6 DIY Audio Mastering Suggestions

Mastering is all about two issues: the gear and the ear. Whereas there may be an abundance of mastering-grade software program and {hardware} accessible as of late, possessing each the ears which are sufficiently educated to reap the benefits of that gear, and the data and expertise required to successfully act upon what these ears are listening to, is one other matter. When you’ve got invested in professionally recorded tracks, and need them to sound pretty much as good as doable earlier than releasing them to the world, I counsel you to hunt out an expert mastering engineer with each the ears and the gear to do your music justice. Even essentially the most achieved and profitable recording and mixing engineers usually don’t grasp their very own initiatives.

For much less crucial work, nevertheless, there are some comparatively easy issues that you are able to do to finesse your recordings — in all probability utilizing instruments you have already got. Most DAWs include EQ, dynamics and different plugins that may deal with primary mastering duties, and wonderful mastering-specific plugins and bundles can be found from quite a few producers, together with Waves, Common Audio, iZotope, Sonnox, Steinberg, Sony and Native Devices.

Along with modifying and processing software program (for the needs of this text we’ll assume you might be working “within the field”), you’ll additionally clearly want at the very least one pair of fine studio reference displays with enough bass extension (at the very least all the way down to 40Hz, although 20Hz and even decrease is preferable for EDM and different bass-heavy kinds), and an honest listening area that doesn’t considerably shade the sound. Skilled studio headphones may also turn out to be useful.

Mastering an album includes quite a few duties, together with modifying and sequencing your tracks, adjusting their relative ranges, inserting the optimum spacing between them, changing numerous codecs to 16-bit/44.1kHz recordsdata, and so forth., however the next suggestions are restricted to easily making your tracks sound higher.

1. Much less is Steadily Extra

The cardinal rule of mastering is that altering any single factor adjustments every part.”

The cardinal rule of mastering is that altering any single factor adjustments every part. For instance, boosting or reducing a frequency by even a tiny quantity can change the way in which different frequencies are perceived, and even small quantities of compression can have an effect on stereo imaging and the general stability of a combination.

It’s exceedingly straightforward to overdo it when making use of EQ, compression, limiting and different processing, notably when the change ends in a rise in quantity. That’s as a result of because of the peculiarities of human listening to we are likely to understand louder audio as “higher” sounding than quieter audio. Consequently, everytime you improve the general quantity of a observe by boosting frequencies with an EQ, utilizing a limiter, and so forth., it’s crucial to match the listening ranges when evaluating processed and unprocessed tracks. Many plugins have output stage controls, however you may also regulate the degrees together with your DAW or audio editor’s faders.

When you’ve utilized processing resembling EQ, compression and limiting (assuming you do) and acquired the observe sounding the way in which you need it, take a break and revisit the settings once you return. In lots of circumstances you’ll discover that easing again on a few of the processing, even barely, sounds higher to your refreshed ears.

Additionally, normally it’s wiser to chop frequencies somewhat than boosting them when utilizing an EQ. If you wish to emphasize the low and mid frequencies, as an illustration, strive reducing the highs a bit of to see if that achieves the specified consequence.

Lastly, though it’s doable to get spectacular outcomes utilizing processors resembling aural exciters, spatial modifiers, enhancers of assorted varieties, and even multiband compressors, they need to be employed sparingly (if in any respect) except you might be very accustomed to utilizing them.


2. Evaluate Your Recordings to a Reference

Select a recording that you simply assume sounds nice, ideally of music much like your personal, and use it as a reference. Does the bass in your observe sound as full and nicely outlined? Does the midrange sound “boxy” as compared? Are the highs as current, clear and open sounding? Determine the traits you discover most interesting within the reference recording after which try to emulate them, switching forwards and backwards between the 2 as usually as crucial. Simply keep in mind to match the listening ranges for the beforehand talked about causes.

3. Contemplate Your Listener

How do they sound on different displays, your lounge audio system, client headphones, ear buds plugged into your cellphone, in your automotive and in your exterior pc audio system?”

After getting finished what you’ll be able to to make your tracks sound their greatest, hearken to them on completely different playback units to get a way of how they are going to fare exterior of the studio setting. How do they sound on different displays, your lounge audio system, client headphones, ear buds plugged into your cellphone, in your automotive and in your exterior pc audio system? And if EDM is your factor, befriend the soundperson at a neighborhood membership and persuade them to audition a observe or two on the home system.

4. What’s Too Loud?

For years mastering engineers had been pressured into making recordings as loud as doable so they’d stand out from the competitors. That principally concerned utilizing compressors and limiters to drastically cut back the dynamic vary, generally so extraordinarily that just about each sound was the identical quantity. The so-called “loudness warfare” is steadily subsiding, nevertheless, partly as a result of as of late music-streaming companies and playback units from Apple and different manufactures typically auto-regulate quantity to take care of consistency, and loudness requirements have been adopted by radio and tv broadcasters.

In case your tracks are already squashed a lot that the waveforms seem as rectangular blocks, there’s little to lose by aggressive limiting. But when your music has a large or reasonably broad dynamic vary, you’ll wish to discover an appropriate compromise between retaining the present dynamics and squashing the life out of the observe. This choice is normally made on the limiting stage and the limiter is often the final processor in your sign chain. Strive setting the limiter’s most output stage to both -0.5dBFS or -1.0dBFS and adjusting the enter stage, threshold, and different parameters to style.


5. Grasp on the Highest Decision

In case your digital mixes had been produced at a decision increased than 16-bit/44.1kHz, grasp them at that decision and convert the mastered recordsdata to the specified decrease decision as soon as the method is full. One exception to that is mastering for Apple iTunes Plus, which makes use of higher-resolution recordsdata.

6. Again to the Mixing Board

It’s a mistake to think about that every one issues with a recording might be remedied on the mastering stage. Typically, it’s truly faster and simpler to return and handle issues on the combine stage, and generally that’s the one choice, regardless of how a lot of a trouble it could be.

I hope these common suggestions have been helpful. For a complete introduction to mastering, and audio on the whole, I enthusiastically suggest Bob Katz’s “Mastering Audio, the Artwork and the Science.”


Concerning the Writer:

Barry Cleveland
Barry Cleveland

Barry Cleveland is a San Francisco Bay Space-based journalist, writer, guitarist and composer. He was an editor at Guitar Participant journal for 12 years and at Combine and Digital Musician magazines earlier than that. His e-book, “Joe Meek’s Daring Strategies” is a cult basic, and he additionally contributed to the e-book “Entire Lotta Led Zeppelin.” He has launched 5 albums and composes music for movie and tv.

Photograph by David Preston

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