Mastering is one of the key determining factors of how your finished song will sound.
it is a very important facet in music production,
done to improve the overall mix and have it ready for consumption.
One of the key elements of mastering is making sure the overall mix sounds right and is loud enough.
The goal then becomes to make the mix loud enough for both low grade and high grade playback systems,
because if the mix is not loud enough,
it will cause the consumer to turn up their playback system volume and this will mostly likely cause the song to distort.
In this post, I’ll discuss the various ways in which you can carry out mastering for loudness.
This is one the very first things you’ll want to consider before you even think of adding plugins to boost the loudness of your mix.
It’s always good to go element by element with your analysis as this will help you form a better basis of what’s going on in the mix.
You’ll find it pretty difficult to catch every error in the mix without the help of some visual tool, that’s why spectrum analyzers are so important.
Essentially you’ll have to make sure that your low end instruments don’t interfere with the overall mix.
Look out for any rumble and hum from bass instruments as they will easily make your mix sound dull.
Also make sure to check mid range instruments/vocals and see that you don’t have them conflicting with either the high range or low range frequencies.
Lastly check your high range vocals/instruments and make sure that they are also not conflicting with any mid range and low range frequencies.
At this stage you’ll also be checking for any other problems with the mix,
like resonance and any peaking.
The goal of spectrum analysis is to make a good assessment before you start applying any loudness plugins to your mix,
this is a very vital step and do not skip it.
I recommend these 3 Frequency Analysers:
FreqAnalyst by Blue Cat Audio
This is a free tool that will provide you with a detailed high resolution analyzer and great algorithm designed to give you a threshold that allows you to see the important parts of the spectrum
MAnalyzer by MeldaProduction
This is one of the very best and unique analyzers out there, it comes equipped with smoothing, super resolution, pre-filtering, deharmonization plus a peak meter.
MultiFreek Junior by U.F.O Scientific
This is another a good and unique free multi channel analyser.
Equalization is a very important aspect of audio processing at any stage.
The role of EQ is to basically balance different elements of a mix,
to have them well placed.
When you consider loudness,
it’s very difficult for a speaker to push out much volume if your mix is dull due to low range frequencies stacked on top of each other.
That’s why its vital to have a general analysis of the spectrum in order for you to spot out any bad frequencies and use EQ to balance them out properly.
In this case we are mastering for loudness and low frequencies will badly affect the perceived loudness of a mix which is why its essential to clear away any low range frequencies,
you can use a high pass filter with a cutoff of 30 – 60Hz.
Also watch out for peak limiting because most of the time it will introduce unwanted harshness as it gets rid of the unwanted conversion peaks.
To account for peak limiting you can use an EQ to cut frequencies usually found between 2 to 5 khz.
When utilizing EQ, be sure to know whether you need a Graphic EQ or Parametric EQ.
A Graphic EQ will be of great help when you intend to zero in on a particular frequency without causing too much alteration to other frequencies.
While a parametric EQ will be helpful when you intend to make EQ shape decisions to affect your entire mix,
this is helpful if you’re trying to boost an entire section of frequencies.
One way you can boost the loudness of your mix is by utilizing a technique in EQ called, Shelving.
A high shelving EQ will boost or cut the highs of your mix, a mid shelf will boost or cut mid range frequencies and low shelf will either boost or cut your low end,
the boost or cut is entirely up to you and your mix.
Harmonics are a great way to boost the loudness of your mix,
I’m sure you’ve heard producers or engineers use terms like warmth, punch drive and presence.
These terms are linked to harmonics.
Using harmonic distortion is a great way to enhance the overall texture of tone for your mix,
harmonics will introduce various tones that will make for a pleasing sound and an overall increase in the loudness.
The common ways of adding harmonic distortion is by using saturation, tubes and transistors.
A common example of harmonic distortion is using a guitar amp to play a synthesizer,
since a guitar amp is not designed to run synthesizers,
using it will result in an addition of color and loudness to the synth running through it.
Therefore you can experiment with various plugins that you can run your mix through.
For saturation you could consider using the J37 Tape saturation plugin or the Kramer Master Tape plugin,
there are a variety of other plugins that you can research and use.
Dynamic range processing
In audio, dynamic range is the ratio between the loudest parts of a mix and the quietest parts.
With dynamic range processing you have to pay alot of attention to your compressors and your limiters.
You need to use the right settings for them, because if you don’t, your mix will not sound right.
Therefore to master for loudness; you could apply a compressor or limiter to your track and adjust it the right way to get some good harmonics going,
you have to pay attention to the gain as you either compress or limit,
make sure you’re not going above what you should go for when compressing or limiting.
The gain reduction reading you get after applying a compressor or limiter should be enough to give you a basis of how well your compressor or limiter is working or not.
The key is to not over compress or over limit,
when mastering, ensure that you carry out both processes with a subtle touch to improve tonality and overall loudness.
You have to basically create a balance between your dynamic range process and your overall loudness because the last thing you want is achieving loudness but sacrificing dynamic range or the other way around.
Once you find that sweet spot you can easily achieve good perceived volume and dynamics.
Some deliberate clipping can be a great way to increase the loudness of a track.
But you have to be careful when clipping to improve the loudness of a song.
you have to take into consideration the Digital Full Scale;
The extent to which an audio signal can be enhanced to make it loud.
Clipping is a way to add harmonic distortion to a mix, but be careful to not use it on harsh sounds like crashes and cymbals.
You’re better off applying it on either vocals or piano like instruments.
Parallel compression sometimes called New York style compression,
is a type of compression that blends both the dry uncompressed vocal with the compressed signal.
By default, parallel compression will increase the loudness of your mix, because you’re essentially adding another track to your mix.
Always have a meter to check just how much loudness parallel compression is bringing in,
if it is too much, you can simply reduce the dry signals volume.
Always strike the right balance to avoid any distortion issues.
Another way to actually allow for loudness within your mix is by limiting the right way.
The key here is simply not to over limit.
When you over limit you basically lose loudness and other dynamics of your mix.
the more limiting you do, the more you squash down sounds,
Unlike compression, limiters have much more strength to do serious damage to your mix,
therefore make it your goal to only apply a moderate amount of limiting.
Make sure to set your ceiling a little lower than 0.0 to account for inter sample peaks that may run into your mix after conversion.
Pair the ceiling with a very low threshold that will in turn make for a little gain reduction (about 2 to 4db).
which is pretty good and as high as you’ll want to go.
Mix bus processing
In simple terms mix bus processing is simply fine tuning your mix.
With mix bus processing you don’t go element by element, you basically put effects on the entire master.
This where you EQ out your whole mix to be sure that there’s no low end holding your mix back.
Plus limiting the whole mix which would essentially make sure that your mix doesn’t distort and over peak.
Basically with mix bus processing you’re looking to try a lot of dynamics whilst assessing loudness,
you just have to be careful to use the right effects because what you do on the master will affect your overall mix.
Multi Band compression
With multi band compression you’re basically dividing up the frequency spectrum’s into sections then applying individual effects to each section.
You can basically be able to boost different sections depending on how loud you want them to be.
It can be particularly helpful when dealing with harsh low and high range frequencies.
We can all agree that loudness is a key element to any good mix, therefore its adequate that you take into account various ways you can use to improve your mix.
Always remember that good mastering comes as a result of good mixing, and mastering will not magically fix badly mixed vocals or instruments.
So before you even start thinking of applying the different loudness techniques discussed in this post,
Check your mix and see if everything is done right, that will help you make better mastering decisions.