Christian, one of my prized subscribers sent an email out recently asking about mastering. Well, this is a deep one, and this is for you.
As you know, mastering is not just any “series of tricks” that one performs at the end of a recording session. Each type of music demands a certain sound that you try to strive for, and knowing how to get there is the key. Listening to these songs closely at the start is half of the battle.
The engineers that make mastering look easy have invested years at school, and years in the studio. Their skills are honed with the passage of time. But what can all of us home recording nuts do in order to obtain better sounding music? Lots....
Mastering involves techniques that are as deep, and even deeper than our plain ole' recording techniques can be. I like to say that a lot of my mastering is done as I record. But what does that mean?
That means that I make sure that all of my recording levels are not farting out into the red zone. I make sure to get the best possible tone that I can for each track before I push the little red button. I set up “non destructive” effect loops, just so that I can change my mind later when I arrive at the mastering stage.
I do not “cut myself short in the land of plenty”.
That means that I leave myself as many options and decisions as I can, for the mastering stage. This can mean that I leave a D.I. Bass track, along with a mic'd bass rig track (both) in the mix. This allows me to play with the tracks and their levels later on, as I can then hear how they are working with the rest of the tracks that will come later. These are the things that make mastering easier. As they say, “you have trash coming in, you are going to have trash going out”.
Next, read everything you can get your hands on. Watch every video you can find online. Ask questions, and just try stuff out.
Most things that I like to do at the point of mastering have been attempted (by myself) before, and they just worked for me back then.Most importantly, I play with the knobs, as I close my eyes and really listen to the music that I am altering. I think in terms of frequency, loudness, balance, and the whole picture itself. I try to make things (tracks) complement each other instead of just piling them up on top of each other.
However, we often make mastering more intense than it need be. Knowing when to stop is often times a major factor. The best advice that I like to give about editing yourself is the old adage of “K.I.S.S.”. As we all know that means “keep it simple, silly”.
Mastering is a topic that you could spend your life searching after, and never get enough of. The topic of mastering at home will become a blog posting series in the near future, I promise. I have a post on the Reason 4 mastering suite lined up, and all ready to go, so that will be coming soon, too.
Thanks for the great question, and keep your eyes peeled for some more help from Home Recording Weekly.