Mastering: The DIY Guide

word! Thanks for the info. I'm not too concerned with mastering at this point as I am just making beats and don't have anyone to do vocals for me so far, but I am always striving to learn as much as possible and trying to be as self sufficient as I can. My only major concern at this point is track to track volume leveling, as I believe I do a pretty damn good job of mixing down my songs...
How hard can it be?

Simply find the quietest place in the song and note how far down the signal is (in dB). Plug that number into the threshold of your limiter - and you're done.

If you see any dips in the waveform after that, zoom in, find the low spot and repeat.

When the waveform looks like one solid block of color, you have achieved a perfect modern mastering job.

"Low levels are for wimps."

"Dynamic range is way over rated."

"0 dBFS is not a limit, it's a goal."

Say it aint so.....:thumbs up:
Some numbers are always nice when mastering. About 5dB of envelope is max, before it gets noticable.

To find that value, you can use a peak limiter, and limit things so that there is no envelope. (just before enveloping). And then set a compressor before it, with 5dB more threshold.

Also I think "overlimiting" is often due to peak and program being the same, when using a conventional limiter.
I have developed a limiter that can reserve (and does in standard preset) ~0.5dB for peak transient. It really fixes that, and material can be processed to a great extent.

Also in this limiter, there is a lookaheadmode, that fixes the dull lookahead of typical limiters.

It is even free and opensource. No more inane marketingspeech, from yet another stoogefoot wanting to make a buck.

Engineering | Oves Blog

For me the game changer was flatter monitoring. I won't say flat monitoring, because I know mine isn't 100% accurate (yet). But once I seriously sat down to deal with my monitoring (read: invested money into it), all of the mysterious mastering garble started to make sense to me in a tangible way (as in, I could start to re-produce what I previously knew only in theory).

If your monitoring isn't set up properly (and that includes the room), a 2dB boost or cut at 300hz or 500hz or 4.5khz or 10khz or any Hz isn't going to make sense in the end because the extreme curves of your monitors/room/headphones will slant what you are hearing. Even some of those expensive Senheiser headphones have big swells and dips.

That means, right off the bat, you might think your mixes lack air, are too sharp sounding or any other number of things. You might also not notice when there is grainy 3-5khz mess across the mix (as I didn't last year when I mastered my own album - I just thought it was clear) because, say, there is too much natural top end in your speakers.

That set up includes optimal gain staging as well as room analysis, treatment and, if necessary, speaker/cans calibration.

After that's taken care of, then you can look at how well you can hear harmonic distortion, pumping, subtle EQ changes and slight resonances.

There are really two types of mastering which have emerged (I think).

Colorful Mastering - where the engineer uses all sorts of trickery to change the sound of the mix.
Transparent Mastering - where the engineer sticks to linear phase, and does only what's needed to bring out the best qualities in the mix according to the song's style.

IMHO, the goal of mastering isn't necessarily to make your mixes sound better. It's to make them translate across playback systems. A byproduct of this is often better sounding mixes, but it all begins with reliable monitoring. In theory, a well balanced mix won't need much in the way of mastering other than standard things all mixes need for distribution. Inter-sample peak detection/reduction, limiting, ISRC code input, downsampling, bit reduction and dithering.
One trick I've found works

New to mastering in the box, but using reference tracks seems very important.

One trick that's worked every time we think mastering's sorted is to put the finished song into a playlist along with four or five reference tracks, then put that playlist on random and play it while doing something else, like cooking or driving. When our track comes on (unexpectedly - it's a random playlist) it's immediately obvious whether it's good enough or not; there's either a swell of pride or a sinking feeling.

This has never proven wrong. Unfortunately.
Personally, I made it to the third paragraph. So far, so good. Then I came across this statement: :rolleyes: I knew not to read any further. Sorry.

Actually, just a small re-write of the sentence would put things right. May I suggest:

"There's no doubt where us home users come unstuck is our belief that the key to mastering is the correct use of compression."


Correct grammar here is actually "we home users".

Your friend may wish to have an editor look at the guide before distributing it.
Any advice on mastering hip hop music on the free mixpad software. I'm studying to become a producer but would like to work on my own music until I receive my software from school. I'm completely new to the behind the scenes part of music but would really appreciate the help. #LAFilmSchoolClass'22

Hi! A friend of mine wrote this rudimentary guide and I published it on AF. So I thought this could kick off a great DIY mastering thread...

For now it is a sticky....enjoy!
Falls at almost the first hurdle for me. Your friend describes how to compress something and describes a process based entirely on meter read-outs what is IMHO entirely the wrong approach. It's your ears that count in every circumstance and doing anything simply by achieving certain meter read-outs is completely wrong.
Any advice on mastering hip hop music on the free mixpad software. I'm studying to become a producer but would like to work on my own music until I receive my software from school. I'm completely new to the behind the scenes part of music but would really appreciate the help. #LAFilmSchoolClass'22
I'm going to throw in little answers that don't sound like answers but will make sense over time.

First and foremost -- And I'm only saying this because of the "new to this" part along with the school part (as there are schools that don't seem to understand this basic premise). Mastering is NOT about "making it loud." YES, the final apparent playback levels are decided and set during the mastering phase - But this is [1] more or less an afterthought in the big picture and [2] the least important and least time-consuming portion of the whole thing. It's also the part that the end listener couldn't care less about in most cases (and if they knew the damage being done to a lot of material just because of a pissing match between artists and labels, there would probably be an uprising). A trained monkey with a limiter can make any mix the loudest mix ever. Every decision made along the way (and I mean all the way back to the first thought of writing and arranging the material) is far more important.

[0] This is sort of a qualifier. You need to *know* what sounds good. You need to *know* your monitoring chain. You need to *know* your listening space. You will only ever hear as accurately and consistently as your monitoring chain allows you to hear. Your monitoring chain will only ever be as accurate and consistent as the space allows them to be. To a great extent, this is true for every phase of audio production, not just mastering.

But as a former tracking/mixing engineer (well, I take on the occasional project still), mixing entails far more "exploration and experimentation" -- You're presented with a bunch of sources that you may never have heard before and while it's being created, you're creating a final version of that song in your head. Everything post-tracking is trying to create that mix that's in your head. Sometimes it's very straightforward and simple and it just sort of works when you throw the faders up, other times you may spend hours and hours of experimentation just crafting the perfect reverb for a single tom hit. That mix in your head may change quite a bit along the way and it's very easy early on to confuse what's in your head vs. what's actually there. You only have true objectivity once - after that, your ears are biased and decisions will be based on that bias. You will find times where you open a project you haven't heard a while and think "What the hell was I thinking?!?" along with other times where you get frustrated and toss it aside and come back a couple weeks later thinking "Geez, that sounds just fine - what was I struggling with?" as that bias is reinforced and diminished again.

Enter the mastering guy -- He needs to hear a collection of mixes and *know* the potential of those mixes almost instantly (BEFORE he can create that "mix in his head" which will almost certainly lead him astray very quickly). And at the same time, know how each of those mixes will relate to the project as a whole. You're trying to figure what the individual mix is asking for, but you need to make decisions based on what the project is capable of -- all the while, trying to bring a sense of cohesion and consistency to a collection of mixes that may be anything but cohesive and consistent individually.

Decades in to this, there are still days where I need to come back again -- ESPECIALLY on material that I actually like (again, objectivity - Once I'm "tapping my foot" to something, my brain has its own expectations). I was working on this absolutely epic sounding (let's call it "orchestral metal") project that was blowing my mind. The instrumentation was insane. The guitarist was insane. The drums were unbelievable. The (female) vocalist was top-notch, the arrangements were fantastic -- And there I was making half-dB nips and tucks to get all those wonderful tunes to play nice with each other. I was cranking it up just because I wanted to hear it cranked up. The producer (a band member in this case) had a very clear vision of what he wanted, the tracking engineer captured it all wonderfully and the mixing engineer (at a different studio in this case if I recall) had his work cut out for him, but he did an amazing job. It almost felt like cheating (but most great recordings only ever require those half-dB nip-tucks during the mastering phase anyway and it's the mastering engineer's responsibility to know what particular micro-adjustments are going to be needed to bring those mixes to a common finish line).

I nearly sent it off but it was a long session, so I decided to wait until the next day. And I was very glad that I did, because although the consistency across the project was right on, *globally* the project seemed a bit wonky. I was so caught up in enjoying the material that I didn't realize that I had my main EQ bypassed when I was capturing. I was busy listening to the mix in my head (and that EQ was engaged in my head). Granted, we're talking about 3 or 4 half-dB adjustments that I'd probably argue few people would pick a fight about in the grand scheme. I'd bet a dollar the band would've been perfectly happy with it also. But it was no longer the mix that was in my head the day before and I figured out why.

GEEZ LOOK AT THE TIME!!! What happened to those little answers I was talking about? Okay, lemme cut to it. These are the answers that won't feel like any help at the moment but will at some point in the future.

[1] Approach with objectivity (this is arguably one of the main reasons that you rarely find engineers that will master their own mixes).
[2] Do what the mixes are telling you to do. If they're not telling you what they want, you need to develop until they are.
[3] Be prepared to have a mix change its mind - What a mix tells you to do on its own may vary considerably from what it needs in the context of the project as a whole. That one song that sounds extra-bright might sound amazing - It may even be the best sounding song - but if the rest of the project is much "warmer" in the top end by comparison, you may have to guide that bright tune in a slightly different direction.
[4] ALWAYS be ready to bring up potential issues to the mix engineer. I don't care if it's Alan Parsons. I'll bet Alan Parsons accidentally left an EQ bypassed once or twice also.
[5] LESS is MORE.
[6] It isn't all about processing to necessarily affect the sound - "Mastering" by definition, is the creation of the master. The source from which all other copies (whether digital files, physical CD's, vinyl records, etc.) will be made. You need to know the limitations of those media. You'll very likely need to create different masters for many of them.
[7] KNOW YOUR TOOLS. You're not building a car - You're not even painting a car. You're taking an already manufactured and clean car and detailing it for the showroom floor in a way that is consistent with the others cars in the showroom. Meguiar's Tire Shine and Armour All both make tires look pretty. But they might not do it in the same way. And one might be better for low-profile touring tires while the other works better with raised-white outline SUV tires. One might look more "slick and wet" while the other gives you that impossibly rich, dark black that matches the stripes on the hood. Don't make the tires glossier than the stripes on the hood, man. **

** I'm really just making some of that car stuff up - but it does make a point.
I recently did a video on my YouTube channel on how I approach mastering in my DAW in a home studio environment. Check it out if you are interested. Link to my channel is in the signature.
The very beginning of the article seems to be the root of the trouble.

It's not special or mystical in any way other than you need tens of thousands of dollars to dump into speakers and room design before you can even start listening at a level that will let you do the job. No amount of spunky "can-do" DIY attitude can ever hope to overcome that.

And if you were able to listen, you'd never write the above.
and it will all be streamed into $100 ill-fitting sonically starved earbuds, where listeners will judge the quality by a grunt or over used cheap organ loop.
Master everything for car, earbuds, little mono Bluetooth speakers, because that is what people will be listening with.
Master everything for car, earbuds, little mono Bluetooth speakers, because that is what people will be listening with.
but not exclusively, right? I assume the master will need to change somewhat based the category of listening device? If a single master can translate equally across devices, then I would REALLY appreciate recommendations for mastering plugins. And THANK YOU!
A single master recording should translate over a wide array of devices. Yes, a lot of people will never hear some recordings on a nice quality high-fidelity (I mean actual "high fidelity" not "HiFi") system. But that doesn't mean you should make it sound like crap for everyone else.

As far as "mastering plugins" - that's sort of subjective. There are certainly some plugins that are a bit more "geared toward" mastering than others, but there are plenty of plugins touted as "Mastering Plugins" (with capital letters and all) that, in the opinion of most other mastering engineers I know, have no place at all in a typical mastering chain. Audio destruction devices.

But you've probably already read it - it comes down to the accuracy and consistency of your monitoring chain, the accuracy and consistency or the space your monitoring chain is in and the accuracy and consistency of your listening skills. With all that, the stock EQ and compressor in your DAW is all you actually need 90% of the time. Everything above that is based on your own experience.
There is a fine line between accuracy in monitoring and knowing your monitors.

It is possible to have accurate monitoring and still produce an undesirable master. It comes down to learning how to create a good balance across the frequency spectrum based on what you are working with, and auditioning across a variety of playback systems