As I have never mastered to such a high standard before it was extremely important I did my research to make sure my work would be reinforced by academics and industry experts. First I learnt I should import all of the final mixed tracks into one session and then I should look at any last minute EQ changes.
‘Some EQ tweaks are almost inevitable during mastering… There may also be some remaining frequency peaks that cause harshness that weren’t spotted during the mixdown’ (White, 2012)
If possible these changes should be minimised for the master, but as I am attempting to get all 5 of my tracks to sound coherent there will inevitably be some EQ used to balance the tracks and make each song consistent with the overall sound of the EP , which creates a better listening experience.
Next was compression, as White states
‘Compression is routinely used in mastering, both to enhance the sense of loudness and density of a track and to help glue together the various musical elements’ (White, 2012)
As i was also going to be using a limiter (as described later on) I would mainly focus on compression to condense the track and in basic terms, to make sure the lows weren’t too low and the highs weren’t too high. By reducing the dynamic range slightly the listener would be able to hear all aspects clearly whilst still noticing which parts were meant to be heard louder and which were designed to be softer. I’ve had lots of experience using compression throughout my mixing process so the concept was not new to me, however it helped to undertake further research and this phrase from Shepherd really stuck with me.
‘The Golden Rule (of thumb):
If the gain reduction meter doesn’t return to zero several times a bar, you’re almost certainly using too much compression’ (Shepherd 2010)
It is very easy to overcomplicate something as complex as compression but I knew if I kept this phrase in mind whilst mastering I was aware what adjustments to threshold, gain, ratio etc I would need to make to stick to this rule of thumb.
I was also interested in the concept of stereo spreading, I had always made the most of width in my mixes by panning to the extremes and working inward to create a wide acoustic space but I was interested in the concept that I could make my mixes wider. This concept is shown below,
(Cousins and Hepworth-Sawyer, 2013)
I also read I had to be extremely careful when applying stereo spreading as by pushing the mix too far left and right you could lose depth through the middle completely. I aim to explore its use but will monitor intently and use it extremely sparingly.
From a personal point of view I had also been looking forward to trying out some tape saturation on the final master to give the tracks some warmth, which aids in giving the piece a retro feel that is consistent with the genre.
Finally, I also wish to employ the use of a limiter on my tracks. This is to ensure that if my tracks were close to clipping, in the worst case scenario the plug in would just limit the level of the audio. White comments,
‘Specialised limiters… are available that are designed to squeeze out a little more loudness from the mix while doing the least subjective damage to the audio. These often use soft limiting, emulating the way analogue tape or valves saturate at higher levels, prior to a hard limiter stage.’ (White, 2012)
I can achieve this with a maximiser such as the Waves Ultramaximiser shown below.
However the writer also states,
‘An alternative would be to use one of the new generations of tape plug-ins followed by a limiter.’ (White, 2012)
I intend to use both of these methods throughout, employing the Kramer Tape, Maximiser and Limiter to determine which provides me with the best results.
Following this I shall complete the basic practice of automation and bouncing to complete my mastering process.
Cousins, M and Hepworth-Sawyer, R (2013). Practical Mastering. London: Focal Press.Senior, M. (2011). Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio. Oxon: Focal Press.
Shepherd, I. (2010). 7 Crucial EQ bands to help balance your mix. Available: http://productionadvice.co.uk/using-eq/. Last accessed 15th May 2015.
Shepherd, I. (2010). Using compression to add punch, warmth and power to your mix. Available: http://productionadvice.co.uk/using-compression/. Last accessed 15th May 2015.
White, P. (2012). The Producer’s Manual. London: Sample Magic.