Paint it White Mastering Tutorial

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Paint it White Mastering Tutorial

Post  MBRSMIKE on Fri 25 Feb 2011, 4:46 pm

Hey Members I want to officially welcome you to the MBRS Sound Design forum website! Hopefully you already had a chance to check out the Mixing Tutorial for Paint it White*Paint it White Mixing Tutorial* I’ve heard positive feedback about the screen shots so I hope we can have that on many of our Mixing and Mastering threads! Once this website is in full swing I think it’s going to be an awesome resource and a place to find some new information.

Paint it White
Mastering Tutorial

Paint it White Pre-master Mix #8

Paint it White Mix 8 by MBRSOnline

Paint it White Mastering Chain 1

Paint it White Master Chain 1 by MBRSOnline

Paint it White Mastering Chain 2

Paint it White Mastering Chain 2 by MBRSOnline

I’m excited to post this first Mastering tutorial and will provide some screen shots as well. A lot of people say mastering should not be attempted by the person who mixed the tracks. I understood the meaning behind it, but since I never really had the money/time to send my mixes out I decided to learn the art myself. I will say it took around 3 years of mistakes until I was fairly satisfied in the overall sound and loudness. For this project I used a mastering program called T-Racks 3. It can also be used a plugin but never could get it to show up in Sonar so I use it as a stand alone program. I recommend trying it out I think it has a lot of nice features and quality sound processing. I’ve had experience with Ozone 3 and 4 but thought T-racks might serve the song better. I may do a mastering session in Ozone 4 and post up some of those results in the near future. This Tutorial will be exclusively in T-Racks 3 but I think the basic and advanced concepts can be easily translated in whatever D.A.W program and plug-in you’re using.

I ended up with two different mastering chains that I preferred. For the final version I choose to use the second one as I thought it was just as clean as the 1st setting but with a little more punch. I will be showing both chains and explaining a little about both.

Mastering Signal Chain 1
Optical Compressor – Linear Phase EQ – Brick wall Limiter – Brick wall Limiter

In this chain I used an Optical compressor first. I consider the optical in T-racks to be one of the best compressors; it’s very transparent but also sweetens the sound as analogue type gear is known for. I like to use the Linear EQ to tweak the mix a little more, it’s accurate and very easy to use. I finish off the chain with two Brick wall limiters. They both are acting in different roles as I will explain. I tried to keep it simple for this mastering session since the final mix already sounded pretty good.

Important: Mixing Into a Mastering Signal Chain

One of the challenges in mastering yourself is getting the mix ready to be mastered. So not only do you have to worry about working the mix in front of you to sound good but plan for the track to be put through some heavy compression, EQ, and limiting. The biggest challenge for me in the past was mastering a song and hearing the drums being buried from the compression and limiting. Raising the drum bus a bit in preparation will give you a good start. As you can hear in the examples above, the mastering chain really glues the mix together. It is also important to pay attention to wide panned guitars. If they sound loud in the mix then they’re most likely going to be way too loud in the master. In the optical compressor chain I used the Mid/Side setting to help balance the guitars out. Another tip I will finally mention is to be very observant of clicks or pops in your recordings before mastering. In the right scenarios like pauses in a song, a click can become loud and annoying once put through the mastering stages, so just pay attention to that.

Optical Compressor
The T-racks optical compressor is pretty easy to use. I usually leave the input level at 0. You can see I have the ratio at 1.06 and I think it’s a good idea to not go to crazy with the ratio if you have limiters planned afterwards. Attack is one of the more important parts of this optical. Finding the right setting where you still hear the snap of the drums is key, don’t kill them off with a super fast attack time. I like to leave my release settings lower so the compressor isn’t easily as heard, and sounds a little more transparent. The Compressor setting comes preset at 4.5 so I increased that a bit to add a little more drive. You can see in the picture that there is barely any gain reduction but I still use it to add a few decibels. What is nice about this compressor is having the Mid and Side capabilities. This means in short, you basically you can have different compressor settings for the left and right channels, as well as the center channel. This can give you a lot of control of width and volume levels, it’s great.

Linear Phase Parametric Equalizer
Mastering EQ on a final mix can get ugly and out of control fast so remember to keep it under control. It is important to try and get the best mix and sonic quality out of your mix possible before it hits the mastering stage because in my opinion, whatever enters the mastering chain sounds so much better in the end. You can see I did a low end roll off in the first channel of the EQ. Stuff below 50 and 40 Hz can take away some headroom and total RMS volume in the end. I gave a small boost around 230hz to give the snare a little more punch in the final mix, and I cut some of the harsher tones from the guitars out at 2.5k. If you look at the output knob you can see I added .3, every little bit of gain adds up in the end result, aka Gain Staging. One thing to be careful about is over adding high end EQ on a master. A little goes a long way, but too much will cause the listeners ears to become fatigued quickly. Don’t get me wrong I like a lot of treble in my mixes but when it sounds over compressed and EQ’d it’s a turn off.

Brick Wall Limiter
This Limiter has a pretty cool design and layout. Overall I have not been a huge fan of limiters in the past. They seem a little too harsh and squashing to my ears. I use this limiter to gain a few decibels further. The Advanced 2 setting is a good mix of limiting the signal but still leaving the punch. With the slow attack and fast release times this limiter activates for only small periods time, good for volume and keeping the overall sound clear. I set the output ceiling to -0.1 to avoid clipping.

Brick Wall Limiter 2
Adding a second Limiter may be overkill but it helped to bring the track close to commercial levels. Having two limiters do the limiting work instead of one allows some extra tweaking and a cleaner sound for the end result, trying this technique with compressors works just as well.

Mastering Signal Chain 2
T-rack’s EQ – Regular Compressor – Multiband Limiter – Soft Clipper

By the time I got to this mastering chain I had about 5 or 6 different versions with the 1st chain. For this chain I started from scratch and I wanted to try out some of the different processers to see if I could get a better final sound.

T-Rack’s EQ
The T-racks EQ is similar to the Linear Phase EQ and I couldn’t tell the difference sonically between them. I gave a slight boost around 118 Hz to give a little more thump in the bass and kick drum. I did the typical low end roll off to save headroom and took away a bit from the harsh 2k area. If you notice in this chain the EQ is before the compressor as it was opposite in the other chain.

Regular Compressor
The regular compressor in this program has a much different sound then the optical compressor. I noticed this compressor gave a sharper sound with more punch than the optical. The side chain HPF is a nice feature to control the low end a little more. The stereo enhancement is one of my favorite controls on this compressor. It gives you the ability to mess with the stereo width of your mix. There is about -3dbs in gain reduction which is a good amount to compress and still preserve the mix. I added a few db’s in the output control for final mix volume.

Multiband Limiter
The multiband limiter in T-Racks is a beast in my opinion. I haven’t had much use with it until this chain but I am now a fan. It gives you tons of options to add a little sparkle in the high end or low end with the EQ. The overload feature allows the signal to bypass the limiters threshold to whatever amount you like. I keep that set fairly conservative. I did a big boost in the output level to get a final commercial level and planned to let the clipper handle the reminder of the signal.

Soft Clipper
I used the soft clipper in this chain comparable to the brick wall limiter in the first chain but with this clipper being less harsh to the sound. I sent the output to -0.1 to avoid clipping. At this point I didn’t need to add anymore loudness; the clipper was just protecting the track from clipping.

Final Words on Mastering and Loudness

This concludes my Mastering Tutorial, I hope you got some things out of it that you can use yourself. The final mix of Paint it White used the second chain, it was hard to pick one but the low end punch the 2nd chain provided won me over. Mastering your own work is fine in my book, as long as you take time to get quality plug-ins and “compress conservatively”. I do agree we are in the midst of the loudness wars, especially in the rock and metal industry. I try to get a good RMS level out of my masters but it’s all about compromise, Loudness and introducing clipping/distortion verse keeping your mix clear and balanced. I also choose with my ears not my eyes, so always trust your ears in the end!
Good Luck and Keep Mastering!!

MBRS Mike farao


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