Basic mastering procedures?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by corrupted, Aug 31, 2006.

  1. corrupted

    corrupted Guest

    Okay, so... I do some smaller projects, I'm no guru of any sorts except in my own head. Most of the music I record is along the lines of "modern hard rock", for lack of a better term. Radio friendly stuff with a little screamo/yelling.

    So, naturally, I would like to have dynamics, but the clients want the squished sound. I'm okay with that, because at least it sounds professional in the grand scheme of things. I like people to leave with the "wow, that sounds like something professional I'd buy at the store" impression.
    I don't have too many downfalls, but I'd at least like to optimize what I can do with the tools I have. These guys usually can't afford much, and I'm not "in business" as an engineer/producer... so I'd like some suggestions as to what I can do.

    Most of the VST plugs that I have are free ones, here is my usual order of processing when I'm done mixing:

    1)Open the track into SoundForge
    2)Normalize to get a basic starting volume (optional)
    3)Very minor EQ tweak using a stock Sony plugin PEQ (optional)
    4)Basic compression for averaging, I'll probably use BlockFish or something along those lines next time
    5)Sony's WaveHammer for final compression and limiting.

    I know I should buy $10k worth of mastering equiptment, but I can't right now.
    So, using free/cheap($50) plugins or using the tools I already have (Sonar5PE, SoundForge, CD Architect, FL Studio, assorted VST plugs), am I going about this the right way?

    There's been talk about narrowing the lower frequencies, any ways to do this with what I have?

    Remy mentioned a nice compressor VST in another thread, it looks great... but I can't spend the $250 right now. Any other cheap tools to tide me over?

    Also, If I could buy any plugin right now, which should be first for mastering? A compressor? EQ? Multi-mastering-magic-wand-tool?

    Thanks in advance for your well thought out answers and monitary contributions. :wink:
  2. MadTiger3000

    MadTiger3000 Active Member

    Nov 16, 2004
    $$$ contributions? From moi? You'd have better luck getting a pork chop from a pit bull!

    The tools available with Sound Forge are a complete set, in the sense that there is not any technique unavailable to you when using them. Getting better quality tools is always on the list, though.

    More on this from the experts, but normalizing is not something you want to do all the time, if at all. Limiting with Wavehammer all the time is also something that you may reconsider.

    Anyway, it seems like you are doing this "Mastering" just because. Not really doing it because it is necessary.
  3. CrackBuddha

    CrackBuddha Guest

    Dude, if and when you decide to throw down some bones again, get the PSP Vintage Warmer :!:
    It's a single or multiband compressor limiter, Italian, and they put some juju or mojo in there...sounds so tasty. One of the better "warmers" I've come accross. And digital needs warming somehow usually. No i dont work for PSP! :twisted:

  4. corrupted

    corrupted Guest

    Thanks guys...
    Unfortunately, MadTiger, I do want to do this. You may not like it, but when a band gets to make a demo, they don't want everyone telling them... "It doesn't seem loud enough".

    Everyone knows what kind of compressed mastering is done on modern hard rock. These guys that I work with are struggling musicians playing heavy stuff, and they usually want to use it in a press package or for a demo. So, they want the 15 year old kid that came to the gig to put the CD in and think they are at the same rockstar level as everyone on the radio. If the track sounds as close as possible, people leave it in rotation in their CD collection. That's how you grow a fanbase. If everytime that CD came on it didn't sound as "loud" or "full"... then it would usually get yanked from the rotation.
    Sad but true, the music industry is based on the market and what people listen to, that's hard to deny... and I can't tell a bunch of guys who just payed me their last $250 that I won't give them what they want because of "moral integrity". They're paying for it.

    So... That being said, I've heard bad things about normalizing, and I've only used it once before on a track before compression. I don't plan on needing it again anyway.

    What would you suggest as opposed to WaveHammer?

    CrackBuddha, PSP stuff is what I was talking about that Remy mentioned... looks great... their whole package is $999 though! I may end up with just the warmer and mastercompressor at some point.

    I plan on putting DigitalFishPhones "Dominion" to the test next... it seems like it might have some of what I'm looking for as well to add the warmth and compress it smoothly. Have you tried that one? I've had it for a while but I haven't put it to good use yet...
    Free at:
    (Dead Link Removed)

  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    One note Corrupted -

    Lose the portion of your mastering process which has to do with normalizing. It's unneccary. There's several problems with it at the same time -

    1 - if the entire album is/was recorded in one setting (which is becoming more and more common nowadays), you'll increase (sometimes quite significantly) the noise on one track and not another.

    2 - Hopefully, the song has been mixed to a point where it sounds good and has good dynamics. When you feed it through your chain (whether it be analog, digital or both), you're going to take this good sound and make it fuller, louder, etc. You'll bring it to the point (volume/amplitude-wise) where it fits naturally. Normalizing is simply a step in this equation which is unhelpful.

    3 - I like having my mixes come in with good headroom - as much as 3 dB or more. Normalizing robs that. Some EQing or other effects will now cause digital clipping or worse - the DAWs built-in limiter to engage.

    Keep the volume/amplitude where it's at and bring it up (if necessary) using your comp or limiter or line amplifier (either in the DAW or external).

    Just some thoughts...
  6. Mastering is not really what you're doing in Soundforge, Mix Finalizing is a more accurate term. When you've got it sounding louder and punchier in SF and then burned it in CDA etc that's 'mastering' of a kind (probably the mastering engineers are still spilling their pints in disbelief at this rudimentary approach!)

    I assume you're using SF8 as you list CDA.
    OK - I agree with previous posters - normalizing is more destructive than constructive for most things, just stick to compression/limiting.

    First of all - make sure your mix in Sonar etc is as good as you can get it and leave a little headroom as described by Cucco, in other words don't have it coming out clipping and with regular peaks of more than -2 db.

    SF has reasonable plug-ins. Be careful with the Graphic EQ if you boost stuff too much it will distort, remember if your bass is too quiet you can either boost the bass OR you can cut the mid-range and treble a little. Always look at cutting before boosting. YOu may as well roll off anyting under 30 Hz as your speakers will not reproduce it.

    Multiband DYnamics is a reasonable multi-band compressor and Wavehammer has a decentish limiter section if you bypass the compressor. Although I personally prefer Voxengo's Elephant 2.5 as a limiter.

    Anyway, I use Cubase SX3 and finalize my mixes in Soundforge 8 all the time to fairly good effect, I can get the volume cranked up somewhat and still retain most dynamics but I will add that it will not sound as good as a pro mastering job although fine for demo purposes etc.
  7. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    there is only so much you can expect from cheap tools. Although the better you get with them, the more you'll get with better tools. You can't expect to compete with the big guys in a gremlin. It's just a fact. their tools are much better and their experience is huge. Just keep chipping away, trying to get better everytime. When you can, improve your tools, and raise the bar again. It's a slow process.
  8. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    Jul 18, 2004
    Chicago area, IL, USA
    Home Page:
    Two - No, three things you certainly shouldn't need - Especially if these are YOUR mixes -

    (1) Re-summing the low end - This is for mixes that were done by people who were crazy enough to pan the bass or the kick off to the side. Don't do goofy wtuff with the low end, and you won't have to worry about it.

    (2) Excessive or Maul-The-Band compression - Again, a band-aid for a bad mix. If the mix needs MBC, go back and fix the mix.

    (3) Normalizing - For the reasons mentioned.

    There's a blurry edged sword masteing your own mixes - If you're doing anything other than bringing up the volume and correcting for such, you're second-guessing your own mixing. If you need to change something, change it in the mix. If you're throwing plugins at the mix to see what sticks (I'm not saying you are, but some do), then send it off to someone else. ANYONE else.
  9. DIGIT

    DIGIT Guest

    A few things no one mentioned:

    1) your ears

    2) your monitoring system

    3) your converters

    I understand you are doing this for fun and a few clients but, if you are to charge people you should offer more than they can do on their own, or they wouldn't have a reason to come to you. And that means more than just equipment.

    As a Guitarist/Producer I have had my work mastered at various great sutdios here in Los Angeles. The first thing I noticed as they loaded my tracks for a reference listen was how great the music sounded just as it was. Before any mastering was done. That is because their converters and analog equipment is the best money can buy...and unfortunately out of reach of most people starting out in mastering.

    In your case I would suggest you make contact with local mastering studios and ask if you can watch some sessions. Perhaps you can exchange some services for their help. It would be useful for you to get a feel of what mastering is all about. Even if each engineer has his/her own ideas about that, it's great to have varying points of view from professionals.

    Mastering engineer Kris Solem, from Futuredisc (one of my favorite mastering studios, soon to re-locate to Oregon...) wrote extensively about the trend of maximizing everything and it would be worth to any one getting into mastering to read those articles.

    One thing with Sound Forge is that it doesn't allow to do A/B comparisons of the netire mastering chain because it can only apply ONE plugin at a time. So, you can only A/B with ONE plugin, not good.

    If you are ONLY using software plugins I would strongly suggest you buy Wavelab, from Steinberg.

    With WL you can load a set of plugins and do instant A/B between the entire chain and/or individual plugins. Additionally, it allows you to save plugin chains and/or presets therefore, it's much faster to use.It also sounds better to my ears. Much better than SF and I have both. I use Sound Forge for pre-mastering and/or certain types of editing and also for recording my Stereo mixes. I sue WL for Mastering my DEMOS and/or other work that doesn't require real/PRO mastering.

    Within the limits of your budget get the best D/A converters you can afford and some good speakers. Tannoy has some relatively affordable ones. What you hear is paramount to achieving a final result that will translate well on other playback systems.

    And yes, stay away from SF/Sony normalize and wave hammer.... :)
  10. I agree mostly with what you said and agree that Wavelab is a better program than soundforge for 'mastering' although I don't feel the quality of Wavelab's plugins are any better than SF.

    I have used Wavelab extensively (my friend owns it) and the audio montage and non-destructive editing is really good. The A/B comparison is definately in it's favour.

    However, SF8 allows you to set up a chain and renders all or however many effects you want in the chain at once. And although it doesn't have the non-destructive A/B you can easily just 'go back' if you don't like the rendered mastering effects, you can also save 2 project files and listen to one after the other. SF costs 200-250 dollars less than Wavelab and is certainly a better option than sticking a compressor on the mix bus of your DAW. It is also a snap to use and imho I like audio editing better in SF than wavelab.

    Decent results can be achieved with SF with a little time and effort, although I also agree that when you have achieved what you can can with it, then looking to step up a notch is a good idea and that Wavelab is a peg above in terms of features and functionality.
  11. uh bomb factory $*^t probably. the universal audio plugins, who knows who cares. they are all the same

    most of the plugins come off of a burned cd, they literally just do what the actual units do. but obviously provide zero circuitry for the sound to go through. let alone transistors or tubes.

    i honestly dont believe there is any difference soundwise from plugin to plugin. the only difference might be the functionality of it. i mean it does do exactly what the real piece does.

    oh except for all button, infinite:1 mode on the 1176, at least that i know of
  12. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    ummmm, OK. Thanks for the informed repy.
  13. DIGIT

    DIGIT Guest

    Yes, I don't use WL's plugins - I use mostly Waves and a few others.

    True, SF8 can indeed render more than one efx. at a time. I have SF6 and haven't upgraded since I started using WL instead. But, yes SF is has become are more capable program as well. I wish Sony would add the OXFORD plugins with the next release :)
  14. corrupted

    corrupted Guest

    Yea, well... I guess I should have expected some of these replies.

    I love it when everyone says "first rule of mixing... there are no rules!" over and over. But ask a question and then all you get is "it has to be this way, and it has to be that way". :p

    But I suppose hypocrisy is in everything... you guys are cute. Try "stepping back for a second" next time.

    NOW, back to the original topic at hand. Anyone have any ideas to try?
  15. corrupted

    corrupted Guest

    Another intersting thought... to me, at least:
    Whenever I ask about this, I get the reply that you shouldn't need mastering unless I'm trying to "fix" something... in other words, I should be able to mix well enough to not need a mastering professional.

    So, say I was good enough? Why have mastering then?

    Digit... I actually have started using CD Architecht as opposed to SF (unless I need SF for something in particular).

    With CDarch, you can chain all of the plugins for each track individually and bypass all or one of them. I use WaveHammer sparingly, but I have found it useful. I plan on getting some better mastering-style compressors from PSP when I get some more cash, but I feel like CDarch has the functionality that I'm looking for. It's much more suited for the application than SoundForge is. Plus, you can burn right from the program so there's no need to re-load and re-process the track each time you want to change a minor detail.
  16. open question to the informed pedophiles of this topic: can you honestly tell the difference in sound quality from one plugin to the next?
  17. corrupted

    corrupted Guest

    To defend the pedophiles (I wouldn't want to offend them)... didn't you mean audiophiles? :lol:
  18. CD Architect is the business, a great audio CD burning program.

    You are right in saying that it is a viable option for burning direct to CD but the reasons I use SF first and then CDA to burn are because (in Soundforge 8) of the statistics, spectrum analysis and the fact you can use VST plugins, make DC offset adjustments and check for clipping and adjust with clipped peak restoration tools if necessary, etc.

    But it's true that CDA offers quite a bit of overlap with SF such as plugin chain, crossfades, fade outs and even cutting and pasting audio (although SF has more tools for this) and is pretty functional in many instances as a stand alone program, particularly if the mix is good to begin with.

    Proper mastering (especially done by pros) enhances a good mix even more, use of precision eqs, top line converters, top line compressors/limiters, stereo tools, harmonics adjustments, etc. It can push the levels more with less artifacts and dynamic range and add the gloss and refinement that turns a good sounding mix into an excellent sounding mix. Home mastering is more geared to pumping up levels and doing some cruder eq adjustments than is possible by pros in mastering rooms full of top range equipment, acoustics, monitoring and experienced professionals.
  19. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    Mar 29, 2005
    WY / CA
    Home Page:
    Good question.

    Firstly, mastering exists to make a professional, high quality transfer to a production master medium. In the past there was no way around going to mastering. Nobody had a vinyl lathe or 1630 in their mix studio. Presently technology allows anybody to make a pmcd on their computer. However there is still a distinction between what the average musician can produce on their own, and what a reputable mastering facility can produce.

    Secondly, mastering fixes errors in the mix. Few mix environments have calibrated listening environments, therefore there are bound to be aural judgment errors made.

    Thirdly, mastering provides a fresh ear to the project and can compare it to a large library of other successful commercial releases made in the same facility. Above and beyond fixing problems, mastering can enhance and bring out the full potential of a recording. Mastering makes the project work at the album level.

    The idea that an engineer should make perfect mixes and not have to go to mastering is naive. All of the "best-of-the-best" recording/mixing engineers take there material to mastering. Why? Because they know it makes their final product better.
  20. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    Mar 29, 2005
    WY / CA
    Home Page:
    Of course. You can too (assuming you have a reasonable monitoring system). Insert a plugin with its settings flat. Using quality reference music you know well, listen to the output, A/B'ing between "in" and "bypass". Listen to the character of degradation. Now listen to a different plug in the same way. I find the character changes from plugin to plugin, some having less degradation than others.

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