Mastering a punk/metal album using freeware mastering plugs

Member for

16 years 3 months
Submitted by RockSkar on Sat, 01/01/2005 - 22:47


Recently recorded a punk / metal album. The album has the feel of an old-school punk band but also has a real metal type sound with big guitar and tight drums. It's mainly me on instruments, with special guests

This album was recorded on my PC using Logic and a Q10 as well as a wide variety of medium grade microphones. The actual tracking was done very well, with healthy levels, minimal clipping and very minimal background noise.

I have started to master the album but have not really concentrated on mastering it yet. I am just basically playing around with a few techniques and letting my ears get used to it for a few days just to hear different possibilities.

The sound coming straight off the mixes is rather tight and I am actually pretty satisfied with the overall "sound" of the music, but I know that there are definitely mastering techniques that could bring out more intensity and clarity to the instruments.

I know basically what I am looking for: A tight sounding recording with a solid and precise bottom end and "air" in the high end that doesn't make it feel "canned." I'd like this album to sound somewhere near System of a Down or Slipnot type production but I know it will not be as loud or good as that. I'd like somewhere close to a pro sound level.

The Mastering tools I currently have in my arsenal include:
C3 Multiband Comp, Endorphin, SlimShowSlider Linear Phase Graphic Eq's versions 1 and 2, as well as Logic Audio's built-in plugins (the multicompressor isn't too bad) and I also have Cooledit Pro 2.0 which has some useful tools like Filter, Eq and a Hard Limiter. I'm sure you are all aware of these tools moreso than I am.

If there are any other freeware mastering tools that you think I could benefit from, let me know. I would even consider spending some money on a plug if it was totally a useful tool.

I know that mastering each song will take a lot of listening, tweaking and reading, that's no problem...I have patience. And, I know there is no "easy answer" to mastering, that it all comes down to what is right for each individual song.

I'm not going to profess to being a master at mastering, but I do know some of the basics, most of the terminology and some of the principals of compression, limiting, reverb, eq, enhancers, etc.

But, what I am asking is pretty simple, and it is mainly out of interest in learning that I ask, I am not necessarily looking for an "easy answer" but moreso asking as a basis to learn from. I have read mastering articles up the YIN YANG but they are fairly "generic" and don't give me real world answers that apply directly to my song.

OK Finally, here is my direct question: I just want to know, basically, what is the general technique that you might use on my songs to give it a decent master, using the freeware and purchased software that I mentioned above.

Here is an example of a couple of the basic mixes, of course they may have to be tweaked as well. I'm not asking for "easy answers" for each song, but more just some general theories and philosophies that I can use on the album.

Oh ya, I have no doubts that this will not turn out to be a "major label" quality recording. I just want to master it lightly so that it at least sounds fairly "normal" when we give them out at gigs and stuff.

I'm actually really interested in what you guys will say about this. Oh sure, I could put the Endorphin on and turn the level up to 99% and call it a day, but that's not what it's about it, is it? If you guys say "your mixes suck, go back and fix them" then that's what's I'm missing. If you say "probably just a bit of eq will help that music" then i'll try tweaking in a bit of eq. I'm just looking for general hints and suggestions to think about, not how to master each individual song, because there are 30 songs on the albuM!…

Member for

18 years 7 months

Michael Fossenkemper

Sun, 01/02/2005 - 08:56

Well if you've got the time, the first thing you need to do is start reading. Begin with Bob Katz's book. Then there are thousands of pages on this forum to scan though. Then you have to play with the tools you have to see where they can go, find what they can't do and then look for the ones that will fill the void. You have to understand how different tools work and what they are capable of doing.

The one piece of gear, the only piece infact that I would recommend, is a pair of the best full range monitors you can afford. This will do more than any plugin that you can buy.

Member for

17 years 8 months


Sun, 01/02/2005 - 10:56

Michael Fossenkemper wrote:
The one piece of gear, the only piece infact that I would recommend, is a pair of the best full range monitors you can afford. This will do more than any plugin that you can buy.

Yes, that's also what i will recomend.
Get some great monitors and let them guide you in the right direction.

Member for

16 years 9 months

Massive Mastering

Sun, 01/02/2005 - 11:33

I'm going to give another generic reply - Mastering your own mixes is generally a bad idea. Mastering your own mixes when you actually played on it is even a worse idea. Mastering your own mixes, that you played on, with songs that you wrote is even a worse idea. I'm not saying not to do it, I'm just saying that a whole different set of problems arise that can be very hard to overcome.

Here's why - and this is just barely scratching the surface...

You're so familiar with the songs, there's no way you can assess them with any point of objectivity. You're familiar with every nuance of what's happening - Every drum hit, roll, bass note, guitar riff. Your brain is instinctively consumed with these details and yet is easily fooled by them.

For example - Had a project with a very squishy sounding kick. There was one point where the kick was alone for an 8-count and it sounded great - The rest of the mix, it got lost behind a wall of guitars. After talking to the mix engineer, it was apparent that he got the kick to sound great by itself, and then basically his brain "filled it in" for the rest of the mix. There were drum rolls that he and the band heard clearly (as they heard them a hundred times at diferent levels) that I barely heard at all - they were totally buried. They heard everything just fine - Their brains tend to "smooth out" these things automatically. Just as I don't really notice the imperfections in the walls in my living room anymore. But bring in a drywall expert, and he'll want to rip them down.

Also - as a sideline to Michael's excellent suggestion for monitoring: Problems in your listening environment build up quickly - If your monitors or especially the room sounds "a little bright" you'll have a tendency to bring back the highs during recording. Seeing as that doesn't actually fix the listening environment, you'll roll them back again during mixdown. Now that the situation STILL isn't actually corrected at the source, take a guess at what you'll probably do during mastering...

Whoops! Client is early - Gotta run.

The point is, that if there are shortcomings in the mix, you still have the ability to attack it at the mix level or even earlier - which in the long run, is a far better way to attack it that "patching it" during mastering - Especially mastering by the same ears in the same room that the recording took place. Take your time, take that limiter off the master bus, crank it up and listen like you've never actually heard it before.

Member for

16 years 3 months


Wed, 01/12/2005 - 12:03

thank you very much for your help, guys. one thing i really realized is, no, i don't want to master my own album. i totally understand why you wouldn't master your own album. i am going to give it to one of the locals to master. although, i probably know more about mastering than him, i'll compare his masters to my own and let other people judge which one is the best.

I'll post them for y'all to hear as well.

i am going to be mastering a pro-sounding jazz (standards) album in a couple of weeks for a local band, so i will surely have a million questions then!

Member for

18 years 7 months

Michael Fossenkemper

Wed, 01/12/2005 - 20:19

You have to really understand the concept of eq and compression. Not the same understanding when tracking and mixing. It's a whole diffferent mindset and toolset. You have to train your ears to the difference, it doesn't come quick. An excellent pair of monitors and D/A converters will do more than any plugin. Expensive, yes, Very. You can't tweek what you can't hear.