Electronic music mastering

The goal when mastering is to ensure the mix is balanced, all the elements are coming through clearly, and it is up to commercial loudness.
We'll go over each plugin on our mastering chain, explain why we chose the plugins, and explain how to effectively employ them to get the best possible mastered sound.

There are, however, some things you need to do before you even consider mastering a track.

The first and foremost, you have to make sure the premix is done decently. Don't believe that mastering would fix all mixing errors. On the contrary, it may even make them more apparent. For instance, it may reveal an excessive spacial treatment applied. Also, if the frequencies weren't properly balanced, you may hear distortions when applying a maximizer.

Secondly, you have to select a reference track (or even several tracks) which you would use as a sample when taking your mastering decisions. The track should be of a premium-quality, possibly by a reputable performer in the relevant genre. The set of instruments and sounds used in it should be as close as possible to yours.


MASTER BUS
EQ

The first on the chain is the EQ. Listen to the reference track at the same volume. Listen for any frequencies that might be dominating and try to outline them in your mix.

Having an unbalanced mix not only sounds lopsided, it'll keep you from being able to push the sound louder in the limiting stage as the dominant frequencies will distort before the others do.

Having an unbalanced mix not only sounds lopsided, it'll keep you from being able to push the sound louder in the limiting stage as the dominant frequencies will distort before the others do. While the frequencies expressed in your mix more than in the reference one should be lowered.

Such EQ not only allows to avoid over-expression of a certain frequency range, making the mix sound dull or sharp, but also helps to create a more balanced mix so you can squeeze the mix up slightly harder at the maximizing stage without too much distortion.

Problem areas in a track usually occur in the 100-250 Hz and 500 Hz range so check these first.

Speaking about virtual appliances for mastering we can recommend iZotope and FabFilter products.

iZotope Ozone is a specialized mastering tool. One plugin contains all the necessary processing.

If we consider a separate FabFilter Pro Q-2 EQ, we should note its ability to create a huge number of bands and very flexible settings enabling any band soloing.

Both first and second versions possess a Matching function which allows you to automatically compare your mix to the reference one and adjust the sound accordingly. We suggest that you experiment with this feature but still always rely on your ears.

Please make sure you don't boost or attenuate levels by more than 1 dB. Here 'delicacy' is the keyword: if 1 dB adjustment seems not enough, you have to go back to mixing and fix errors in individual tracks.


Multi-band compression

Next on the chain is a multi-band compressor. This multi-band compressor serves as the second frequency balancer, but this time on a dynamic level.

Multi-band compression allows to tame certain frequency areas only when they are excessively loud. If we use EQ to tame these frequencies, we could cut out them at the parts of the track where they are already quiet enough.

Use a multi-band compressor after the EQ to make sure all the problem frequencies that were present before the EQing don't cause the over compression of the mix.

Next, listen again to your reference track to help guide you on further processing decisions. When listening, focus on how the low, mid, and high frequencies compare with each other with respect to volume and compression.
Parallel compression

Parallel compression is mixing a dry uncompressed signal in with a heavily compressed signal. Different compressors have different ways to do this, but mainly you can use both separate knobs Dry (for uncompressed signal) or Wet (for compressed signal) and combined knob Mix (or Dry/Wet) which controls the signal ratio.

The purpose of parallel compressing is to add more weight and volume to the mix.

This kind of compression is placed after the EQing and multi band compressor because you need to ensure sounds balanced before you start adding any more weight to the track.

To set up the compressor for master bus parallel compression you need to:

- Turn the Dry/Wet knob to around 10-20%;

- Set the Ratio to around 3 to 1;

- Set a fast attack time, preferably 0-1 ms, so the entire signal gets compressed not missing possible peaks;

- Set a long Release to around 400 ms, so the compressor never recovers and the entire signal remains processed;

- Set the Threshold, to obtain 4-8 dB of signal gain reduction.


Same as for EQing, we recommend to use FabFilter Pro C-2 plugins and iZotope Ozone compressor. These virtual appliances have all necessary functions described above.


"Glue" compression

The next in the master bus chain is also compressor, only this time it will be a normal compression.

This compressor's purpose is to make the track sound more cohesive and tame the smallest peaks that you may still have in your mix.

To "glue" your mix you need to:

- Set a slow attack time of around 0.3 ms;

- Set the Release around 0.7 ms so you don't destroy the transients of your mix;

- Set the Ratio to around 2 to 1;

- Set the Threshold so you reduce the signal to not more than 1 dB.


Here we recommend Cytomic The Glue compressors or Waves G-Master Buss.


Initial limiting

Many producers and sound engineers use just one limiter on the master bus, but using multiple limiters allows you to get a cleaner and louder master.

The purpose of the first limiter is to reduce the workload on the second limiter by taming the highest peaks in the mix. This will allow to push the second limiter harder as the biggest peaks are already taken under control.

Set down the threshold until you see 1-2 dB of gain reduction.

We recommend to use Fab Filter Pro-L or iZotope Ozone limiter.


Maximizing

The last plugin on the chain is limiter-maximizer.

Up to this point, we have made the track ready to be brought up to commercial loudness. When using this limiter, we should aim for around 3-4dB of gain reduction.

If the track starts to distort before you reach the commercial loudness you are after, then you need to go back to the multi band compressing and EQing stages to find out which set of frequencies are causing the limiters to distort.

We recommend to use Fab Filter Pro-L or iZotope Ozone maximizer.

Before exporting the track, it is important to compare your track to the unmastered version of your track and the reference track.


Check you made all the necessary enhancements to your track that you wanted to. Don't be afraid to start over if you are not happy with the result. None of the job is done in vain and gets to the treasury of valuable experience.

We recommend to use SampleMagic Magic AB plugin to compare your track to the premaster and reference tracks. It is an indispensable tool for a quick comparison of the material. It should be the last on the mastering chain.


In this article, we went over the basic set for electronic track mastering. Mastering requires a great deal of practice to train your ears to recognize what needs to be adjusted. In fact, there are a lot of instruments you can use on the master bus. For example, stereo expanders or saturators. But you always have to keep in mind that the main job is to be done at the stage of mixing. Because mastering can enhance the mix, rather than turn a bad mix into a good one.


If you already have songs, for which you want to receive a reward, then we are waiting for you on the ExpertMusic portal. We provide content for background music of different establishments as well as for production: commercials, movies, YouTube-videos, games, etc. Learn more here.

We wish you loud and clear tracks,
ExpertMusic team.

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