Trying Too Hard—Mastering

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Copyright 2006




LGM Productions

Guitars at Musician's Friend

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   Dynamics 101




     Anyway, now comes the mastering stage. It’s not mastering in the strictest sense of the word because that typically involves getting the levels and eq of a collection of songs to be consistent as you listen to them one after another. It can also involve using reverb to give the songs the feeling they were created in the same space.


     I use a software product called Diamond Cut Audio Restoration Tool. It has many uses including restoring the audio from vinyl records and cassettes, mastering and forensic audio restoration. It’s pretty amazing what this thing can do.


     The first thing I typically do is to uses the continuous noise filter to take care of any hiss that may be in the mix. It usually rears it’s ugly head in the quieter passages or at the end of the song when the instruments are dying out. You have to be careful with this feature, however, because what it does is analyze the frequency spectrum and pick out the frequencies that are consistently at the same level for the whole song and then subtract them from the mix. In the process of subtraction, you can leave some pretty nasty sounding artifacts as well as take out some of the content.


    The next feature I use from DC-ART is the virtual valve simulator. It does pretty much what it describes itself to be. The interface is very detailed and you can play around with different tubes and transformers to get just the amount of detail and tube compression/distortion you want. I’ve even used it as an amp simulator to get an authentic old-school tube amp sound. Again, it’s easy to get carried away here so make sure you preview the whole song before you commit because you don’t want some distortion halfway through the song that was undesired.


    I will generally use the multi-band compressor at this point but I really couldn’t get it to improve what was already there. Everything I tried just kept muddying up the sound. So, I saved the .wav file and it was back to Sonar for final compression and eq.


    The mastering compressor and eq from Timeworks are phenomenal, IMHO. The eq has a spectrograph function so you can see where things are peaking and use the graphical interface to cut or boost a particular frequency. The compressor has a brick-wall limiter so you can push things right to top without distortion and a VU meter so can see how your tweaking is effecting the mix. At this stage, there shouldn’t be a lot of tweaking because if there is, you probably need to go back and remix the song. This final stage is like buffing a fine automobile to a brilliant, clear finish. Click here to listen to the final version.


Next month—?????



      Last month, I did the final mix on “Trying Too Hard” and after listening to it a few more times, it became apparent that the drums were too hot. I pulled them down about 3 db and that seemed to do the trick. That’s kind of the way I mix—if something annoys me after hearing a few times, it comes down in the mix and if I have to struggle to hear something, it comes up. Then if two instruments seem to fighting for the same sonic space, I tweak the eq on both so they can work together.