Quick mastering guide for me that i know almost nothing

blackbird

Member
Messages
496
Until some time ago I had no idea what mastering is and what's its purpose.
Some days ago I took a mixed track of mine, exported it , took the wav track and listened to it at a new bus and started to fool around adding some compression , some limiter, some reverb and some saturation and just turning the effects on and off.
Now I know what a HUGE different it makes and how everything can sound so much more tight together and magically better. Can't believe it.

So to make long story short , I have no idea what I'm really doing.
You would really help me a lot if you can give me a plan(let's say) , basic stuff you do at mastering to start learning . With as much detail you can . For example if someone uses a drop of reverb and slight compression , or heavy compression or whatever... you would give me big help.
Give me a specific example or general advice of what you do and in what order and through that I'll find my way to this .
I know it's better to have my tracks mastered by someone else , but I want to know what to expect and what to ask and have some of mine done by me (or tracks of others done by me for fun).
This subforum was always a huge help for me and I hope for the best now too please!!! Also, What plugins do you use? I have many but don't know what to do and how and in what degree .
 

russ6100

Member
Messages
4,776
I don't think it'll be very productive for you to ask for a list of mastering "dos & don'ts" on a forum like this.

If I were you, I would research mastering. There is plenty of knowledge out there.

Maybe start with wikipedia and following the links out to related topics. There are lots of YouTube vids on mastering.

Read Sound on Sound, Tape Op(?). There are pro-audio forums that have mastering sub-forums where you can communicate with top-shelf mastering engineers.

In short, mastering is about matching loudness between the tracks of an album (though this is less and less of a concern as music is released and consumed in "singles" format and in the form of streaming playlists), targeting specific loudness and density for different formats (streaming, mp3, CD, vinyl, etc), maybe some gentle EQ (maybe in the form of dynamic EQ, to keep an annoying freq in check), M/S processing and more.

These days, a lot of the mixes that mastering engineers get from top-shelf mix engineers are so good that the mastering engineer has little to do but sign off on it.
 
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Lazyshu

Member
Messages
7
But the book Mastering Audio by Bob Katz aka the owner of digido.

It will take ages to fully understand that book but that's the best advice you will find.

Paying someone for mastering is better if you want to release something commercial because they will have years of ear training and much better acoustics and equipment. For your own research study and learn the knowledge one shot tips will not help you. No quick wins when it comes to mixing/mastering its an art, learn it.
 

MagusFaerox

Member
Messages
985
Mastering engineer here....for my perspective....

Mastering comes down to 2 big picture things, and there are 2 general approaches to one of them.

One big picture thing is the set of final "how it sounds" adjustments.

Pretty much, this boils down to EQ, compression, and limiting. Saturation can be a thing. If you're working with analog gear, you typically get it for "free" because nothing analog is ever perfectly clean. If you're ITB, certain plugins add it as a side-effect and others mostly just do saturation. Reverb is almost always a no-no in mastering. Leave that up to the mix engineer. Same with heavy-handed exciters or drastic changes to imaging. I'm convinced that Ozone is almost entirely responsible for making people think this kind of heavy-handed processing is a part of mastering. It generally isn't.

There are no presets to those adjustments, and there aren't really any general "rules" except that you want to make it sound as good as it can. You absolutely don't want to make everything sound the same or be at the same level, and you absolutely do not want to follow streaming normalization levels as a rule book. You have to let the music guide you in all cases.

The second big picture thing is packaging the audio for distribution formats.

In a streaming world, often these are just wav files with the right specs (bit depth, sample rate). Occasionally you have to conform to to specific broadcast loudness standards, with reports to prove it, but that isn't actually all that common...it only really matters for film and broadcast, and the master isn't the last thing that happens in those contexts. If you're releasing on vinyl or tape, those are typically done as one wav file per side with a PDF report of what's where for each audio file, usually either without a brickwall limiter or with the limiting backed off but still not clipping. If you're releasing on CDs, DDPs are standard along with a PQ report. If the artist is selling digital downloads directly (as opposed to going through an aggregator), compressed or lossless formats with metadata are usually a part of the package.

Now....how do you do it?

If you're mastering music as it's own thing (for clients or to learn), I think it's best to start learning it as though you're going to do it professionally. That means investing in a mstering-focused DAW. You can do all of the sonic adjustments in any DAW or audio editor, but some of them make it more straightforward than others, and some use computer resources more efficiently than others (clip/object-based processing vs. mixer channel based processing; exactly how they integrate analog gear; etc.). The big differences, though, are in the 2nd big picture thing....mastering-focused DAWs make handling metadata, track spacing, export formats, leveling from an album context, etc. much more straightforward.

The normal examples are Wavelab Pro, Samplitude Suite, Sequoia, SADiE, Pyramix, HOFA CD.Burn.DDP.Master Pro, formerly SoundBlade, and more recently DSP-Quattro and Reaper. The other big way to do it is to use basically any DAW for the sonic adjustments and use a separate program (Wavelab Pro, the non-pro version of Hofa, Sonoris DDP creator, etc.) to manage metadata and output formats, sometimes with something like a batch editor or standalone sample rate converters (Wavelab Pro, RX, Saracon) for parts of the process.

They all have their quirks, advantages, and disadvantages. Wavelab, Samplitude, and Hofa have demos available....the others can get weird when you're trying to demo them. IMHO, Wavelab Pro is probably the easiest to learn (mostly because of Justin Perkins's wavelabhelp.com). Reaper is the most cost-effective. Sequoa and SADiE are probably the most popular with the old-school guys.

If you're mastering your own material for release and don't care about learning mastering as its own end, the best advice I've ever heard is simple: don't.

The big advantage of sending something out to have someone else master it is that someone else is listening to your music, someone that wasn't involved in creating it. They're going to hear it without remembering all of the writing/production/recording/mixing challenges and without being emotionally invested in any particular part of the song.

In short, they're going to hear it like your eventual listeners will. They can just react to how it affects them and then enhance it from that perspective.

That almost-naïve perspective is extremely valuable. Making those last adjustments on a stereo file are only really valuable with that perspective. Without that perspective, you have more control over the adjustments when you're working on the mix.

In reality, any mastering engineer worth paying is also going to have extremely good monitoring, in a room without the compromises inherent to mixing or writing (e.g., no reflections off synths or a mixing console, no space wasted by preamps, simpler signal flow, no compromises for low latency monitoring, etc.) and a good bit of experience working on stereo tracks from a "big picture" perspective rather than having to switch between focusing on individual elements vs the whole song.

If you're not going to get that perspective, the best thing you can do is to focus 100% of your attention on the mix itself and then as a last step, put a clean limiter as the last plugin on your master bus to get it up to the loudness you want as cleanly as you can. Then, just dither, bounce, convert if necessary, and add metadata as simply as possible.
 

markmann

Member
Messages
1,508
I think especially now days it's easy to get a really good mix and a lot of things that were left to mastering engineers can be done during the mix now. I generally don't even have EQ on my master bus. For me it's mostly limiting, light compression and light reverb.
 

MuzicToyz

Member
Messages
395
For some reason these days everyone tries to mix and master all at once. Separate the two. Mix in mono until the balance is right > Pop to stereo and pan as needed > print to file. That is 95% of the battle. Don't do what I did and piss away a boatload of money on plugins as your DAW probably has all of what you need (in most cases I'm not sure there is a day and night difference between major DAW plugins and what you buy on the side). If I could do it over I would stick to Fabfilter and Soundtoys and spend less time messing around with whatever the latest flavor of the month is.

Understand that mastering is simply polishing the end result of your mix. Start with an EQ, 2 compressors, and a limiter - Set your EQ to balance things (use a reference track), get the first compressor to trim just a little, get the next compressor to trim just a little, then get the limiter to trim just a little and get the volume to not peg the red. That is just a starting point - And it will work with your DAW's plugins.
 

HCMarkus

Member
Messages
303
Just compress and limit the sh*t out of your mix until it sounds really crushed. Then, try to save it with EQ and whatever other plugins you have on hand with a cool GUI. Then send the (original) mix to a good mastering engineer.
 

charley

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
3,705
Mastering is definitely a skill, not just something to dabble in. My advice is to either try to seriously learn mastering or just use the Dolby Mastering service built into SoundCloud. It costs $4 per song and is better than many mastering engineers out there charging $100 per song.

I have used it a few times, and compared it to versions of the same song done by a mastering engineer, as well as compared it to the same song mastered by my cousin (who is a Grammy winning mastering engineer). My cousins work came out on top, second was the Dolby ai master, third was the other guy.
 

blackbird

Member
Messages
496
My advice is to either try to seriously learn mastering or just use the Dolby Mastering service built into SoundCloud. It costs $4 per song and is better than many mastering engineers out there charging $100 per song.

I have used it a few times, and compared it to versions of the same song done by a mastering engineer, as well as compared it to the same song mastered by my cousin (who is a Grammy winning mastering engineer). My cousins work came out on top, second was the Dolby ai master, third was the other guy.
That sounds fun to try at least but it seems unbelievable to think a computer could do a really good job. I could try it for curiosity at least.
Then it's really done ? Finished ?

Also , fade ins and outs at start and finish should be done after mastering and final or before the mastering compression?
 

MagusFaerox

Member
Messages
985
Also , fade ins and outs at start and finish should be done after mastering and final or before the mastering compression?

It's part of mastering. I do them before the rest of the processing, but I'm not convinced it matters all that much. You're generally talking about a handful of milliseconds worth of fade while the track is playing low enough that it probably won't be triggering any of your nonlinear processing anyway, and the fades themselves are just linear level changes....so the order shouldn't matter.

If you're talking about a long (several measures) fade out on a song....I generally think of that as a mix decision unless an artist/producer specifically requests it.

That sounds fun to try at least but it seems unbelievable to think a computer could do a really good job. I could try it for curiosity at least.
Then it's really done ? Finished ?

I agree.

Computers can easily take a song and match a "target" frequency curve, level, and crest factor. If that's what you're going for, that's fine. But, it's also likely to diminish anything about your song that's unique or special.

As far as "finished"...I have yet to see an automated mastering thing that can actually give you all of the formats you may need. None of them can distinguish between wanted and unwanted noise or other "artifacts". None of them can accept revision notes if you're not totally happy. And none of them can tell the difference between "mistakes" and artistic choices.

All they do is the processing, without any capacity for an emotional reaction.

Honestly, the algorithms are really impressive. And I'm biased against them for obvious reasons. But...I really believe that if you're not going to hire a mastering engineer, most people are better served by just running their mix into a limiter instead of using any of them.
 

charley

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
3,705
That sounds fun to try at least but it seems unbelievable to think a computer could do a really good job. I could try it for curiosity at least.
Then it's really done ? Finished ?

Also , fade ins and outs at start and finish should be done after mastering and final or before the mastering compression?
You’d be surprised at how well the Dolby AI does. Like I said, it was better than the “other guy” billing hi,self as a mastering engineer, but not as good as my cousin (Grammy winning mastering engineer).

Mastering will accomplish a few things….but mainly, will glue everything together and give the song a “finished” sound. It’s not going to polish a turd, but it will put everything to the correct level for release on the streaming services and add a little bit of sauce to the mix. A well mastered song is definitely something that takes a while to tune your ears to, but trust me….it makes a big difference.

As far as the Dolby AI quality, I liked it. It gives you a few different choices for sounds, as well as a “mix blend.” I’ve messed with it a bit, and found that a 50% blend finished the song without making it sound unnatural. For $4, it’s worth a try, imo….
 
Messages
3,344
Honestly, the algorithms are really impressive. And I'm biased against them for obvious reasons. But...I really believe that if you're not going to hire a mastering engineer, most people are better served by just running their mix into a limiter instead of using any of them.

Agreed! My experience with the AI algos is that they seem to be able to get things loud, and with a certain kind of static balance, but there's no control say on how much of the transients remain. I've had better success with a limiter, and sometimes a touch of adaptive EQ on the 2 buss. Obviously a pro is best, but with the limiter and EQ at least I can dial up the target and dynamics to my own tastes.
 

nsureit

Old Guy...but not too old
Gold Supporting Member
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Silent Sound

Member
Messages
6,232
What you're talking about isn't mastering. It's mixing the master bus.

Mastering a song is literally making the master copy. It's all about taking the final mix, and tweaking it as necessary to fit the chosen format that it will be printed on. So you take a final mix, then you might master one copy for vinyl, another for tape, and a third for streaming music, maybe a fourth for album downloads and/or CD's, and maybe a fifth for a high definition music format of some kind. Each of these end formats will sound best if you make slight changes to the final mix to take maximum advantage of each format.

Mastering is also a time to make any final tweaks to the mix that didn't get addressed earlier, and make sure all of the songs on an album flow together nicely.

For instance, you may want to roll off the bass for the vinyl, so you don't make the needle jump. And you may want to add a bit more compression for the streaming file, so it stands up better against other songs that will be played. And you'll probably want less compression for the high def audio format, to make it sound more alive. If it's 24 bits, then you won't need as much compression. And you may want to roll off the highs on the digital formats to better match the natural HF roll-off of the analog ones.
 




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