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