New to mastering?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Michael Fossenkemper, Sep 15, 2002.

  1. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I'm going to start a thread here for questions for those that are new to mastering would like answered. Software, hardware, monitoring, or just the approach some of us take when tackling a song. If i can't answer it, i'm sure someone can.
  2. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    OK Michael, I'll take the bait! :)

    I have always had problems getting multi-band compression to work well, and to be able to create a result that sounds even remotely "musical". I tend to just avoid them altogether nowadays.

    As a project studio, I master only for myself, or my close friends to listen to. For anything that is "real", I use or recommend the use of a good mastering engineer. Nonetheless, I would obviously like my masters to sound as good as I can make them.

    My mastering procedure (in Wavelab) is usually as follows:

    1) Fade ins and Fade outs, set silence at begin and end of track if necessary.
    2) BBE Sonic Maximizer
    3) EQ (sometimes the Pultec EQ found on the UAD-1 card, sometimes the Waves RenEQ)
    4) Sometimes a small anount of reverb applied to the whole mix...this I do pretty rarely, however..
    5) The Waves L1 Ultramaximizer
    6) Dither to 16/44.1

    I think my masters sound pretty good, but I keep hearing how great a tool the MB comps are, and feel that I am missing out on a great tool that can help my mixes. I have also heard that MB comps just help out "bad mixes"...

    So, now to my specific questions:

    1) Comments on when it is appropriate to use a MB comp.

    2) Suggestions on how to use a MB comp...for example how to determine the x-over points, how to set up the compression settings, etc.

    3) What is missing from my mastering chain, or on the other hand, what is superfulous (sp?)? Any comments on the order of my mastering procedures?

    4) How can I use some of the metering capabilities in Wavelab to give me better masters? (This may belong in a thread all its own...)

    Whew!!! Well Michael, you asked for it!!! :)
  3. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    I am very fatiqued right now..but my head and tail edits are the last thing I usually do.

    The impact changes of the BBE can throw off the timing cues of the vocals. What if BBE is used again on reproduction? Double BBE artifacts??

    Last..because of fatique and possable typos..

    It is about translation. No two mastering jobs (songs) use the same formula. Some mastering jobs (song) may take 400 edits..some can be done in 5 mins.

    Sorry so short...I left alot out..
  4. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Ok DH, I use multi band comps in 1 situation, bad mixes. If you are mastering your own works, it is far batter to bring the mix back up and fix the problem. If that can't be done, then break out the Multi band. How you use the multi band is based on your knowledge of compressors and your ability to hear when you've gone to far. With a stereo compressor, it's fairly easy to tell when it's improving or not improving your mix. with a multi band you have to listen a little more closely to what is going on because it could be just one band that is out of order. The less you work the compressor, the less problems you will introduce into the mix. first thing you should do is listen to the mix and determine what are the problems with it. is the snare too loud, the bass, maybe the kick drum is lacking punch, those ess's rippping your head off, or lack of ess's. Now that you've determined where the problem areas are, now it's time to set your xover points. most multi bands allow you to solo each band. solo the offending band and ajust the parameters to zero in on the offender. you can then begin to compress or expand the offender until you are getting closer to the result you want. play with the q, ratios, attack, and release to see how it effects the offender and non-offenders. unsolo the band, making sure that the others are bypassed. listen to the result in the mix and adjust as needed to make it fit and listen to what it's doing to other things in the mix and see if you can minimize the adverse effect while still maintaining the positive. In a bad mix situation there is likely more than one offender so pop on the next band and tweek until the good outweighs the bad. Now somethings can be corrected with a little multiband and a little eq. using a little of both will retain more of the dynamics and won't be as intrusive. This is going to be a process of trial and error until you find a combination that works best, after awhile it will come quicker. If you like the balance of everything, then try and stick with a stereo comp.

    As far as your setup, try playing around with moving your order of gear. this will give you more tools in your bag. sometime putting the eq before the compressor can achieve a result much different and visa vera. If you are using your BBE much, then you are probably noticing that your midrange is missing something. The BBe is a quick fix to put a little sheen on the top and a little phat on the bottom but it's a phase shifting dynamic eq that is kind of like crack in that it gives you a quick fix but when you come down you realize that it wasn't as good as you thought. kick it off and watch the midrange jump out and shake your hand. now try and work it so you achieve the highs and lows without it and I think with a little practice, you will find that the midrange is much more defined and clear. don't stop experimenting with different combinations because this will help you learn your gear and find what each piece can and can't do. Let me know how things are progressing.
  5. Ok,
    This isn't really a mastering question, but it has to do with the final mix before mastering, so I'll give it a go:

    I seem to have a real problem getting the low mids to translate on different systems. I'm mostly working on loud rock music, heavy guitars, heavy bass, heavy kick drum. It seems really hard to keep the mix from getting muddy without taking the balls out of it. As a Mastering Engineer, do you find yourself taking out lo-mids a lot and adding high end? Do most mixes you get present these problems??

    Basically, I wanna know more about low mids and translation, and what most ME's see and need to fix the most often.

  6. Doublehelix

    Doublehelix Well-Known Member

    OK guys, lots of suggestions there, thanks! If possible however, I would like some clarification on Bill's comments re: the BBE. I know you were at the end of your rope, but when you get a spare second, I'd appreciate a quick re-hash of that...Also Bill, I heard that a lot of people do their "head and tail edits" at the end. Any reason why it fits better at the end? And when you say "end", where exactly do you mean? After limiting, or after dithering?

    Now, to the BBE plug: I use the BBE on fairly low settings, and I always find that most of the presets *way* over-do the bass level and overall level, especially the "mastering" preset. I tend to start with the "mastering" preset, then pull the output level down a few notches since it invariably clips my signal. Next, I pull the bass contour *way* down since it always just seems to destroy all my hard work mixing the bass "just right".

    What the BBE does for me is to give my mixes the perception of better stereo separation and space. They seem to have a much better "3-D feel" to them somehow, I am not sure how to describe it. If there is a better tool to achieve this, I'd love to hear about it. I have a Waves Plug-In (the S1) that I think they call a "Stereo Imager", but I have never actually used it. Anyone had any experience with it? I had always assumed that it was used to add a pseudo-stereo image to a mono recording...Hmmmm...I just checked their web site, and it sounds like I should at least give it a quick try.

    With regard to the MB Compression, it sounds like you are of the school that advocates using it to fix bad mixes. If I have a problem with a specific area on one of my songs (bass/kick, for example), I can easily go back and "fix it in the mix". This is a lesson I learned pretty early on in my "career", and it makes a huge difference when I perform the "butchering" that I call "mastering".

    With regard to the age-old question, "Which comes first, EQ or compression?", I have tried it both ways, and for an amateur like me, it is easier to get a better product with the compression before EQ (with the exception of the limiter, which I always use *last* in the chain). My rationale: EQ is in reality a volume control for a specific set of frequencies. Let's say I EQ a mix to boost some low end, then add compression afterwards, it just ends up squashing the lower end that I just painstakingly adjusted. I know that you experts use both techniques quite effectively, but for me, I found I was just fighting myself by putting EQ first. My masters got so much better and were so much easier to get sounding the way I wanted them to when I put the compression first. I may try crossing this bridge again in the future, but for now, I am trying to keep it simple, get a quick master to see if I am on the right track, and then move on.

    Finally, any comments on how I could use some of the metering tools that I have to improve my masters or mixes? I have the Waves PAZ, and all of the built-in Wavelab analysis meters (FET, for example)? I'm not sure what they are telling me...or how to use that information to my benefit.

  7. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    That's a good question. The low mids are a tricky thing to get right. I think that you get into trouble when you try and make everything big. It all piles up on each other. This usually comes about when your processing a track only when it's solo'd. You have to remember that the mix is a whole. you can kind of look at building a mix to building a movie set. Most of the set is just the face of the building, without the actual building behind it. As a whole it looks like a town but when you break it down, it's mostly just faces of buildings. So what you do is carve each instrument so you carve each instrument to allow others to fit along side each other. Like placing the kick above or below the bass freq wise but not on top of each other. this way they work in harmony as a whole. soloing each one and you might think it could be changed but as a whole it works together. Same applies for guitars, vocals, keys, and drums. if it starts to pile up down there, try shaving off a little here and there on individial tracks and see it you can maintain the face of the track and loose the building behind it.
  8. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    DH, it's good that you are trying to improve but don't take everything at face value. Just because something quickly works for you, it doesn't mean it works best. Sometimes if something doesn't seem apparent, it doesn't mean that it can't work. Just screw around a little and see what happens.
    The 3D image your getting from the BBE is mostly a dip in the upper mids around 2 or 3k and this give you the illusion of space and dimension. I'm not saying don't use it, use it if you like it. But just know that I don't know of any mastering engineers that use the BBE because it's does weird things to the mix and the results can be better attained by other means. Try using the waves imager, it has a different sound and doesn't do as much damage to the midrange, but again there are different ways to achieve depth and spread. miking, eq, compression, rooms, etc.. used creatively will achieve a much better 3D sound. keep futzing and the more you futz the more you will go, "aha, thats how they did that".
  9. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished Member


    Just want to welcome you to RO. I look forward to having some good discussions.

  10. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

  11. Macaroni

    Macaroni Guest

    Thanks for offering your help.

    I've got the Waves Native Mastering tools.

    In terms of a logical chain of processing (whether or not any component is used on a per song basis), what are your opinions/recommendations on the following...

    Stereo enhancer > LinEQ > LinMB comp > L2

    Also, regarding dithering...

    I'm planning to master in 24/44.1, so should I use 24 bit dithering in the L2 at this stage?

    Then when I do the conversion to 16 bit for CD mastering, whould I then use 16 bit dithering?

    Any clarification of these chains of events would be appreciated.

  12. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Generally speaking, when your starting out mastering, it's best to keep your chain that makes life a little easier. The way you have your chain setup, every adjustment you make, will alter how things down the line will react. for instance, when you adjust a freq in your eq, it will alter the way your compressor sees the signal and may compress more or less depending on what adjustment you made. So to start things out, Put your compressor first and set that, then maybe add the S1 to compensate for the image colapse from the compressor.Then put your eq after those. this way when you adjust your eq, you won't mess with your compressor threshold. I don't know why you would then bounce to 24bit if your in the mastering stage at this point, you could just set it for 16 bit unless your using the 24 bit masters for something else. Once you get the hang of this setup and you feel comfortable with it, then you can try changing it around to achieve different results.
  13. Macaroni

    Macaroni Guest

    Thanks Michael. Your suggestions regarding the chain make sense. I used to have a Finalizer and their fixed chain was set up like I described.

    To clarify the 16/24 bit thing...

    So I have a 24 bit final mix and I want to master it. Is converting it to 16 part of the mastering process? I used to use a Roland VS-2480 and I would master the mix in 24 bit and then when I burned a CD, it would then get converted to 16 bit at that point.

    I think it would be nice to have a 24 bit master, as well as a 16 bit one, especially in lieu of DVD Audio, etc.
  14. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    If I'm doing a 16 bit master, I like to listen to the output at 16 bit while i'm mastering because it sometimes changes the way I might tweek it. whatever format i'm mastering for will change the way i'm mastering due to the limitations and effects of the medium it will wind up on. I've also found that the dither of CD burning software is not as good as a nice dedicated dither. This will also change the way it sounds depending on the dither used. Also, if your thinking about future release in a high definition medium then when that time comes, you will probably go back to the original 24 bit files and remaster anyways because of new technology, more experience, and whatever else may come your way. Again, this is just my opinion and i'm sure others will vary.
  15. Macaroni

    Macaroni Guest

    Thanks again Micheal.

    How about recommendations for audio editing and mastering software for Mac?

    I'm using Logic Platinum 5.3 and again, I have the Waves Native Masters bundle 3.5.


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