Almost finished first song but . . .

Is there a difference between mixing down a song where you have applied VST’s (Mulitband Compressor, Stereo width, Maximiser, Limiter)(or whatever) to the Stereo Out, than to Audio Mixdown to a wave file, then ‘master’ (term used very loosely) the wave in essentially the same way?

Asked in a different way - once I have my tracks recorded and the mix/balance as I like - what the heck do I do next?

I don’t see there being a difference except that going ahead and downmixing the session would make it easier to work with in my opinion. Some more knowledgeable folks may know if there are any differences as far as signal flow or whatever.

Technically there’s no difference. Result should be identical (at least if you export your mixdown as 32-bit WAV… and even when exporting 24-bit there should be no audible difference).

But when considering the workflow things change:

  1. If you are just creating one song, it’s still the same. Just use your preferred method.
  2. However, when creating an album (or any other multi-song work of art) you don’t know the settings for mastering compressor/eq/limiter/whatever before you can compare all the songs at the same time. That’s one of the main goals of mastering: making all songs sound great when listened one after another.

Now … the example of mastering process (the way I do it):

  1. Mix down all your songs (no “mastering” done at this stage).
  2. Create a new Cubase project and import all the songs in different tracks.
    At this stage, you should remember you can use Control-Solo to exclusively solo one a track which makes it easy to listen one song at a time.
  3. Edit the songs: trimming, fade-ins, fade-outs, etc (I never do fade-ins/outs etc during mixing but leave it to mastering phase. If someone else masters a song, I write down rough instructions for them.)
  4. Select the song you think has greatest mix. This is your reference song (at the start … during the process, you may change your preference and pick up another reference song … and at the end of the process every song should sound good enough to be a reference).
  5. Insert mastering plug-ins to reference song’s track and tweak it to sound even better (if possible). Also decide your target loudness level at this stage and make this song to meet the target level.
  6. Pick up the next song. Insert plug-ins and tweak … at every now and then, press Control-Solo on reference track, so you can compare if the sound/loudness between songs is similar/different enough for your taste.
  7. Repeat 6 with all the songs. Also compare different songs to each others … not just reference song.
  8. Repeat 7 as many times as required to make every song sound good enough to be a reference for all the others and make every song to sit nicely with others.
  9. Export songs to WAV files
  10. Burn CD/convert to MP3/upload to a website/whatever.

Jarno,

Thank you for your condensed version. I’ve been reading the manual trying to grasp the concepts. I’m not an engineer but enjoy recording my own playing. You should re-write the book…

+1 What a beautiful/logical approach.

I think we just got the 'mixing/mastering chapter. :slight_smile: right on!

Good work J.
{’-’}

Thanks for the info!

I hadn’t really considered the concept of ‘mastering’ for a number of songs, but it all makes perfect sense as Jano spelled it out!

So, any tips on the best approach to simple ‘mastering’? I’ve read many posts and articles about the various combinations/order of compression/fx etc to use, but I’m finding it a hard balance to achieve improvement, while retaining the subtlety needed/desired.

It’s easy to slap on the multiband compressor and select a pre-set, but I guess it’s a good thing that I don’t immediately assume that my song is sounding better. Most times I feel it isn’t, but then this is where you realise you are at the start of a very big learning curve!

So my simple ‘mastering’ set up I’ve been trying is: Compressor (trying various ones), Stereo width, Maximiser, limiter. I have been using a bit of the strip EQ, but I’m not sure where that fits in relation to the inserts.

I have a question about the maximiser/limiter thing - but I’ll do another post!

Thanks all for the thoughts!

Another thing I thought of with regarding to ‘mastering’ a single song using the stereo out - it enables you to tweak the balance/mix during the process.

But, I’m not sure if this is such a good thing to be doing. If the balance/mix is right, it is right - leave it alone I figure.

I understand Mastering is more about drawing the best out of a song, as well as creating a equality between songs for an album. If I have to continually keep tweaking the mix while ‘mastering’, then I’ve either got an issue with my mastering skills, or the mix wasn’t too good to start with.

Have I completely missed the point of it all, or am I somewhere in the ballpark of understanding?

Yep if i have to master things myself then Jarno has pretty much nailed the approach i’ve always used… BUT…
i FIRMLY believe it’s better to get someone else to master material for you for several reasons…

For quite a lot of us it can be pretty difficult to be completely objective about our own stuff or projects we’ve worked on… also resisting the temptation to go back and continually fine tweak…sending it off to a third party certainly helps me to ‘draw a line under it’ in my own mind.
Quality of equipment and knowledge… QUALITY specialist mastering houses generally have a plethora of both, clue: look on the back of pretty much any commercial recording and you will see different recording/mixing and mastering engineers and studios…

Environmental factors… unless you are lucky enough to be able to afford or by chance have a building with great acoustics… for the vast majority of us it’s quite the opposite so mastering material in a room with poor acoustics which has been tracked and mixed in the same poor acoustic space only exacerbates things further…

If you shop around there are some REALLY good online services that aren’t as expensive as you might think, once you find one you like it’s possible to build up a good relationship with them which is exactly what i did a couple of years back… we sent a track off to about four different places and then compared them all… i won’t say which we went with as that would be unfair… quite a few places do an introductory offer too which can be worth taking a punt on…

… just my own opinion fwiw

Good advice here so far :sunglasses: .

I think you are definitely “in the ballpark” there. If you are just starting out with all of this, I would recommend working with a clean master bus. Concentrate on the mix itself and how individual elements interact with one another as you make small adjustments.

When you are “happy” with your mix, export it as a single stereo file and import it into a new project.

Proceed to have your way with the master bus until you are “happy” with your mastering work.

You can find yourself running in circles when trying to mix and master at the same time. It can be done, but for learning purposes I would say stay away from master bus effects until the mix as a whole sounds the way you like.

I’m anything but an expert on this, but here is my method.

On the master bus, I insert Magneto (Medium preset), Maximizer, Reverb SE (Large Living Room preset but with the Mix set to 5), then post fader I insert BlueCat Audio’s Frequency Analyst and Peak Meter Pro (K-14 preset).

This typically gives me a good starting point so that I can focus on mixing. The reason why I like to do this is that it allows me to get a somewhat decent idea of what my changes will do to the final mix. However, I will also admit that I don’t normally change the master bus much in spite of this. If I do, it’s to do some final carving of the EQ (usually -3dB cut at 500Hz and a presence boost in the upper bands).

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.

Brilliant!

Thanks for all the insights and ideas!

I too try to listen to mainstream music on my recording rig, just so I can try to gain a level of understanding of what I am aiming for. Minus the million dollar studios, pro musos, expensive equipment and professional mastering . . . . !

I’m just to post my first Cubase 7 song attempt. So feel to have a listen and impart wisdom as you see fit!

Lenny Lee doesn’t have a multi-million dollar setup but I would argue that his mixes are on par with anything you can buy on CD in a store. It’s not about the gear but instead is about your understanding of how you use it.

So true.

The old Motown ‘Hitsville’ studios was a good example of this.

Crappy 2nd hand gear but with great performances and ‘decent’ sound.
{’-’}

With Cubase, decent audio interface, pair of good monitors and few good microphones you have something which would have been “multi-million dollar setup” just 20 years ago (when it comes to equipment).

That is so true, I’ve been watching some old session recordings from Les Paul, Chet Atkins, some Elvis and even some old Motown. The room is filled with equipment that we all most likely have in a small home studio with the things that Jarno describes in 95% less space.