EQ/compression/limiting prior to mastering

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by Violet, Jul 7, 2009.

  1. Violet

    Violet Guest

    I have a question for the pros among you about mixing prior to mastering. I've been trying to find an answer and haven't been able to turn anything up. I've been working up the courage to post here for days, because I'm in awe of you guys and I know I'm an idiot by comparison. I hope this isn't too stupid...

    I was researching various mastering studios, and nearly all of them specify that mixes sent in for mastering should have no compression, EQ, or limiting.

    However, in a tiny sentence at the very bottom of one studio's site, it said something more specific: "For best results, DO NOT add any compression, EQ, or limiting to the final mix. Individual tracks can be processed, but the mix should not."

    This changes everything — saying it's okay to use them WITHIN a mix, just not to apply them to the FINAL MIX as a whole — but now I'm even more confused.

    So should mixes have absolutely no compression, EQ, or limiting anywhere in them at all, period, or is it okay to have them on some of the elements WITHIN a final mix?

    The thing I'm most concerned about is vocals. I often use effects (as most vocalists do), and up until now I've always mixed and mastered my own stuff. As much as I hate to admit it here, I've spent years looking at it as a single process — mixingandmastering — rather than two separate things. I was in the habit of doing both simultaneously as I went along, so now I'm having a hard time making sense of what I'm supposed to do to keep the "mixing" separate from the "mastering."

    Because I'm confused, I suspect I'm still inadvertently trying to do both.

    I've been tearing my hair out trying to figure out how to get the sound I want without using any EQ at all. I can take the EQ off of an effect and the effect still sounds the same, but the mix changes completely; the vocal will be on a different plane and I'll need to raise or lower the level to get it back into alignment with the other elements. But I'm thinking that's probably the POINT ... that I'm just supposed to be getting the level where it needs to be in the mix and from there it's the realm of the ME to EQ the vocal to either soften the edges or make it pop.

    Is that correct?
  2. The most important thing is to get the mix as balanced as you can, making sure you leave some headroom. There's a big argument about whether you should include master bus compression, but many genres of music are mixed into some compression on the 2-bus for a little 'glue' and so long as it's not overdone (just a couple of dbs of gain reduction), most MEs just accept it's part of the overall sound and deal with it. It's better not to overcompress, and to use peak limiting cautiously etc, don't touch the EQ too much on the master bus - obviously some track EQing is typical to frequency juggle and create space in the mix for various instruments or voice, but try to be as subtle as you can while achieving a good mix balance. If you present a really good mix, then the mastering stage is just barely tickling that mix to get consistent levels and prepare the file ready for red book compliant CD, or vinyl or whatever mastering.
  3. apstrong

    apstrong Active Member

    Feb 13, 2009
    I don't see any problem with using EQ or compression or any other processing on individual tracks, within reason. The whole point of mixing is to get those tracks sounding the way you want them to using the tools you have available and to get them to play nicely with each other so that the overall mix represents your (or your producer's) musical vision.

    As Mr. LQM mentioned, some people like to mix into a (mild) compressor on the master stereo bus, but even in that case you could easily remove the master compression prior to sending it to the mastering engineer if that was their preference. I'd just ask them. If it was up to me, I'd remove it, since any decent mastering engineer is going to have far better equipment for doing that anyway. But maybe one of the mastering engineers around here can comment on their preferences in that regard.

    Mastering is definitely a separate process requiring specialized equipment and completely different set of ears and skills. If I was serious about a recording, I would never "master" it myself.
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    They're just assuming you are an idiot and don't know what you're doing. In this way they hope, they can give you something a little better sounding. In the case with most professionals, we compress and/or limit and/or equalize anything we want to, throughout the recording & mixing process. Whatever it takes to come up with a killer sounding mix. Some folks like to include a stereo mix bus compressor/limiter, across their stereo mixes, others don't. I don't like to mix through limiters but will when its requested. Some of my mixes are so good, the mastering engineers have no need to reprocess them. That's the mark of a good engineer. I'll frequently master my clients projects, since only minor adjustments need be made. Not everyone nor everything needs mastering. Only morons want things that are louder than loud. Not all my mastering is in the Digital domain nor is it in the analog domain that a process of combining both. Then you get the best of both worlds if you don't over enhance things.

    I'm enhanced & beautiful
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  5. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    Arrogant lazy engineers over process on the 2-bus. Mixing into compression is ok, but if the needle is moving more than a little, pop it out and look at your mix. slapping eq on the 2-bus is lazy. slapping a limiter on the 2-bus is lying.
  6. Violet

    Violet Guest

    Hey, Michael, you were one of the MEs I was researching. :)

    I hate to admit it — my dirty, shameful secret — but I'm actually using Garageband. I know, I know! I'm very embarrassed, trust me. It's just that I honestly do love it, it works well for me, I understand it, I go deep into the AU plugins and tweak (I only use the presets as a starting point), and I have it tricked out with extra plug-ins I've added (better compressors, phasers, etc.). I'm looking into getting Logic, but I'm nervous about dropping a chunk of change on a program I can't demo first. I already got and tried Ableton Live, and unfortunately it is NOT the thing for me. I'm sure it's a great program, it's just far too complex. So I'm nervous about Logic. Still, it looks like I'm going to get it.

    So the thing is, I don't even know if Garageband has "buses." If it does, it's news to me. (The last time I worked with buses was with my old multi-track back in the 90s.)

    I tend not to use compression much if I can help it. My music has a lot of dynamics, and I don't like to crush that. The only time I will compress something is when the quiet parts are so quiet that in turning them up to hear them, it causes the loudest notes to slam into the peak wall. Then I'll add just the bare minimum compression necessary to prevent that slam. (This mostly happens with piano.)

    The only things I set in the master track itself are mix-wide volume increases/decreases, and I don't use that often, normally only for things like fade-out. I pretty much just focus on making the individual tracks blend well together and don't muck around in the master track. I may just be extremely naive, but the thought of doing anything across the board to an entire track apart from changing volume gives me the willies. I could imagine scenarios where I might want to pan an entire track for some reason, or maybe add reverb to a whole song to make it sound like it was in a stadium or something, but across-the-board compression?, mmm, not so much. Seems like that would only ruin the work I've done on each track within the mix. If it was something that really had to be done, I'd leave it to a skilled ME. I don't trust myself to do it and tell whether it was an improvement.
  7. Violet

    Violet Guest

    Well, in my case, they would be correct. LOL

    That's impressive! I wish I had your skill. Are you with a particular studio?

    I don't want things loud (well, having some power on dramatic passages, yes, but not in a general "I'm Linkin Park, and I'm on the radio!" sense), I just don't have the skill or the equipment to properly get into the realm of fine-tuning frequencies, or removing hiss and clicks and pops, adding warmth and depth, making little elements pop crisply, things like that. Even when I do try to crescendo a dramatic section, it just sounds muddled and fuzzy and thick. (I have the hardest time working with bass. It makes me nuts.) I firmly believe the key to real power in great music lies in the frequencies, not the volume. It's like sitting in a movie theater and feeling your seat vibrate from a low bass rumble that you can barely even hear, but it gives you chills. You KNOW something big is about to happen. That, to me, is more magical than going to 11 could ever be.
  8. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    Fantastic :D
    And good to see you're on the reasonable side of the volume war.

    Sometimes I EQ/comp the master to see how the mix takes to it (massive comp'ing can sometimes bring out problems, or emphasise different things in the background of the mix that you can nitpick over) but I always back off if not remove them for the mixdown. BTW: I "master" my own stuff since it's just for archival, not for commercial use.
  9. If I had the budget to let a professional ME master my work, I would be a lot more subtle about what I compress and EQ and would seek an opinion whether or not they mind mixing into some light compression to 'glue' or if they prefer to do that themselves.

    While I agree with what Michael said, many of us with demo projects are going to be using things like master bus compression to provide quick and dirty demos for propsective audiences or clients, limiting is going to happen either on the master bus or after the event when the mix is reimported as a 2 track stereo file, or stems, for further mix finalization/mastering at which time limiting/volume maximizing is usually going to be applied to some degree along with other processing.

    I mix finalize / 'master' my own work because I am an unsigned, independent artist with no budget - if I ever produced an album which generated so much interest as to be worth paying for a good ME, I would surely do so as a proper ME with their superior monitoring environment, better acoustics, better converters, quality hardware as well as software components etc, should be able to polish up a reasonably mixed project. In the meantime, I have 23 years of engineering experience, done courses on mixing, mastering and engineering and who keeps a copy of Bob Katz's 'Mastering Audio (2nd edition)' in the bathroom cabinet for reading *washing hands thoroughly before and after, he he* .
  10. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    Doing your own "mastering" and mixing into all that stuff is two different things. If you do your mix, print it, then do a mastering session say... a week later. You'll have a better product.

    If you are mixing into a compressor squishing it, slapping on an eq to try and flatter it, and slam it into a limiter so you don't have to do any level rides in your mix, then you're not going to end up with a very good result. It'll be quick and dirty, but not good.
  11. MadTiger3000

    MadTiger3000 Active Member

    Nov 16, 2004
    Yeah. We call that "masterizing." Pseudo-mastering. If you want to get a ROUGH idea of where the track can go, then it is a quick-and-dirty solution, but don't cheat the track's potential by making it all you give it.

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