Premaster/Final Mix Discussion

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by Sopko, Oct 6, 2016.

  1. Sopko

    Sopko Sopko

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    The premaster or final mix that you are ready to master has always be very cloudy to me and I was wondering what you guys think about this. I have heard many different engineers say many different strategies they use to master their tracks. Before some one jumps in and says "Hire a mastering engineer" or "Send it to a mastering house" these techniques are pertaining to people who master in a HOME STUDIO.

    In college, I learned it was delicate technique kept secret by the audio gods and to only let a master handle it. We only handed in projects that were a "final mix" of each project, so that was lame.

    One of my friends, who interned at a prestigious studio in the area, once told me that he makes a pretty loud mix with a little bit of compression and bounces it. Uploads it to a new session. Adds eq, harmonic excitement, more compression, maximizer, and stereo enhancer (I think he is secretly using Ozone 7). And, of course, listen to it on different monitors/speakers/headphones.

    THEN, another one of my friends told me to mix the stereo bus to -12dB before bouncing and then go through the same process as my last friend told me.

    What do you guys think?
    How do you do a home studio master for a release?
     
  2. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I'm far from being a pro, but I did the "mix and master" for the last CD one of my bands put out. I'm reasonably convinced that the whole mastering-as-a-magical-process thing is just due to nobody being able to define it properly, because everyone does it differently. My process was to mix everything so that it sounded good to me, in my mixing environment- including some master compression, etc. and called that the mix. Then I moved those mixdowns into a fresh project, and started the process of adjusting that so it sounded good everywhere else, when put next to reference songs. I feel like the details outside of that are personal and irrelevant to the definition of "mastering". My :2c:, and I'm probably "wrong". :lol:
     
  3. noUser01

    noUser01 Still can't play.

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    First off I'm gonna toss out a plug for Ian Shepherd at Production Advice. Not only has he written many articles and upload great videos on the topic of mastering, but he also has a Home Mastering Masterclass that I hear nothing but fantastic things about. It's open to enrollments right now, but the cutoff for this sessions is Oct. 21st so if you want in, be sure to do so soon. I also highly recommend Nail The Mix, a program from Joey Sturgis, Eyal Levi, and Joel Wanasek. There's fantastic mixing advice there, but also lots of helpful mastering tutorials too.

    That being said, I master nearly all of my own stuff. I try to get the bands I work with to get a mastering engineer, but you know how it is. They either don't have money or don't understand the importance of it.

    Typically, a master includes three basic things. Compression, EQ, and your final output limiter. That isn't to say one can't use more tools (mid/side EQ, multiband compression, stereo imaging, saturation, harmonic exciters etc.) but the goal of mastering is to be a very simple, transparent, non-destructive process. You want to enhance what's in the mix, not change it. You also want to get it loud, but as loud as the track needs, and no more. You don't want to crush a country track. I'd argue you also don't want to crush a deathcore track, even though many metal masters turn out that way, but that's for you to decide. The most important thing is to understand what you're working with, and having mastered reference tracks and a few great metering options will allow you to make the best choices in regards to what frequency balancing might need to take place, as well as how to manage the overall loudness of the track carefully, without overdoing it. Understanding the "loudness wars" will be essential to really being careful about that final output limiter, which is a huge part of the dynamics and transparency of the final master.

    It's a big topic, but that should give you a few places to start.

    I'll put this in a quote, but this is my general starting point with a master:

    Hope that helps somewhat! If you dig into Ian Sheperd's free videos and articles, I promise you'll get a TON of great answers.
     
  4. KingAenarion

    KingAenarion Resident Studio Nerd

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    Honestly I'd say the reason it has mystique is actually because you try to explain why you use Linear Phase EQ, multi-band compression, mid-side EQ and compression, staged compression and a whole bunch of the other techniques you do to get great sounding masters... to basically anyone who hasn't learnt the stuff and their eyes glaze over like you're talking medical jargon.

    I've met world famous engineers and producers (like Grammy Award, multi-platinum album) kinda guys who are just complete hacks when it comes to understanding this stuff.

    Like yes, there is no "right" way to do it, just as there's no "right way" to make a piece of art. But it is still a technical process with reasoning behind the way things are done. You can certainly get great results, especially if your mix is really good.

    But it's something you actually need to take some time to understand beyond "It's what I do to make my mix as loud as other commercial mixes" or "Mastering = betterising"

    It's like... you can buy a stock and frozen vegetables and pre-packaged flavours sachets and a few other ingredients and make a soup or stew... and if you're poor as .... it might be your only option. But if you're entertaining guests you could either get a professional chef to do it in a restaurant, or start practicing cooking your own things from scratch (which often in the long run ends up being cheaper)

    My point is, it's not a mystical process, but don't simplify it.


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    From a purely technical standpoint. -6dBFS RMS should be your aim for a loud pre-master mix with peaks hitting no higher than -3dBFS (we're talking in the loudest sections of the song). If you don't want to compete in the loudness wars, then you can aim for lower RMS values, but you don't want your peaks and RMS to be too different in value. If you do what tends to happen is that you get a somewhat disjointed sounding mix dynamically. Certainly have dynamics between sections, but if your snare peaks 6dB higher than everything else, once someone turns up your mix, it's going to have the same exhausting sound as a smashed master will.
     
  5. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    Why not? I'm gonna disagree with you, simply from the standpoint that refusing to simplify or clarify the definition keeps the barrier to understanding it high- and the original question was about people's home recordings, diy, etc., not what a pro studio might do. The answer to "what is mastering" can't be "it's complicated", because nobody learns anything from that. The idea of mastering, as far as my understanding goes, was to prepare an otherwise finished piece for the medium it was to be distributed on- and it had nothing to do with "finishing" the song in the way we use it now. Putting something on vinyl, for example, is going to have limitations and requirements that are different from a cassette tape, so you have to prepare the master copies for each medium differently in terms of dynamic range, etc., so that you avoid things like unwanted distortion, sections that are too quiet that turning them up raises the noise floor too much, or create peaks that are too drastic and might make a needle skip or something like that. Now that everything is digital, the only "requirements" are to make the mix clean, loud and balanced enough- which is only really because people are going to compare it to other finished products. Anything outside of "preparing the mix for the medium that will become the master from which to make copies" is the mystical process I'm talking about. All this idea that mastering is suppose to create "warmth" and "sparkle" and just generally improve the quality of a mix doesn't really make sense to me. IMO, that should be the job of the mix, and the only hand the master should have in any of that is to make sure it doesn't destroy those existing qualities (which, yes, could be a complicated process that involves more than just brickwalling the mix and hoping for the best). I think it's perfectly fine for someones mastering process basically to just be "make this as loud as I'd like it to be, but without destroying the already-good mix".

    I'll reiterate that I'm not a pro, and don't claim to be by any stretch. I also didn't mean to say that there isn't a recommended way to go about mastering, or that you can just do whatever you want "cause who cares, it's art" or something like that.
     
  6. Sopko

    Sopko Sopko

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    My question was mostly how do you guys do a home master and what do you usually do to your mix before hand? Some people leave a little bit of headroom in there mix before mastering and some people leave a lot of headroom. Personally, I leave a medium amount of headroom before I compress the overall mix (usually 3:1 ratio) and bring up the make-up gain.
     
  7. FifthCircleSquared

    FifthCircleSquared Threadender

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    I'm gonna jump in say the "mythical" portion of mastering is really just having a different set of ears work on it. Otherwise, the rest of the thread has summed up the process.
     
  8. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    No, but (and not to put words into KA's mouth or anything), I think the answer is something along the lines of "there's a LOT more to it than you're going to learn by posting a thread on a guitar forum on the internet and asking for simple answers."

    I'll take a plain English crack at it, but while I can quickly throw some .... at a wall and get a final mix up to CD volume as well as the next guy, I'm firmly in the "pay someone else to do it" camp.

    Part of the problem here which makes answering this question so hard is that I think the whole question is misspecified. The OP is phrasing this whole thing in the context of a track - what's the difference between my final mix and the master, and what can I do to get there myself. That's kind of inaccurate.

    I'm going to veer a little into philosophical territory here (though, there's a reason for that, I think it's easier and ultimately more beneficial to talk philosophy than it is to talk specific steps and effects), but I think maybe this is another casualty of the loudness wars - when someone working in a home studio finishes a mix and compares it to a professional release, the first thing that jumps out at them is it's louder. They go to the net, ask why, and everyone says "oh, well that's just because the CD is mastered and your mix isn't," which naturally leads you to conclude the most important part of mastering is to make something louder. It isn't.

    Mastering, as I understand it (and again, I'm in the "send it off to make it someone else's problem" camp, because I know a whole lot about mixing but not that much about mastering) is kind of like what mixing is to your raw tracks - taking a bunch of disseparate parts, and make them gel as a whole. Taking the final mixes, making sure they sound broadly consistent from track to track, getting them up to an equal perceived volume, applying any fades or crossfades you want between tracks and getting the dead air between tracks as short or long as you want it, and then getting the whole thing into the format it'll eventually be released into - in the days of vinyl, limiting the dynamic and EQ range, these days getting it down to 16/44.1, whatever.
    During this process, you can also do stuff to make the master sound "better" or "louder," but the primary purpose of a master is to take your tracks, and put them together into something that sounds like a record.

    My perspective, as an outsider, anyway.

    I think as a home recorder it's worth hiring someone else to do it for a serious release anyway, for a couple reasons - one, especially working out of a home studio, you know for a fact their monitoring chain and listening environment is going to be WAY better than yours. You shouldn't have to do any heavy handed mix correction in mastering, but if there are major translation problems in your mix, it's much better to have them caught before production than after, even if that means the mastering engineer ends up just sending the mix back to you and telling you to fix it. There's also something to be said for just getting a second set of ears on a project, especially (as in a home studio) if it's a labor of love that you've spent countless hours working on - it's possible to get lost and not see the woods through all the trees, so to speak, and another pair of ears will provide some valuable objectivity (or, at least, some valuable subjectivity from someone else) on some of your mix decisions. And, frankly, anyone who masters for a living is just going to be better at it than you are. I happen to like recording, have spent a lot of time working on getting good at it, and enjoy the process, and am happy with the results I'm getting. I haven't invested that kind of time in learning how to master, though, and I'd rather just focus on the park I know and can enjoy. In a pinch, yeah, I could do a passable master, but I think someone else can do it better than me, and I'd rather divide and conquer.

    So, I don't know how much help this is - if you're looking for a mastering chain, or which effects to apply and with what settings, this isn't it. But, at a bare minimum, I'd get past the mindset of looking at mastering as something you do to a track. In the case of a single, maybe, but for an album, if you're going to try to master it yourself, I suspect you're going to end up with every single final mix queued up in order in the project you're mastering in, rather than focusing on each track in isolation.

    EDIT - though, TedEH, rereading your two posts here, I suspect we're advocating broadly the same process, just for different reasons. :lol:
     

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