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 Post subject: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 5:19 pm 
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Alrighty, here is my guide to mastering your own music to use in a club.
this won`t replace proper mastering as the problem with mastering your own music is that, well if you knew what problems there were in your music, you would have sorted them at the mix stage, this is where the third party objectivity and experience of an engineer helps.
This guide should however allow you to get your tunes to a competitive "loudness" to allow you to use them in a DJ set to test them out, without absolutely destroying the music trying to get it loud.
I earn my money as a mastering engineer, so this is all based on my own experience in the industry.


**EQ**

You will need a spectrum analyser. Set the analyser on an average/RMS setting if possible, with a slow update. You want an average, over time, reading of the spectrum, not a moment to moment instant read of peaks.

Ok so once you have this set up you then want a nice clean EQ, free from too many artefacts, nothing too characterful. I use a massive passive, and brainworx EQ.
What you want to do is level out the average from roughly 100hz up to about 5khz. What I mean by this is you want to get your spectrum to read a roughly flat line between these frequencies. So pull down any peaks and push up any troughs. Don`t go for any sharp Q`s, you want to be making gentle movements here to roughly balance out spectrum, with a slight downward slope to the high frequencies. I`m doing this in terms of dance music, so from around 100hz down expect to have a big hump for the bass, this is fine, dance music is bass heavy.
Now you can flatten down above 5k, but be very very careful here as you can start to damage transient information, so only make broad and slight adjustments if you need to.
You might prefer a little smile EQ pattern, our ears like this, if so your dip will be around 800hz ish.
You can afford to really cut in to your low end, especially in the sub 30hz range, just kill that shit.

Compression

Ok, I'm going to advise using a standard 2 comp setup here over multiband. Multiband compression is fraught with problems, and unless you really really know compression (in which case you won`t need this guide) I would not advise multiband compression. It has specific uses, it can shred any sense of groove and can absolutely kill dynamic interest.

So the idea is you use one compressor to capture rapid peaks and control them, you then use another compressor to control overall changes in the body of the music, which will act more slowly and gently.

So compressor choice. Well for the main rhythmic compression the choice is up to you. I tend to go with something characterful for the fast comp, and something more transparent for the second comp.
Feedback compression is great for a full mix, it is gentle and musical, but stuff like an SSL buss comp will also do a nice job if treated right.

Settings?

You want a relatively gentle ratio, with everything in mastering, you want to be fairly gentle, unless you are trying to recover specific mistakes that can`t be fixed in the mix.

so a gentle ratio.

Attack needs to be fast, but not so fast as to kill the punch and the transients, I can`t give any numbers here because 200ms on one compressor, won`t necessarily be the same as on another. Use your ears, pull the attack down and listen to the front end of your kicks, high hats, punchy synths, stuff that has real snappy transient information, at the point you hear the compressor biting down on the transients, pull back, you want these to go through a little.

Release again, you need to tune this. You really want to watch your VU meter here. If your compressor lacks a VU or something that emulates the ballistics of one, then get a standalone in your chain. You want to tune the release so that the VU meter is moving in with the groove of the track, and other transients are smoothed out of this motion. You`ll never get a perfect swing unless you are mastering a tune that is only kick drums, but you want this to be a smooth motion on average.
the release should be relaxing enough where the compression is returning to almost non action, but not no action at all, before the next kick. If you set the release to fast you`ll really notice the comp too much and it will pump and possibly distort in a nasty way. Too slow and you will effectively be over attenuating the mix. You want the release to be just a little longer than each beat, so there is still a little compression acting by the time the next kick comes in, this will give a natural groove.

Now raise the ratio so that the compressor stops acting at all, and gradually bring it back down again until action begins, you really don`t want to go for more than 3db of gain reduction, but how much all depends on the sound. Some hardware comps can actually be right in the sweet spot with barely any movement on the meter. So just use your ears.

You may want to adjust the frequency of the sidechain input, if the comp has it, to take out some of the really low information that may effect the rhythmic movement of the comp. Use your meter and your ears combined to get this right. It applies if you have a lot of low end content, especially the big old low end techno rumble.

the second comp you want a much slower attack, you want to capture sounds with slower transients (not the drums) so again tune by ear, but a rough guide is to double the setting of the first comp. Release can be a little more gradual too, a lower ratio than the previous comp. This might capture big stabs, swells, filter sweeps that peak etc. Very gentle.


**Clean Up EQ**

You may want another Eq in the chain here just to tidy up any changes the compression has added, same rules as above. If you have done things right, you shouldn't need to.

**Limiting**

Right, to get your final level you want a limiter.
If you are in digital domain then you can use a lookahead, which is always a nice option.
If you can adjust the attack and release then you want to essentially follow the rules above for comp, really pay attention to tuning the attack, you don`t want to kill all the transients, something like 1100 ms on dance music will do the trick.
Again you don`t want to be ramming your gain reduction here. I try to never let a limiter go beyond 2db of gain reduction. All limiters are different, but I`ve never heard one that goes much beyond 2db without getting gacky.

Obviously at this stage dither down to 16 bit is fine.

that should do ya, as a rough guide.

With say 1-2 db GR with your first comp, another say, 1-2 db with the second and then another 2 on the limiter you`ve got 6db of gain reduction there, and if you have done it right and used your ears, it should be a relatively clean 6db of reduction.

With a peak of -0.5db you should be able to get your RMS to around -8 which is loud enough to use in the club.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 6:33 pm 
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Thank you very much for your efforts Steve!!

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 8:10 pm 
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Thanks a bunch Steve!!

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 8:42 pm 
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Bloody brilliant. Thanks.

A couple of questions I have (usual caveat of using your ears first, etc. I know).

When you talk about the analyser shape what slope are you using? Pink noise as level (4.5 slope) or the normal pink noise sloping down?

Do you recommend using K-metering? I've been using K-12 when I do my 'masters' and aim for about halfway on the meter in pro-l. Am I wasting my time? Is looking at the gain reduction only a better idea?

I don't use them myself, but are exciters and reverbs a no-no?

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 10:24 pm 
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Thanks for the info.
I saw the thread topic and thought "Voidloss is gonna rip this guy to shreds" haha! ..


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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2014 10:44 pm 
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Planar wrote:
Bloody brilliant. Thanks.

A couple of questions I have (usual caveat of using your ears first, etc. I know).

When you talk about the analyser shape what slope are you using? Pink noise as level (4.5 slope) or the normal pink noise sloping down?

Do you recommend using K-metering? I've been using K-12 when I do my 'masters' and aim for about halfway on the meter in pro-l. Am I wasting my time? Is looking at the gain reduction only a better idea?

I don't use them myself, but are exciters and reverbs a no-no?


As much a good idea as the k system is/was it just isn't compatible with techno levels.
just go with rms, -8 to -10 should be achievable using the guide here without causing too much mush.

Reverb in mastering, probably gets used about once in every 1000 jobs as an absolute last ditch repair to a dry mix.

exciters, again,very rarely used, get your mix right, maybe use exciters on individual parts, but not on a whole mix.

this is a guide to make your music club playable, not a guide to proper mastering, which you can't really do on your own music for reasons explained above.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 7:57 am 
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Do you have suggestions for good but free/cheap EQ, compressor and limiter plugins that would get decent results with home mastering?

All I got now is what Reaper is bundled with, The Glue which I bought ages ago and some freeware limiter whose name I've forgot.

I tried Ozone for the free test period but I really hated it. With gentle settings it didn't do much, when you pushed it, everything started to sound like a modern pop record, lots of digital sheen and stuff. I'm not an engineer though, just a hobbyist, I'm sure pros can make it work.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 8:53 am 
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Barfunkel wrote:
Do you have suggestions for good but free/cheap EQ, compressor and limiter plugins that would get decent results with home mastering?

All I got now is what Reaper is bundled with, The Glue which I bought ages ago and some freeware limiter whose name I've forgot.

I tried Ozone for the free test period but I really hated it. With gentle settings it didn't do much, when you pushed it, everything started to sound like a modern pop record, lots of digital sheen and stuff. I'm not an engineer though, just a hobbyist, I'm sure pros can make it work.


EQ: (Free) TDR Slick EQ / VoS Baxter
Compressor: (Free) TDR Feedback Compressor / VoS ThrillseekerVL
Limiter: (Free) Limiter6

Solid advices from Steve here. I'm justs o boring so Im gonna call it finalization of your tracks instead though.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 9:53 am 
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Lost to the Void wrote:
As much a good idea as the k system is/was it just isn't compatible with techno levels.
just go with rms, -8 to -10 should be achievable using the guide here without causing too much mush.

Reverb in mastering, probably gets used about once in every 1000 jobs as an absolute last ditch repair to a dry mix.

exciters, again,very rarely used, get your mix right, maybe use exciters on individual parts, but not on a whole mix.

this is a guide to make your music club playable, not a guide to proper mastering, which you can't really do on your own music for reasons explained above.



Cheers. It nice to have all the home "mastering" pitfalls discussed in one handy thread until such time I think I'm ready to have something mastered properly.

I have another question. Is the 2 compressor setup recommended even if you mix into a bus compressor? I'm guessing it's probably best to miss one out.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 10:25 am 
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Planar wrote:
Lost to the Void wrote:
As much a good idea as the k system is/was it just isn't compatible with techno levels.
just go with rms, -8 to -10 should be achievable using the guide here without causing too much mush.

Reverb in mastering, probably gets used about once in every 1000 jobs as an absolute last ditch repair to a dry mix.

exciters, again,very rarely used, get your mix right, maybe use exciters on individual parts, but not on a whole mix.

this is a guide to make your music club playable, not a guide to proper mastering, which you can't really do on your own music for reasons explained above.



Cheers. It nice to have all the home "mastering" pitfalls discussed in one handy thread until such time I think I'm ready to have something mastered properly.

I have another question. Is the 2 compressor setup recommended even if you mix into a bus compressor? I'm guessing it's probably best to miss one out.


It really depends (boring answer!). The use of two compressors (one to catch peaks and one overall leveler) is only ever relevant if you can't get enough volume without getting too much gain reduction on the limiter. Mostly today, a lot material is compressed already and a dynamic EQ can solve some peak catching in a problematic area instead of using another compressor to catch peaks. Claps and snappy percussion / hihats is what people tend to leave without compression in their mixes and really spiky transient material like that can cause hell while mastering. There is no easy answer, you have to check for yourself when two compressors are needed or not. If EQ or a fix of the mix cannot fix problems that causes much gain reduction, then yeah, two compressors can be the way to go, even if bus compression is applied.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 10:57 am 
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Yeah it really depends on the type of buss compression.

There is no reason why you can`t still use the 2 comps if you have been gentle on the buss comp, just be a little more gentle with the following comps.
This is all about getting level in a musical way without having to rely on a limiter to get you up to a competitive relative loudness.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 10:59 am 
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Barfunkel wrote:
Do you have suggestions for good but free/cheap EQ, compressor and limiter plugins that would get decent results with home mastering?

All I got now is what Reaper is bundled with, The Glue which I bought ages ago and some freeware limiter whose name I've forgot.

I tried Ozone for the free test period but I really hated it. With gentle settings it didn't do much, when you pushed it, everything started to sound like a modern pop record, lots of digital sheen and stuff. I'm not an engineer though, just a hobbyist, I'm sure pros can make it work.



Glue is one of the best soft comps out there, it is great for the 2buss, also good for your musical comp handling the fast transients.
Matt gave some pretty links in his answer. Variety of Sound do a whole range of free stuff that is really quite good for a mastering group.

Not so sure about free limiters, I don`t know of any that are worth using.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 1:05 pm 
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I think Limiter6 is really good, but complicated for the average user. Maybe Loudmax is ok, not really sure.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 2:10 pm 
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Thanks for the compression advice, chaps. I'll definitely be following this to the letter for the next track I finish.

@Barfunkel iirc the included reaper effects are quite good. I think there may be a limiter in the JS plugin as well.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 6:44 pm 
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Great thread, thanks Steve! I wish i would have had this info years ago...

What about width? A self taught cheat to make things louder is to increase the width of the master channel (with logics stereo image plugin turn it to width 1.2 or so instead of 1). This helps to gain a few db RMS... Is this bad practice?

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 7:52 pm 
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You can make things wider as long as it stays mono-compatible.
Just be very moderate though, normally in actual mastering it's more often about narrowing some overspread information in the spectrum rather then the opposite.

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 7:53 pm 
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Yeah pissing about with width is risky business on the 2 buss. You never know whether it will work in the club and be truly mono compatible. Best doing that kind of things in the mix, per channel.

I DO do mix widening when mastering if I absolutely have to, but I do it via mid-side, both in equalisation and dynamically. But for home finalisation, I wouldn`t recommend it. Get your mix right, always always always fix it in-the-mix if you can.

Ableton limiter is actually fine, I just hate the pissy little meter that really tells you feck all in any accurate way.

Those of you with Ableton and the Glue compressor I am including a preset I made and use when mixing down for the Glue compressor on the 2buss.

It really is one of the best software compressors out there, my preset is a good launch point for adding compression to your mix.

**Voidloss Glue Compressor Preset Guide**

So this preset is good for techno, or any dance music in the 125-128 bpm range. Going slower or faster than this range will require the compressor release to be retuned.

The overall effect of this preset will give you a nice (but subtle) musical swing and pump to your mix. There is room for the transients to come through with this attack setting, the needle should swing nicely with the beat in the above beat range.

You can actually come reasonably aggressive with the threshold, and it will cope with 3db of gain reduction quite nicely with no mess. You can even push it to 4db - 4.5db of gain reduction, and although it will be a little more aggressive, it will still be musical and surprisingly non destuctive as it grabs hold of the beat.

So obviously, threshold is you main adjustment to make here.
You can easily drop the ratio down a setting and go for a really silky and subtle push and pull.

The 70% wet allows just enough of the original signal through to keep some nice harmonic and transient crisp, and also helps in keeping the whole mix from mushing up too much.

Lastly, if you find the needle not quite swinging, or the sound not quite pulling back the sound in sympathy with the groove, you can try adjusting the low cut frequency on the sidechain EQ. It is currently at 50hz, which will work for the more thumpy kick dominant stuff, but if you are getting thick with spooky sub rumbles then you might want to raise this to maybe 80hz or higher.

The file is an ableton preset file so you should just drop it into the resources preset area, or just drag it and drop it on a glue compressor.


Attachments:
Voidloss Parallel Techno 2Buss.zip [1.72 KiB]
Downloaded 301 times

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2014 9:51 pm 
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Thanks a lot Steve!
going to bookmark this one for future reading!

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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2014 3:18 pm 
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Read, bookmarked and sponged!


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 Post subject: Re: A guide to home "Mastering" of your own tunes
PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2014 6:21 pm 
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Thanks for the compressor preset I had a play with it last night, it's a nice touch to put the wet at 70%. You're basically making these tunes for us. This is how Timo Maas must feel...

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