Take a brief, high-level look at the role of a mastering engineer, an often overlooked and misunderstood player in the production process.
Mastering is probably the most often misunderstood stage of the audio recording and production process, at least in the world of home recording. Your basic home recording artists record all the tracks to each song, mix them down to a nice stereo mix, and put them on a CD or cassette tape and start handing them out to friends, selling them at shows, giving them to promoters and/or radio DJ's among a hundred other things.
Doing it that way you are missing one of the most important stages of the production process, the stage which separates an amateur recording from a professional one. Any reasonably well trained ear (including those previously mentioned promoters and radio DJ's) can instantly hear an unmastered recording and recognize it as such. Technically speaking, when you record and produce as mentioned above, you are actually promoting yourself with an unfinished "Premaster".
Mastering is the stage at which you virtually stop hearing the recording as a collection of songs, but more as a single musical vision. The job of the mastering engineer is to make the recording flow smoothly from song to song giving it a consistent level and sonic quality. This is not to say that every song is supposed to sound the same, but that each song sounds like it belongs on the same CD.
Nothing is more annoying to the listener, or at least annoying to me when I am the listener, than having to turn the volume up or down from song to song, or if in one song the bass is boomy and obnoxious, but it in the next is smooth and tasteful, thereby possibly causing the need for EQ adjustments between songs depending on listening environments. Do song songs require more bass than others? Absolutely, but if the difference is too great, it sounds like another band is playing the song. You always want the songs to sound like you.
This can be accomplished in many ways, my basic approach to mastering is simple, on almost every song I work on I use three plugins, Waves L1 UltraMaximizer, Steinberg Magneto, and an EQ, I have two favorite EQ's, Timeworks 4-band Sweepable Mastering EQ and Waves collection of Parametric EQ's from their Native Power Pack. The EQ is to give the songs consistent curve, bringing out the guitar sizzle (if a distorted dirty guitar, which is what I usually work on), Magneto to bring some warmth and power to the sound that I have yet to find in any other single plugin, and the UltraMaximizer to squeeze out all the headroom I can to give the recording ass much power as possible while still retaining the dynamics of the sound.
The UltraMaximizer is the tool that is almost required for making your tape stand out from the rest. What it does is find the highest db's in your recording, where to wave is peaking. Usually, under normal premastered circumstances those peaks are virtually inaudible they are so short, what the maximizer does is find those inaudible peaks, pushes them down out of the way and raises the whole rest of the song in ratio, thereby retaining the dynamics, but making the overall apparent volume much greater. In the old days, rack mount units that do this sold for thousands of dollars, now there are plugins for your PC to do them for hundreds, such as the UltraMaximizer, which for those hundreds, also comes with a bunch of other great plugins as well.
Magneto is an entirely different thing, how it does what it does I cannot tell you, but, what I can tell you is that the effect on the sound is outstanding. It gives a generally sterile and cold digital recording a warmth and analog appeal that is quite undescribable. There have been a few job I have had where the recording is great, all I do is apply some Magneto and the client thinks I am an absolute musical genius raving about the sound I got for them. This says nothing if it does not say it is all in the tools you have at your disposal.
In the next article we will look at how to use these methods, and how you can apply them to your music.
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Jun 17, 2003 07:54 pm
I BEEN USIN MAGNITO AND WAVES PARAMETRIC ON INDIVIDUAL TRACKS THEN MASTERING WITH T RACKS.SOUNDS GOOD ON MY MONITERS BUT TOO HOT FOR CAR STERIOS AND BOXES,I TRIED MASTERING AS DESCRIBED ABOVE,NOT SO HOT IN THE CAR AND IN THE BOX,BUT I SURE LOVE THAT TRACKS SOUND ON THE MONITERS
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