Pay attention to the ‘Input’ on a limiter.
The ‘Input’ works a little like the ‘Threshold’ on a normal compressor.
The more ‘Input’ the more the compression effect will be applied to your track.
The second setting you want to look at is the ‘Ratio’.
The ‘Ratio’ setting controls the amount of gain reduction that will be applied.
Typical ‘Ratio’ settings for limiting are 10:1 or 20:1 – this is hard liming.
Brick wall limiting has a very high ratio and a very fast attack time ratio usually 20:1 and higher.
Be aware brick wall limiting can sound harsh – too much compression can suck the dynamics out of a peice of music.
The other setting to bear in mind is the ‘Attack’ setting.
A fast attack allows the compression to apply quicker – the release settings have less importance but experimenting with these two settings van create very musical results.
That is key – keep it musical – if you’re not sure to start with start with a ‘Fast Attack’ and ‘Auto Release’.
Presets are ok as starting points – try a few and see how they sound.
It’s about testing and listening – messing about with settings and hearing how they work on your track is the best advice I can give.
If you are trying to Master your own tunes you will be wanting to know which effects to use and what order to use them in.
Truth is there is no set way to set up your mastering effects.
It’s all about your ears, does it sound right?
2 previous articles on this site.
Let’s look at mastering for the beginner.
Add a Limiter to your fx chain, typically the limiter will go at the end of you mastering fx chain.
Well it’s not a set in stone rule but if you’re trying to get your track to level out and increase the overall volume of your track a limiter or limiting effect will with a little care and good ears get this for you.
Some setups will include placing a compressor set at a low rate at the beginning of your fx chain.
What you place inbetween is down to choice, typically this is usually an EQ effect.
So a simple setup could be,
Compressor – EQ – Limiter.
That said removing the Compressor at the beginning is not out of the question.
If your track is well mixed and your eq is spot on then the EQ can be removed as well.
It’s about what suits.
Usually an EQ is added to lift a track in some parts(boost) or to remove problems(cut).
If you do boost – be gentle – if you find yourself having to correct too much then you need to look at your mix.
Using EQ a roll off around 40hz(link) can usually give you a bit more room for volume as the lower frequencies tend to take up much more room in your overall levels.
Other than that messing around with eq is again up to taste, but be careful with your boosts – whatever you boost has an effect elsewhere in the track – gentle boosts are a safer way of massaging your sound. If you find yourself doing more then you may have a problem in the mix.
Learning more about bandpass filters and types of eq is necessary – get your ears used to what happens to instruments and mixes when you apply eq – drastic and dramatic settings can be helpful to tune your ears but they will be often be damaging to your master – if in doubt leave it out.
Use eq for gentle lifts and cuts only.
—Adding Other FX—
There are many other Effects that can come into play when mastering,
Each of these effects have their own uses, the order in which you use them again is down to taste.
For example a Reverb before an EQ will be affected by the EQ so decide wether that is what you want.
Remember It’s all dependent on sound not so-called rules.
Imagine a big reverb going through a limiter – what will happen?
If you compress a high pass eq what happens?
Adding distortion into your mastering FX chain does exactly that – think about it.
Sometimes it can have a warming effect – too much and it will distort.
Be gentle but at the same time keep in mind what you want to achieve.
A good mix can be killed by bad mastering.
Start off simple, listen and learn.
1. Decide on the sound you want – will it be part of an album of songs?
2. If so that has a bearing on your mastering – eq’s have to match – your volumes will depend on the order/playlist of your music.
3. Take your time – bounce your mixes first – find the order of your songs – then listen on as many different types of stereo listening equipment as you can.
4. Were all the songs recorded around the same time/studio/equipment? Look at point no.2
5. Get a few commercial songs to A/B and Compare against – take notes – use analysis plugins – LISTEN!.
6. Take a few weeks off – don’t master straight away – yeah I know me neither but run a basic master off if you must – just to listen to – but then take a few weeks away – do something else and go back to it – if you have a few songs to record finish those off before you master any more.
‘Is your mix Boomy, Flat, Muddy, Unbalanced and just not right?
The problem is your room.
Fix your Room and you’ll fix your mix…‘
Sometimes something comes along that you just wish you had enough spare cash to throw away on.
I’d love to know if this works.
The ERGO is a digital room analysis/correction system designed to measure and analyse phase abd frequency problems within a listening environment.
There’s an article on Sound On Sound here
A great mix starts with a great recording room. But when it comes to achieving the most accurate mix, your room may have the upper hand. Like any room, your studio’s acoustics include offending frequencies and room reflections, and none of these are helping your mix. Getting a handle on these problems has traditionally meant the installation of soft foam or fabrics, and that’s a great start. But now you can get even closer to a perfect room, and a perfect mix, because the future of studio sound is here, and it’s called ERGO.
Previous Article – Mastering How?
If you read my previous article you’ll understand that this article is not for professional purposes but for those wanting to get started and those who want to have giggles with mastering.
We’ll call this a primer shall we?
Let’s forget environment and monitor speakers – did you hear that? I’m sure I heard somebody faint – yup definitley heard some kind of thunk…
Truth is even though good studio monitors and a well prepared room are an absolute neccesity they’re not always that easily acheivable – the DIY musician has to get over this – it’s expensive and the return is not enough to warrant the expense.
And besides didn’t we agree this was for fun?
Confessions of an ignorant nicompoop…
Monitor speakers are important for mastering – I’m sorry it’s the truth.
‘studio monitors are physically robust, to cope with the high volumes and physical knocks that may happen in the studio, and studio monitors are used for listening at shorter distances (e.g., near field) than hi-fi speakers, though nothing precludes them from being used in a home sized environment. As well, studio monitors are increasingly self-amplified (active), although not exclusively so, while hi-fi speakers usually require external amplification.’ – Wikipedia
A decent monitoring system is beyond useful especially when mixing and mastering.
But, um, I’ve erm used um well I’m almost embarassed to say this but um well I’ve used a set of Diamonds and a Nad amp.
THERE I SAID IT – I was young and foolish, ok.
Didn’t kill anyone though and although it was the wrong thing to do, the environment those songs were recorded, mixed and mastered in was shockingly bad.
Now I’m not gonna crow or anything but the songs that came from that environment were very well received.
One even won an award.
Lets’ face facts – when you record and then play that song back to someone who isn’t a musician are they hearing the song or the recording?
When was the last time a non musician turned around and said,
‘You know you could do with rolling off the….’
It doesn’t happen does it?
Thinks about your audience.
Do they really care?
‘But Metawwica’s fans sent back Death Magnetic because it was clipping and too loud meh meh meh’
So what, don’t make your recordings too loud then. Just cos you can get it to eleven doesn’t mean you have to.
Look know your audience and be realistic with what you want to achieve.
Keep your recordings musical.
Shit in, Shit out – simple rule get your recorded tracks the best you can.
‘We’ll fix it in the Mix‘ – STOP – get your mix right in the first place.
A correct mix will need very little doing to it, or it should do.
The mastering stage is about giving it a little shine and getting the levels up.
Fixing things here is just gonna create more work.
Is it possible and should I bother?
It’s an interesting question.
Something I’ve asked myself many times.
And my conclusion is that if you want to spend an awful lot of time banging your head against a wall then why not.
So ok you’ve landed on this page hoping for a tutorial on mastering and some smartarse behind a screen is wasting your time with smartarse comments and nothing to grab hold of information wise.
Well to be honest been there, done that. I’m in the same position as you.
I’ve learnt some things and If you ready to deal with that then maybe I can help you.
First of all let’s get something straight.
I am not in any way an expert, I’m a rank amateur when it comes to mastering.
I have over 20 years experiance as a professional musician but only 5 years as a DIY home recordist.
And I’ve been messing with mastering for the last 2 years of that.
My best advice is this,
1. If you are recording for pleasure/small audience and want to get the best sound then experiment with mastering.
2. If you are in a hurry and need the best sound possible then go to a specialised company.
Get quotes, recomendations, samples of their work and find out anything else you can about them.
There is no quick fix with mastering, no preset will do exactly what you want.
You want to do it yourself? Well you’re taking on something that is something of a mammoth task.
Mastering engineers spend a long time learning their craft – if you’re a musician then you’ll understand.
I’ll put it like this.
A guitarist plays guitar every day for 20 years
A mastering engineer learns guitar once a month for 5 years.
Who is the best guitarist?
The mastering engineer understands the principles of guitar and has read books and watched youtube but he still can’t play, not like the guitarist with 20 years experience.
Do you get my point?
This is not to say you can’t do it but that you should think on about trying for the holy grail.
If you want it to sound the best it can then sorry but you’re gonna have to pay for that.
If you want it to sound the best you can make it sound then you’re gonna have to learn.
Follow up article