Okay guys, I need to learn to master

The dilemma. I need to learn to make my final mix/masters sound as loud, full and present as commercial mixes.

I have some nice software for mastering. Waves, Oxford, Bias Peak Pro XT…plenty of software.

I can run my programs just fine. Cubase (primarily) DP, Logic, Studio One. So, I know how to operate the software and put in the plug ins.

I set the input to increase the presence, set the output so that it rides around zero, watch the eq and meters, listen for any distortion and when it sounds good in the program, looking good on the meters, I export the audio.

Drop my mix into iTunes, in a playlist with a couple other commercially produced cuts, mine still sounds lower.

In the software, I pump the master til it can’t be pumped without distortion, still my mastered cuts never sound loud enough.

I want to learn this, and admit I’m at a loss.

Thanks for any help.



First of all. Do you really want your masters “as loud as commercial releases”? Most of modern commercial releases are WAY TOO overcompressed. Mastering isn’t about making everything loud, but making all songs of your album to sit together and edit mixes to fit nicely on target media. And one general rule, I keep repeating to myself: do not master your own mixes! Unfortunately I have to break this rule all the time :unamused:

But to increasing loudness is quite simple. 3 basic steps:

  1. Tape saturation (FerricTDS, Steinberg Magneto, etc)
  2. Multiband compression (Waves C4, Steiberg Multiband, etc)
  3. Brickwall limiter (Waves L1/2/3/whatevertheyhave)

With these 3 you should be able to push loudness up to -14 … -12 dBfs RMS (early 1990’s levels) and still have quite clean master and even up to -10dBfs RMS (early 2000’s levels) with increased (but maybe still bearable) distortion.


Thanks for your time.

I have Waves Mastering plugs, Also just purchased the Sonnox (sony oxford Elite package)

I am pushing it hot, almost to the point of red-lining the meters and it is still below commercially produced recordings that I need to be compatible with.

What is the tape saturation you speak of?

Also, I am doing this in Cubase. Do I need a separate mastering program to get a hotter level? Should it matter, as long as the plug ins are there and doing their job? Does the program matter?



Try this,


There is no substitute for putting in time learning.

Could you also be more specific on your material? Electronic music has less dynamics then acoustic recordings.
I mix/master around -9 Db. Considered far too loud for most people here, but I make electronic music and Game music.

What you also could do is compress in stages. Compress the drumbus etc.
Then on the outputbus a fast compressor to get the first transients, then a second compressor to reduce overal dynamics, then a brickwall limiter.
Very important is to keep an eye on your analyzer. You will notice that a lot of headroom is eaten up by bottom end.
HP filtering all your tracks for bassmanagment is a good way to push the overall mix louder. The method is to remove low energy that has no real value for the mix.

The tape saturation mentioned above is a way to get the first 6dB without any artifacts. But you can’t get that result with Magneto. I think that is only possible with UAD studer plug in and such.

Greetz Dylan.

Could you please give direct links to these packages so I (or someone else) could really know which plugins you have and make recommendations what to use. I’m very familiar (13 years experience) with Waves plugins, but can’t find “Mastering” package. They have “Masters” and “Grand Masters”, though.

“Pushing it hot” is not the key to get more loudness. Key is to use right processing tools (the ones I mentioned).

It’s an emulation of good old magnetic tape recorders, which is very good and transparent way to increase your loudness figures. There’s truckload of plugins available for this:

  • Steinberg Magneto (should be found on your Cubase installation DVD, if I’m not mistaken). Quite good one, but maybe a little bit harsh for a trained ear.
  • FerricTDS. A free plugin with great transparent sound, but maybe not strong enough for extream loudness maximizing http://varietyofsound.wordpress.com/downloads/ This is The One, I’m using nowadays.
  • AIPL WarmTone. An old (free limited edition) DirectX plugin with great control. Used to be my favourite, but since it needs a DirectX -> VST wrapper to work with Cubase, I’ve given up with it since I found FerricTDS.
  • And dozens or hundreds of others … some free, some really expensive ones and everything between. Can’t comment them, because I’m not familiar with them.

Definitely not. I’ve found Cubase to be a great mastering program. I can drag my mixes to new Cubase project to different tracks, insert my mastering plugins to those tracks, put some analyzer on the main buss … and then just Ctrl-click SOLO through the tracks to see if all my (mastered) mixes fit along with each others.

You can do mastering with ANY audio editor. It’s not about the host program you use. And not even about the plugins you use. It’s ALL about how do you use them. Mastering is a piece of art, just like composing, recording, mixing, etc. And with just like recording and mixing, it’s great help (while maybe not neccessary) to understand the science behind it: how does the audio technology behind your DAW work: what REALLY IS loudness, compression, limiting and all those things you use while mastering.

Unfortunately I’m not able to give you exact “trick” for your mastering work. It’s impossible in this space and even if it were … I’m not competent enough for that. But there’s great books about it. Like Bob Katz’s “Mastering Audio”

But fist of all. Make yourself a big favour and stop thinking mastering as “maximizing loudness”. And stop chasing “the loudness of commercial mixes”. If your song isn’t loud enough, the listener can always turn the volume up.

Thank you for the serious replies. I believe i can learn from you.

I have Waves Masters, Waves CLA, UAD-2 Card with precision buss compressor, LA 2, LA3, 1176, Ren. Compressors, and this week I just purchased the Sonnox Elite (Sony Oxford) package, featuring the Limiter, Dynamics, Inflator, Reverb, and more.

I own Cubase 6, Digital Performer 7.23, Studio One 2 Professional, and Logic Pro 9. The tools are here to get this job done. I just need to get the job done.

I will study the resources posted here. I need to learn this; my new position demands this skill. I am mixing mp3 files for our website and I need to get the levels up for that and other cd projects.


But fist of all. Make yourself a big favour and stop thinking mastering as “maximizing loudness”. And stop chasing “the loudness of commercial mixes”. If your song isn’t loud enough, the listener can always turn the volume up.

This is not enirely true. If you get auditioned between other mixes then it’s not just a case of turning up the volume.

Again can you be more specific on the material.

Classic music, DVD material, Pop/rock , Dance all have their own industry standart.
read upon Dynamic range and Bob Katz metering if you are interested in that stuff.

I do a lot of Contemporary Christian and Christian Rock. The material I produce needs to be compatible with commercially produced product of the same genre.

Lincoln Brewster, Paul Baloche, Chris Tomlin, Generation Unleashed, Jeremy Camp

These are the artists whose styles are similar to what I am producing.

Thanks for the help.

Listen to Sir Dancelot.

If you must “master” your own material (which is not ideal for various reasons), addressing loudness on bus groups and getting it “loud” in the mix stage is probably good. I find that it works much better than slapping a limiter on the master bus… but it depends on what kind of music you’re doing and how you arrange your tracks when you mix.

I don’t typically mix for loudness but the way I arrange my groups makes it easier when I do that. For example, if a song has 40 tracks, I might have 8 bus groups where the entire song is on the 8 faders. Using Waves L2 or similar on 4-5 of those groups to pump up the overall RMS level sounds much better than slapping it on the master, because I can adjust the settings of each L2 to fit the group. Less destructive to the audio.

You (well, I) can hear limiter distortion and compressor pumping all over the net, on peoples mp3’s. It sounds pretty bad to me.

Then I would set the target around 12-14 dB.
To make it louder it’s obvious you want the spikes to be smaller because then the RMS value will increase.
First learn how it works. Mostly when you mute all the drums/percussions the dynamic range will drop.
If that is not the case then compressing before the outputbus on vocals, bas and guitars is the task at hand.

Compressors are not magical devices, if you want to reduce dynamics without artifacts then ride all the levels.
Try to get an overal same level on all instruments. This works for pop and rock music. In classical music dynamics are far more important but if you listen to a typical BonJovi song you will notice that although it sounds more intense, the volume between verses and chorusses are not that different.

So it all starts with a real mix, riding faders, and remove unwanted frequenties like bottom end on guitars and piano’s. If the mix is solid and coherent in frequenties then compressing will have a better result.

Example: you have a groovy basline that sounds awesome but a few notes are way louder because of the frequenty response. This will lead to unnatural pumping in the compressors. So first get that done.

All the vocals and instruments are on a fairly coherent level (in between and on itself)
Then listen to the drumbus. This will have a lot of dynamic range because the hihat has way less energy then a kick. The trick is to mix it in the total mix that it stays energetic but not to dynamic. This is a dance between setting levels, setting up the compressor, getting the attack and release just right. Don’t underestimate this stage, you can get 6 dB out of this! Sliding the treshhold up and down hoping to get results will not work.

Sometimes it helps to drop the level of the kick and emphasize a particular frequentie so it still cut’s through the mix.
Sidechaining the kick to a compressor on the baseguitar can also make it tighter in terms of dynamics.
All the above must work together as one mix, the EQing, sidechaining, leveling, compressing etc etc.

Done right and you have a solid mix that will already be in the range between 12 and 15 dB.
If you have a mix with a dynamic range of 20, I wouldn’t put compressors and limiters on that.
Go back to the mix!

With these figures you have a good starting point to use compressors and limiters on the outputbus to make it ‘louder’ without introducing pumping or unwanted artifacts.

Get a few dB with a fast compressor, another bunch with a slower compressor working on the RMS and then if you want it louder, ultimately you have to shred it with a brickwall limiter.
If you have a good one ( I use a precision limiter from UAD) you can go further then you think.
A lot of engineers are afraid to just shred of a few dB, they are looking a lot at the meters. But your ears are the judge of it. If it sounds cool, it is cool.

Now, where did I get it from?

A lot of trial and error, reading S.O.S, musictech and such for years, I have the DVD series from Tischmeyer where I got the most technical stuff from, very informative.
Point is, I make music for 30 years, mastering music the last 4 years and still in a learning curve, meaning, it’s not easy!!

Greetz Dylan.


A couple of questions that are probably obvious to you, but I’m still fuzzy.

When you say “range of 12-15 db” do you mean only let the signals bounce no lower than 12 and no higher than 15, so that it stays in that 3 db range?

Again, forgive my dumb-ness. The meter at full level is 0, so you mean somewhere under 0, let the range not drop below 12 and above 15 ???

And, I do not know how to side-chain. I see that option come up, but do not know how to do it.

When you said this: “Get a few dB with a fast compressor, another bunch with a slower compressor working on the RMS and then if you want it louder, ultimately you have to shred it with a brickwall limiter,”

did you mean put three inserts in the master chain? One a fast compressor, a slower compressor and finally a limiter?

I have played around with this for years, but now I have got some serious music making to do.

Thanks for your patience.

No, those values are the average RMS of the whole song. A very good source on mastering is not only Bob Katz’s book Mastering Audio, but also his website: http://www.digido.com/articles-demos.html A lot of very useful information there!

When you say “range of 12-15 db” do you mean only let the signals bounce no lower than 12 and no higher than 15, so that it stays in that 3 db range?

That is the dynamic range. So if 0dB is the peak then the RMS wil be -12/-15 under that.
If your peak is -6 the RMS value will be -18/-21.
Typicall you let it peak at -0.10. (a safety overhead to ashure that consumer converters will not have overs)
So the dynamic range in this case doesn’t tell you the peak.

The meter at full level is 0, so you mean somewhere under 0, let the range not drop below 12 and above 15 ???

the meter at peak level the RMS value is then around 12/15. So peak versus RMS is the range.
Cubase meters don’t have simultaneous RMS/peak read-outs Get this one for reference, it’s free:


And, I do not know how to side-chain. I see that option come up, but do not know how to do it.

set up a compressor on say the baseguitar and switch on sidegate (look up in manual how to do so)
Go to the Kickchannel and via the send strip you can now send the kicksignal to the compressor.
So now the kick levels drive the compressor of the bas.

did you mean put three inserts in the master chain? One a fast compressor, a slower compressor and finally a limiter?

Yes. This is one way of doing it though. You also have multiband and Newyork style (parallel) compression. All different techniques.

This is a lot of info, as mentioned Bob katz has a lot of good material to study.
I bought these:


The TT Dynamic Range meter was a really good freebie that may not be available for free anymore (dunno) but you can probably find something free and similar on the net if you search around … or maybe someone can just email you the dll if you don’t have anything good.


I almost hate asking (out of fear of being misunderstood, and my demo is expired) but… with all of these new plugs like DJ EQ… does Cubase 6 include any dedicated metering plugs? That seems to be kind of a no brainer.

Mastering engineers used to be called “balance engineers”, the balance was not balance as in stereo as the term pre-dates stereo but in the mix and frequency ranges, i.e. the mastering engineer controlled the equaliser

This is quite often forgot during mastering, and while a good quality mastering eq is better and a dynamic eq is preferred a couple of simple eq’s that can be controlled with MIDI are perfectly acceptable substitutes, this needs to go at the end of the chain because compression/saturation etc that is often used during mastering changes the tonal balance of the track

you simply emphasize top ends and so on, the amounts and frequency ranges can vary between portions of songs like chorus/verse and different instrument parts so on hence the need for dynamic or controllable eq but you will find that careful eq’inq will increase the perceived loudness quite a bit especially if applied to the top and bottom ends, phase delay “signal enhancers” like the cheap ultrafexes from behringer will also have a similar side effect of making things appear louder than they actually are without changing the mid range too much

No, and yes that IS weird. And not only plugs, every channel could/should readout peak and RMS values in an elegant way. Or an analyzer in the channel editor behind the EQ curve. That you can switch off, or you could show another channel behind it (in the same editor) in another colour for reference…Okay, I am drifting…

To the OP, if you want, I have the TT Dynamic Range meter for you, PM me your email if you want it.

Greetz Dylan.

Yes, I would like that meter plug-in if it will work on my Mac.I will send you my email address.

In Cubase, which direction do the inserts prioritize? From top (first in the chain) to bottom, last thing in the signal chain, or is it the other way around? Not sure if I ever knew this.

And, what buffer setting should I be expecting to get out of my system? I had been running at 64, but when I inserted the Sony Oxford Plug Ins I had to raise the buffer to avoid some audio clicking. I have a Motu Audio System, hd 192 that has been modified by Black Lion Audio, and a 1224 (just for extra outputs if I want to mix old school).


The inserts work from top to bottom 1 to 6 pre EQ, sends, level and mute. 7 and 8 are post.

Look at page 169 VST mixer diagrams for the full picture.

It would be normal to raise the buffer settings with more load.

The black Lion Mod does not change the Driver!