I thought I would make this one a useful one for many!! It seems nowdays more and more people are 'mastering' their tracks. I use that term lightly because doing your own digital 'in the box' master' is certainly not a proper master (in my eyes anyway). There is simply no substitute for using professional mastering studios, however; since the whole digital mastering thing is so common now I thought I would throw up some tips and stuff that I have learnt along the way! Now I am by no means a mastering engineer.....but at least I master my own records (unless the label uses someone specific). First of I want to emphasise the fact that your master should only be the 'polish'...........FOCUS ON YOUR MIX!!! if your mix is good then mastering is relatively easy.......your main aim should be a solid mix, because you can polish a turd all you want....it will still be a turd!!! Ok so here we go, some information for you guys!! Remember a lot of points are subjective.......there is more than one way to skin a cat.
1. It goes without saying, but it is a good idea to invest in some good quality high end plugins. Personally I love the Ozone suite, Fab filter plugins and Sonnox Oxford plugins....but you can use what you want....just try make them pretty good quality. Last thing you want is some lower quality plugins colouring your mix.
2. Don't be a compression Whore!!! Now I know in some forms of music that smashing fuck out of the track and compressing it into a sausage seems to be common practise, but this just makes the ears extremely tired!! Dynamics are good!!! try to retain some form of dynamic range!
3. Utilise Mid/Side EQ. I love to use mid/side EQ on both my mix and mater. It can really help you carve out space. For example you can low cut the 'side' to say 90Hz and then lowcut the 'mid' to 30Hz. Or maybe Add some top end to the sides and slightly reduce it from the middle. Have a play around with mid/side EQ and see what results you get.
4. Don't be afraid to use serial compression. If you feel your track needs to be compressed more, then why not spread the work other a couple of compressors so that one compressor isn't doing all the 'heavy lifting'. For me I don't really push my compressors too hard, I only like to see a few dbs of gain reduction....if that. But more often than not I spread the work out...........this could also hold true with limiters aswell.....although personally I only use one limiter.
5. Simple Volume Automations in your master file can work. See I master in a completely new project. So do my mixdown...export and then open a new file for mastering, usually starting with my 'mastering template'. Simple volume automations throughout the song can help the dynamics. For example automate the volume down in your break and then cut back up on your drop.
6. Louder is not always better. You need to focus on the mixdown and have to realise that mastering is not the only thing making your track 'loud'. If you start pushing your track and it just seems to fall apart....then more often than not it is something going wrong within your mixdown not your master. Mastering should just be little subtle touches to make the song sparkle.
7. Use very tight EQ bands to notch out some problem frequencies. I like to sweep across my EQ and locate any undesired frequencies and give them a little cut. Honestly even only 1 or 2 db can work wonders here. Don't be afraid to do this a lot, sometimes I have plenty of cuts going on!
8. Get stuck into some harmonic exciters! honestly just little subtle adjustments to the top end can make it sparkle. But probably a good idea to stay away from the low end.
9. Try to really pay attention to what the track NEEDS! now I have my own 'Mastering Template' where I have a premade template set up with all the plugins that I use. This is generally my starting point, but obviously I go in and fine tune all the details because no two tracks will need mastering exactly the same (although sometimes the changes I make are very minor). So it is an efficient way of working to set up your master template!!
10. Drop your limiter output slightly lower than 0.0!! even 0.05 is good.
11. Use Spectral analysers so that not only can you hear what is going on ....but you can see it aswell!!!
Well that will do for a post I guess!!! I have actually written an eBook about my mastering template, which plugins I use and how I use them. It will give you a good starting point or help you form your own template. If you want that don't hesitate to contact me, I will most likely give it out for free, or perhaps a small fee! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in that.