mastering, limiter, diy.

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dave watkins
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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by dave watkins » Thu Mar 11, 2021 4:57 pm

You should probably hire MoreSpaceEcho :wink: but otherwise if you are wondering where to look for a mastering engineer that might share the sonic aesthetic you are going for, look at your favorite records that are in the same vein and figure out who mastered them and hire that mastering engineer. As other have noted if you have the means, a second set of ears and the expertise to go along with it is so valuable.

If you have to do it yourself, everybody has offered good advice and indeed the cheapest version of Ozone will just make things louder while keeping you from clipping digital zero, plenty of other limiters out there will do the same. If that's what you need to do and that fits you budget, you gotta do what you gotta do. Most decent plugins have free trials. Download stuff, see if it works for you. Plugin Alliance has a bunch of good limiters and a fully functional demos. The last year has been brutal for many financially and I definitely get the need to make music on your own for little to no budget, especially when you can't really play proper shows or tour to support a release at the moment.

As MSE alluded there's definitely more to it than just pushing things up to a specific LUFS measurement. A lot of people get hung up on LUFS, but honestly you can only control the experience for people who buy you music on bandcamp and end up downloading a lossless version, or get it on a physical Record, Tape, or CD. People who stream your music are going to experience some level of perceptual data compression and hear the music through the mercy of whatever algorithm, at whatever quality/bitrate the internet connection dictates it can stream, and different streaming services algorithm's use different LUFS values to control overall loudness, so if you specifically shoot for -14 for one service it may not translate the way you want it to elsewhere compared to other recordings, it also may just not have the "oomph" you want out of a song. All your work is getting messed with to some extent. I've heard so many conflicting accounts about some services using a limiters, some normalize to maintain control over the loudness that the listeners experience. Some let you turn of that feature, but who knows what the listener is gonna do so It's honestly better just to make a song as loud as it needs to be to still sound good and do the song justice.

You don't have to completely crush anything because yes at least the "competitive loudness" thing is pretty much dead because of streaming. But it doesn't necessarily need to be as quiet as -14LUFS either. Just make it sound good. A good master starts with a good mix and a good mix starts at the source, if you are not already high-passing different individual instrument tracks to get rid of low-end you don't really hear and don't really need that's a good place to start looking at things to make sure you'll have the headroom to push a song louder later and keep it clear, detailed and dynamic without excess pumping. If your whole mix/master/what-have-you is quiet because there are just a couple random peaks that are out of hand, some compression on the individual offending track causing that and/or a little volume automation can work wonders to help controls those peaks. Again those are also good to tame at the mix stage. Also, definitely not a hard and fast rule every time, but using multiple stages of subtle compression with just minimal reduction throughout your mix and then using minimal reduction and makeup gain on the limiter or whatever you're using to self master at the end is probably going to give you a louder, clearer more balanced song than just slamming you master bus at the end of the chain without much work put into sculpting the individual tracks.

my last biggest recommendation for working on your own stuff: don't work stuff to death in long sessions, you lose perspective quick, take lots of breaks, come back with fresh ears, listen causally on different systems/speakers/headphones/camrys when you think you are done, you'll learn a lot.
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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by ashcat_lt » Fri Mar 12, 2021 2:03 pm

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:
Wed Mar 10, 2021 8:07 am
There's so, so much more to mastering than just making shit loud.
Fuckin right, and kind of what I came here to say, though most of the things you mentioned are for me more like "fixing the mix", which I honestly don't think should be the ME's job. If we're talking about a single standalone piece which is not meant to be presented as a part of a collection (ep, album...), then ideally by the time you're done with the mix, all the "mastering" you should have to do is like trim heads and tails, normalize, render to final distribution format, release the damn thing. Anything you might try to do to correct the EQ or reign in the dynamic range (so it can be LOOUUUDDDAARR!!11!!) would be better done at some stage prior to just dropping the final stereo mix on some poor shmoe to sort out. Honestly, that starts at the writing and arranging stage, and needs to follow through every other step of the process.

And I'm sorry MSE, I'm not really trying to talk people out of sending you their money, but in the context of the OP, there's just not any limiter out there that can make your mix louder better than actually mixing it to be louder.

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by losthighway » Fri Mar 12, 2021 2:12 pm

ashcat_lt wrote:
Fri Mar 12, 2021 2:03 pm
Anything you might try to do to correct the EQ or reign in the dynamic range (so it can be LOOUUUDDDAARR!!11!!) would be better done at some stage prior to just dropping the final stereo mix on some poor shmoe to sort out.
The only story I can remember about a mixing engineer perfecting something to the point that mastering felt obsolete involved David Friedman. I think it would take massive amounts of either expertise, and/or arrogance (maybe a little more the latter) for an engineer to assume that they alone have perfected the sonics of something so that it will translate and is ready to present to the public (minus the boilerplate, heads/tails, sequence, format moves you mentioned which are actually the easiest part of mastering).

I've been progressing very, very, slowly and steadily at this art/science for 20 years, and I can imagine after another 20 I'll still be psyched to have a ME who's going to push things around and clarify them just a bit more after I've exhausted myself on them. I'd reiterate again that a mastering engineer should have a near perfect listening environment (I don',t but mine is pretty good), and a fresh set of ears. Even if you have the first one, the second is invaluable.

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Fri Mar 12, 2021 3:33 pm

ashcat_lt wrote:
Fri Mar 12, 2021 2:03 pm
If we're talking about a single standalone piece which is not meant to be presented as a part of a collection (ep, album...), then ideally by the time you're done with the mix, all the "mastering" you should have to do is like trim heads and tails, normalize, render to final distribution format, release the damn thing. Anything you might try to do to correct the EQ or reign in the dynamic range (so it can be LOOUUUDDDAARR!!11!!) would be better done at some stage prior to just dropping the final stereo mix on some poor shmoe to sort out. Honestly, that starts at the writing and arranging stage, and needs to follow through every other step of the process.
I mean...sure...but this is all sorta In A Perfect World where everyone has 20 years of experience, perfectly treated rooms, monitors that are flat to 20hz, and no one ever runs out of time, gets tired, loses their perspective, wants a fresh set of ears, or needs any help whatsoever.

I'll ignore the "poor shmoe" bit.

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by ashcat_lt » Fri Mar 12, 2021 7:53 pm

I mean, you're not going to get to that "perfect world" if you keep kicking your cans down the road hoping somebody will fix the stuff you left sorta fucked. I'm really not arguing against the benefits of using an outside ME, and honestly I'm not the one who made up this slogan "(try to) leave the ME nothing to do". I think there are actually plenty of mix engineers out there who are perfectly happy with their mixes when they leave their facility and do not expect it too change much if at all before it hits the distribution master.

But the OP is trying to find a plugin that will make his mixes louder without destroying them. That is, they are not even really talking about "mastering" so much as "meeting a loudness target", and I promise that's a lot easier if the mix is already pretty well handled before you get there. I'm certainly not selling too many records, but I find more and more nowadays that by the time I'm done mixing, after sorting out the dynamics and frequency at the individual track and group/bus level, when it actually sounds good and works and hits how I want, I end up pretty close to my (genre-appropriate) crest factor targets. If it takes much more than some subtle RMS compression and a saturator to shave off the real aberrant peaks, then either I'm not done mixing, or I'm trying to get it too loud for what it is. Even then, though, if you've mixed it with these goals in mind, and really done the work to tame and control and balance everything, then it should be able to stand some more heavy-handed "master" processing without falling to shit.

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by Scodiddly » Sat Mar 13, 2021 5:19 am

Are we basically leaving the batch mode of distributing songs and instead going pipeline? I've been doing a little bit of virtual-service church music, and by the time everybody has sent in their parts and I've mixed it, it might already be Friday. And almost everybody who ends up hearing the music is going to hear it on laptop or phone speakers. So I'm "mastering", as it were, as if I was living in the 1950's.

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by ashcat_lt » Sat Mar 13, 2021 10:53 am

Scodiddly wrote:
Sat Mar 13, 2021 5:19 am
So I'm "mastering", as it were, as if I was living in the 1950's.
Yeah talk to Cosimo Matassa about the "arrogance" of mixing live to acetate. :)

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by Scodiddly » Sat Mar 13, 2021 11:59 am

ashcat_lt wrote:
Sat Mar 13, 2021 10:53 am
Scodiddly wrote:
Sat Mar 13, 2021 5:19 am
So I'm "mastering", as it were, as if I was living in the 1950's.
Yeah talk to Cosimo Matassa about the "arrogance" of mixing live to acetate. :)
Given the past year I'd be happy to try mixing live to just about any medium. :?

What I meant was that I was basically mixing for really crappy mono reproduction. Some people might actually be listening on earbuds, but then I figure the chances are just as good that somebody else will be missing one of the channels completely.

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Sun Mar 14, 2021 11:50 am

ashcat_lt wrote:
Fri Mar 12, 2021 7:53 pm
this slogan "(try to) leave the ME nothing to do".
This is of course a very worthy goal, my only issue is I don't think people should feel like they've failed in any way if their ME has to do some stuff. A little eq/compression/limiting/whatever is just a totally normal thing, I mean literally almost every song we've ever heard has probably had some stuff done to it in mastering. I don't think this should be viewed as "fixing problems" so much as just part of the process.

I mastered my new record yesterday, and indeed, most of the day was spent going back to the mixes and making changes there, so I didn't have to do any gymnastics mastering-wise. But I still did some stuff! One of the songs needed less eq than all the others, but that doesn't necessarily make it a better mix, and if you listened to the record you'd never know which songs were eq'd more in mastering.

I'm definitely not saying people should be lazy and expect their ME to fix their shit! I'm just saying I don't give people demerits if I have to engage an eq. :D

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by Scodiddly » Sun Mar 14, 2021 3:17 pm

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 11:50 am
I'm definitely not saying people should be lazy and expect their ME to fix their shit! I'm just saying I don't give people demerits if I have to engage an eq. :D
Maybe another way to look at it is how much of your budget (mixing time) you want to spend doing the ME's job.

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Re: mastering, limiter, diy.

Post by Theo_Karon » Sun Mar 14, 2021 7:10 pm

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 11:50 am
I don't think people should feel like they've failed in any way if their ME has to do some stuff. A little eq/compression/limiting/whatever is just a totally normal thing, I mean literally almost every song we've ever heard has probably had some stuff done to it in mastering. I don't think this should be viewed as "fixing problems" so much as just part of the process.
Adding to this that I will sometimes leave things to the ME on purpose if we have a long working relationship! One example that comes to mind is leaving a mix that I know will end up pretty crushed (in a good way) way "too" dynamic - I will often monitor through a limiter and pass this along to the ME as a reference, with the goal that, for instance, the verses will sound like a healthy pre-loudness-war rock master and the choruses will be smashed to hell - but I'm going to let someone who I trust and consistently does great work sort that out, instead of trying to make it happen to some moderate extent in my mix.

That way I get to focus on the dynamics & impact of my mix, and there's hopefully an interesting challenge for the ME as well.

This is very different from handing the ME a pile of garbage with a post-it stuck to it that says 'PLS FIX.'

Cheers

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