Mastering question


I am new to mastering, and I am mastering some acoustic tracks I have recorded. The setting is two acoustic comp guitars, an upright bass, and a acoustic lead guitar.

When raising the volume of a track, making it load, I have understand people use the maximizer plugin?

I wonder, when raising the volume of the track with help of the maximizer, does the audio gets compressed?

Since this is acoustic music, I want to keep some dynamics in it. Would it be different sound-vice if I raised the volume with the master level faders in the master section instead? Or is this not a good way of raising the volume of a track?


Just a suggestion but if you are serious about learning mastering I suggest you get this book and read it cover to cover

It will answer all your questions and get you started in the right direction.

As to normalizing tracks…it is a big no no with acoustic music.

Thanks, I actually ordered the book now.

Normalizing? Is that the same as maximizing?

But is it a better idea to raise the volume with the master level faders in the master section instead then?


Normalizing raises the loudest peak to 0 dbfs or any specified value. It doesn’t compress the sound.

Maximizers use limiting and/or clipping to raise the apparent level. Even though the peaks are not going over 0 dbfs, the RMS value is much higher than a normalized file, thus sounding louder.
It has it’s drawbacks. Abusing a maximizer makes the sound harsh and reduces dynamics.

Thanks for that info. So normalizing is the exact same thing as raising the volume on the master fader, except that when using the normalizer you set a value that it raises the loudest peak to?

Then I guess it is a better idea to raise the volume of acoustic music with a normalizer, rather than using a maximizer/limiter. If then is needed, I can use a maximizer to raise it just a little bit more. In that way the music won’t be compressed that much, and acoustic music sounds better less compressed.

Do you agree with me?

I rarely use normalize (destructively). I use limiters but keep a close ear/eye on them.
Depending on the music it’s not necessarily bad to use limiting. Even for classical music.
Sometimes you have just one loud hit on the whole piece and you’d have to lower the overall volume a few dbs.
I just split the clip and treat that section separately either with limiting or just volume.
That’s the magic of the montage because it’s non destructive. If you have to come back for a little tweak, it takes a few seconds to adjust. One of the great tools of Wavelab is RMS normalize (on montage) it take into account the average of the whole file and not the peaks.

Yes, with normalizing you select the exact peak level you want the audio to be. With the master fader, you are either adding or subtracting a set amount of gain (the master fader is just a volume control - it is capable of raising the level too high into clipping though, so be careful - keep your eyes on the peak/RMS meters). When mastering, I usually just keep the master fader at 0db, I don’t normalize, and I do my gain adjustments “usually” with a limiter or compressor.

I do not agree. Use your ears - the answer is do what sounds best. Acoustic music does not ALWAYS sound better uncompressed or compressed. If it needs compression, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t use it. You need to learn to know when to use compression, how much compression to use, and how to adjust the compression so it sounds good. Likewise for limiting - you need to learn when to use it, how much to use, and how to adjust it so it sounds as good as it can. I like what compression and limiting can do for music… but it’s not ALWAYS appropriate.

I suggest spending some time analyzing your favorite music to learn something about how it was delivered. Analyze it in Wavelab - pick maybe your 10 or 20 favorite songs - probably the CD versions as those are going to be the highest quality - unless you have access to 24-bit flac files or something. Anyway, use Wavelab’s meters and/or analysis tools to analyze them - find the maximum peak level. Find the maximum RMS average level. If all of your favorite songs were mastered with peaks hitting 0db, and RMS levels hovering at -6 RMS, you better be prepared to learn how to make things loud, while still sounding good - and that can be really challenging. If all of your favorite music is hovering at -24 RMS with peaks in the -6 db range, limiting is probably not necessary. Compression? Maybe - that depends on whether you like the sound.

You have a lot to learn - but don’t be discouraged. Just dive in and start learning. You’ll figure it out. Like anything in life, to get really good at something just takes a lot of time - many professional mastering engineers have spent thousands and thousands of hours learning to do what they do. No matter how smart you are - no matter who you know - you are not going to be as good as them until you have experience. Just put in your thousand hours - or ten thousand hours or whatever, and you’ll get there. In the meantime, if you need to master your stuff, just do the best you can with your knowledge - experiment with the information people give you - read Bob Katz’s book, read manuals, etc. Prepare to fail - A LOT. You will be wondering why your stuff isn’t quite as loud as professional masters - why it doesn’t sound quite as good… You’ll try things to compete - most of your ideas will fail. Some will succeed. All of those failures and successes will teach. That’s the best way to learn… and sometimes it’s a painful way to learn. You WILL make mistakes. Sorry, but it’s true. If you never make mistakes, you’re probably not really learning much. After you’ve failed A LOT, you will start to get pretty good… And one day, you’ll be able to do really good mastering and you’ll be the one helping people like yourself on a forum somewhere. Anyway, keep posting questions like this on forums… Don’t be afraid to appear foolish asking things… Everyone starts without knowledge until they build it.

A good place to start when mastering? Do the analysis as I mention above on maybe 10 or 20 of your favorite songs - from different styles too! Use Wavelab to import them from CD. Save those song files on your computer and use them to reference as you work. Then try to master like them - try to copy them. For now, use limiting if you need to make things loud. Use compression if you need to smooth things out or control how punchy something is… or control overall volume across the full length of a track… Use both compression and limiting if you feel it needs it. Don’t worry about normalizing… Normalizing is kind of pointless really… I rarely use it.

Well, good luck… and don’t forget to have some fun doing it! I love it when I learn something new… even if it’s sometimes really humbling. :slight_smile:

Thank you for your advices! I will follow them. Regarding this with importing songs into wavelab to use as reference. I don’t have many cd’s anymore, but I actually imported some songs for reference yesterday, but I bought them from itunes, so they are downloaded as mp4. But I guess the RMS and maximum peak level will be the same as if the files were 24-bit flac as you said or maybe wav or whatever? The only different is the quality of the audio?

Test and see :wink: