Mastering 101

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Mastering 101

Hey, folks.

Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com,
and mixthru.co.

Welcome to the Ask Weiss series, and this
question comes to me from a number of sources,

and it is all about mastering.

What is mastering, and how do I personally
interpret it?Well, first of all, I am not

a mastering engineer, however, as somebody
in the music production world, I am often

times responsible for creating the final master,
which means sometimes I have to put on that

hat, and I think that’s going to be true whether
you’re a producer, artist, recording engineer,

mixing engineer, mastering engineer – sometimes
we have to do everything.

Ideally, we can hire somebody else, but it
doesn’t always happen.

So what is mastering?

Well, you don’t master a song.

You master a collection of songs, and that’s
the crux of real mastering.

It’s figuring out how one record fits into
the picture of all of the other records.

So, when I’m mastering something, I pull all
of the songs in the album into a DAW so that

I can flip back and forth and hear them back
to back.

So for example, I might pull this record,
City Lights…

[song]

And then I’ll play it back with a record – say,
Hennessy Nights.

[song]

And I’ll take a certain note as to how those
records differ tonally, and what I can do

in the mastering process to make them gel
a little bit better, and if you want a concrete

example, I would say that in this particular
case, the city lights record sounds like it’s

a little bit more dynamic, and that the Hennessy
Nights record sounds like I went a little

bit harder with the compression choices that
I used when I was creating the mix.

So, I might choose to try to open up the dynamics
of Hennessy Nights, or I might try and squeeze

the dynamics together a little bit more for
City Lights.

Either way, I’m going to find a way to make
the dynamic sensibility make sense from record

to record.

Especially because these will be played back
to back.

The other thing is that there is a little
bit of a tonal shift.

There’s a touch more low, low end in Hennessy
Nights than in City Lights, and there’s also

a little bit more of that 1-3kHz bite in Hennessy
Nights as well.

So again, I’m going to use the determination,
maybe I need to take the 1-3kHz down in Hennessy

Nights, maybe it needs to come down in City
Lights, but either way, I’m going to make

these songs sound like they totally blend.

So that’s the big picture stuff, and those
choices come into play every step along the

way.

Once I’ve got those ideas down, the next step
is going to be the individual processing,

where I say, “Okay, do I like this mix?

How can it be better?

What can I do?”The key here is to try to
be objective, and that’s really difficult

to do if you also happen to be the mixing
engineer, which will often times be the case.

So one of the things I highly recommend is
to put a few days – in this particular case,

it’s actually about 2.5 weeks – in between
when you do the mix and when you do the master.

This way, you can come back to it and you
can go, “Okay, objectively speaking, how

do I feel about this?

Do I need to go back to the mix?

Is this something that’s just about done and
just needs a few tweaks on the overall track?

Where are we at?”So I’ll play the record
and I’ll try to be objective as possible.

[music]

So I think that record in terms of mix sounds
pretty well balanced.

It sounds really well glued together.

All of the elements stick out.

I think I did a good job.

That’s me trying to be objective, not me trying
to be egotistical, because sometimes, I will

do this and I’ll go, “eh, god, what was
I thinking?”But, there are a few things

that I think could be better.

I think there could be a little bit more top
end extension just to add a little bit of

life, excitement, and air to the overall record.

I think some of my compression choices were
maybe a little bit heavy handed, and I could

try to emphasize some of the dynamic of the
record by maybe putting a little bit of EQ

in there to reshape things, or something along
those lines, or by using compression settings

that have a very, very slow attack setting
to sort of enhance the transient.

Or maybe even using a transient designer if
I really feel like it needs that.

This one probably doesn’t.

So, those are some things that I’m going to
keep in mind.

I’d like to kind of smooth things out a little
bit maybe, because it’s a touch on the rough

side, but not much.

Just a touch.

Then the other consideration is I’m going
to want to get this record very loud.

It’s 2015, it’s a Hip Hop track, it’s trap
influenced, and I think that’s going to call

for a louder playback than some records might
normally, and I’m not the type who would ever

want to sacrifice groove and dynamics and
emotion for the sake of level of playback,

but at the same time, I also acknowledge that
this record might be played back to back in

some A&R’s office that’s throwing on the latest
Rick Ross record, the latest Drake record

or whatever, and they’re not going to compensate
for level adjustments.

They’re not going to be thinking that way.

They’re just going to go from one track to
the next, and they’re just going to hear it

as they hear it.

So, I don’t want to be out of that ballpark,
because that can cause problems as well.

So with all of that in mind, this it the treatment
that I came up with for this particular record.

[song]

So, my original…

[original mix]

Mastered.

[mastered mix]

So it’s a little smoother, there’s a little
bit extra low end extension, a little bit

extra top end extension, and the other thing
to note is that I’ve level matched these so

I’m not blowing your speaker out, but that
mastered version is actually 14.5 decibels

louder than the mix version, so it’s way louder,
and the important thing to recognize is that

the dynamic energy is not vastly different
than the original mix.

There is – if you listen to it, you do hear
that some of the dynamics are faked through

EQ.

That’s not actual transient that’s coming
through.

But the difference, the damage control, has
been effectively done so that it’s not like

the dynamics are gone from the record now
that it’s been compressed to all hell.

So, one more time.

[song plays, mastered and unmastered]

Cool.

So that’s how I see the mastering process.

Great question, guys.

If you or anyone you know has a question,
feel free to leave it in the YouTube comments

section below or on The Pro Audio Files’ Facebook
page.

Until next time, guys.

Mastering 101

http://theproaudiofiles.com // http://mixthru.co // The latest video in the Ask Weiss series: “What is Mastering?”

More Ask Weiss videos: http://bit.ly/askweiss

Transcript Excerpt:

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com, and mixthru.co.

Welcome to the Ask Weiss series, and this question comes to me from a number of sources, and it is all about mastering. What is mastering, and how do I personally interpret it?Well, first of all, I am not a mastering engineer, however, as somebody in the music production world, I am often times responsible for creating the final master, which means sometimes I have to put on that hat, and I think that’s going to be true whether you’re a producer, artist, recording engineer, mixing engineer, mastering engineer – sometimes we have to do everything.

Ideally, we can hire somebody else, but it doesn’t always happen. So what is mastering? Well, you don’t master a song. You master a collection of songs, and that’s the crux of real mastering. It’s figuring out how one record fits into the picture of all of the other records.

So, when I’m mastering something, I pull all of the songs in the album into a DAW so that I can flip back and forth and hear them back to back. So for example, I might pull this record, City Lights…

[song]

And then I’ll play it back with a record – say, Hennessy Nights.

[song]

And I’ll take a certain note as to how those records differ tonally, and what I can do in the mastering process to make them gel a little bit better, and if you want a concrete example, I would say that in this particular case, the city lights record sounds like it’s a little bit more dynamic, and that the Hennessy Nights record sounds like I went a little bit harder with the compression choices that I used when I was creating the mix.

So, I might choose to try to open up the dynamics of Hennessy Nights, or I might try and squeeze the dynamics together a little bit more for City Lights. Either way, I’m going to find a way to make the dynamic sensibility make sense from record to record. Especially because these will be played back to back.

The other thing is that there is a little bit of a tonal shift. There’s a touch more low, low end in Hennessy Nights than in City Lights, and there’s also a little bit more of that 1-3kHz bite in Hennessy Nights as well.

So again, I’m going to use the determination, maybe I need to take the 1-3kHz down in Hennessy Nights, maybe it needs to come down in City Lights, but either way, I’m going to make these songs sound like they totally blend.
So that’s the big picture stuff, and those choices come into play every step along the way. Once I’ve got those ideas down, the next step is going to be the individual processing, where I say, “Okay, do I like this mix? How can it be better? What can I do?”The key here is to try to be objective, and that’s really difficult to do if you also happen to be the mixing engineer, which will often times be the case. So one of the things I highly recommend is to put a few days – in this particular case, it’s actually about 2.5 weeks – in between when you do the mix and when you do the master.

This way, you can come back to it and you can go, “Okay, objectively speaking, how do I feel about this? Do I need to go back to the mix? Is this something that’s just about done and just needs a few tweaks on the overall track? Where are we at?”So I’ll play the record and I’ll try to be objective as possible.

[music]

So I think that record in terms of mix sounds pretty well balanced. It sounds really well glued together. All of the elements stick out. I think I did a good job. That’s me trying to be objective, not me trying to be egotistical, because sometimes, I will do this and I’ll go, “eh, god, what was I thinking?”But, there are a few things that I think could be better. I think there could be a little bit more top end extension just to add a little bit of life, excitement, and air to the overall record. I think some of my compression choices were maybe a little bit heavy handed, and I could try to emphasize some of the dynamic of the record by maybe putting a little bit of EQ in there to reshape things, or something along those lines, or by using compression settings that have a very, very slow attack setting to sort of enhance the transient. Or maybe even using a transient designer if I really feel like it needs that. This one probably doesn’t.

So, those are some things that I’m going to keep in mind. I’d like to kind of smooth things out a little bit maybe, because it’s a touch on the rough side, but not much. Just a touch.

[truncated]

About The Pro Audio Files

Tutorials on mixing, mastering and producing music in Pro Tools with plugins from Waves, FabFilter, SoundToys, Softube, Sonnox, PSP, Slate Digital and more. Learn how to mix using EQ, compression and effects like reverb, delay, saturation and distortion on vocals, drums, guitar, bass and more.

Mastering 101

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Mastering 101

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