Sunday, February 1

Tips in Mastering Audio at Home!

Mastering process is the last step in any music production process. It is highly recommended to master the tracks before it can be used for any commercial purposes. Why? What are the underlying reasons?:

1. Consumer audio player is different than yours, so it can sound different than what you will expect it to be. Any deviation in audio, will annoy normal or average listener.

2. In the play list of any consumer audio or mp3 players, 100% of those tracks are mastered, so if your song will be put on that list, it will sound very different and odd. Example is that, it will sound so "weak", compared to other tracks.

3. No one will like to buy a CD or download a song online that will sound so weak and with low volume compared to what is "loud" for them. This is very distracting to listen (as any listener will turn up the volume of the player every time your track will be played, so funny.)

See image below for an example mastered wave:

Example of wave "NOT MASTERED"

Looking above, it is obvious, the mastered track will sound louder. But mastering is not making it loud, instead the primary aim to make "loud" and "beautiful". Making it "beautiful" can be achieved by EQ and compression process.

Those are the above reasons you should master tracks. Before you can master tracks what are the requisites? Of course , you cannot master a track if it is not mixed "properly", I emphasize this because a poorly mix track cannot be anymore saved in the mastering process, so in this case it should be re-mixed again. Mixing process is completely different than mastering process.

Requisites for a good mastering:

1. Properly Mixed track (no peaks above 0dB digital) , you can call this a "clipped" track indicated by red indicator in your digital audio workstation.This is not allowed to be mastered as this will give horrible results!

2. Master at highest resolution possible! Do not master MP3 version. Mastering is all about adjusting audio in digital domain so you should master at the highest resolution possible. In my case, I use the 32 bit resolution at 44.1 kHz , (this is higher than CD quality).

3. Good monitors with subwoofer , flat as possible.

4. Good acoustics, know the response of your room acoustics very well.

Now for the actual show, how do you master the tracks???

1. Start with cleaning the tracks, you can remove noise, shortening gap in the beginning and ending. I recommend following CD audio red book standard for this.

2. EQ, add presence like +2dB in 2kHz, +1dB in 1KHz and +1dB in 4kHz. Q is 1.

3. EQ part 2, remove mud sound, by cutting -3 dB in 200Hz (use Q of 1), -3dB (high pass filter action) at 35Hz.

4. EQ part 3, add bass and lower punch for more pop and rock sound (not applicable for jazz and country genre). If at mixing , kick is boosted at 100Hz, add +2dB in 100Hz, +2dB at 65Hz. Use Q of 1 for this.

5. Final EQ, add gloss and shiny sound, boost at 15kHz, Q =1.0 , +2dB.

6. Apply low pass filter at 16500 Hz (this will pass everything below that , and severely attenuates above that mark). This is optional.

7. Compress, I use L2 Wave effects, compress so that the average RMS audio level is around -12dB for pop and rock volume average. The resulting wave should look like a mastered wave, such as shown above.

8. Save your work, and DO NOT DESTROY THE ORIGINAL MIX DOWN (unmastered track) from the mixing studio. Listen always. Use your EARS! This is the most precious studio equipment.

9. Finally criticize your work, open up your audio player, add commercial tracks similar to the genre you are mastering, then add your mastered track...Does it sound different? or sound competitively similar? Repeat the whole process if it fails the test. Use your ears to tweak those settings.

10.Save your work at 16bit 44.1kHz audio (CD audio quality) and use dithering.

Hope this helps a lot!