Mastering Separately or Mastering As You Mix

Mastering Separately or Mastering As You Mix?

Today I am answering a question from one of our subscribers who asked, “What are the advantages/disadvantages of mixing into a limiter or mastering device, versus putting [the processing] on in the end?”

After considering all the for and against thoughts below, I decided to cover “Mastering As You Mix”. I use it and it seems to be working fine.

If you do not share most of these thoughts, mastering separately after mixing may be the choice for you. Even in that case, inserting a limiter on the master is a must, to alert you and help to avoid clipping. Checking the gain reduction on your limiter periodically is a must in order to avoid having over compressed garbage in the end:)

About the need for mastering:

I once asked a Pro mastering engineer this question, and this is the answer I received:

“What mixes do you like to master?”

“Those that do not need mastering”.

For me it means that such mixes do exist! Ever since then I always do my best to produce mixes like that:)

So I thought..

– if a mix sounds good why master it?

– if a mix is not good, then why “fix it in the mastering stage”?

– mastering surely has its place for albums as the last step to get even loudness and overall volume on the CD.

– mastering can be the solution if a record or a mix cannot be reproduced and the one existing track should be tweaked a bit better.

– mastering is not for repairing bad mixes.

About the mastering process:

– if there are some things generally done with finished mixes by a master channel, why not do it from the start? It is in the name: master channel/bus.

– the mastering guy has no idea about my vision on my song or mix, sure he will do some quite different thing than I think.

– nothing on earth can change small details in a song by “mastering” if it has not already been done in the mix which the mastering engineer received. A lot times they send the track back for further mixing….

– if a mix needs only some little overall tweaks in mastering: the mix is OK for a separate mastering.

– but these little overall tweaks can be also inserted in the master channel while mixing.

– if a lot has to be done in separate mastering: the mix is not ready.

I decided to hear the mix with the ears of the mastering guy while mixing. Therefore, I put the general mastering plugins on the master channel and mix through them.

But what are the “general” plugs and settings? Sure every song is different! How can I say :”This is the usual way!”

I studied a lot posts on the web what mastering engineers were doing to different songs and I made general conclusions, but the final solution came from Kevin Ward’s posts on using Izotope Ozone:

 “How I Use iZotope Ozone part 1” , “Mastering with Ozone part 2

If you do not have Ozone you can set up a similar mastering chain like that:

  1. Gain knob ( Ggain free VST only) if shows clipping I drag all faders down and not this plugin gain knob.
  1. Limiter (Loudmax free, Mac AU, too) compared to other limiters it can do it’s job at a triple threshold without starting distorting as some more popular plugins do. (The new version has a “link” button as well between threshold and ceiling)

The limiter setting is: threshold 0dB and ceiling 0.3dB. When the gain reduction is more than 1-2 dB on the peaks I go back to the faders. I do not want this plugin at this position to do any limiting or compress the song while mixing, it is here only for safety, checking, and warning reasons.

  1. EQ plugin set like in Kevin’s Ozone tutorials. I use Voxengo GlissEq, (also for Mac). It shows the real time spectrum as well, and uses little DSP, 0.5%.
  1. Multi-band Compressor, any you have, set like in Ozone. Sometimes I check the low frequency (LF) range and HF range threshold to get occasional little gain reduction (GR). (no more than 1-2dB)
  1. Post EQ set like in Ozone.

 Reverb some 3-5 % to glue all together, it’s presence is only perceived. Bypassing makes a feeling: “something seems to disappear”:)

  1. Final Limiter that has an inter sample control in it, no more than 1 dB of gain reduction on the loudest peaks. I found that setting -0.2- 0.3 dB ceiling and threshold in any brick wall limiter, the inter sample issue can be avoided without inter sample preventing plugin or option.
  1. A Mono Button, because I mix 80% listening in mono.

 Post-fader:  

Only Meters:, TT Dynamic Range Meter, Klangheim VUMT (setting: VU-10)

Since the settings of all the plugins in the chain do very little changes they do not need any or just slight tweaks during mixing (not afterwards!). It means mainly only checking not to exceed the gain reductions and not overdoing the reverb.

The most important thing to remember in order to get this to work, is not to touch the other channel knobs and faders on the master bus. In Harrison Mixbus there are a lot (gain, EQ, saturation, compressor, makeup, attack/release ratio, pan, fader…) if these were tweaked I would be lost in the first moment as to what caused the changes in the mix, it would confuse all the track tweaks and my mastering workflow would loose its “usual” or “good for all” starting point character.

This may seem far away from considering “advantages and disadvantages” but I think we cannot speak about mastering without a clear knowledge on Volume, Loudness (Dynamic Range), they should not be confused.

– VU meters show the signal strength (amplitude) that can be either peaks or RMS values. It shows the volume of the audio material and indicates if it is clipping/distorting.

– TT DR Meter refers to the Loudness of the song and the difference in dB between the weakest and loudest part of the song.

So you may have songs where the VU needle does not jump over 0 into red, nevertheless, you hear the song is three times as “loud”, because it was compressed/limited to death and all the gentle parts were “pushed up” near the value of the highest volume zone. Decreasing the “volume” of such songs will not cure the over compressed DR. It remains “loud” (over compressed) even if you turn down the volume knob so much that you hardly hear the music and remains “loud” even if you leave 10dB headroom for the mastering guy!

The dynamic range of a finished mix belongs to it and cannot be changed by turning knobs.

Compressors and limiters on the master bus must be tweaked with care not to fall in the pit of overdoing, that might result in unpleasant, over compressed songs of poor dynamic range.

Mastering cannot correct over compressed audio material.

Loudness (DR) must be taken care of while mixing either if the mastering is given over to a mastering engineer,  you master it yourself separately, or “Master As You Mix”. 

Finally let’s see in a video how my “Mastering As You Mix” works:

https://vimeo.com/176219789

I do not want to convert anyone into a “master as you mix”, I only want to help in getting you closer to a workflow that will not cause “overdoing” or “needing” a lot of post mastering.

No universal truths above, it only depends on your knowledge and consideration of the little parts:

2+1=3 if we consider 1 and 2 as apples

but

2+1=1 if we speak about molecules (H2O:)

Best wishes

Tassy

To learn more about the author, check out this post Welcome Tassy Sandor To The MixCoach Community of Contributors.


 

If you have any questions or topics that you would like to learn more about or see more of on MixCoach, be sure to write us at support@mixcoach.com


 

If you missed Tassy’s last post on Setting The Threshold On Compressors, Just Click Here!

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