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> make music now / modern mastering

MODERN
MASTERING
EQUALISING DYNAMICS STEREO IMAGE MULTIBAND LOUDNESS

42 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

modern mastering / make music now <

DOWNLOAD
Grab all the videos and get
the files to do it yourself at
vault.computermusic.co.uk

Finish off your tracks with the


sound of now! Well take you inside
a contemporary mastering studio
and show you how to apply 2015s
sonic polish using only software
With modern music-makers now taking on the multiple
roles once distributed among several engineers, its no
secret that the once-mysterious field of audio mastering the
final stage of the music production process is now accessible
to all. While many post-processing studios still use rooms full
of expensive gear, the availability of mastering software
(such as Ozone 6, the latest version of iZotopes flagship
mastering package, reviewed on p94) means that everyone
can have access to pro-quality mastering tools.
However, with the mix engineer attempting more and more to
take on the duties of the mastering engineer a technical and
often delicate craft that dedicated professionals spend many
years perfecting theres now a new generation of producers that
simply slap plugins on the master bus and squeeze the life out of
their music in the hunt for professional loudness and sheen.
It doesnt have to be that way, though and Computer Music is
here to ease the pain with our huge Modern Mastering guide!

Were going to give you the expert insight that you need to tackle
this critical final stage of the music-making timeline like a pro.
Youll sit in on a virtual attended session and shadow
professional mastering engineer and lecturer John Paul Braddock
as he masters a
track in an exclusive Mastering Masterclass
video session. Then follow along with our hands-on tutorials to
learn the workflow and techniques thatll sharpen your own
mastering skills. Discover how to use modern software tools to
master music at home, bring out the best in a well-mixed track,
and help it compete against other commercial records. Even if
youd rather leave your tracks to be mastered by a professional,
youll gain a truer understanding of how a mastering engineer
will approach your track, and thus be able to provide him or her
with the best mix possible. These techniques can also quite easily
be applied during sound design, production or mixing sessions.
And with video for every tutorial, plus tutorial files to help you
along, your greatest masters ever are about to become reality

January 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 43

> make music now / modern mastering

Mastering fundamentals
songs and albums must compete with other
professional records. A skilled mastering
engineer has the equipment, experience and
ears to help a mix sit beside other commercial
releases, adding that final 5-10% of polish.
Collections of individual tracks whether
destined for an EP, album or compilation can
each sound tonally and dynamically separate
from each other. The mastering engineer will
ensure the final collection of songs all sit
together as a single cohesive product.

Before you start piling the plugins onto your


latest projects master channel, we should
define exactly what mastering is. Broadly put,
its both the final stage in the creative production
of a track or album, and the initial stage of its
manufacture (where a physical product is
concerned, such as a CD or vinyl) or output (ie,
WAV/MP3 delivery to a download portal). In the
early days of mass-produced music, it was the
job of a skilled individual to physically transfer a
final mix from tape to the master vinyl record,
which would then be sent for duplication.
As record labels realised that skilfully applied
processing could make a big difference in the
perceived quality of music, mastering engineers
were given more creative freedom to enhance
mixes with equalisation and compression
techniques. In todays digital age, the mastering
engineer is still essentially the middle-man
between the finished mix and the consumer,
correcting any errors in the mix, making
enhancements where needed, and editing/
submitting the final master file for release all
without compromising the artistic vision of the
original artist or creatively altering the mix.

Mastering masterclass

Why master?
So why doesnt the mix engineer simply take on
the task of mastering too? A mastered track
should sound as good as possible on as many
playback systems as possible, achieving a
professional and consistent sound whether
listened to on a car stereo, club soundsystem,
cheap earphones, television, mobile phone, and
so on. A producer or mix engineer has likely
spent countless hours creatively blending
multiple elements together to craft the final mix,
and in doing so has overlistened to the track in
the same studio, which may not be the ideal
listening environment. The mastering engineer
is a final, experienced pair of ears that can
objectively listen to the track, correct errors

JPs mastering philosophy is that a track


should be balanced in all parts of the cube

introduced by an imperfect mixing studio, and


transparently sweeten a piece of music further.
Fans and listeners are used to hearing modern
music coated with a professionally-mastered
sheen sparkling highs, deep bass, consistent
frequency spread and dynamic balance. Todays

A skilled mastering engineer has the


equipment, experience and ears to help
a mix sit beside other commercial releases

Monitoring and acoustics


Assuming the mix itself is good, a dense stereo
mix requires quite delicate processing, as
extreme settings could lead to unnatural side
effects, interfering with its overall integrity or
vision. With this in mind, weve used very
subtle settings in our tutorials, so to
appreciate these fine details, watch the videos
and listen through the Tutorial Files on the
highest quality pair of monitors or
headphones you can.
For a pro mastering engineer to subtly
improve a mix, and help it sound consistent
across a broad range of speakers and output
formats, they require highly accurate monitor
speakers, situated in a neutral acoustic
44 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

environment. Great monitoring allows you to


hear exactly whats going on across the full
20Hz-20kHz frequency range, helping you
spot mix errors and inconsistencies. A suitable
studio space and acoustic treatment stops
environmental factors from interfering with
the sound emerging from the speakers.
If youre looking to master music yourself,
but your own studio or production
environment features less-than-ideal
monitoring or acoustics, wed suggest
addressing the issue as soon as possible.
Coincidentally, sprucing up your acoustic
knowledge is as simple as turning a few pages
to our Studio Acoustics feature on page 67.

John Paul JP Braddock of Formation Audio is a


mastering engineer with over 25 years working
experience in the music industry. Not only does
he make his living from mastering, but hes also an
experienced lecturer and teacher, making him
the ideal man to give
readers first-hand
insight into the mastering professionals craft.
When introducing audio students to the
concept of mastering, John Paul begins by
outlining his take on the cube theory. Imagine
a three-dimensional cube that represents the
ideal space a stereo mix should fill, he explains.
The height of the box equates to frequency,
front to back relates to dynamic range (-inf to
0dBFS in the digital realm), and the left-to-right
plane is the stereo field. In the first diagram, a
tracks overly dynamic low-mid range pokes out
of the bottom-front of the cube, low-frequency
stereo elements reach too far out of the sides,
and the tracks overall interrelationships are
inconsistent. Mastering the track correctly can
help it fill all three dimensions of the cube, as in
the lower diagram, giving us a tonally and
dynamically even mix that will translate well
across all playback systems without excessive
brickwall limiting or heavy-handed processing
For our seven exclusive Mastering
Masterclass videos, we take you on a trip to John
Pauls mastering facility for an in-depth session.
After providing an overview of the mastering
engineers role and a brief tour of the mastering
hardware he uses on a daily basis, youll see him
get hands-on with the final mix from
209s
House Track-Builder feature, helping it fill the
aforementioned virtual cube while improving
the mixs overall tone, weight and loudness
characteristics. Lets head into the studio

WARNING!
HEADPHONES MUST BE WORN
The difference that mastering
techniques make can at times be
subtle. To fully appreciate them,
we strongly advise you to listen
critically and compare the
before/after WAVs (in the
Tutorial Files folder) in as good a
listening environment as you
have access to. That means using
monitor speakers and/or decent
quality headphones!

MONITORS MANDATORY

modern m
mastering / make music now <

1. Introduction and overview

Hopefully, by the end of


this, youll have a good
overview of how you can
make your tracks better

In this first video, John Paul


outlines the technical role of
the mastering engineer in relation
to the other creative stages of the
production and mixing timeline:
to make a track sound balanced
across a wide range of playback
systems, and fit for purpose
without creatively altering the
artists original vision.

January 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 45

> make music now / modern mastering


2. Load in, levelling
and equal loudness
Before attempting to master a track, John Paul is
adamant that you should be aware of the human
perception of loudness, and how level
imbalance between tracks and processes can
influence our critical decision-making at the
mastering stage. (head to page 51 for more info,
or Google Fletcher-Munson to find out more
about human loudness perception).
As louder sounds perceptively better, then
any time we apply a process, if that process is
making the audio louder, were hearing the
process plus the difference in perceived
loudness. Equally the opposite way around: if we
compress something, but dont use make-up
gain, the compressed signal sounds weaker
when A/B-ed with the uncompressed signal,
even though in reality it could sound better.
This is especially important when applying
EQ boosts or cuts. If we apply one (EQ) aspect,
we also apply another aspect to the negative
somewhere else. Every action has an effect. If
we apply treble, we lose bass; if we apply
midrange, we lose bass and treble; if we cut the
mids out, then in effect were creating bass and
treble, once weve rebalanced at equal loudness.
Its really important that, at the mastering stage,
were aware of the fact that if we apply a boost
or cut, were also applying a gain change. Well
constantly be A/B-ing and trying to re-level
every time we apply a process, to make sure
were actually changing the mix in a way we
want to, and arent being fooled by our ears. Our
ears are our best tool, but equally our worst
enemy when it comes to the loudness issue.

See JP practically demonstrate how loudness


imbalance can fool the ear, and learn how to
perform a sum difference test to discover what
your plugins may be doing to your signals.

EQ will lead to
gain change, which
must be compensated
for with re-levelling

3. Mastering hardware and


transfer path overview
Take a tour of the Formation Audio
mastering studio, and have a good
look at the choice selection of
hardware and software processors
that can be inserted at different points
in the signal chain otherwise known
as the transfer path.
46 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

modern m
mastering / make music now <

JP tackles our house track


head-on in this exclusive
Mastering Masterclass

Selected kit list


Apple Mac Pro
Windows 7 Professional
Magix Samplitude Pro X
RME AES-32
TC Electronic PowerCore
Universal Audio UAD Quad
UAD-2 Manley Massive Passive EQ,
Pultec Pro EQ, Cambridge EQ
Crookwood M3 Mastering console
Lynx Hilo A/D D/A Transfer converter

Chandler Curve Bender EQ (EMI


TG12345) mastering version
Manley Mini Massive EQ
Manley Vari Mu (mastering
version with HPF option)
TC Electronic System 6000 MKII
Reverb & Mastering Pack
Crookwood Monitor Controller
Benchmark DAC1
ATC SCM25Pro monitors

January 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 47

> make music now / modern mastering

4. Corrective
processing with
multiband
compression
To show you exactly how a professional mastering
engineer can improve a track you might be
familiar with, we asked John Paul Braddock to
master the final stereo mix from
209s House
Track-Builder feature after we removed our
own master bus processing, of course! Braddock
begins the mastering session by loading the mix
into Magix Samplitude Pro X and auditioning
small sections of the mix. Im scanning across
the track, to get a sample of how it feels.
As we previously mentioned, John Paul
imagines a mix within a virtual cube, which
relates to the ideal 3D space a track should
occupy. We can hear the mix is too lumpy: the
bass end is too weighty and is pushing out of the
box. Equally, the top end lacks detail its not
necessarily too dull, but it doesnt contain
enough transient detail and isnt spiky enough.
We want to make the mix fit nicely within the
cube, then lift the top end so the track occupies
more of the space. If it occupies more of the
space, it will sound more balanced.
Because this bass end is a bit floppy, we
need to apply some multiband compression, to
tighten it up and pull it together. However, were
not going to apply [multiple bands] across the
whole track, as that would EQ the entire track
and turn [frequency ranges] up and down in
varying levels. Instead, John Paul focuses in
on the tracks bass end and compresses that
area in isolation.

After compressing specific


frequency bands, John Paul
turns his attention to the
tracks stereo components

Here,
John Paul
begins to
master the
stereo mix
from
209s
House TrackBuilder
feature.

5. Mid/side,
tonal and
dynamic
enhancement

See our pro mastering engineer


sweeten the individual mono
and stereo components of the mix.

Once the problematic low end is


controlled, Braddock shifts the
tracks overall tone by equalising
the mono (mid) and stereo (side)
information of the track separately.
The top end needs a lift, but more
to the mid aspects than the side.
Currently weve got a scoop to the
treble: rather than a linear line of

The Chandler EMI TG12345 Curve Bender is a powerful hardware equaliser that Braddock uses to full effect

48 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

treble across the top of the cube,


weve got a dipping effect. An EQ
unit is used to raise the mono
informations treble and dip the
side signals treble. Subtle master
compression then pulls the
track together.
Throughout the session, John
Paul always keeps a copy of the
original unprocessed mix, labelled
the reference, side-by-side with
the version hes processing, named
the source, or the beginning of his
transfer path. At all points, we can
A/B between these two versions, to
see if were changing the track in
the exact way that we want to,
points out JP.

Voxengos free MSED plugin is used to separate


our track into its mono and stereo components

modern mastering / make music now <


6. Soft clipping and limiting
With the track corrected and enhanced,
Braddock now uses a brickwall limiter to reduce
the peaks and overall dynamic range, and help
the track reach a similar level to other
commercial releases without inducing distortion.
However, hes keen to emphasise the importance
of all the other previous processing stages.
Weve tonally and dynamically balanced the
track, and filled our cube. Because of this, we
can now apply limiting to it in a positive sense,
so were just skimming off the peaks achieving
perceived loudness because weve tonally and
dynamically corrected the track, as opposed to

The transients have


been reduced, but
theres still detail in the
mastered waveform
applying limiting just for loudness. We can now
take the peak information off in an even way,
without it sounding too affected.

Using the BL2 limiter from his TC Electronic


System 6000 MkII, John Paul uses an initial
stage of soft-clipping to remove the tracks
highest peaks, before applying brickwall limiting
to raise the tracks perceived level, being
careful to A/B with the unprocessed track at
equal volume.
Check out the waveforms of the unprocessed
and limited track below/left. Although peak
reduction has been applied during mastering,
the waveform hasnt completely been chopped
off the transients have been reduced, but
theres still detail in the mastered waveform.

See John Paul use soft-clipping


to remove the tracks highest
peaks before applying brickwall
limiting to raise the perceived level
all the while A/B-ing it with the
unprocessed track at equal volume.
The original (top) and mastered (bottom) waveforms spot the difference!

7. Summary
To finish, John Paul compares his finished
master with the original unprocessed track.
Once weve mastered a track, we need to
listen back to what weve done. When were
using DAWs, and technology in general, its
very easy to assume that our technology has
done what it said it would do.
Because were the final stage of the
process, we need to listen through the track
and check that it sounds exactly as we want it
to sound. Have we enhanced all the aspects we
want to enhance? Have we made it better? If
we cant answer yes to these questions, then
we need to go all the way back to the
beginning and start again.
To check out Braddocks finished master,
head to the Tutorial Files Modern Mastering
Mastering Masterclass with Formation
Audio folder. The first WAV file is the original
unprocessed mix, and the second is the

Formation Audio master, turned down to


match the unprocessed file. By A/B-ing
between the two versions, youll hear how the
tracks bass end has been tightened, and the
overall track is more balanced in the high-mid
and treble areas.
The third file is the same master as the
second but has been turned up to a
commercial level a loudness that has been
achieved through several stages of careful,
reasoned processing.
Its really important that were aware that
limiting is a post-process until weve got the
dynamic and tonal balance correct, the limiter
wont work effectively, if were trying to get
some form of volume out of the track, to make
it a commercial level.
You can check out more of JPs mastering
resources and articles online at
www.formationaudio.co.uk
January 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 49

> make music now / modern mastering

Mixing vs mastering
The majority of computer-based musicians are
stuck in the composition, production and mixing
mindsets. Our projects contain multiple tracks
of building blocks that combine to form large
multitrack mixes, so were used to piling on
plugins, applying heavy-handed settings, and
having control over each element of a mix.
This approach is counter-intuitive when
approaching mastering. The mastering engineer
is really just a final, impartial pair of ears. To
master music yourself, its important to realise
that the creative mixing role has already been
completed. Your task is now a technical one to
correct, sweeten and enhance a mix. Thats it.
Disengage from the individual aspects of a
track, and view it as a finished body of work that
can be slightly enhanced, not proactively altered.
Objectivity is one reason why its extremely
difficult to master music that youve spent hours

> Step by step

producing and mixing yourself. Most artists find


it tough to emotionally detach themselves from
their own song and make critical processing
decisions without slipping back into mix
engineer mode. Weve all tried to create a quick
test master to hear how a track sounds under
the strain of master processing, or to DJ the
track alongside commercially-mastered tracks
but generally, a separate mastering individual
will perform a better job. Theyll also have the
advantage of hearing your music in a different
(and ideally better) environment, exposing any
mix errors that your studio may disguise.
If you want to master with true objectivity,
source unmastered mixes from other artists and
friends, or, if youre desperate to master your
own tracks, sit your projects aside and forget
about them for weeks or even months before
approaching them with your mastering hat on.

Making a test master while mixing is


fine, but the mastering mindset is
more than just throwing on plugins

1. Preparing a multitrack mix for mastering

TUTORIAL

FILES

Heres a typical mixed project


comprising many audio and MIDI
channels. You could apply processing
directly on the master channel, but you
might be tempted to adjust individual mix
elements, too, switching you back into the
mindset of the mix engineer. Instead,
render your track as a single stereo file, so
that it can be tackled from the mastering
engineers perspective.

Set your DAWs cycle markers around


the entire track including a few
seconds of silence at the beginning and
end ensuring you capture any extra
track elements such as reverb tails or leadin effects. This is especially important for
analogue mixes or restoration projects, as
isolated noise at the beginning or end can
be used as a noise profile for noise
removal plugins or restorative processes.

If the track contains any global volume


fade-ins or fade-outs, remove them
before rendering the final mix, as theyll
sound unnatural when dynamics
processing is applied to them. If in doubt,
export a second reference version with
fades applied, so that you or the mastering
engineer can replicate them at the end of
the mastering process.

POWER TIP

>How many bits?

Remove any master buss processing


before exporting the final mix, as it
could impair the mastering engineers
ability to apply their own processing to
the track. If a particular master effect is
adding a quality that you like, simply make
a note of it so that it can be replicated
during mastering, if desired. Get the
highest peaks hitting around -3dB to -6dB,
to prevent clipping and leave headroom.

50 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

Render the mix at the same sample


rate as the project, and at 24- or 32-bits
to ensure that you dont lose any quality
or resolution in the final stereo file. Its
important to maintain audio fidelity at
every stage of the production process, so
be absolutely sure that you arent
inadvertently lowering the quality of the
track at this final stage.

We asked John Paul Braddock of


Formation Audio if theres any benefit to
rendering out your 24-bit mix project as
a 32-bit stereo file. If youre aware of
your projects output level, and not
clipping the master bus, you dont gain
anything from rendering your project at
32-bit float. In principle, youre
monitoring through a 24-bit converter,
so what youre hearing is the 32-bit
signal truncated and dithered to 24-bit
anyway! If your master bus is clipping,
then 32-bit will save you, as the extra
headroom will keep the overs as
rendered. Its best to keep it within the
correct dynamic range for a mix
bounce. For an actual mix session,
32-bit can be useful if you freeze a
track, you know it wont clip.

modern mastering / make music now <


> Step by step

2. Referencing, levelling and equal loudness

Here weve loaded Session Mix.wav,


a short section of an unmastered
stereo file, into a fresh project. By
comparing this mix to a professionally
mastered reference track thats proven to
sound good on a wide range of playback
systems, well be able to assess exactly
how ours can be improved. We load
Reference.wav onto a second audio
channel and mute it.

Our professionally mastered reference


track has been limited to 0dBFS,
making it far louder than our unprocessed
session mix. As weve seen in our
Mastering Masterclass tutorials, a louder
track sounds subjectively better; to
counteract this phenomenon, we balance
our tracks levels to a calibrated reference
point, so that theres no gain difference to
influence our objectivity.

RMS metering gives an accurate


indication of average level over time
far more closely related to our perception
of loudness than peak metering. We load
an instance of iZotope Ozone 6 on each
track and watch their RMS readouts as the
tracks play through, with both muted so as
to keep things entirely visual. The session
mix peaks at -16 to -18dB RMS, while the
reference reaches around -6dB RMS.

POWER TIP

>On the meter

To match the reference tracks RMS


value to our session mix, we turn the
regions gain down directly on the clip
itself, leaving the channel faders free for
later adjustments. Turning the reference
down to -11dB brings its RMS value more in
line with the session mix.

RMS average metering as opposed to


normal peak metering can help you
balance the levels of tracks within a
mastering project, whether its a
processed and unprocessed version of
the same track, a session mix against a
commercial reference, or a selection of
album tracks across a project. Once
levelled with metering, turn off the
meters and use your ears to judge
exactly which track is louder. Our
hearing is better at comparing levels
than any meter, so trust your instincts
and fine-tune the last dB or two by ear.

Its important to use your ears and fine


tune the gain difference between the
two tracks, too. Our reference still sounds
subjectively a little louder than the
unmastered track, so we turn it down to
-12dB. Now we can A/B compare our mix
and the reference track at equal volume,
without the level difference influencing
our perception of tone and dynamics.

The Fletcher-Munson equal loudness curves


are the results of a series of audio experiments.
Subjects were played test tones at a particular
frequency, and told to note when these tones
sounded as loud as a set reference frequency.
The results prove that not all frequencies are
heard equally our ears are far more sensitive
to midrange than to low and high frequencies,
and whats more, the response curve of our
ears changes at higher listening levels, with
bass becoming easier to hear, for example. This
is why some hi-fis have a loudness or bass
boost button, to bring up the bass level when
listening at low volumes, giving the bass-heavy
effect of high-volume listening, thus increasing
the impression of loudness. The dips in the
graph at 2-5kHz show that those frequencies
must be at a far lower level than bass and treble

to be perceived at the same loudness.


To illustrate this, load a well-mixed, vocal-led
commercial track in your DAW, then turn your
headphones or monitors right down. It might be
difficult to perceive the deepest bass or highest
treble, but the midrange frequencies and highmid of the vocal will likely still cut through. Now,
turn the volume up gradually, and listen to how
the tracks bass weight increases and the treble
cuts through more. Its the exact same track, but
it sounds better the louder it becomes.
Mastering engineers will often use dedicated
average level metering systems to keep levels in
check, such as RMS, K-System (invented by
mastering guru Bob Katz), Dorrough, and
broadcast formats outlined by the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU) and European
Broadcast Union (EBU).

Sound pressure level (dB)

Equal loudness across the spectrum


130
120
110
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
-10
10

100

1000

10k

100k

These curves show how loud various frequencies must


be played for us to perceive them at equal loudness

January 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 51

> make music now / modern mastering

Fixing mix
problems at
the mastering
stage
Before you begin applying any
overall enhancement to a mix, you
must correct any errors or mistakes
present in the source material. If
you have the opportunity to return
to the mix, then this is always best,
but sometimes this is not possible
when mastering a track you have
been supplied, for instance.
There may be glitches, pops, or
clicks due to poor editing or caused
by software these small details can
go unnoticed, but theyll be
magnified with later broad
enhancement, so consider checking
the mix with headphones to
pinpoint these small details. Noise
removal plugins can help remove
these sort of errors, but its always
advisable to correct these within
the original mix first.
Honking resonances or
frequency clashes can also be
problematic. Listen out for areas
where instruments overlap and
particular frequencies get too loud,
or grungy-sounding bunches of
adjacent frequencies are caused by
harmonics stacking near to each
other. Tools such as multiband
compressors or dynamic EQ allow
you to focus on these very specific
areas and correct them in isolation.
A poor mixing environment or
inexperienced engineering can also
lead to dynamic issues within a
track. Overly sharp transients can
poke above a mix, or certain areas
may appear too dynamic, or flappy.
Again, one or two gentle bands of
careful multiband compression can
smooth out problem areas. Be
careful with regular static EQ, as
youll likely affect other areas of the
mix too, so leave this for the later
sweetening stage.
Listen to the tracks separate
stereo components in isolation the
left channel, the right channel, mid
signal and side signal. Understand
that you can monitor and process
these parts individually if needs be
for example, if a hi-hat on the left
side of the mix is too piercing, you
can apply processing to the left side
of the mix, leaving the balance of
elements on the right side
unaffected. Well be addressing the
topic of stereo processing in a few
pages time.
To reiterate, while pinpoint
master processing and correction
can go a long way in tidying up
issues, remember that its always
easier to correct errors at the source
within the original mix project.

52 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

> Step by step

3. Cleaning up a mix at the mastering stage

Before you add enhancement or


sweetening to a track, you need to fix
any problems introduced at the mix stage.
A mix engineers monitoring environment
might conceal frequency clashes and
recording errors, and its the mastering
engineers job to clean these up first, so
that further processing doesnt exacerbate
them. Import Clean Up Mix.wav onto a
new audio track in your DAW and loop it.

A narrow band of multiband


compression could solve this
problem, but instead well turn to dynamic
EQ, which combines the frequencyshaping flexibility of EQ with the leveldependent triggering of compression.
Load iZotopes Ozone 6 Dynamic EQ
plugin onto the track. We can see the highend resonance in the analyser display.

We briefly play through different


sections of the track to help us decide
what our mix needs. Its important not to
overlisten and let your ears get used to
how the track sounds. The mix is relatively
dull and weighty, but an overly-harsh
hi-hat occurs every so often. We need to
control this resonant high frequency, so
that broad tonal adjustments later dont
make the harshness even worse.

Set Band 4s Frequency to 15.5kHz


the exact point of the resonant peak
then select the Peak Bell curve. Set a Gain
of -25dB and narrow the Q width to 4.00.
Now, pull down the Threshold a setting
of -28dB causes the resonant spike to
trigger the EQs notch. Shorten the bands
Release to 100ms, returning the EQ notch
to unity more quickly.

POWER TIP

>Bands-u-need

Make sure no other part of the track


exceeds the threshold at this
frequency, as that would trigger the EQ
bands gain reduction, notching the area
unnecessarily. Compare the track before
and after EQ to hear how weve efficiently
tamed that high frequency peak without
affecting any other mix elements.

When you load up a multiband plugin,


its bands are usually all active,
showing off just how many features,
bells and whistles are available.
Remember that, just because a
multiband plugin has lots of bands,
that doesnt mean you have to use
them. Overzealous multiband
processing will unnaturally and
uncontrollably shift a signals tone and
dynamics around. Instead, begin by
switching off each bands processing,
then carefully isolate a problem area
with a single band or two ensuring
the processing is being triggered only
by the desired mix issue.

> make music now / modern mastering


> Step by step

Import CM200 Track.wav onto an


audio track in your DAW, then load
CM209 Reference.wav onto a second
track and mute it. Briefly audition each
one in isolation, and note how the first
tracks overall tone appears to be slightly
weighted towards the low-mid and treble
areas, while lacking high-mid presence, in
comparison to the reference.

To reduce the excess of treble, select


the EQ band 7, which is set to a
Baxandall High Shelf. -3.0dB Gain at
9kHz gently shelves down the tracks high
frequencies. To lift the bass end up
slightly, set band 1s Baxandall Low Shelf to
0.5dB at 150Hz. With a well mixed track,
broad shelves like these are often all you
need to gently shift the mix into the
desired frequency area.

> Step by step

Linear-phase vs.
regular EQ

4. Broad tonal tilting with mastering EQ

Lets gently shift the overall tone of


our track (CM200) towards that of the
reference track, which has a better tonal
balance. We load iZotopes Ozone 6
Equaliser plugin onto the first track, click
band 3 on the display, and change the
filter type to Analog Low Shelf. Set the
bands Gain to -1dB at a Frequency of
500Hz with a gentle Q of 3.0.

Bypass the EQ and youll hear that the


unprocessed signal is now louder than
the newly-EQed one, so increase the
Output Gain to +2.0dB. Not only have we
reduced the tracks low mid and treble, but
weve also added emphasis to the highmid area, bringing its tone more in line
with the reference track.

When we boost or cut a certain


frequency using a regular (or
minimum phase) EQ, the phase
of that frequency area is shifted
ever so slightly, delaying the
timing of that frequency and
possibly resulting in transient
smearing and colouration an
effect which a mastering
engineer may wish to avoid over
a full mix. In this instance, a
linear-phase EQ can be used,
which will keep the timing/phase
relationships consistent across
all frequencies.
There are benefits and
drawbacks to each. A linear
phase EQ offers a cleaner
processing alternative in terms
of phase but can cause audible
pre-ringing, especially in the
low frequencies plus it can
introduce a higher CPU hit and
added latency. In addition, the
phase distortion caused by a
traditional minimum-phase EQ
can also contribute to the
character, adding mojo to a
sterile mix.
Overall, wed advise you to
reach for a linear phase EQ when
absolute cleanliness and
transparency is required when
applying broad tonal
adjustments, but consider a more
characterful minimum phase EQ
when a mix already seems a little
cold and clinical, or you need to
make tight cuts (which can
exacerbate pre-ringing in linear
phase EQs). Linear phase EQ is
also desirable for left/right or
mid/side stereo processing, to
minimise phasing artifacts
between the two channels.

5. Master feathering EQ

By distributing EQ boosts and cuts


over several stages, you can minimise
resonance and phase shifting when
mastering. Here, weve loaded Feather
Mix.wav into our DAW. The track could do
with a mid-range EQ boost to even out its
tone. FabFilters Pro-Q 2 is used to apply a
+5dB bell boost at 450Hz, with a Q width
of 1.00.

54 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

After copying the settings over to the


B state, we halve the boost to +2.5dB.
Now we add two smaller boosts either
side of the first, and at half the gain level of
the centre boost so +1.25dB bell boosts
at 400Hz and 500Hz (both at 1.00 Q). We
then use the A/B button to switch between
the single larger boost and the three
smaller ones.

The three smaller bell boosts are


affecting the same frequency range as
the first single boost, but the EQ
processing is divided over three gentler
stages. This softens the effect, resulting in
less harshness and focus than youd get
with one large boost, while also
minimising the phase shifts that can be
introduced by extreme EQ boosting.

modern mastering / make music now <

Stereo processing
Four elements of a stereo mix can be treated
separately the left channel, the right channel,
the mid signal, and the side signal. To the
uninitiated, mid/side (or M/S) processing can
seem complex, but its actually rather
straightforward. A stereo signals mid
information is simply the information that can
be found identically in both the left and right
channels or everything thats mono. Its side
information is all the information that isnt equal
in the left and right channels, so anything
thats stereo.
Panned instruments, stereo reverb, wide
effects and stereo sources are present in the
side signal, whereas core mono mix elements
drums, bass, lead vocals and instruments will
generally occupy the mid signal. Sounds that are
entirely out of phase in a mix will always feature
in the side signal, but not in the mid, and panned
instruments will usually feature in both the mid

> Step by step

You can visualise your mid and side signals using


Fluxs free StereoTool plugin from fluxhome.com

and side signals to some degree. These arent


hard and fast rules, as every mix is different, so
wed advise you to strap a simple M/S tool across

a tracks channel and isolate the mid and side


signals for yourself. Voxengos MSED (free from
bit.ly/MSEDplugin) or Brainworxs bx_solo
(bit.ly/bx_solo) are two great free options.
By altering or processing the mid and side
independently, a mixs stereo balance and width
can be corrected and/or enhanced. If a track
needs more or less width, the side signals gain
can simply be turned up or down. Perception of
width can be applied with simple EQ shelves or
boosts to the side signal, and a particular
frequency range can be evened out across the
speakers, as weve seen in our earlier Mastering
Masterclass tutorials. If a tracks stereo
information is too dynamic, compression can
increase its solidity again, adding perceived
stereo presence. Many modern plugins now
feature an inbuilt left/right or mid/side mode,
enabling simple M/S processing without any
extra routing.

6. Mid/side master processing

Lets look at how we can monitor and


treat the mid elements (the mono
information) and the side elements (just
the stereo information) of a stereo mix in
isolation. Load up MS Track.wav, found in
the Tutorial Files folder, onto a new audio
track in any DAW. Again, were using
Cubase 7.5 here.

Well load up the free bx_solo by


Brainworx (free from bit.ly/bx_solo)
on this channel. The plugin allows us to
monitor either the left, right, mid or side
channels by toggling the corresponding
button. When we isolate the side signal, its
clear that the tracks stereo information is
rather dull and quiet in comparison to the
mid information. Now bypass bx_solo.

Now load up Voxengos free MSED


(available from bit.ly/MSEDplugin).
As well as letting us monitor the mid and
side signals via the Mid Mute and Side
Mute buttons, the plugin also features a
gain control for each meaning you can
adjust the levels of the mono and stereo
signals independently. Turn the Side Gain
knob up by 3dB, and hear how the tracks
stereo width is increased.

POWER TIP

>Peak freqs

Many EQ plugins allow you to affect


the frequencies of the mid and side
information separately. With MSED still
active, load iZotopes Ozone 6 Equalizer
next in the chain. Its set to regular Stereo
mode by default, so hit the M-S button
over on the left of the plugin. We now have
access to two independent EQ controls,
switchable by hitting either the Mid or
Side buttons on the left side.

Select the Side signals EQ, then click


on Band 7 and apply a high shelf boost
of 5dB at 1kHz. This brightens the side
signal, emphasising the high-mid and treble
in the hi-hats and bass riff. Move bx_solo
last in the plugin chain and solo the side
signal to hear this more clearly. Weve been
heavy-handed with our settings in here
usually, youll want to gently sweeten rather
than drastically alter the width in this way.

As we learned on p51, our ears are


more sensitive to high-mid and
midrange frequencies especially
the 2-4kHz area. If a track seems to
lack stereo width, ensure its side
signal has enough presence in this
area in relation to the mono signal,
and vice versa. Broad bell or high
shelf boosts or cuts will help gently
re-balance the upper-mid
frequencies of the two signals. As
with all master processing, dont
feel you need to apply mid/side
processing just because you can!

January 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 55

> make music now / modern mastering


> Step by step

Macrodynamics and
microdynamics

7. Master manual compression

When mastering a track, you might


find a verse or intro section to be
comparatively quiet in relation to a louder
chorus or drop section. Rather than rely
upon a dynamics plugin, simple volume
automation or audio region levelling can
transparently balance track sections. Load
Manual Track.wav on a new track in your
preferred host software.

A songs dynamics can be defined


as its variation in volume over
time, and how loud or quiet it is in
relation to other songs and itself.
When mastering, consider the
dynamic relationships of entire
track sections working together
across a song or album. Is the
verse too quiet or loud in relation
to the chorus sections? Do any
particular areas stand out as
being too loud or quiet? Is the
loudness of the intro detracting
from the impact of the chorus?
Any macrodynamic
inconsistencies like this are best
addressed using basic manual
compression techniques. Simply
chop out the offending audio
region and turn that section up or
down by a dB or two, or automate
the tracks volume.
A songs finer dynamic
interrelationships or
microdynamics are the shorterterm dynamic variations
between individual instruments.
Itd take a lot of time and effort to
draw in volume changes over
such a short span of time, but
thankfully compressors and
dynamics processors can work
automatically over a far shorter
time period.

The small one-bar fill effect before


the second drop is extremely quiet in
comparison to the rest of the track. Well
carefully chop out this region of audio and
turn the segment up by several dB on the
region itself. To prevent clicks at non-zero
crossings, well carefully crossfade the
regions at either edge.

POWER TIP

>Tiny shifts

Levelling whole sections manually is


useful if an entire section of a track is
too loud or quiet, but it wont work if some
of the mix elements stand out above
each other in level in this case, youll
probably need to affect the mixs
interrelationships on a micro level with
compression techniques, which well get
onto soon enough.

> Step by step

In this tutorial (and accompanying


video), we turned our quiet audio
region up by a huge +6dB. This is, of
course, an exceptionally large gain
increase, and is only necessary thanks
to the custom track weve used for
illustrative purposes. In a real
mastering scenario, huge adjustments
like these arent usually necessary.
Only a decibel or two of level-shifting
can still make a profound difference
upon the perceived balance of a piece
of music, adding extra life, contrast
and emotion between track sections.

8. Adding average weight with master parallel compression

Parallel compression involves


blending an unprocessed dry signal
with a heavily-compressed duplicate copy.
This technique offers a great way to add
average weight to an entire track while
maintaining transient detail. Load Parallel
Track.wav onto a new audio track, loop it
up, then open up an instance of DMG
Audios Compassion on this channel.

56 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

Master parallel processing should be a


lot less extreme compared to mixing.
For parallel use, attack settings should be
set as fast as possible (ideally 0ms) to
ensure that no transients poke through.
Well dial in a -30dB Threshold amount,
3:1 Ratio, minimum 0ms Attack, and a
Release of 400ms. Bring the Makeup
gain up to 12dB to re-level.

We can now turn the Dry/Wet knob


counter-clockwise to mix between our
dry and compressed signals. Well set this
at 15%. Bypass the plugin to hear how weve
added weight and sustain while keeping
transients. If your compressor lacks a Dry/
Wet control, compress a duplicate copy of
the track, or send the signal to a return
track with the compressor inserted.

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ON THE
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> make music now / modern mastering


> Step by step

9. Gelling a mix with master bus compression

Master bus compression is an oftenmisunderstood technique, so lets


look at how to use it effectively. Create a
new audio track in your DAW and drop
CM205 Track.wav onto the channel. Well
load Native Instruments Solid Bus Comp
a plugin emulation of the classic SSL
G-Series Buss Compressor as an insert
on the track.

> Step by step

We set a low Ratio of 1.5:1, a 0.8s


Release and a Threshold of 6.0dB,
before re-levelling with a 1.5dB Make-up
gain amount. A very slow Attack setting
will ensure we preserve transients, so the
compressor only gently pulls down the
tracks sustain elements try out fast
attack times and note the destructive
effect of the compression. Well settle
upon the slowest 30ms Attack time.

Extreme compression effects are


generally best used at the mix stage,
when you have more control over
individual tracks and groups. Our smooth
1-2dB gain reduction is extremely subtle,
but serves to gently gel the overall mix
together. You might not notice this gluing
effect unless you listen on good quality
headphones or monitors well bypass the
plugin to carefully observe its effect.

Loudness
10. Master limiting techniques

At this stage, your track should be


tonally and dynamically balanced,
making it sound perceptively loud in
relation to other commercial examples at
equal level. Now its just a case of reducing
peaks with a brickwall limiter. Heres
CM205 To Limit.wav lightly compressed
from our previous tutorial. Weve inserted
AOMs Invisible Limiter on its channel.

We place T-RackS Classic Clipper


before the limiter, set to 10dB Gain and
-10dB Output, to clip off 1-2dB of the tracks
highest peaks. This reduces the limiters
workload, meaning we can increase its
Input Gain to +11.5dB. A/B the result at an
equal level to the unprocessed signal.
There should be a slight loss of transient
detail, but otherwise no real sonic change.

58 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

Just increasing the Input Gain will


disrupt our balance of equal loudness,
so make sure you turn down the Output
Gain by the same amount to re-level. Many
limiters allow you to link the In and Out
Gain parameters for this purpose. To do
this here, well toggle the Unity Gain
Monitoring button, then apply 11dB of
Input Gain for 3-4dB of gain reduction.

If you hear any distortion or negative


side effects, back off the gain reduction.
If you cant achieve enough perceived
loudness now, dont apply more limiting
consider going back for better frequency
adjustment, dynamic control or parallel
compression. To finish, raise the Output
Gain up to full scale around -0.1 to
-0.5dBFS and render your master.

The dynamic range of a song


refers to the difference between
its loudest and quietest points.
By reducing a tracks dynamic
range (by bringing down the
highest peaks), the overall track
can be turned up, resulting in an
increase in average level and
perceived loudness at the
expense of dynamics and
transient punch. Music has been
steadily increasing in average
level over the past few decades,
and this trend rocketed with the
invention of the digital brickwall
limiter. Labels and artists have
always wanted their music to be
as loud as the competition. As we
know, louder sounds better, but
this race for level led to a public
outcry a few years ago, dubbed
The Loudness War.
Whether youre a fan of
loudness trends in popular music
or not, its unavoidable that a
modern record must reach
similar loudness levels to other
commercial tracks within its
intended marketplace. However,
inappropriate application of
limiting can easily lead to
unpleasant hypercompression
and distortion, so its important
that your track is well mixed (ie,
tonally and dynamically
balanced) before master limiting
is applied. Simply cranking a
limiters input gain over your
master will make your track
loud, but at the expense of
clarity and fidelity.

modern mastering / make music now <


> Step by step

11. Mastering the

In our Mastering Masterclass videos,


youve seen professional mastering
engineer JP Braddock process and
enhance
209s house track with
mastering hardware. Lets now replicate
his process and master the same track
in-the-box using native third-party
plugins. Load CM209 Session Mix.wav
onto a new audio track in any DAW were
using Cubase 7.5 here.

In the Compressor section, well dial in


a 2.5:1 Ratio, 39ms Attack, 350ms
Release and a Knee of 2.8. Setting the
Threshold to -30dB achieves 3-6dB of
gain reduction. In the second band, set a
2:1 Ratio, 50ms Attack, 300ms Release
and a Knee of 7.0. A Threshold setting of
-33dB then triggers approximately 3dB of
gain reduction. Weve levelled out the
basss dynamics, and well make up this
regions drop in level later with EQ.

Lets raise the mid signals treble with


a high shelf, emphasise it with a highmid bell boost, then shelve down the treble
in the side signal. Raise the mids High band
to 2.50 at 5k6 (5.6kHz) and turn the shelfs
Q right down for a gentler slope. On the
mids High Mid band, raise a bell boost of
7.00 at 3k3 (3.3kHz) with the Q knob at 7
oclock. On the side signals High band,
make a shelf cut of 13.00 at 8k2.

209 house track with plugins

To begin, multiband compression


tightens up the tracks overly dynamic
bass end. Load iZotopes Ozone 6 Dynamics
plugin on the channel, right-click on the
rightmost band and select Remove Band
well only need three. For each band in
turn, set the Compressor Thresholds to
0dB, initialising them but not yet applying
gain reduction. Set the third bands
Compressor and Limiter Ratio values to 1:1.

The track has too much treble in the


stereo field, but not enough in the
middle of the mix. To correct this uneven
distribution, we can equalise the tracks
mono information and stereo information
independently. Load Native Instruments
Passive EQ next in the chain, and toggle its
Mid/Side mode via the switch at the
plugins top-centre. The left-hand controls
now affect the mono signal, and the righthand controls will affect the stereo signal.

We raise the side signals Gain to 1.5dB,


increasing the tracks width and
compensating for the loss of level from
the treble shelf cut. To raise the tracks bass
end (that we compressed earlier), we boost
the mids Low band shelf to 10.5 at 330Hz,
with the shelfs Q set fully right. Load a
second Passive EQ instance, and apply a
bell boost of 1.00 to the mid signal at
27kHz, further enhancing its treble detail.

In the plugins Options menu, head to


the Dynamics tab and change the
Crossover Type to Digital, giving us a
cleaner, more transparent sound at the
crossover points. Drag the leftmost bands
crossover all the way left to 74Hz, then
drag the other crossover point to 151Hz.
Solo the leftmost band to hear the tracks
sub frequencies in isolation.

Unlink all the bands by turning off the


purple LEDs under each, then
deactivate the mids Low Mid band and
the sides Low, Low Mid and High Mid
bands (by hitting the title switch at the top
of each). Pull the left HP knob up to 22 to
high-pass the mid signal at 22Hz, cutting
unwanted subsonic frequencies. Next
well make some cuts and boosts. And by
the way, note that this EQs gain knobs do
not represent dB values!

Full-band compression will gel things


together we load NIs Vari Comp,
setting the Threshold to 7.00, Output to
-10.5 and Recovery to 4000ms for only
1dB of gentle gain reduction. Now T-RackS
Classic Clippers Gain is set to 6dB, with
the Output rebalanced to -6dB. AOMs
Invisible Limiter is last its Input Gain is
set to 7.35dB for 1-2dB of limiting.

January 2015 / COMPUTER MUSIC / 59

> make music now / modern mastering

12 mastering tips
HANDS-OFF MIXING
Weve gotta say it again Dont expect mix
problems to be solved at the mastering stage!
EQ clashes, dynamic issues and other errors
are all best addressed from within the mix
project. If youre applying drastic amounts of
processing, revisit your mix or if youre
mastering for someone else, explain the
issues and see if they can remix.

KEEP IT FRESH
Dont over-listen to a track! John Paul Braddock
explains: What I dont want to do is to listen
all the way through the track for six minutes,
because as soon as Ive done that, Ive got
used to how it sounds, rather than being
objective. Its crucial that we dont spend too
much time listening to the music. This might
sound counter-intuitive, but were not mixing
it any more. Were not trying to listen to the
detail; were trying to get an overview to
sample the overall tone of the song.

Try distributing a plugins workload over several stages for a potentially more transparent effect

CONSIDER IT
DOES IT CANCEL OUT?

STAGED LIMITING
Several gentle stages of limiting or
compression can help take the load off one
single plugin. For example, three limiters
with a gain reduction of 1dB might sound
more natural than a single 3dB limiting stage.
It depends on the plugins used, so give it a try,
and listen objectively.

MAKE IT UP

Use sum difference testing (also known as a


null test) to hear if a plugin is passive. Get to
know which plugins add gain boosts or
frequency changes in their default state.
John Paul Braddock discusses: Many plugins
will actually apply a tonal or level change
even before any settings are dialled in. Ive
noticed that, after analysing several types of
plugins, youll load up a plugin with no
processing, but the actual output might be
louder. Perhaps those plugin manufacturers
know what we now know that louder
sounds better or maybe thats just a side
effect of the plugins design. The important
thing is that you analyse the tools youre
using, and dont make assumptions. Be
critically aware of your own tools.

For transparency, try to use as few EQ or


excitement stages as possible. So, if a track
has too much bass and not enough treble, try
using a single broad shelf to cut bass, then
re-level by increasing the EQs makeup gain.
This will shift the tracks weight towards the
treble more naturally than two EQ bands.

Remember to compare your final processed


master with the unprocessed session mix at
equal level to see if youve actually achieved
the outcome you intended. If not, dont be
afraid to start again from scratch.

Once youre ready to master a track, dont


just dive in and start processing. The aim is to
gently improve, not mix. Take a more
considered approach. Briefly compare the
mix to a reference track at equal level, plan
exactly what correction or enhancement the
mix needs, try it out, re-level, then evaluate.

ON THE KNOBS
Type in parameter values and use stepped
plugins (with fixed 0.5dB-1dB notched
controls) where possible. Its easy to just
crank up a knob, but typing in values makes
you think about what youre entering. Stick to
0.5/1dB steps at a time, as half a dB will make
a significant difference when mastering.

REFERENCE WITH EQUALITY

MID/SIDE DIY
A plugin with an unlinked left/right mode can
also be used to process in mid/side. Simply
load Voxengos free MSED on the channel and
set it to Encode. Now load your plugin after
MSED and unlink the left and right channels.
Place a second MSED last in the chain, and set
it to Decode. The left side of your plugin now
processes the mid (mono) part of your signal,
and the right affects the side (stereo).

MORE THAN AVERAGE


Regular downwards, full-band compression
can clamp down on peaks and transient
detail, ruining dynamics if not applied
carefully. If your track needs extra average
weight, consider blending it in through the
use of parallel compression you can bring
up the average level of your track while
keeping the detail intact.

COMPRESS GENTLY
A touch of downwards compression can pull
(or gel) the overall mix together, but keep
attack times slow so you gently clamp down
on the mixs sustain and not the transients. A
low ratio and around 1-2dB of gain reduction
should be all thats necessary.

LIMIT LAST

Evaluate your mastering success by comparing your processed master with the unprocessed
version remember to set both tracks to equal loudness for a fair comparison

60 / COMPUTER MUSIC / January 2015

Many think of limiting and loudness as the


main staples of mastering, but this attitude
often leads to amateur results, flattened
mixes and distortion. Final peak limiting
should only be tackled when a tracks overall
tonal, dynamic and stereo balance are in
order. So leave limiting till last!