The Art of Mastering

Practical tips for recording, editing, and mastering.

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thebutant
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The Art of Mastering

Postby thebutant » Thu Mar 09, 2017 8:36 am

Mastering the already mixed down audio track seems to be the most mysterious process of sound engineering.
An area filled with secrecy.

So I would like to ask those of you here who actually do mastering - what is your procedure? What tricks have you come across?
Maybe we could learn from eachother. 'Cause to be honest, I think it's pretty hard to find good advices on this. And considering how well almost any record sounds, even the low budget ones - there is for sure someone with knowledge on this topic.

To start off, this is what I do for a beginning nowadays:

1/ I do as much as I can in the mix. Of course. Goes without saying. Then to the mastering:
2/ I start off with a Dyson compressor set to mid/low levels. Not too hard compression, but reducing some peaks. The Dyson compressor is a bit rough, so use it with care. Nevertheless I love it, it reduces peaks without the sound compressors often make, without the "now my head it hitting the roof" sound (if that's understandable). Just a soft compression here to make it easier to handle the:
3/ Calf Multiband Compressor. Here I adjust levels, make the track come together even more. I often end up compressing a bit more in the low and high frequencies than the mids. That way the mids can be more dynamic and playful, while the highs and lows sound a bit more snappy.
4/ Dyson Compressor once again. Not to compress too much, but rather to gather the track, so to say. Also the Dyson works nicely as a limiter. So then I know it won't be clipping at any point.

This being said, I often try to see if a saturator early in the chain could help bringing the sound levels up and add some texture. Saturation is a classic mastering tool, but too often I feel it's eating clarity. I tend to use the first Dyson compressor instead for the same purpose. I also use Calf Analyzer to see if any frequencies stand out too much, and then EQ to adjust it. Preferably as early in the chain as possible.

Somewhere on the forum I read about how some of you use the LSP plugins for mastering. So far I haven't tried them for that purpose, but I would very much like to know which ones you find useful and how you use them.

As said, this field is a bit mysterious, and I would love to learn more about it. I know the right tools used the right ways could get Linux audio sound just as professional as any.

singforme
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby singforme » Thu Mar 09, 2017 3:51 pm

learned a lot from:

http://themasteringshow.com

Esp. Episodes 1-7

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English Guy
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby English Guy » Thu Mar 09, 2017 5:07 pm

This is an area I still have a lot to learn about. What saturator do you use please. I am afraid my mastering is. Modest amount of gain and compression in Audacity.

The only odd thing I do is have the track in audacity with the drums on a seperate track and not compress the drums. I did this once by accident when I had to add drums that were missed off and I liked the sound.

ufug
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby ufug » Thu Mar 09, 2017 5:19 pm

What are your goals specifically? If you are distributing on the internet primarily, I think you are already on the right track to focus on getting the best possible mix, and then do a little final, gentle gluing like you already are. That's probably the best you are going to be able to do. No secrets there.

If you are pressing CDs (or especially LPs), hiring a mastering engineer is the #1 best use of any budget you might have IMHO. Getting someone with a good room with amazing monitors (and much more importantly, the skill and experience) to master something you have put your heart and soul into is worth it and will save you some regret. And if you really want to learn, ask to sit in with them.

My real answer though: get ye to Tape Op. Lots of interesting articles like this one that will get you thinking.

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GMaq
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby GMaq » Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:14 pm

Hi,

Semi-related...

I like doing my own mastering, in order to work on a level playing field with other platforms I invested some money in the Linux versions of U-he plugins (Presswerk and Satin) as well as some existing linuxDSP stuff I'd already purchased. I blend these plugins with some FLOSS ones as well, I'm not going to say you can't do 'professional' mastering with only FLOSS plugins but truthfully if you are releasing works to sell or distribute I think the odds are not in your favour.

Recently I was told about landr.com which is an online mastering service, You can try a free demo so I submitted a WAV file for comparison. For the best results I mixed the test WAV with no EQ or dynamics on the Master buss to a peak of -6db, this gives landr (and other professional mastering houses) sufficient headroom to work their magic. Listening to the online demo showed a significant loudness increase and punchy sound, to my ears my own masters were close but not quite as loud but the ability to choose the plugins in my signal chain gave a bit more 'warmth' so in the case of the test song I used to test landr was not the ticket. I feel for people doing metal, hip hop and EDM landr would be a great and affordable resource, I think more "rootsy" music may not be what it's algorithms are intended for but compared to the $100.00/song that professional mastering houses charge for a single albums worth of songs you could pay for a few years of a landr subscription OR buy an awful lot of pro-grade mastering plugins.

glowrak guy
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby glowrak guy » Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:10 am

I like to see a natural waveform, with the nuances of performance spared from
the battle for maximized loudness, which I liken to a gorgeous woman being kidnapped
to a barber shop for a butch haircut...the result would cause me to cringe a little at first take.

I watch the levels before recording, to know there will be a nice full signal,
and then if there are spikes, (which real velocity sensitivity paired with
ham-fists always ensures) I hand edit the worst of them, and boost the amplitude
to -0.1 and have another go, until I'm satisfied that the tedium will not bear audible fruit.

If I record the same style of music in Mixbus, I get a much more 'super-model butch'
type of waveform, but I actually like the results in most cases. Harrison seem to have sensible
defaults, so on my side of the mastering learning curve, I may need to waddle out
of the cretaceous period from time to time, and enjoy the time savings provided by
products created by those with deep knowledge.

I have some experiments to do with some favorite phase-modulation sounds that
spike intensley, to see how mixbus defaults compare with my hammer and chisel skills,
and then hit the books, accordingly.

Some of the old Laura Nyro songs would be good mastering class fodder,
'You Don't Love Me When I Cry' Vs the loudness wars...
Cheers

glowrak guy
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby glowrak guy » Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:15 am

I haven't tried the U-he Presswerk and Satin, beyond verifying the install,
but based on what I've read, They are probably the Best of Berlin,
among some stiff competition.
(chatter to erase double-post :wink: )

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sysrqer
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby sysrqer » Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:16 pm

Eq first, gentle boosts and cuts to adjust tone. Plus a high pass around 20 or 30 hz. This would normally be in stereo. Often I will have another eq in mid/side mode, cut the lows and boost the high in the side channel to clean up everything and widen the stereo image. Then gentle compression, sometimes set to 60% or so, this allows you to boost the average loudness without affecting the peak levels. Sometimes a saturator or some kind of harmonic exciter, again often in mid/side mode. Then a limiter and dither if necessary, leaving at least - 0.3db of headroom. Then check on other speakers, rooms, headphones, and obsess and adjust as necessary.

thebutant
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby thebutant » Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:36 pm

This thread turned fruitful a lot quicker than I expected. Thank you all!

An important question is:
ufug wrote:What are your goals specifically?

For me, the main answer is translation. That the track will sound as much as possible the way it was intended to whether it's played on a great hifi, in a car, on a radio, in headphones, on the laptop etc. Of course it sounds differently, but I guess you know what I mean. A Radiohead song won't suddenly have too much bass when you play it on a different device. Or a weird sounding synth when played on a mono radio. It's just perfectly calibrated. That's the ultimate (and probably not too realistic) goal for me.
A good start is of course to test mixes and music in different sound environments. I switch between 4 + stereo/mono. Helps a lot.

And even though I as everyone else am against the loudness war, I do want it to sound loud and clear. Yes, dynamic and absolutely not flat and compressed, but also loud and rich enough to not appear as thin or too soft when played inbetween other songs. Depth, richness and a certain loudness are essential goals for me.

singforme wrote:learned a lot from:
http://themasteringshow.com

ufug wrote: Tape Op. Lots of interesting articles like this one that will get you thinking.

This podcast and this article are real gems. Thank you so much!
The Mastering Show is really everything i dreamt of. Basically an education in mastering.

GMaq wrote:. . . the Linux versions of U-he plugins (Presswerk and Satin)

Also a great tip. I see you're not alone on recommending them either. Just one thing: The Linux versions? I can't seem to find them. There are native Linux versions, not just the Windows VSTs via Carla or something else?

Oh yes, and what I was also wondering: Anyone has experience on using the LSP plugins for mastering?

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GMaq
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby GMaq » Fri Mar 10, 2017 4:13 pm

@thebutant

Here is the link to the U-he native Linux Plugins: https://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopi ... 1&t=424953

These builds are called 'beta' but in my experience they work great, the only problem is on some systems there is an issue getting the gtk3 menus to show up in Ardour and Mixbus. If you look in the same forum thread at the bottom of page 55 and 56 there is a script that fixes this issue.

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GMaq
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby GMaq » Fri Mar 10, 2017 6:33 pm

42low wrote:
sysrqer wrote:Eq first, gentle boosts and cuts to adjust tone. Plus a high pass around 20 or 30 hz.


Cuts and tone ajust are editing instead of mastering.

sysrqer wrote:


Not sure I agree, 'mastering' is correcting anything that occurs on the 'Master' bus. Often yes dealing with compression and limiting but also in final Equalization corrections which occur as a result the summing of the individual channels in the Master bus. For instance I haven't seen a mix yet that doesn't benefit from some degree of a cut in 250hz-400hz range on the Master. You can listen to the kick drum , bass, lower keyboard octaves on their individual tracks and everything sounds great but once they sum in the Master bus they induce some overlap which can only be effectively addressed and cleaned up in the Master bus.

Correction in this sense is not 'editing'

thebutant
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby thebutant » Fri Mar 10, 2017 6:33 pm

GMaq wrote:Here is the link to the U-he native Linux Plugins: https://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopi ... 1&t=424953

These builds are called 'beta' but in my experience they work great, the only problem is on some systems there is an issue getting the gtk3 menus to show up in Ardour and Mixbus. If you look in the same forum thread at the bottom of page 55 and 56 there is a script that fixes this issue.


Wow. Thanks!

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sysrqer
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby sysrqer » Fri Mar 10, 2017 8:54 pm

Mid/side is the key part of what you quoted.

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GMaq
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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby GMaq » Fri Mar 10, 2017 11:16 pm

42low wrote:
Like i said i rather do that on the tracks as each track has it's eq and more.
If like say kick drum has to much base, why should the base guitar have to be cut too cause eq overall? I want to dominate each tone seperate.
And if done well hardly to not needed anymore on the master.

Curious how you look at my view.


Hi,

How I look at your view is this: "nothing succeeds like success" :D

If you are happy with the end result by doing EQ on each individual track then by all means do it that way, but what I'm saying is even when things are sounding how you want on each individual track you often (not always) still need a last bit of corrective EQ on the whole mix. My personal view is if individual tracks need very much at all in the way of EQ then I need to work harder on microphone placement and on choosing the original sounds, the less EQ needed on individual tracks the better the finished product. Any time you are using an EQ your are not only affecting the actual target frequencies but also the upper and lower harmonics, this is usually fine with minor adjustments with a few EQ's but once you start with EQ's on every track and also potential corrective EQ on the Master you are manipulating much of the purity of your source sounds which can have a negative effect on the overall mix, this is why I prefer to do the best job possible leaving the individual tracks alone, and limit myself if possible to only doing a minor corrections to well known, predictable troublesome frequencies on the Master mix. I don't claim this to be 'right' or 'the best', I simply feel through many years of recording experience and basic common sense that this method has it's merits. Note* I record and rock and blues bands with miked amps etc. I don't produce Metal, HipHop or EDM (but I sure love to listen to them!) so my comments are about recording actual instruments and that is where my experience lies. Producers of other styles may have radically different approaches and I certainly believe we ALL can learn from each other.

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Re: The Art of Mastering

Postby jonetsu » Sat Mar 11, 2017 8:52 pm

I'm not doing mastering yet. I have gone through the motions a couple of times, but I can\t say I'm doing mastering. The discussion here is interesting. One thing I know to achieve portability is that there should be a representation of every instrument in the 400Hz-2KHz range. For a bass it might be a transient, for instance. It seems that the 'audio mind' works in the same way as the 'visual mind' as it will fill in details that ar emissing in order to recognize an object. In other words, it seems that hinting at some bass can make the mind have the impression that there's actually good bass.

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

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

Michael White is an excellent reference on mixing and mastering. About 30 gold records, has worked with Withney Houston a lot. As with Ian Shepherd, he has some free material and has also paid courses. Here is one preview of the mastering course (8-part preview). Mike is about theory primarily, then how to materialize theory using plugins. He is not about use this and this plugin first.

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


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