Mastering - What's your approach?

Hi,
Reading up on some stuff I got off the Net on Mastering. The guy bounces his stereo mix down out to a high resolution WAV file and then brings it back into the DAW to do the mastering. To me that seems one way to do it, but another method would be to leave all data and tracks intact within the project. Set everything to mix down to a stereo output and then apply your mastering technique to that stereo output. An advantage to the later method would be that you could go backing into the mix rather easily and fix something at the track level.

Thus I am wondering what method you might use from above, or if you do it differently then how are you going about your mastering?

Thanks,
LB

Aloha L,

A couple years back (after taking several on-line courses and getting some pretty expensive gear),
I found that mastering is a process all it’s own;
so I sold all that soft/hardware and I now send stuff out
to be mastered by folks that only do mastering.

That being said most times I am very happy with the results but there are times
when, not so much.

Good Luck!
{’-’}

Well there Curteye,
There is an old saying, when in doubt farm it out. Fair enough. However I do not make any money at my “hobby” of having an in home recording studio. So it is not worth farming out on my end. I mainly do it for fun and to mess around with. That and “the band” I record is normally me and well to be honest I could use a lot of help in that department. While I may not have much musical talent I would hope I could learn some things that would allow me to produce better recordings.

So when you were trying your hand at mastering, how did you go about it? Does not have to be a long answer, but I am all ears if your willing to share.

Thanks,
LB

That is a boat I might think many may be in. I know that’s my situation. My band is me or a few other guys who play in a jazz trio, quartet or whoever shows up. I’m hoping to leave behind a few recordings for the kids and family. Unless they figure out how to playback tracks in Cubase, I’m SOL ( s#!t outta luck).

In a nutshell what I was attempting to learn about mastering was how to compete
and win in the ‘Loudness Wars’.

What I did learn is loudness is ‘perceived’ and this perception
can be manipulated by means of certain types of (believe it or not) distortion/noise.

One approach is to use multiple devices each adding it’s own small amount of
distortion/noise adding up to in the end what you and I
would percieve as ‘Man that is loud and phat’.

But there are many many other approaches you will find as users
chime in and respond to this thread.

Good luck!
{’-’}

This is a very interesting subject for me as we do both mixing & mastering, but I have to say right off that I find it almost impossible to master my mixes - I suspect this is because I am simply too close to the whole thing and if I run across any issues I tend to go back to the multis & rework the actual mix. Additionally, when I have done the mix I find it more productive to get another set of ears on it for the mastering stage.

That all said…
Forget all about trying to win loudness wars - this is very akin to the medieval frontal assault and the casualty rate is about as high too. Mastering (or so I was taught) should be all about preparing a presumably approved mix for it’s intended release media, and not - repeat again in bold type not the last place to completely alter the sonics & dynamics of a mix, and I think that more tracks have been ruined by bad mastering than have been helped by good mastering so the trick really becomes all about finding an ME who will do what is right for the track and not one who will simply make your ears bleed with excessive limiting for additional volume by shaving every transient & squashing the song until it screams “uncle”. They do exist - Bob Katz & Simon Heyworth immediately come to mind as ME who will do what is right as opposed to crushing it to death.
(BTW, have you ever seen this video clip? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-M0Vs4WauE
It’s absolutely hilarious, but at the same time cuts very close to the bone as well. I have long thought that a track done properly will get better when you up the levels, but a crushed one will merely make you want to turn it all off…and for reference as to how NOT to do it, take a look at the attached file below.
The top line is the vinyl needledrop, the second line is the original CD and the bottom line is the modern “remastered” version & it sounds as bad as it looks.
A good rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for and like all things if it seems too good to be true then it probably is - when selecting an ME, always make certain you get samples of their work before & after.
louder not better.PNG

Hi,
Funny video that indeed cuts to the chase. The pic you attached shows a pretty fat track. Not sure if that is just a track in the mix or if it is your stereo mix down? So what you say is really good insight, but I wonder, when you do master, do you point to your stereo output and master that or do you bounce the stereo out to file and then bring it back into Cubase for mastering? I am trying to pin down that detail as to me it seems like the question one has to answer early in the process, prior to all the voodoo that goes on after that point.

Again, good post and thanks for sharing!

LB

I just went through this decision process. For many, many years I would insert all sorts of plugs on the master bus as a rudimentary form of mastering. And even though I got better with it, I found that I became limited in what I could do usually do to CPU issues but also other things.

Then I saw Saher Galt’s video on mastering, and I was sold. In there he mixes down to a WAV file and creates a new project just for mastering. He duplicates the track and mutes the duplicate so he can very quickly do an A/B by soloing the duplicate. Then he takes you through the process of inserting compression, EQ, saturation, limiting (post fader). I modified this to use TDS and HDR (from Variety of Sound) in place of saturation.

The results are night and day. As curteye pointed out, you are forced to focus on the mastering because it’s not as easy to go back and tweak the mix. You will still tweak the mix in the beginning as you start to understand what mastering can and cannot do with the gear / plugs that you have, but the results will still be different than if you mastered on the output bus in the original project.

Not only this, but if you do it in a separate project then that frees up CPU which you can then use for other things like multiple reverb instances, etc.

Thanks so much Larry for the comeback and sharing. I was headed this direction and looked up the video you mention by Saher Galt. Just about to watch it now. I certainly need to do something as the sound I am getting is ok, but just is flat. Lacking possibly the dynamics of a well mastered song. Here is the link to Saher Galt’s mastering video in case others want to view it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5oLj0TLPag

LB

Ok I watch the excellent video on mastering. The FabFilter plugs he uses look really nice. Pricey though, but maybe not that much once you get into Pro type plugs. So my question to you is, did you buy any of these plugs? Or did you substitute in plugs came from Cubase or elsewhere? If they are no FabFilter plugs, then what ones do you use and prefer?

Thanks,
LB

All you need to know is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb6iMMuG4fE

Well ggc,
I think you nailed my approach to mastering of recent past. Thus why I am looking to others to see what they are doing. Funny though!

LB

I think the video is more about the process than anything. I have FabFilter, but even in spite of that I prefer the Variety of Sound plugs over the FabFilter saturation plug.

In my opinion, the most difficult component is the EQ due to the Mid/Side processing. If you can find a suitable replacement for that then the rest should be doable using any number of plugins.

i think its depends, if mastering a single song its possible to do mastering with the mix project, if u are sure what you do and have enough CPU etc…

but if mastering an album or several songs, i can’t see how its possible to master with each mixing project, in this case its best to have the mixed tracks in one project and adjust the EQ, volume, dynamics, color etc… for each track to make an album with consistent sound with no to steep jumps in volume, color ,and technical things like pause between songs, fades etc…

Yes the process in the video was very enlightening. On mastering plugs I found that when I compared say the FabFilter ones to what is in Cubase, there were some important things lacking on the Cubase side. Some of those things were little details and others were more pronounced. One thing I really liked on the FabFilter plugs was that most have a great GUI with a “scope” or graph section that looks pretty useful. I did checkout the Variety of Sound plugs too. Not as flashy but the price is right. On Mid/Side processing - Excellent info on this in the video and an area I was not really up on. So I thank you for helping me to understand it better and have an idea about how to go about making it work for me.

You take care,
LB

You make a great point and one I had not really thought of since I have never done an album. I have a few songs I have put together and even made CD of them a while back. They ranged all over the place in some cases due to just what your saying. I agree, if one is going to produce and album it would be far simpler to do it in batch mode so to speak and process them all in a consistent manor.

Thanks,
LB

Yeah, this is what sold me. My ears have never been as sensitive as, say, Tom Zartler or Mark Petruzzi, so even though this is not the preferable way in general to do this, I have no choice but to also rely on graphical feedback.

Well, not only the fact that they are free, but they are quite good too. The plug-ins are constantly getting great reviews by not only users but also by the recording websites (KVR, Gearslutz, etc.). FerricTDS (Tape Simulation) does a great job, and I really prefer SlickHDR over an aural exciter any day of the week. I use the stock presets that come with each.

This isn’t as big of an issue as you’d think. See Bob Katz’ “K spec” on perceived loudness. Stick to K-14, keep the RMS (as defined by the K spec) in the yellow area, slightly higher for louder passages, and a lot of this problem goes away.

EQ is different, of course, but if you’re really concerned about this then generate all of the 44.1 kHz / 24-bit WAV files and create a single project with each song imported on a separate track. You can apply the mastering inserts to each track and, combined with the K-14 spec, not only ensure that EQ is consistent but also that loudness is too. At the end of it, you can generate one huge WAV file that you can print to CD along with track markers or export each track separately for digital distribution.

FabFilter’s Pro-L (Limiter) will display the various K scales, but if you only need this and not the limiting functionality, see Blue Cat Audio’s PeakMeterPro. It’s very good and considerably cheaper.

Hi Larry,
Yeah I have to admit my ears are not the greatest either and this is a sport that really requires that. Probably in my case it has to do with 20 years or so in the machine shop. That was a bit rough on the ears. I have double hearing aids now and they sure help with voice. Just the other day I was experimenting having them in and working with both headphones and speakers while doing a mix. Jury is still out on this one.

I think I can get the educational discount for the Fab plugs. So at half the cost it will help with getting some of them. Thanks for the scoop on the free and other plugs you mentioned. I really appreciate the time you took to help me and others out.

Agreed on the final level of a song, the meters do not lie and it sounds like in our cases are a must. If one is consistent in their final levels it really helps when putting together a group of songs. I know on that CD I spoke about earlier it was one song in particular that was clipping and too loud. I had even less experience then and had pushed it up too high. I recall listening to the CD in the car and the offending song was in the middle of the pack. Gosh when it came up you had to be Johnny on the spot with the volume or risk blowing out the speakers. I chalk it up to a learning experience!

Take care and thanks again for you insight,
LB

First, Larry, thanks for the link to Saher Galt’s video. It was a clear explanation of the goals of mastering, and it helped me to understand what’s going on with M/S equalization.

I am sure I’ve posted it before, but I have always found this PDF from Ozone to be very useful and explanatory, whether you are using Ozone or not. Many of the concepts that Saher Galt is covering are also covered in the Ozone guide.

http://downloads.izotope.com/guides/iZotopeMasteringGuide_MasteringWithOzone.pdf

There have also been a couple of other threads on this topic. Here’s one with a lot of information:
http://www.steinberg.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=198&t=55816

I am using Ozone, and I do explain how I approach mastering (as an amateur) within that thread.

I also think that most if not all of what you need is already in Cubase.