Mastering tracks

Mastering tracks – Ok, so the hard part is done. you’ve written, demoed, practiced, arranged in countless different ways, recorded, re-recorded, mixed, re-mixed and finally scrapped and done all that again, you have a handfull of songs. your not happy with them (noone ever is).
now the hard part starts.
Mastering.
I use protools for mastering,you can use anything your familiar with.
the first thing to do is to import all your mixed tracks into their own tracks. this way you have a little flexibility.
I have about 50 tracks that im doing in this mastering session, so its gonna take me a while. the reason that I have 50 tracks is that I an splitting them up into different albums, they are all from the same artist, and they are all, pretty much, the same style.
a few things to remember when mastering:

  • you’re trying to get all the mixes to sound the same.
  • you’re trying to sort the order that they play in
  • you’re trying to set all the gaps between the songs

one problem that I have is that I use protools M-powered. so the tracks are full, and I have songs that dont have a voice.
so im going to have to do one of three things

split the mastering into two sessions
automate the plugins im using
or, the way that im going to do it – automate the voice.

the first thing to do is to arrange all your tracks in the order that you think they are going to go. this will change.
 after you have done that, you need to get, and set, the gains for them all.

i use the ‘gain’ plugin thats included in protools.

audiosuite > other > gain

solo the first track, and hilight it

hit peak, then hit find gain. it will tell you the peak gain of the track.

basically I then go through the track and look for transients that are blatantly louder than the rest of the track, and add a little volume automation for these. this part takes ages.

you could process it with a compressor, or a limiter, but ill do this after this step, to get some more oomph out of the track.

then hit rms, and find gain, this will tell you the average gain of the track.
the average gain for this track is -12.6dB

once you have sorted out the rogue transients then do the rms gain again. itll be louder than before – mine is upto -10.8dB

now, I always add an aux track to put all my effects on. and then route my audio track through this aux.

I will also have different aux tracks for compressors, EQ, reverbs, anything that I can think of – remember that you only need one lot running at one time – so if I have 8 tracks full of compressors and im playing the 8th track I have everything else disabled, apart from the one im working on – this way your system doesnt stop.

so, adding a few aux tracks – one called comp, one called eq, one called limit

the first thing im going to do is to squash this track. I slap on a compressor and squash it till it sounds bad, then take off some compression, till it sounds good again. done.
the next thing im going to do is to get a good eq on this track.
so I fire up a spectrum analyser and run through the track and see what the frequencues look, and sound like.

remember that value from your peak gain ? well, here is where it becomes important.
if you put an eq on your track, and you want to put an extra 2dB at 3k, but your peak level is -1dB, then your new peak is gonna be at +1dB. not good. watch for this.

once you have a good sound for the track, then slap on some limiting, make sure that the output level of the limiter is set to -0.1 or -0.2, and then set the threshold of the input to where your track is.

it will be a hell of a lot louder.

make an extra audio track, and bounce to this,

onto the next track – you have all the plugins that you used for the first track already there, so just save the settings of these, as track1_albumname so you can look them up later. then start from that point. use your first track as a reference, and match the sound as close as you can., then do the bounce to the masters track.
repeat for all your tracks. making sure that they all sound as close to each other as possible.

and dont add any fancy stuff, like fade ins or outs, extra reverb, stuff like that at this point, all this comes later.

when you get to this point, you have a load of semi-mastered tracks, all sounding near to each other. this is good.

now add all your fade ins and outs to the start and ends of the tracks.

you are nearly finished.

the next thing to do is to be sure of the order of the tracks and to sort out the time between the tracks
There are two ways to handle the gap between tracks.
one way is to do it in your burning software.
the other is to do it in your editor.
I usually do it in the editor, and space the tracks the ammount of time apart, eg if I want a 4 second gap after the first track, then ill place the second track 4 seconds after the first track, and when I do the final bounce of the first track i’ll include that 4 seconds of nothingness in the bounce (it helps when your music is listened to as an mp3 file in a playlist as compaired to a cd.)

once you have all the gaps sorted out then do a final bounce, and remember to dither.

now you have your finnished tracks, all thats needed to do is to burn a master cd and add the barcode information for the disc, the artist and track titles, and the isrc codes for each track. if you have decided not to put the gap information at the end of your tracks then you will have to type it all into your burning software. another good reason to put it into the track, if you have it in the track then you can set all the gaps to 0

ill explain isrc codes and the like in another blog. it takes a while.