Mastering is the final step in the audio production process. It’s the time when the tracks get finalized and prepared for distribution. Mastering engineers, who have access to top quality gear, and are trained for this specific task, are the best choice, and our recommendation for tackling this process.
Regardless, many producers would like to get a sense of how the track would sound mastered, or for different reasons make the choice to master themselves. In the next tutorial, we will guide you over some essential effects that could be included on your master bus channel. This way you can get a taste or even achieve a decent DIY mastering result.
We will start by listening to a previously made sequence in our SoundBridge: DAW. It contains all the elements of a full mix.
As you can notice from the audio example above, the full mix sounds decent already. However, when compared to other commercial releases, it lacks some dynamics processing, frequency boosting, and loudness.
Before we begin, it’s crucial to remember that in the loudest part of your mix, you should still have proper headroom. This is important since we will be boosting the overall volume as we add effects on the master channel. If there is not enough headroom, we could face unwanted clipping.
In the picture below, you can see the main mixer of SoundBridge: DAW. The master channel and its meter are highlighted in red. The meter shows a value of -4.8 dB FS in the loudest part of our mix, which is enough headroom to start with.
The first effect we will place on our master channel will be the compressor. With it, we will try to increase the RMS level and reign in quieter parts of our mix. In other words, to bring overall level differences of elements in the mix closer together. With this process, we will also add some punch and body to the overall sound. For this task, we have chosen the single-band compressor API-2500 by Waves Audio.
If you look at the picture below, you will notice settings are gentle, resulting in just one to two dBs of compression. You should strive for slight processing on your master channel with compressors, or any other effects for that matter. If you have the need to be drastic here, you might better reconsider going back to the mixing session and correcting there.
Let’s check out how our track sounds with the compressor.
The next step in our mastering chain would be to boost the frequency content. This can be done in a number of ways. One of them, preferred for several reasons, is multiband saturation. As mentioned in some of our previous blog articles, multiband saturation generates harmonics that help increase perceived loudness without messing up the dynamics. With multiband capabilities, you can process frequency bands independently. Our choice for this task is the Ozone 8 Exciter by Izotope.
The picture below shows the settings we used to slightly increase the frequency content across several bands. Let’s hear the difference.
The final touch and last plugin in our mastering chain will be the BrickWall Limiter. Brickwall Limiters add final insurance that there are no overs or any clipping on the master bus. They also inherently induce extra perceived volume and punch, basically allowing us to make our tracks louder.
As you can see in the picture below, we have set the master out at -0.20 dB, while we increased the input gain for eight dB. The plugin used for this task was FabFilter Pro-L 2.
Finally, let’s hear the result.