flange across the main mix. Interesting tip. :)

The main thing is don't overdo it - too much and the mix is muddy. Should only be noticeable when you turn it off  ;)

And that's the key right there. Likewise, with mastering in general, if you're getting creative with it, take it back to the production stage and work it more there, leaving the opportunity for just a subtle-but-all-important sheen during mastering.

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had an interesting experience this last week- wrote a tune, did a quick master and hoofed it down to lounge for the boys to play... sounded ok, quiet though. did a second master and got some level back - it's quite a dynamic tune so i was being very gentle with the mastering - and played that one out at the glasshouse - sounded alright, thick bass (essential to the tune), good highs but still low apparent level due to the dynamics and my light touch.

then during the week mcD took it to Jack the Bear and got the pro master done.. and frankly i'm astounded at the sheer increase of level while my mix has remained basically unchanged. when i put the mastered waves side by side in qbase, on my masters the dynamics of the tune are quiet obvious from the waveform. jacks is just like one of those long solid turds you do after a lot of pies and a hard night on the guinness.. but the dynamics, if not actually there any more, still seem to be implied by the mix such that psychoacoustically we flesh them out in our heads.

the bit that makes me laugh most of all is the unmastered mix i gave him peaked at -0.1db - and the master i got back? -0.1db

as a piece of mastering advice i do recommend getting a second pair of ears - preferrably attached to somebody living - and letting them have a shot at mastering. even if you don't like what they've done it's always worth having a fresh perspective, since it's easy to get attatched to how something sounds.

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I've heard great things about the Massey plug-ins especially L2007 but since I don't use PT, they're not much use to me.

Is there anything in a similar price/quality bracket in VST format?

Does anybody here code VST plug-ins (Synth-edit doesn't count)?

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Have you tried the Waves SSL Plug(VST)? JohnVanraalte on here is using it and it sounds pretty sweet IMO.

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I just got the latest computer music magazine and they had section titled everything you need to know about mastering. It should have been titled a vague allusion to mastering - I read a couple of lines in this post and already have more info...

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Hi punksters,

I set up a mastering template in DAW using my limited knowledge of this process that I can fine tune for each track.

Here's how i've set up:

4 sends on the track with 4 linear phase EQ's like Voxengo GlissEQ.

Set low and high pass filters at 2.54dB/oct rolloffs to split track into frequency ranges

Send 1:  low-pass at 120Hz

Send 2:  high-pass at 120Hz, low-pass at 2kHz

Send 3 : high-pass at 2kHz, low-pass at 10kHz

Send 4: high-pass at 10k

Another Eq on each send to tune up some frequencies

Add compressors to each send, low ratios and long attack times

Stereo Enhancer plugins to narrow send 1/2 and widen 3/4

Then perhaps a touch of tube, reverbs, flangers, exciters whatever will help bring everything together,

adding to all sends to avoid any track delay/phasing and setting them to dry on the parts I don't want the effect on

Then EQ and limiter/hard compressor on the master output with a freq/spectrum analyser to check everythings looking nice.

So it's basically a multiband compressor with stereo expanders and effects.

Any suggestions?

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mastering hey?

well i only ever "master" my own stuff and in no way what so ever do i pretend to be a mastering engineer so i'll only work on demo's and stuff that wont be going to be sold. anyhooooooo

i use Wave lab4 as my host. if im just doing one track i use the main window set up with...

Bit depth meter

Phase scope

and level/pan meter

plugins change for each project but for the Lychee Martini remix i used the following

Waves Linear phase EQ

HPF @ 29hz

-1.6dB @ 258hz

2.2dB resonant hi shelf @ 11283hz

followed by

waves renaisence comp

threshold: -26.6dB

Ratio: 1.11:1

Attack: 16

Release: Auto

(comp was set to optical and warm modes)

and finally

Waves L3 Multimaximizer

threshold: -4.3dB

out ceiling: -0.5db

master release set to aggressive.

i also used this to dither.

:cans:

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^Your masters always sound pretty good to me, Jude. It'd be nice if you shared some more tips :D

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cheers Jester  8)

if anyone is keen to send me an unmastered track, id be happy to use it as a demo of how i master with all settings etc displayed like in my last post

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Ok, you can have a go at my last track.

Its in the tracks thread. Its called Fuertoventura. if your keen i will upload the wav for you to work with. :(

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drtrouble at gmail.com

send me a link for the wave file and i'll havew a crack at it for you 8)

(once i get over this self inflicted concussion  :bang: )

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eq (if any) > reverb (if any) > multiband compressor > compressor (subtle) > limiter

I don't set the limiter very hard, only to just catch the peaks. I'm usually pretty happy with how it turns out...

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I'm pretty new to mastering but I recently took a mastering class last year at uni. For mastering a rock type mix I usually put a Renaissance Compressor on first, compressing just the peaks of the wave, maybe a few dB, with a low ratio. Next I put a C4 multiband (I would use the MC 2000 MC4 but I dont have it) on the mix. I'm still getting used to multiband compressors so it's a bit of guess work but I just try to get a bit of stiffness in the track and make sure the bottom end is under control.

Next I might use a BluesTube EQ to put a Baxcandall Eq curve on the track (higher low and high end levels by 1.5 dB or so). Following this I use the Oxford Inflator and adjust the curve and effect to taste, this plug-in really seems to put a lot of life and grunt into the mix.

After that I usually put two L1+ Ultramaximisers over the mix and slam the level  bit (but not too much) and finally use the Paz Analyser just to make sure everythings level and there's not too much phase issues and the likes.

Of course every song should be done differently according to the song but that's my lazy man's mastering process when I master my own tracks.

Maybe it's not professional mastering but hey, it sounds o.k. to me...

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wow that's pretty mega for "lazy man's mastering".    i usually get by with a single stereo compressor and limiter. everything else i try to do in the project. but i reallllllly am lazy, ask anyone who knows me...

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wow that's pretty mega for "lazy man's mastering".  i usually get by with a single stereo compressor and limiter. everything else i try to do in the project. but i reallllllly am lazy, ask anyone who knows me...

nah, im too lazy to ask people that! :P

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^Your masters always sound pretty good to me, Jude. It'd be nice if you shared some more tips :D

thought i might revive this thread!

so are we still using the same techniques?

i have changed to using a few of the antress plugins (if you dont have them, download them, there free and bloody awesome especially the emulation of the SSL Gseries mix buss comp and the manley vari-mu) followed by my desk eq (DDA interface then into a drawmer M500 (thanks Dopamine!) for final comression and limiting and fades at the end. I record thiss to a Tascam realtime CD burner and im liking the sound much better

especially mastering from stems ;)

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Ok, you can have a go at my last track.

Its in the tracks thread. Its called Fuertoventura. if your keen i will upload the wav for you to work with. :(

did you ever get around to sending me that track?

im keen to show the setup i use, i just need some decent unmastered stuff (ie, not my tracks!) to use

Jude

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