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Bristles

Mastering Chain

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I was wondering what you guys do on your master track? Assuming you have done individual EQ/Compression etc. in the mix.. I think a Limiter is pretty standard but I more mean EQ again for the whole track and what basic settings you go for? And I guess basic Compression settings? Or annnything else!! I keep getting caught in the trap of using the EQ and Compression "Master" presets and I feel like it could be costing me quality!

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My mastering chain changes every time because my tracks get recorded differently. My basic chain will have some compression and eq to balance out the levels. I'll have another eq to clean up nasty little frequencies that pop out and maybe one more to subtly adjust it again. Multiband compression is good and you can also use and expander and saturater. The limiter is at the end of the chain to stop the level from peaking passed 0 but don't push that too much because it'll sound like turd. If the mix is good the master shouldn't take very long and you shouldn't need too many plugins

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15 hours ago, LabRat said:

My mastering chain changes every time because my tracks get recorded differently. My basic chain will have some compression and eq to balance out the levels. I'll have another eq to clean up nasty little frequencies that pop out and maybe one more to subtly adjust it again. Multiband compression is good and you can also use and expander and saturater. The limiter is at the end of the chain to stop the level from peaking passed 0 but don't push that too much because it'll sound like turd. If the mix is good the master shouldn't take very long and you shouldn't need too many plugins

Thanks man, I'm still struggling to get volume. I mix and export tracks at about -12dB so I have lots of room to play with then with a bit of EQ, Compression and Limiting I get it to peak about -0.30dB but it is still so much softer than any reference tracks. People talk about keeping dynamic range vs loudness but my tracks still seem too far below average.. I'll try a Saturator and Expander though thank you. I mostly use free Melda plugins or Ableton native plugins.. What do you use and do you think it's technique or software that would the be bigger difference?

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8 hours ago, Bristles said:

Thanks man, I'm still struggling to get volume. I mix and export tracks at about -12dB so I have lots of room to play with then with a bit of EQ, Compression and Limiting I get it to peak about -0.30dB but it is still so much softer than any reference tracks. People talk about keeping dynamic range vs loudness but my tracks still seem too far below average.. I'll try a Saturator and Expander though thank you. I mostly use free Melda plugins or Ableton native plugins.. What do you use and do you think it's technique or software that would the be bigger difference?

Ah the loudness battle lol yeah it's a tricky one to get clean but once you get your head around it, it becomes much easier. 

-12db is stacks of room. Usually anywhere below -6 is good but the more the merrier. I've mastered in logic and in ableton and they're both much the same really. All my presets and chains are in logic so I'll jump in there if I feel lazy lol as far as plugins go, I use FabFilter Pro-Q for my eqing, sonalksis cq1, softube trident a-range and just a random bunch of compressors (whichever I feel like at the time), fabfilter saturn… they're the usual suspects but it varies. 

Free stuff and native plugin will do the same trick. I would suggest to pick out a mastering preset rack and have a look at how that chain is set up. it may or may not sound any good but if you flick through them you'll understand how it works. 

As far as loudness goes, don't try ram the limiter for the gains. Put the limiter on the end and as you start building your chain you'll hear it get louder and then you can adjust the limiter from there if you want it louder still. Just be careful with that because you can crush the sound so much that it sounds like dirt. 

When you compress or eq something you'll usually hear the original sound get quieter. To fix that, just adjust the gain to bring the level back to where it was. Don't push it, just use it to bring it back to loudness. A compressor usually is an auto gain function so click that and the adjustments you make will be compensated by the auto gain. 

Saturators just boost everything really. They drive the volume of the track but you can overdo it if you push it too much. 

Treat mixing like your adding salt and pepper to your meals. Just enough will make it taste great but if you put in a. It too much salt or pepper it'll start to compensate the flavours.

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On 01/12/2016 at 5:38 PM, LabRat said:

Ah the loudness battle lol yeah it's a tricky one to get clean but once you get your head around it, it becomes much easier. 

-12db is stacks of room. Usually anywhere below -6 is good but the more the merrier. I've mastered in logic and in ableton and they're both much the same really. All my presets and chains are in logic so I'll jump in there if I feel lazy lol as far as plugins go, I use FabFilter Pro-Q for my eqing, sonalksis cq1, softube trident a-range and just a random bunch of compressors (whichever I feel like at the time), fabfilter saturn… they're the usual suspects but it varies. 

Free stuff and native plugin will do the same trick. I would suggest to pick out a mastering preset rack and have a look at how that chain is set up. it may or may not sound any good but if you flick through them you'll understand how it works. 

As far as loudness goes, don't try ram the limiter for the gains. Put the limiter on the end and as you start building your chain you'll hear it get louder and then you can adjust the limiter from there if you want it louder still. Just be careful with that because you can crush the sound so much that it sounds like dirt. 

When you compress or eq something you'll usually hear the original sound get quieter. To fix that, just adjust the gain to bring the level back to where it was. Don't push it, just use it to bring it back to loudness. A compressor usually is an auto gain function so click that and the adjustments you make will be compensated by the auto gain. 

Saturators just boost everything really. They drive the volume of the track but you can overdo it if you push it too much. 

Treat mixing like your adding salt and pepper to your meals. Just enough will make it taste great but if you put in a. It too much salt or pepper it'll start to compensate the flavours.

Man thank you! That's an awesome explanation.. I'll have a play with saturation. I've noticed it can drive your sounds too hard super easy. You got me keen to master again. Very much a love/hate relationship with mastering haha. Once I get a song or 2 to the level I want I'll post for some feedback if you or anyone doesn't mind giving them a critical listen. 

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54 minutes ago, Bristles said:

Man thank you! That's an awesome explanation.. I'll have a play with saturation. I've noticed it can drive your sounds too hard super easy. You got me keen to master again. Very much a love/hate relationship with mastering haha. Once I get a song or 2 to the level I want I'll post for some feedback if you or anyone doesn't mind giving them a critical listen. 

Happy to help! Yeah send the track over and I'll definitely have a listen :)

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Not that I know a hell of alot about mastering but in my experience its all about tiny adjustments. If you have to do anything big (boost/cut anything by more than 2db etc) go back and fix your mix. this includes the drive on saturators, auto gains on compressors etc. If you have to put more than 1db boost on your limiter to match reference you've fucked something up somewhere, go back and fix it. Mixing makes it glossy, mastering makes it shine. Long chains mean your compensating for something that should have been fixed in the arrangement or in the mix. Make sure you do your arrangment/mix/master in separate projects to ensure your not focused on anything other than the job at hand. I know ive been in mixes in the past and tried to make arrangement adjusts. its bad to get in that habit. keep things separate. Long chains generally only happen with super experienced mastering engineers trying to a) fix a problem that should have been addressed @ mix and wasn't or b ) making lots of subtle adjustments to progressively build a particular sound profile (for example, mastering a track for record pressing). How a track is made determines musical vision, how a track is mixed determines musical feel and how a track is mastered determines its use. Mastering is 8/10ths making it loud enough for the medium you want to use the music in. 

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8 hours ago, AlexJ said:

Not that I know a hell of alot about mastering but in my experience its all about tiny adjustments. If you have to do anything big (boost/cut anything by more than 2db etc) go back and fix your mix. this includes the drive on saturators, auto gains on compressors etc. If you have to put more than 1db boost on your limiter to match reference you've fucked something up somewhere, go back and fix it. Mixing makes it glossy, mastering makes it shine. Long chains mean your compensating for something that should have been fixed in the arrangement or in the mix. Make sure you do your arrangment/mix/master in separate projects to ensure your not focused on anything other than the job at hand. I know ive been in mixes in the past and tried to make arrangement adjusts. its bad to get in that habit. keep things separate. Long chains generally only happen with super experienced mastering engineers trying to a) fix a problem that should have been addressed @ mix and wasn't or b ) making lots of subtle adjustments to progressively build a particular sound profile (for example, mastering a track for record pressing). How a track is made determines musical vision, how a track is mixed determines musical feel and how a track is mastered determines its use. Mastering is 8/10ths making it loud enough for the medium you want to use the music in. 

Cheers that's a good way to put it.. I've been doing a lot of reading and I think I've been using dodgy EQ settings in the mix stage plus leaving to much head room after mixing. I think I'm going to fork out a little $ and get one track mastered then see if I can master my own to that standard or at least close. Thanks for the tips man

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1 hour ago, AlexJ said:

if your going to fork out the money, get a track mixed properly rather than mastered. there is a reason mixing costs 2-3x mastering.

This is probably the worst advice ever haha

dont do that unless you're in a band and you guys need a proper recording season. As an electronic artist you can learn to mix and then it's just practice and experience that makes your mixes good. If you wanna spend money then spend it on mastering - some guys charge 20 bucks. If you land yourself a decent engineer you'll get good feedback for your next project. 

None of this is very hard once you get a grip on it. As far as gains in the mastering chain, that's totally fine. I do it to ad brightness, warmth or for whatever reason. You have to push the levels back up when you're eqing and stuff anyway. I don't particularly agree with pushing up the gain on a limiter but it's there so if you need to use it then use it. I use isotope maximiser and I leave my gains at 0 and use the threshold to determine the loudness

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mm maybe for experienced artists who get a temp mix pretty close but idk ive sent a number of tracks to get mixed/mastered in recent times and to me even though im writing something different everyday the mixes seem to make the most drastic differences imho. Maybe i just need to get another 100 tracks under my belt :teef: 

your not wrong in that you can get people to do cheap quick masters. but so could the presets of my ozone suite that i downloaded for free 4 years ago (dont stress guys i bought the full version shortly there after). i think there is more subtly in mastering which its true requires years of practice to get good at but in the end its only the last 3% of a track. i would argue a good mix is 12 of the last 15%.

granted this has turned into a mix v master debate and im soz guys my bad :P 

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You don't need 100 tracks under your belt to mix and good tune. You can totally send your stuff for mix and master if you wish but you music will become more personal when you're mixing it yourself. I say more personal because you clean up your mix the way you feel it needs to be cleaned up - hence how most people have their own sound. If you've spent the time writing the music it seems like a waste to get it sent for a mix. There is a small set of "rules" to adhere by when mixing but apart from that you can make it your own.

as far as presets go, a $20 master is better than using the "Modern Dance" preset or whatever. The engineer will actually mix the track to its full potential (if they're good). When I master I spend time to make sure the track sounds as good as it can. I'm not the best out there or have a full spec studio but I've done it enough to achieve pretty decent results.  

I would definitely say this though; learn to mix before you learn to master. You'll appreciate it so much more. If you're willing to put in the time, and it does take a lot of it, then you'll love making music so much more so come that 100th tune you'll be shredding the clubs with a whole arsenal of your own tracks!

Oh, and I think the concept of mastering has been overthought for too long. It's not as scary as people make it out to be. If you can mix, you can master :)

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You do bring up some very valid points however i will say this. Big electronic artists (not just bands), still send out all their stuff they intend to release to be mixed and mastered. Why should we (who may or may not want to emulate their success) do the same (we're talking the likes of flume, tommy trash, david guetta etc. fuck even sound nerds like justice and moby still have mix engineers. about the only person i know who is quite against sending music to mix engineers is Deadmau5 and im 90% sure that when he was signed to EMI he bitched and moaned about sending his stuff to engineers). Im not saying they themselves wouldnt have decent sounding mixes through making their own stuff but when your so close to a track from its start to its finished i would say its VERY difficult to step back enough to provide an effective mix that does the track justice. Artists (in my opinion) who do a large number of compositions are too close to their work, too familiar with the minute nuances that they spent hours to create when an experienced engineer will know not only how a track should sound in relation to the body of music currently out but how to make a more complete product for the artist. artists can only take tracks so far, while some may see that as a limitation i think its important for an artist not to loose scope. If artists are only making stuff for themselves sure, their mixes are fine. But their is a reason they release music, to please others, make them feel how they felt, make money whatever.. and assuming the artists is all knowing in their ability to achieve these goals...man that artist would have to be the most egotistical mofo out. mix engineers are important not only for their ability to polish a track over time (throughout the entirety of the track) but almost as an extra sounding board (at a more technical level) than say another artist or fan.

then again. mixing has a bigger impact for larger arrangements. so i guess it should be assessed on a case by case basis.

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I understand what you're saying. I think in terms of big artists getting their music sent for mix (assuming it's EDM genres) then I would assume some different reasons. One would be the label they're signed to (one of the major 3 - Sony, Universal, Warner) would have requirements that their engineers mix the tracks to their standards for release. It's not uncommon for larger labels wanting to re-mix / re-write demos to suit their catalog. Music is big business for them and they need to sell it so they'll have a set of requirement in which each track would require to meet. 

Second reason would be just to generalise that the individual may trust the sound of the engineer or they prefer a different kind of mixing technique. Some guys may go into a studio with old school hardware for that particular sound or go in just to get a second opinion on that mix.

Whatever the reason may be, it does totally come down to the individual. What I will continue to suggest is to definitely learn how to mix yourself so at least your have the knowledge. If you still wish to send a mix out then that's at your own  discretion. When I was getting my stuff sent out for master I thought that was the best way to do it. When I did some investigating to see what was really involved I realised with practise I could do it myself. Every now and then I'll get something sent out because my mastering guy might be able to pick at something I can't (it does help to have a fresh set of ears) but now I master most of my stuff. It takes me about 10mins because the mix is usually pretty decent and I save myself some coin. My tracks are at the same or similar level to other tracks when I play them out which I'm happy about. There's still a few things I could learn and sharpen up on but the more I do the faster those skills will get better

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Geez some serious food for thought haha. I think I am going to get a mix/master done once to get a reference. If I like it then sweet, I know the option is there but ideally I'd like to use it to hear what potential my music has and what I can work towards mixing myself. I think the hardest part of mixing is like Alex said, I spend hours tweaking little things and get so in depth with parts most people wouldn't really notice when listening to my track. I end up getting ear bleed and struggle to know if my snares/bass/keys etc actually are sounding better! I'll export the track stoked to play it and the first freaking clap and I'm reaching for the stop button because I have made it way too loud and tinny.. Or something like that! Muddy bass that I thought sounded sweet etc etc.

 

I do have to admit I do 95% of my work through deadmau5 Sol Republic headphones which have a great low end.. but are no good for a proper mix session. No doubt would benefit from decent headphones.

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Ah, I don't rate those headphones at all. I find them very mid heavy. Head into your local music shop and they'll help you out on a good pair of cans. A buddy of mine recommends AKG's but I can't remember the model so it's not help haha

Its very easy to overdo your mix and a lot of us find ourselves falling into that trap. We'll never get anything finished if we carry on like that! If you wanna get your track mixed to have a reference then that's all well and good. It's totally up to you at the end of the day. Ask the engineer for proper feedback so you have the areas to work on which will help you in the future

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5 minutes ago, LabRat said:

Ah, I don't rate those headphones at all. I find them very mid heavy. Head into your local music shop and they'll help you out on a good pair of cans. A buddy of mine recommends AKG's but I can't remember the model so it's not help haha

Its very easy to overdo your mix and a lot of us find ourselves falling into that trap. We'll never get anything finished if we carry on like that! If you wanna get your track mixed to have a reference then that's all well and good. It's totally up to you at the end of the day. Ask the engineer for proper feedback so you have the areas to work on which will help you in the future

Yeah I've had my eye on some Audio Tech. m50x's for a while.. look ok for the price which has been the issue for a long time now.

One other thing I thought of too.. When you mix a track people say -6dB of head room which I normally do anywhere from 6-12. Now is the idea to bring that -6dB or so of head room up to about -1dB or so from EQ and compression etc? So after you have done your mix and you are moving in to mastering it should almost be peaked? Then mastering brings it up some more without blowing it out?

Or

After you mix you still have about -6dB of room and in the mastering stage with compression and limiting etc it is now up to it's peak?

 

I think I may be leaving too much room for the mastering stage and I'm not bringing the volume up without over processing the original sounds..

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32 minutes ago, Bristles said:

One other thing I thought of too.. When you mix a track people say -6dB of head room which I normally do anywhere from 6-12. Now is the idea to bring that -6dB or so of head room up to about -1dB or so from EQ and compression etc? So after you have done your mix and you are moving in to mastering it should almost be peaked? Then mastering brings it up some more without blowing it out?

Or

After you mix you still have about -6dB of room and in the mastering stage with compression and limiting etc it is now up to it's peak?

That -6db minimum output is prior to the mastering stage, so your final mix should output less than -6db when you send it to master. That gives the mastering engineer headroom to push the mix. If you send something with -1db or -3db you don't have as much room to push the processing and you'll squish the sound. Having all that headroom allows the final mix to be pushed cleanly and you'll get a better result. 

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yeah get a decent set of headphones. i do most of my arrangements in shitty sennheiser can (because they are comfy af and can wear them for hours) then when i want to start nailing things out i use the studio monitors. Find its much easier (and more comfy) to do things at low volume in headphones. if im trying to block out noise and produce ill put in my shure inner ears (SE535, couldnt recommend them enough for the pricepoint). its good to get in the habit of mixing across a few set of speakers but have one main set that you have a good understanding of. For example, i know my sennys get alittle bass boost around 150hz so I put a little notch eq on my master when i use them (only about 1.5db) to just limit the 'booming' of my kicks. Now when i jump over to the monitors everything sounds flat (which in this case is a good thing).
As Labrat touched on earlier. learning your tools and skill development is still the key

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LabRat already got my vote.. Thanks Alex +1 for you too man. Man I need to get some room in my budget for a decent set of headphones.. My Girlfriend does Uni in the same room I make my music so I am limited to headphones 98% of the time..

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Best advice I can give for that is to hit up your local music shop and try them out listening to different styles of music. Some cheap headphones can be perfectly viable for mixing. I use iPhone ear buds as a reference because that's what majority of people are going to be listening to music with (including myself) and they're not totally terrible

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Just had a look around today and I think I'll try the Audio Technica IM70's. Never thought of in-ear monitoring headphones til today when I listened to something at work with a cheap of Samsung's lying around and my word was the stereo image dope! Not to mention I was listening to Kyle Watson's remix of Prophecy, what a banger!

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