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5 Mastering Tips

Getting into mastering? Then heed these five tips

 

by Craig Anderton

 

Save all of a song’s plug-in processor settings as presets. After listening to the mastered version for a while, if you decide to make “just one more” slight tweak—and the odds are you will—it will be a lot easier if you can return to where you left off (Fig. 1). For analog processors, take a photo of the panel knob positions. After all, that's why smart phones were invented.

 

                                         

Fig. 1: Steinberg WaveLab has multiple ways to manage presets.

 

If you use loudness maximizers, don’t set the maximum level to 0 dB. Some CD pressing plants will reject CDs if they consistently hit 0dB for more than a certain number of consecutive samples, as it’s assumed that indicates clipping. Furthermore, any additional editing—even just crossfading the song with another during the assembly process—could increase the level above 0. Don’t go above -0.1dB; -0.3dB is safer (Fig. 2).

 

     

Fig. 2: Waves' L3 Multimaximizer has its output ceiling set to -0.3 dB.

 

Halve that change. Even small changes can have a major impact—add one dB of boost to a stereo mix, and you’ve effectively added one dB of boost to every single track in that mix. If you’re fairly new to mastering, after making a change that sounds right, cut it in half. For example, if you boost 3 dB at 5 kHz, change it to 1.5 dB. Live with the setting for a while to determine if you actually need more.

 

Bass management for the vinyl revival. With vinyl, low frequencies must be centered and mono. iZotope Ozone has a multiband image widener, but pulling the bass range width fully negative collapses it to mono (Fig. 3). Another option is to use a crossover to split off the bass range, convert it to mono, then mix it back with the other split.

 

      

Fig. 3: Ozone's image widener can also narrow signals to mono with negative number settings for a band.

 

The “magic” EQ frequencies. While there are no rules, problems involving the following frequencies crop up fairly regularly. Below 25 Hz: Cut it—subsonics live there, and virtually no consumer playback system can reproduce those frequencies anyway. 300-500 Hz: So many instruments have energy in this range that there can be a build-up; a slight, broad cut helps reduce potential “muddiness.” 3-5 kHz: A subtle lift increases definition and intelligibility. Be sparing, as the ear is very sensitive in this range. 15-18 kHz: A steep cut above these frequencies can impart a warmer, less “brittle” sound to digital recordings.  -HC-

 

___________________________________________

 

Craig Anderton is a Senior Contributing Editor at Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

 

 

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robertm2000  |  January 15, 2018 at 2:19 pm
Excellent advice! I've done a bit of mastering in my digital recording, and these tips are dead on. I kind of figured out some of these from my experience, but having concrete  quantities to use really helps.
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