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Some basic tips

It’s always better to leave the mastering process to fresh and experienced ears that can analyze your music objectively.

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EQ in the Mastering phase

The use of Equalization in the final phase should be as minimal as possible. In most cases the aim is to balance the frequency spectrum of a given song, rather than changing the character or the feel.  This process includes either adding or removing certain frequencies. Narrow-band equalization is not usually recommended at this stage. If a whole album is being mastered, a general EQ approach should be applied in order to achieve a homogenous feel. There are certain EQ settings that are applied depending on the style of the song. For example sub bass is generally not very welcomed in a pop song. Cutting all frequency information above 17khz could potentially leave more headroom for the final loudness increase in the case of a loud rock song.

Compression in the Mastering phase

Generally compression is a method of audio processing which brings out more puch and fullnes to a track. In the mastering stage it acts more like a “glue”. It creates coherence between the individual instruments in the mix and brings out hidden details. If there is some bus compression already going on in the mix, it’s a good idea to avoid adding more. Too much compression could ruin the transients of a track. Furthermore, multiband compression is something worth looking into at this stage. A narrow mix can be widened using mid/side compression. Just be careful not to obscure important parts in the centre, like bass and vocals. An overly wide mix can be narrowed by compressing the centre signal.

Work with the bass

Having a clean and good sounding bass often means that it needs to be properly situated in the stereo field. As we all know, generally, the bass is situated in the centre. Making sure that there is no spill in the stereo is a good practise. You can use mid/side EQ-ing to take out the bass where it doesn’t need to be. Another good technique is using “mono-maker” software to ensure that frequencies below 120Hz, for example, stay mono.

Adding harmonic improvement

Adding harmonic content to a mix makes the overall feel of the song more believable and alive. Before the digital era, analogue eqippement was responsible for adding that kind of harmonics. This technique is very useful for digital mixes lacking natural warmth and depth. Currently there are all sorts of software products that add harmonic frequencies modelled after tape machines, tube and triode amplifiers. Adding certain amount of noise to a mix could also be beneficial in some cases.

Stereo Enhancement

Situating the frequency spectrum in the stereo field is essential in order to achieve a wide and professionaly sounding master. The use of mid/side equalization and mid/side compression could improve the sound in all parts of the perspective. A good practise is to situate the lower mids and mids in the centre, while high mids and top end on the sides. This is also easily achievable using specific stereo widening softwares. 

Loudness leveling

The final leveling is a product of balancing the overall dynamics of the track and the desiered loudness. If the final result Is sounding too squashed then there is too much limiting going on. It is recommended that the mixdown is at least at -3dB so that proper mastering could take place. Using more than one limiter is a game changer if I may say. This technique prevents the heavy lifting of only one limiter and allows to gradually scale up the limiting. Often mixes fall apart when pushed as loud as commercial ones and that could be attributed to poor mixing. Another general practise is that the invividual loudness of tracks throughout an album, aswell as the equalization, should be consistent. 

Check for mono compatibility

In the modern age, often mono compatibilty of musc is regarded as unimportant but in reallity if you plan to play the track on a club sound system, radio or TV it is essential. Most DAWs have the option of simulating mono. This technique could potentially reveal phasing issues and in the mastering phase nothing shoud be regarded as unimportant.

Dithering

Dithering should be applied at the very end of the mastering chain. It is a used to mask the quantization error in the conversion process. The difference is subtle but it recommended especially when rendering out to CD format.

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