Mastering

I am curious to see what some people steps are for mastering. What plugins do you use?
What bitrate, settings, etc. Do you master within Cubase? Do you export your mixed tracks, then go back and import those tracks for mastering? I have mastered in the project, but I have found that a lot of people export the mix. Also, if anyone has any videos or master classes, I would love to watch. Thanks,

I always export out a set of stems into another mixing project and then the result of that goes into a mastering project so I have 3 Cubase projects for one song. The mastering stage is just getting the volume right and some minor tweaks. Often I get good result with just using IZotope Ozone but sometimes it wil be a chain of limiter, EQ, glue compressor and sometimes a touch of reverb

Plugins cited is not exhaustive, but indicative.


How many projects?
I use a single project file.

When we did our CD 10 years ago, I used a separate project to do all the mastering steps for a CD, like working out inter-track gap lengths, relative levels, fade ins and outs, crossfades, etc.

The world has moved on since then, and with single digital downloads being the norm, I find a separate project is not necessary for our relatively simple material. Of course, if there is lots of things going on in your tracks, your CPU capacity may be stretched, so you may want to render stems for import into a mixing project, as Keith99 does. You might even break up your main project if your CPU is stretched, but that will require careful management and keeping your wits about you.


Mastering 'hat’
I think that the most important step in mastering things yourself is to ‘wear a mastering hat’, so you may need some time to ‘forget’ what it sounds like, ‘forget’ what it took you to get it to that stage, and ‘forget’ your personal emotional investment in it. Let what the track requires to make it work dictate what is to be done with it.


Minimal mastering set
If you plan to work this way from the start of a project, you might find that you will record and mix so that there is not much mastering to do, except the definites (in plugin order) of:

  1. Optionally, some form of spectral and stereo adjustment, like using:
    __ a) iZotope’s Ozone Harmonic Exciter, or
    __ b) UAD’s Precision K-Stereo Ambience Recovery

  2. Optionally (really?) a maximiser (but don’t push it), like iZotope’s Ozone Maximizer.

  3. Mandatory and last, a ditherer/sample rate down-converter, like included in iZotope’s Ozone Maximizer.

The last two MUST be done post the final fader, so they MUST be within the final two insert slots on the output track in Cubase.

These could be in your single project, or in your mix project.


CD track timings
If you are making a CD, then you will need to determine what gaps are required between tracks so they sound like thay hang together. Advice (from where I cannot remember) is to group your tracks as if they are sets, as when played live, which may also help with your ordering of them. The gaps between sets need to be a bit larger than between tracks of a set, with about 1 bar of the previous track sounding about right.

I found that the best gaps between tracks of a set were a bar or two of the first track’s timing, though if the second track was slower, you may want to stretch that a bit, and vice versa.

Note that the gaps are set in your CD burning software, and the units required are a cryptic 75 per second. Who decides these things?


Mix once, listen everywhere
In Bob Katz’s Mastering Audio, he states that the only self-mastered tracks he liked were those done by someone who had auditioned them in multiple environments.

When we did our CD, we were fortunate to be able to audition mixes in a large reverberant hall (which even ripped apart some commercial mixes), a large room with JBL monitors, a large room with lesser monitors, my mixing area with my Tannoys, our loungeroom on the cheap surround system, and in our car.

I started with raw non-compressed rough mixes, and we listened to each refinement of the mix over all the environment. By the end, I knew exactly how the mixes would sound in each environment after I had mixed them on the Tannoys.

That is ear training and you CANNOT master unless you know how your mixes will sound in other listening environments.

What I found to work the best then was to put some compression on each track, to tame the typically large fluctuations in note levels and tonal balance that go with acoustic material, and then use automation to control the relative channel levels throughout the track. Samples/synths are already levelled so they will probably not need compression as compensation for variations.

With our newer material, I tend to permanently adjust the individual levels of very variant notes, and only use mild compression if necessary, unless I want a particular sound, like a Fairchild compressor on the vocals.

I explain this here just to illustrate that getting as much done right in the mix makes the mastering a whole lot more straightforward.


If you must post-fix tracks
If you must fix tracks after you have mixed them, then there are some tools you need to be able to do some surgical adjustments:

a) Adjust mid-side mix, so you can adjust the level of vocals or lead instrument relative to the backing, which can be done with plugins like the UAD Precision K-Stereo Ambience Recovery, though some compressors, like the Fairchild have it, which means you can compressor or expand the mid separate from the sides. With automation of the process, you can really make some differences to the balance of the track. There is so much that can be done with such a tool.

b) Digital EQ, to precisely control frequencies without introducing phase changes. Thes will be multiband parametric, with adjustable Q, frequency and level for each.

c) A utility like RX3 that really has the tools to remove extraneous noises, and even recover mis-hits on strings that mere level adjusts couldn’t handle.


You can mix and match mid-side mix, EQ and compression, by paralleling differently processed streams, say for mid and side, and then mixing them back together.
For example, if you want to isolate something mixed partially to the side to process it separately, you can:

  1. Use balance to bring it to the centre.
  2. Use mid-side to pass only the mid as one stream
  3. Use mid-side to pass only the side as another stream.
  4. Rebalance the sides stream to match the original balance.
  5. Balance the mid stream to its original position.
  6. Process each stream as required, like bus compression, reverb or EQ.
  7. Blend to suit, using automation if required.

If there are a couple of instruments in that position, you can possible split them into separate streams based upon frequency.
If you are only making changes that are not too dramatic to the isolated item, one can omit steps 3 and 4, and just mix in the processed item with the original mix.
It will not match a deliberately mixed version, but it can rescue a mix stuff-up.
Of course, you will need to be up to scratch with routing into and out of groups with sends.


For overall washes to a sound, some plugins are:

a) Bus compressor, to smooth out the sound, and add a certain feel. SSL and UAD have a plugin of the popular bus compressor that is on the SSL G series desks.

b) Analog EQ to smooth the frequency balance, especially to provide the gentle sloping off of upper frequencies if that doesn’t happen already.

c) For personal preference boutique sounds. There are heaps, and a search of your genre + ‘plugins’ will bring up some suitable candidates.


Hope this helps.

Aloha guys,

HUGE TOPIC!

Another approach is to:
1-Send all work out to a pro.
2-Pay the $$$.
3-Get usable/‘client happy’ results.
4-Party!

{’-’}

Not everybody is happy with the results. Experts don’t always have your best interests at heart, nor do things that you feel are what you want done to your material.

Some people just want to be able to do it themselves, to expand their capabilities, or to be masters of their own destiny. Whatever floats one’s boat.

At any rate, one has to appreciate what mastering involves, just so one knows what to expect, and perhaps make better mixes, which will save mastering money AND will produce a better result regardless. Throwing it ‘over the fence’, as anyone in IT knows, usually produces something other than what you expect.

It all starts with a good mix. You won’t need to do much after that. Cubase’s mastering template is a good start.
Like the expert say compressor for tone, limiter for gain and maybe some EQ. It’s that simple. Export, listen in iTunes for accurate commercial sound, compare with other music in same genre. I must say Cubase 7.5 is doing a great job :smiley:

On my master I always have a Linear Phase EQ to do some small cuts and boosts.
My chain is always

DMG equality:linear phase eq mode
Psp vintage warmer 2: brings out nice warm mids and some presence
kajerhause analog limiter: tested it against waves L2 and it keeps the low end better than L2 and it’s free!!
UV22HR:dither from 32/48 to 16/44100

I’m going to try ozone 5 on my next track and a/b I hear it’s incredible for self masters.

It is an excellent plugin. It can use a lot of resources with some settings though.

However, we did several listening tests of reverbs, including REVerence, Spaces and Ozone, and preferred REVerence for its warmth and real sense of being in a room. We used Ozone on our CD and were not really happy with the results. REVerence, using the LA Studio preset, with its cosiness, suited our current music.

I do all my own mastering and also some mastering for other people. Some excellent info here.

I definitely make sure I listen to the results in a few different environments, always try it out in my car, and also from my iPhone internal speaker. I also prep myself with some suitable tracks that I like in the studio before I start, and during the process sometimes. I used to use the Madonna synthy album from a while back but I seem to have lost that one recently… What I use depends on the material.

I export all my mix tracks (if I’m mixing) into a separate dir, this also really helps when you need to find them later!! Then I place them on separate tracks in a ‘mastering’ project. I usually send all the tracks to a group or 3 (because 8 inserts is not enough for juggling, see below). Then I can apply general plugins over the whole album, and also specific plugins on the tracks themselves (e.g. for a compilation from over the years they will probably need entirely different plugins to make them sound a bit more together).

For plugins I use almost entirely UAD because that’s what I’ve got. Sometimes I’ll use their Ampex tape plugin sometimes not, this depends if it suits the material. By that I mean that I’ll be juggling many plugins but swapping them in and out to see which ones sound best. I’ll always round it off with a limiter, and sometimes start it off with one too using very mild settings. The two limiter approach allows me to tame transients before EQ or other compression for example and then the 2nd limiter achieves the required loudness at the end. Other than that, Cambridge EQ, Trident EQ (nice and warm), and sometimes the Cubase built-in EQ. Multiband can help or hinder, but it’s a good fixer for uneven mixes.

Sometimes I’ll use automation too, say I’ve got a quite section and it needs a separate treatment to bring it’s level down after compression, easily sorted. Also sometimes I’ll mute a musical break for max impact, and maybe even make a transient hit stand out more using automation or an additional plugin. I don’t have a problem with surgical mastering if it helps the track.

I might also sneak a stereo widener in there. As per, it depends the material, and shouldn’t be overdone because it messes up the mono compatibility, but it can help to bring out synth pads or strings or widen the guitar to give a gold plated feel to the track sometimes. I use the built-in Cubase widener for this.

Mike.

What plug ins are people using? What do you guys think about cubase’s limiters, maximizers, how do you use them?

i am only familiar with the limiter in cubase 5 since i cant do shit production wise in 7.5. i produce trance(edm) so i mostly use limiters on the master to smash the piss out of tbe track…i leave lots of headroom before that though…dont like distortio like some people do.

i also use limiters for bass tracks or other tracks that i am pushing hard with distortion or.compressors to get a nive big sound. i use psp vintage warmer. the inboard cubase limiter and kajerhuas analog limiter. they all have their own uses.

Buy or trial this:

http://www.steinberg.net/en/products/wavelab/start.html

to start with !

and buy the book

Mastering Audio - Bob Katz

and

read it !!

Wavelab! A lot of the plug ins are the same as Cubase, but it’s well set up for mastering duties, especially if compiling CDs

While more in the realm of mixing, I think the points below are relevant if one is re-mastering older tracks, as well as providing things to think about when producing music ongoing.


A brave new world

Actually, today there is a BIG elephant in the room that is probably the biggest challenge to how we produce material into the future.

That is that a huge part of the target audience will be listening with earphones on their phones MOST of the time. Along with many others in IT, I would often spend most of the day with earphones on, while people loudly prattled on around me. And while commuting, it is just a given!


Why the challenge?
In order of importance:

a) The material is being listened to most often in noisy environments. If you thought the loudness wars were unnecessary, maintaining the need for wide dynamic range gets a bit challenged when a listener cannot hear the lower level material because it is drowned out by surrounding noises, despite the isolation provided by some earphones.

Some, like the Apple ones, just don’t provide the isolation, which is possibly why people have them up so loud that one can hear the repetitive ‘tshhh tshhh’ from the other end of the carriage. Lack of isolation is a two way street.

Wider dynamic range tends to make people turn up their levels, with the attendant risk of causing ear damage from the peaks, or they just don’t listen to such tracks.

Things don’t have to be squashed, but things need to be ‘said’ with a lesser dynamic range.
What I think will happen is that there will be a tendency to produce and mix with a more ‘big live gig’ type approach, where levels tend to be maintained, but quiet parts have more spaces, so it gives the illusion of sounding softer because the average levels are lower, but not the peaks. Many genres have progressed well along this path.


b) The stereo field is dramatically different, with earphones making things seem:
__ i) wider, and possibly with a ‘hole’ in the centre, the latter requiring an increase in listening levels to compensate.
__ ii) that the sound originates in the middle of the head.

After using Dolby Headphone on our Astro Gaming Mixamp surround sound playback devices to watch BluRay discs, I have been thinking that it would be good to make surround mixes just for earphone listeners. Unfortunately the licence fees for a Dolby encoder cost more than a full Cubase, so it is non-trivial cost-wise to even experiment. I have been looking at alternatives without much success.

Personally, I select a surround playback mode on my phone when I play music so it doesn’t sound like it’s playing in my ‘head closet’.


The new 'balance’
The biggest problem with all this is that of trying to produce tracks that work for both head/earphones AND speakers. Whatever happens, there will be a shift towards mixes that are:
a) less dynamic in absolute-level terms, and
b) less prone to spatial dependencies.

How that is done, while still maintaining some sort of artistic and technical quality, and not descending into blandness, is the challenge.

The need gets less when one has ‘calibrated’ one’s hearing over time. Of course, it pays to periodically ‘verify’ that one is still on track.

I don’t know if it is still done this way, but studios would tend to ‘standardise’ on particular makes/models of speakers that many mix engineers were used to, so that they didn’t need to spend time ‘re-calibrating their ears’, thus saving time and money.

If I were working with a new genre, I would be going through the multi-environment testing phase again, because the timbres may be different, and one must be sure one is ready for that.

Wave Lab was on sale last weekend. Only $50. That’s an excellent App for mastering :smiley:

Hi Patanjali,

did you checked this one? There is a try-before-you-buy version available.

http://www.newaudiotechnology.com/products/spatial-audio-designer/

You can use this tool to create surround mixes for headphones.

Cheers

@Coonilingus.

Thanks. It looks promising. I’ll try it out.

I’ve been wanting to try out the four channel REVerence presets.

I do my regular mix. I have 2 speaker out channels configured in the Control Room. One (Speaker Main) is straight out. The other (Speaker Master) is configured with my general mastering tools (in my case IK Multimedia’s TRackS-Grand). This allows me to hear what the project will generally sound like in the “mastered” environment. As a result, I can quickly go back and get that snare part or whatever may or may not be popping out before I export it out. Additionally when I export the project out, it is unaltered by the the Control Room channel.

I export out to get a more isolated mastering environment so I can focus on the sound and levels relative to the other projects that may be included in my collection as I am no longer thinking about the mix. Sort of simplifies things a bit by getting rid of all the channels and tracks.

+1 for that mindset!
Stop listening to the music and start listening for the textures. Walk around while listening and keep listening for stuff that sticks out … or disappears for that matter. Not in the mix but in the overall atmosphere. Is the general atmosphere muddy, clear, shrill, thunderous … ?

Some reference recordings to neutralize your ears and clean out the ghosts you start to hear after ear fatigue sets in also helps. You know you’re a victim of ear fatigue when every change seems like an improvement! :laughing: And while we’re on the subject of reference material, if you’re doing your own mastering you should be very familiar with what your monitors sound like in your room so you need a heavy dose of listening experience of all kinds of stuff. The more the better.

In this day and age when lots of people have 10-15 years of experience in listening to productions and compare them to other more famous productions it’s more than possible to get a good mastering done yourself. If you’re happy with the mixes and you shave a little or paste a little here and there on your songs in the mastering the benefit of leaving the songs to “professional” mastering diminishes for every year. It’s not necessarily going to be “better” as much as it’s going to be “different” and you may like the result or you may like the result not.

But on the other hand if you don’t like mixing and mastering or that part of the process just leave it to those who do. Then you can play music to your hearts content! :sunglasses: