The Art of Mastering

Practical tips for recording, editing, and mastering.

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GMaq
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby GMaq » Sat Mar 11, 2017 10:51 pm

jonetsu wrote:
Ian Shepherd is a very good reference. Here's is what he thinks of the landr automatic mastering:

http://productionadvice.co.uk/landr/



Not a terrible surprise there, I don't think anyone who's made mastering and production their life's work is going to be terribly well disposed to the idea of being replaced by an algorithm... I do see where he's coming from completely, landr can generally handle loudness but not 'tonal character' and other such intangible but very real concerns. landr is about math, human mastering is about more than math...

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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby jonetsu » Sun Mar 12, 2017 12:27 am

GMaq wrote: Not a terrible surprise there, I don't think anyone who's made mastering and production their life's work is going to be terribly well disposed to the idea of being replaced by an algorithm... I do see where he's coming from completely, landr can generally handle loudness but not 'tonal character' and other such intangible but very real concerns. landr is about math, human mastering is about more than math...


And probably landr will not tell about the state the mix is in before applying anything. If the mix for instance is all peaks and valleys (terrible crest factor eg. ratio of peak values to rms values) and one wants to achieve maximum loudness, then there will be problems as those highs and lows are being processed.

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sadko4u
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby sadko4u » Sun Mar 12, 2017 5:34 pm

42low wrote:This confirms my statement.
Blue: Why should i do effects on the master if most of them are on the tracks already? Where i mean most of those, with at most a little on the master bus.
Red: That's basic mastering. For us not that interesting as long as we make single songs and not an album.


Don't confuse mixing and mastering. Mastering is always a post-processing techinque for the whole mixed track. And better if it's done in a different project with already mixed stereo track. That won't allow you to swarm again into separate tracks.
Basic effects on mastering:
1. Stereo equalization. This mostly is used for timbral correction.
2. Mid/Side equalization. This moslty is usded to make the track sound wider or narrower.
3. Multiband compression. This mostly is used to cut-off some extra peaks from percussive instruments or other loud sounds. This also allows additionally to glue mixed tracks together.
4. Compression. Can be also used parallel or upward compression to make silend sounds louder without affecting loud sounds.
5. Saturation like applying tape simulation. This will allow additionally boost of loudness.
6. Automation. Automate all things done in 1-5.
7. Apply limiter or maximizer to finally pump-in the loudness. If the loudness is not enough, check again 1-6.
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sysrqer
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby sysrqer » Sun Mar 12, 2017 5:51 pm

Automation is an interesting one, I read an article a while ago about a guy who mastered nirvana who added boosts of level to sections of the song to make it really pop out. I would argue that this would be better done at the mixing stage but interesting to think of an approach like this if it beneficial at any stage.

jonetsu
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby jonetsu » Sun Mar 12, 2017 6:01 pm

It's difficult to 'mix' mixing and mastering since in mastering there is only a stereo track.

In any case, all the best intent in mastering can be sinked by having a terrible mix to work with.

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Bree
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby Bree » Wed Mar 15, 2017 6:46 pm

This is a really good thread. ... I hope I don't get drowned out ... because I want to hear about and review techniques for mastering an entire album. How do I get a nice and consistent sonic quality across a compilation of songs?

jonetsu
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby jonetsu » Wed Mar 15, 2017 10:29 pm

That would be by using a reference. The stereo track of the piece to be mastered is loaded in the DAW, and a stereo reference is also loaded. Then it works by comparing both. The very first track of the album would have been compared with a commercial production and notes taken when mastering it. Then the next mixes would follow the same approach, preparing them to be mastered in the same way as the first piece.

That would be the 'by ear' approach. On top of that meters can be added to quantify the sounds, such as a LUFS/LU meter. Ardour/Mixbus provides this information on exports and as an analysis feature. The export itself can have restrictions to go by, like how much headroom to leave (1 dB is usually recommended to allow for further mp3 compression) and what LUFS ceiling to observe, etc. Ardour/Mixbus are fully configurable regarding this.

Mind you, I am still doing mastering 'by the side' as I'm still learning. I should follow a formal course soon, by Michael White (Withney Houston, David Byrne, James Taylor, Jimi Hendrix recording, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, etc, 30 gold records, Electric Lady Studios). I have seen many out there on the market, and some promise the moon and surely spam your email box at large with mixing and mastering 'tips'. Not much for me. Mike is beyond that. If one wants to learn, Mike has the practical knowledge. And the passion. But one has to have the will to learn first. This is one preview of the mastering course:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7Tk0ED_Wh4

He does not do interviews much, if at all, although if you want to see what the guy is, here's a bit he did for Presonus:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbF4kNW0aCk
Last edited by jonetsu on Thu Mar 16, 2017 6:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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bluebell
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby bluebell » Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:29 pm

I don't do the mastering in a separate step. I found my dream team in the Master bus (in this order):

- One of the CALF EQs (for *slight* adjustments)
- CALF multiband compressor
- CALF saturator
- CALF multiband limiter

Hints:
- Use the same crossover frequencies in multiband compressor and multiband limiter
- Don't care about levels over 0dB except for the limiter's output. They can handle that easily.
- Use slight tape saturation (about 3 to 4)
- Don't hesitate to use a compressor ratio of 4. Use the same ratio and threshold in each frequency band
- Compressor shouldn't reduce more that 10 dB at peaks
- Limiter's big knob at 0dB. You want only to cut the peaks. Output level to -0.1 to -0.3 dB to give a little bit of headroom for inter sample peaks
- Limiter shouldn't cut more than 1-3 dB

This is a good start for many mixes. Use Compressor's input level to set the gain until the volume reduction sets in.
You can make it eve louder by turning the limiter's knob anti-clockwise but it gets more muddy as well.

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Postby Norlick » Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:38 am

So sometimes I use bridged windows plugins in my mastering chain, but when I don't I will normally...

First put a LUFS Meter at the end of the chain. Generally as I master I'll only squash it until I'm hitting around -8 LUFS, though for some radio-focused stuff I'll crush it to -6.
I put the LSP Spectrum Analyser after that, which gives me a good visual indicator of my frequency balances.

Then I'll start processing with some broad-strokes EQ, SlickEQ if I'm using windows plugs, or the 4 band EQ10Q by sapista if I feel like using strictly native plugs.
Next for busier mixes I'll use ZaMultiComp to apply some subtle multi-band compression, though I only need to resort to this relatively rarely.
Then i'll use up to 3 LSP Compressors in series with the same settings, generally 2 ratio or less, 100ms ATK and REL, -1dB knee and max compression of 1dB or so, give or take 0.2dB.
After that, I'll use the Clipping Booster by Artemiy Pavlov, and finally the LSP Limiter, sometimes 2 in series, aiming for a max of 2-3 dB gain reduction with both.

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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby mclstr » Sun Oct 01, 2017 12:29 pm

Some advice from a retired record producer/engineer.

My opinions are going to ruffle a few feathers, but my opinions come from experience.

Mastering/mixing:
I used to do a lot of mastering, for vinyl and eventually digital. Sometimes I'd be mastering my own projects for final release.
I used to work with a lot of famous mastering engineers and learned a lot over the years.

One piece of advice that modern mastering engineers will advise is to AVOID doing anything at the mastering stage, except maybe some peak limiting.

Always fix things on the the individual tracks if possible. Trying to fix the mix at a later stage will not produce as good a result in most cases.

In the old days we didn't have the option of parametric EQs, compressors, saturation, dynamics,... on individual tracks and so mastering was a kind of half-ass fix to overcome these limitations.

There is no excuse anymore with modern DAWs.
I never EQ or compress on the mix buss. I will use a fast peak limiter and maybe a saturator of some sort if I want that retro sound.
Everything else is inserted on the individual tracks.

EQ:
This is only for the newbies. When EQing,
1) Always listen for what needs to be cut before you think about what needs to be boosted. Cutting is usually more effective.
2) When using parametric EQ start wide, Q(bandwidth) between .2 to .5 and then tweak the Q later as needed.
Beginners tend to start too narrow, get frustrated and end up using more eq bands than they needed.
Also, a higher(narrower) Q can add an artificial quality to the sound. That may be what is desired for an effect, but....

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CrocoDuck
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby CrocoDuck » Sun Oct 01, 2017 2:04 pm

mclstr wrote:My opinions are going to ruffle a few feathers, but my opinions come from experience.


Actually these sound like very good pieces of advice, in line with with recommendations from many other experienced engineers. Thank you for sharing your experience!
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby mclstr » Sun Oct 01, 2017 11:46 pm

42low wrote:... Where mastering is making song sound that simular that they fit next to each other in tone on an album. That the high, mid, and low tones aren't to devided between the album songs.

What's your vision on that? And the vision off the recording business?


That is a mastering goal. But that can be attained in the mixing process anymore. Since we have all the state of the art tools on our computers, we can freely compare and modify the mix at any point, including the final mastering.

This was not the case in the old days and is why mastering was a separate stage.

There are arguments for having separate producer/engineers for many stages of the process.
In the past it was often possible to see separate people working on each separate stage:
1) Preproduction/arrangement
2) Tracking
3) Mixing
4) Mastering

But that doesn't happen as much anymore. More likely the tracking engineer is also the mixing and mastering engineer.

There are arguments for any combination depending on where the skills are. Not many people are experts at all of these stages.
I do suggest that the less experienced learn and practice these skills, but look for assistance if a project is important enough that specialized experience helps.

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Markus
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby Markus » Sun Oct 29, 2017 11:41 am

Hey!

mclstr wrote:Always fix things on the the individual tracks if possible. Trying to fix the mix at a later stage will not produce as good a result in most cases.


Very true.

mclstr wrote:I never EQ or compress on the mix buss. I will use a fast peak limiter and maybe a saturator of some sort if I want that retro sound.
Everything else is inserted on the individual tracks.


I have a quite different approach, I do a couple of things in the master channel.

For example some problems occur only in synergy of different tracks. Separated (soloed) everything sounds great but when e.g. guitar, e-piano and pad sounds are adding up in the refrain some resonances might occur. No chance to fix this in individual tracks: in one scenario you would have to add lots of EQs on different tracks to remove the frequency equally or otherwise remove the annoying frequency on just one or two tracks (the most resonating ones) which would result in unwanted frequency response in those. Just removing the frequency on the master bus is a very clean and lean approach.

I want e.g. the bassdrum to push the bass line to the background as soon as it appears. My approach is to use a multiband compressor. Otherwise I would have to set up a sidechain compressor controlling the bass line due to the bassdrum level. This would mean to only have interaction between them, the lower frequencies of any other instrument aren't affected at all. So having a compressor controlling different frequency ranges for pushing sustained sounds to the background for having room for percussive stuff is mandatory to me. Just an example, the same is true for snaredrum, vocals and the like.

There are other things which are best done in the master bus from my experience, e.g. controlling the overall stereo image by MS separation/control or stereo base manipulation. While I typically avoid things like you are having good results with, e.g. saturation. I think this is better to be done in the dedicated tracks cause I don't want do add harmonics to my bassdrum for example.


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