I like what Jarno says, although it’s not what I have been doing. I’m just an amateur here, so decide for yourself, but I’m not sending my recordings out for mastering, and I’m doing the mastering steps on the stereo bus on each track separately without mixing it down first.
First slot is a compressor. I think this is really part of mixing, not mastering. A light compression here is the first time all the tracks are compressed together. This is not something that would be the same settings for all tracks.
Second slot is a simulation of an amplifier for a little analog distortion. I’m using TLS Saturated Driver because it was free and seems to work.
I’ll set these first two while I’m still doing the main mixing. Then I add Ozone to the last slot, but before I owned Ozone, I used the Cubase supplied plugins: Stereo Enhancer (sometimes - it can often be drastic in my experience), Multiband Compressor, Maximizer, and dithering in the very last slot. I also use the equalizer.
Main thing I’m doing is A/B comparisons with pro tracks that I think sound good. I usually find a couple of things, based on my complement of instruments, I guess: 1) there’s a lot of competition in the low-mids, and I usually end up doing a cut by a couple of dB at around 250 Hz and a boost around 75 Hz. Seems to clear the overall somewhat. 2) Overall mix is a little dull and needs a little high frequency boost at 7500 Hz or so. Again, it’s based on my instrumentation; everybody else’s is different.
In multiband compression, I’m just going for a little compression in each of the bands. I don’t find that presets make any sense here, because there is no way for the preset to know what sort of energy you have in each band. Others probably have a lot more experience here than I do. I found that the Cubase presets just raised the gain a lot in the high-mids and not much to do with compression. I really didn’t want random effects on my tracks.
For the maximizer, I was just going for a loudness, after all the other plugins, that matched my pro reference tracks. Athough, I found that most pro reference tracks are quite squashed, and I haven’t gone that far.
In the end, I might still go back and adjust an individual track, say eq, or compression settings, or fader in certain parts of the piece. That’s the advantage of doing it all in the same Cubase session (or disadvantage, as some would see it, because you never commit, and you can tweak forever).
One last point, I listen to the result on many different playback devices, and take notes. My monitors, of course, but also on a couple of different headphones, and in my car stereos. The result has to sound balanced on all of them.
Two books I read to help me: Mixing Secrets of the Small Studio by Mike Senior, and Mixing Audio by Roey Izhaki.
I hope others will tell what they do. I am still learning a lot. You can hear the results from the link below.