Presence in mastering


blake eat world

a friend of mine recorded a project for a band and they took it to get professionally mastered at Freq Mastering. Everything on the mastered copy sounded more present, it was subtle like you couldn't hear EQing or compression it was just that every instrument found their place. Is this presence acheived by just running things through really nice analog outboard gear? Cause it really didn't seem EQ'ed. it's strange to me, as i master things but am no mastering engineer(i just pump the level and add in a little eq where i think it lacks).


Well-Known Member
Feb 12, 2001
Bloomington, IL
I've noticed in my project mastering that often times subtlety is the key. I Try to enhance what is there (assuming that the mix is good to start with).

A bigger project we did was mastered at a high end mastering room and that seems to be what happened there. It still had the character it came in with, but "better," if that makes any sense.

Stephen Paul

Dec 11, 2000
I have been mastering my own and other's stuff for about 32 years now, and here are a few tips to remember,

The goal of mastering is really pretty large. One is to make sure that when all the individual cuts are put together, that there is a consistency to the levels and the overall impression that the record was made within the same basic timeframe. Let alone by the same artist!

It is also in mastering that such things as phase, and other little bugaboos are corrected out if possible.

Finally, (I'm gonna make this brief as I'm actually in the middle of finishing up a mastering project right now before I leave for Nashville!) it is VERY important to remember that when you apply =anything= in mastering, especially EQ, to do it in TINY incremental degrees. Why?

Because you are applying the EQ, compression, de-essing, whatever, to the =entire combined complex waveform=. So because the mixer has already applied EQ, etc., you will find that only 1 dB of EQ when applied in a mastering situation, can be =easily= heard, whereas when you apply that same 1dB on an individual track, you barely hear it.

It's because everything you do is applied to the SUM of everything that's already gone before, that it's very easy to overdo the compensation in mastering.

Think about it. If you have a total of 30 dB of EQ near a given freq when you sum all the channels you added some 10k to for instance, when you add that extra bit in mastering, it can be the straw that breaks the camel's back because you've brought that 30 dB up to 31!

It's also very important when you master to keep comparing what you last did on the last cut to the next one etc. and try and make sure there is a reasonable match between levels etc. While you don't want all the cuts to sound the same, certainly, you also don't (unless you're going for that) to have everything sound all over the place.

The art of the mastering engineer, is not quite as complicated as it was in the days of vinyl and roses, because we can now put a ton of bottom on things and not concern ourselves with styli behavior, vertical cutter motion, etc., but the idea is to provide those subtle touches that a fresh set of ears and a delicate hand on the throttles can provide.

Also with today's mastering software, one nice thing is that mastering can be used as an extension of the mix... for example there are cuts I have where I literally selected each and every section where the sibilance was objectionable and was able to deal with =just that segment= of the waveform and apply my de-essing so selectively that all the beautiful high-end of the cut is maintained, while the sibilance sounds absolutely natural.

It is unfortunate that in the recording process, when we exaggerate things enough to get a nice edge on the singer's voice, the sibilance often sounds extremely unnatural, also to be avoided because sibilant waveforms are one of those things that drive digital filters NUTS!

So there are some pointers, now go experiment and don't be afraid of messing up, just don't do it to the original! And along the way I'm sure you'll discover that you can actually get some pretty amazing results. Finding out what the local broadcast limiter does to things can also be helpful, and don't always go for the loudest signal you can. You'll often find, contrary to popular belief and tech wisdom, that especially things with delicate percussion, sound =better= when cut a bit lighter.

But that's another story. Again, everything on my page was mastered in house by me, except where noted, and if you check the liner notes on the lyric sheet to 'Freedom Machine' I give a thorough and detailed description of my mastering chain, for those interested.


Yeah, that's a very well written primer. I'm planning to attempt mastering my DAW recorded project (if I ever finish it!) and I'm gonna print that little piece for later reference. :)