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Sunday, August 5, 2012

HOW TO: THE BASIC MASTERING CHAIN (free Vst Plugins included) PART 2/2





CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1/2 OF THIS TUTORIAL!

- Now it's time for a Stereo Expander (here you can find many of them for free): this is a useful tool that lets you spread the stereo image of your mix, or just some parts of it. You can choose to spread your mix as much as you want, my only suggestion is to expand only the upper frequencies of your mix leaving the lower end of your spectrum intact, in facts the lows should be as "mono" as possible, in order to stay tight and defined. Otherwise, the mix may get confused.  

- The last ring of the chain is the Limiter (there are many freeware plugins of this kind too, you can try for example this one, the Betabugs W1 Limiter), which is needed to raise the perceived volume trying to avoid distortion. The effect is called "brickwall", and it basically consist in setting a volume limit (usually -0.10 db) and raise the input gain in order to compensate the (for example) -10db of our starting mix with the desired -0.10 db of our final mastered track, so let's raise the input knob (or equivalent, according to the plugin interface), until we get to a fair amount of output volume, but not so high that we lose the dynamics of our mix: we don't want to squeeze and distort all of the surgical job done so far!! 
We can also use more than one limiter instance: the first one to raise the perceived volume, then an EQ to compensate if the limiting is taking out some lower frequencies (which may happen sometimes), and then another limiter to trim the volume, just remember that a limiter should Always be the final plugin, and the last limiter should be POST FADER (on the Cubase/Nuendo interface this means that should be placed on the last 2 slots of the effects insert).
Instead of a limiter we can also use a Clipper. This is a tool very much similar to a Limiter, but it works a bit differently: it's harder on its cut but the result is that it retains more the snap of the snare, for example, which is one of the first things that gets degraded when limiting
Click here for a dedicated article, to understand when and how to use a Clipper.

- Once we  are satisfied of all of the processing done, it's time to Dither (Click Here to learn more), and eventually, to Remove Dc Offset. This is the final part of the mixing and mastering phase, and it's needed if you have recorded in a format superior than 16bit and 44khz (for example 24bit and 48khz); it brings your track down to 16bit and 44khz (which is the standard format for the audio cds) trying to apply as little data loss as possible. Almost every DAW has a dithering plugin bundled, but if you don't have one, here is Loser, a freeware one, and here's another, Voxengo R8brain.

- Once the track is converted in 16bit and 44khz you're ready to trim it, setting the markers at the beginning and the end of the project, set the eventual fade ins and outs, and export the WAW track, which is ready to rock!! 

So here is our chain: EQUALIZER -> (REVERB) -> (MULTIBAND COMPRESSOR) -> TAPE SATURATOR / HARMONIC EXCITER -> STEREO EXPANDER -> LIMITER / CLIPPER -> DITHER

Keep in mind that this chain is no law, anyways, so feel free to try different combinations for the single effects, or even take some of them off the chain if you think they're unnecessary!

Troubleshooting:

- Make sure you are checking everything with METERS and Frequency Analyzers, since, especially through mastering, these tools such as the Goniometer, are important in order to avoid Phase problems. You can point out such problems and solve them also by switching your master to MONO and checking if there are any areas of the mix where some instrument gets cancelled by others. Make sure to use TT Metering Tool to make sure there is enough headroom left.

- If you feel your sound is "oversquashed", the buss compression, summed with the other compressors you've used on your single tracks used in the mastering phase is too strong.
You can try different settings, especially on the mastering compressor, or you can even take it out completely if you think it's useless.

- Cheat: If you feel you need a litte bit more presence or loudness, keep in mind that the ear is most sensitive in the 3-4 kHz range, so use EQ to boost that range by a tiny amount, especially in quiet parts. E.G. If you boost a very small amount (0.5 db) at 3.2 Khz, you can achieve some punch to the overall mix, but be very careful, as it's easy to go from a small boost to an annoying stridency. Even 1 dB of boost may be too much.

CLICK HERE TO READ PART 1/2 OF THIS TUTORIAL!

Click Here to Check Out an article about THE MINIMAL MASTERING CHAIN with stock plugins!


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