Saturday, February 8, 2020

Top down mastering: is it a good idea?

Hello and welcome to this week's article!

Today we are talking about a mastering technique that is becoming more and more prominent in these recent years (click here for a dedicated article about mastering), with the increase in Cpu performance that are allowing us to fill our projects with plugins without resource problems.

Usually mix engineers use a project in which they import their edited tracks, and there they perform the mix, which involves often a big number of tracks and plugins, then they export the song into a stereo track, re-import it in a new project and perform the mastering there.

If during the mastering phase they spot a problem, they need to re-open the mixing project, fix it, re-export everything and re-import it in the mastering one.

Why do they do this extra step?
Because this way they can edit better the final tracks, and more importantly they have the cpu completely free and they can use it exclusively for the mastering plugins.

This workflow has been the rule for the latest 20 years, but now, with the most recent processors and ram, the computational power has become fast enough to try to blend the 2 steps.
This way we can directly export the mastered song from the mixing project, or, at least, perform the mix with the already mastered sound, in order to avoid surprises when mastering.
This approach is called Top down mastering, and it consists in loading the mastering chain directly in the stereo out of our mixing project.

Which plugins do we load in the stereo out? I suggest to try with those in our Minimal Mastering Chain (click here to check it out), and from there remove and add according to our needs, trying anyway to be conservative, because usually mastering plugins are a bit heavier than the mixing ones.

Did you ever try this technique?
I personally like to use it when mixing to know what to expect in terms of sound when I will arrive to mastering, but when I'm done with mixing I remove the mastering plugins and export the track, then I re-import it in a new project and re-apply them again because I prefer to have more control when editing the final tracks.

I hope this was helpful!

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  1. I've gone back and forth between the two processes of top down mastering, and mastering in a separate project. Usually what happens is I top down master so I know what the final project will sound like, and then I listen to a YouTube video where I'm told not to do that! I'm still learning, but I think I've finally come to the point where I feel confident enough to do whatever works best for me, and just acknowledge that I'm not going to follow the "rules". I do like your explanation of doing the top down master, removing the plugins at the end, and exporting it into another project. I'm thinking that I will do that for the current album I'm working on. Thank you!