Why do I suck at mastering?

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by Oske7, Oct 5, 2014.

  1. Oske7

    Oske7 SS.org Regular

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    Whats up dudes?

    So for the most part, I'm pretty confident with my mixing abilities, but like the title says, my mastering definitely suffers. I'm not too worried about my personal music being super loud, but unfortunately most clients want their tracks to be comparable to everything else out there.

    I guess my biggest problem is that every damn time I put a compressor on the master bus, even if it's only very lightly compressing the track, it feels like it starts pumping really bad. Any ideas on what I might be doing wrong or how to better use compressors to keep this from happening? Any advice would be awesome!

    Here's a link to a test mix/master I did earlier today - Gojira - Flying Whales clip.
    And if it helps, here's my current master chain.

    Thanks for your help!
     
  2. darkmist255

    darkmist255 Well-Known Member

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    Using a release of 160ms for a few compressors on the master might be leading to some pumping, but I must say I took a listen and I don't find that there is too much pumping (although you've listened to the track much more than I have so I trust your judgement).


    I find that keeping my master chain relatively simple helps diagnose problems. You've got a lot going on, so try maybe bypassing some of your plugins to isolate which ones are causing the pumping? I'd imagine it's the 160ms compressors though.
     
  3. KingAenarion

    KingAenarion Resident Studio Nerd

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    Mastering is about knowledge, critical listening and execution.

    Whereas mixing is more intuition, referenced listening and personal methods.


    What I mean by this is that the approaches are quite different, and the way you approach mixing shouldn't be the way you approach mastering.

    For a start, the amount of plugins you're using is more than you probably need. Secondly, you're using the VEQ4 (I'm GUESSING from the Waves torrent), but that's the wrong kind of EQ to use for mastering. You actually want to use Linear Phase EQs, and linear phase multiband EQs.
     
  4. nikolazjalic

    nikolazjalic SS.org Regular

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    I agree with darkmist, I'd think the compressors would be the culprit but I'm no mastering expert. Also, I don't really hear much pumping going on but then again I'm listening on laptop speakers
     
  5. darkmist255

    darkmist255 Well-Known Member

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    Agreed.

    Do you mind explaining what linear phase EQs means?
     
  6. KingAenarion

    KingAenarion Resident Studio Nerd

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  7. shnizzle

    shnizzle johnny

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    with mastering you should know exactly with each step why you do what you do.
    so, why do you use a compressor with such a high ratio first thing in the chain?
    why do you use another compressor with super high ratio after that?
    why do you use another compressor with super high ratio after that?
    why do you use another compressor with super high ratio after that?
    why do you use another compressor with super high ratio after that?
    why put the EQ here?
    why put the limiter here?
    why do you use another compressor with super high ratio after the limiter?
    why put a multiband limiter here?
    why put another multiband limiter here?

    if you ask me 6 compressors with such high ratios and 3 limiters is super overkill. with compressors you wouldn´t really wanna go above 2:1. and usually one limiter last thing in the chain should do the trick.
    for dynamic processing i just usa a multiband compressor, a sublte compressor after that (if at all), a saturator and then a limiter at the end. i´ve also seen people use a lot of compressors, but they use them very subtly with a ratio of like 1.2:1, somtimes in parallel, often also not really to compress but to add the characeristic sound of the compressors they use.
    for EQ you should probably use something else if you want to do some surgical stuff and to filter. but i also use the VEQ4 to add some spice. nothing wrong with that.
     
  8. JohnIce

    JohnIce Singlecoil Enthusiast

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    I use 2 or sometimes 3 things when mastering.

    I use one linear phase EQ, cutting sub at around 30-40Hz and usually shelving +2-3dB of highs. Sometimes I have to go back and pull down the overheads after doing this, but it's worth it for the clarity it brings to the rest of the mix. Cutting sub is the quickest way to avoid pumping. And very few people listen to speakers that do any good in the 30Hz region anyway.

    There's usually something worth sculpting in the 500Hz area for me. Usually no more than -1 or -2 dB, but they make a big difference when working on the whole track as opposed to individual instruments.

    For compression, I typically don't use it. Sometimes I do, knowing that great rock mixers like CLA and Randy Staub swear by it but I find it very easy to fvck up the mix this way. I recall reading Staub mixes into the master compressor from the start, instead of adding it later when he's done. Makes sense to me. From the beginning, people put them there to avoid damaging speakers, not to make a mix sound cool.

    For limiting, 3dB of constant gain reduction is usually all that sounds decent to my ears, if it's more than that then I go back and tweak the snare and kick. They need to cut without being too loud, that's the only way to get a good brick wall effect. It's a hassle but can be cool if you get it right (i.e. not just compress the shit out of them making it sound like the entire universe is sucked into every snare hit *cough*djentzdjents*cough*).

    Good luck :)
     
  9. illimmigrant

    illimmigrant A Different Logic

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    Without even listening to the clip (because I don't have speakers at the moment), I can tell by the chain that the process is messed up. The issues have already been mentioned by a couple of posts above. You're not using linear phase EQ, and way too many compressors/limiters. Of all the plugins you're showing on there, the waves SSL compressor and maybe your final limiter are the only ones that belong there. I say maybe because I haven't used the L3, and L1 never really did it for me. If you are mastering your own stuff, your chain should not be very involved either, since you have the ability to fix your mix when the master gives you problems. For me, my compressors tend to pump if I don't take care of the low end properly, so maybe check that.
    My "mastering chain" these days is Slate VCC - Slate VBC - Slate VTM - Fab Filter Pro L.
    I do like putting Ozone on my master fader, but it's just there to add some top end sizzle and some light stereo widening. So if you consider that part of my master chain it's still just one EQ, one compressor, and one limiter. The other slate plugins just add character. Give it a shot with a more simple chain and see how it works.
     
  10. atoragon

    atoragon SS.org Regular

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    90% of mastering problems, especially about the "pump" effect, comes from botching somewhere the gain staging, which means the right input levels, the right right mixing levels, and not overcompressing the mix buss. Plus, you're stacking a bit too many compressors even for mastering, do you also keep the mix buss compressor on while using all these in the mastering phase?
     
  11. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    Quoting to reiterate - mixing and mastering are VERY different things. I'm a fairly proficcient mixer, I think, but I have very littke knowledge about mastering. I can slap a volume maximizer on a mix as well as the next guy, but boosting the volume is only a very small part of what mastering is.

    If you just want to boost tracks up to CD volume, don't overthink it and don't worry about it too much (and DEFINITELY don't use such a long compression release). If you want to release something, hire a professional, or find a better source than (nothing personal to the handful of people here who might actually have significant experience mastering audio) a home recording forum dedicated to a specific type of guitar, and then spend a LOT of time learning.

    I think just hiring someone else makes the most sense - if nothing else, a second set of ears in a different room is valuable in and of itself.
     
  12. Andromalia

    Andromalia Pardon my french

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    It can't be stated enough that if some guys do this for a living, it's because it's something tricky that takes studies and time to master. It's not something you can do just because you want it and get a pro result. Otherwise all engineers would be unemployed. :p
    So do'nt be ashamed if the result is not very good, it will get better, but not soon and not without a lot of effort. Everyone goes through that stage and most of us stay there because our job is something else.
     
  13. Given To Fly

    Given To Fly SS.org Regular

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    Wise advice! :yesway:
     
  14. Yo_Wattup

    Yo_Wattup Kick the Butterfly

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    This. Not a single one of your VSTs are in the right place, OP. And there is waaaaaay too many compressors. There should be one of each type of plugin. Not 6 compressors.
     
  15. PlumbTheDerps

    PlumbTheDerps SS.org Regular

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    Mastering should really be just a couple of super simple things:

    1. Linear phase eq, only if necessary, and only max 3 db cuts at a time, and only 2-3 of them in the whole eq window
    2. Stereo bus compressor with a slow attack and medium release, and I never do more than 3-4 db of gain reduction
    3. Console/tape saturation if you want
    4. Limiter. I use a trick from one of ForTiori's videos where I solo the guitars and get them to peak at -3db. Leaves some headroom for the snare.

    That's it. You can use a touch of multiband compression (absolutely no more than 1-2 db per band, and you have to divide it up logically) if you really need/want to, and an absolutely miniscule amount of some of the stuff that comes with Ozone (stereo widener, harmonic exciter, and reverb) if you want a bit of extra glue. But it should basically be about making your EQ curve look like roughly like a pink noise slope by correcting small imbalances and getting it loud. Nothing more, nothing less.

     
  16. Oske7

    Oske7 SS.org Regular

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    Daaang I definitely didn't expect this much feedback, seriously thank you guys for all the great advice.

    Another quick question - I'm sure there's no 100% strictly "correct" plugin order, but is it generally better to EQ before or after compression in mastering?

    Thanks again!
     
  17. atoragon

    atoragon SS.org Regular

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    the rule of thumb is to put a subtractive eq before the comp and the additive eq after, otherwise the compressor would flatten the eq boost.
     
  18. shnizzle

    shnizzle johnny

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    my mastering chain is:
    HPF - multiband comp - EQ - reverb - stereo widener - saturation - HPF - limiter/dither
    works pretty well for me. but depending on the material you´d need to experiment, of course.
     
  19. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    Well... the rule of thumb is to think about gain staging. This is true for mixing, as well.

    Boosting before a compressor would indeed have the compressor flatten the EQ boost... But, it would also change the way the compressor responds to the REST of the track. Generally that's a reason to boost after a compressor, but it doesn't force you to. Boosting a narrow band to really accentuate the attack of your guitar track, for example, could leave you with a prominent but squished attack, and a fairly dynamically open rest of your performance. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe not - it depends on what you're after.

    Similarly, cutting before a compressor means that you're pulling a lot of energy out of a narrow area - if there was a resonant peak there, it means that your compressor will be hitting the rest of the track that much higher, but also, importantly, that because it's reducing everything else that you didn't cut by that much more, it's actually going to reduce the perceived effect of your cut. Again, maybe a good thing, maybe not.

    So, maybe if you need a rule of thumb this is the better way to think of it - generally, you want your "corrective" equalization to happen before your compressor. If you have a boomy, uncontrolled low end you want gone, put a high pass before the compressor so those undesirable parts of the sound aren't going to be dictating the way the compressor reacts. Simularly, if the low-mids are too thin and you want to thicken it up at 250hz, run that boost before the compressor, because otherwise the low end and upper-mids/high end are going to be what the compressor responds to, but anything going on in the area you're boosting is going to get less attention. And then also keep in mind that the compressor will be a form of EQ as well - if the waveform is simply bigger in the low end than in the highs (which is typical for a guitar) crushing it will probably have the effect of making the high end more prominent. If you don't want that, you can either fix post-comp, or (very unintuitively) dial back some of that low end so your signal hitting the compressor is more balanced and it doesn't change the perceived balance between low and high as much.

    Long story short here is that there's no "rule of thumb" you should always stick to, but rather just be aware that this IS happening, and take it into account when making EQ/compression decisions on a mix.
     

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