Question about mastering

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dafeda
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Question about mastering

Post by dafeda » Tue Jun 13, 2017 7:20 am

Hi,

I'm trying to learn a bit more about mastering and have a question.
Say that I'm trying to go for -12dB LUFS integrated loudness on my track.
I slap on a limiter and limit until I have the loudness I want.
At this stage I can clearly hear limiter distortion.
I therefore slap on an eq, cut stuff under 30Hz, and do some small EQ cuts here and there.
After the EQ, I'll put on a compressor and compress until I can't hear any limiter distortion.
However, at this stage my compressor is doing a lot of work.
I've read somewhere that the compressor should not be working all the time, i.e. it should not always
reduce volume. Mine however is.
Can this mean that the individual tracks in my mix are too dynamic and that I should compress them more,
or that something in my thinking around mastering is wrong, or something else entirely?

I know that if it sounds good it's good etc., just trying to pick up some rules of thumb here.

Thanks.

digitalgeist
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Re: Question about mastering

Post by digitalgeist » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:10 pm

dafeda wrote:Hi,

I'm trying to learn a bit more about mastering and have a question.
Say that I'm trying to go for -12dB LUFS integrated loudness on my track.
I slap on a limiter and limit until I have the loudness I want.
At this stage I can clearly hear limiter distortion.
I therefore slap on an eq, cut stuff under 30Hz, and do some small EQ cuts here and there.
After the EQ, I'll put on a compressor and compress until I can't hear any limiter distortion.
However, at this stage my compressor is doing a lot of work.
I've read somewhere that the compressor should not be working all the time, i.e. it should not always
reduce volume. Mine however is.
Can this mean that the individual tracks in my mix are too dynamic and that I should compress them more,
or that something in my thinking around mastering is wrong, or something else entirely?

I know that if it sounds good it's good etc., just trying to pick up some rules of thumb here.

Thanks.
Keep in mind we're discussing mastering (finishing the track), not mixing (adjusting the track for mastering - making sounds fit without masking, etc). You should generally have about -6dB of headroom before starting the mastering process. Also, every track is different so there aren't any written in stone rules.

From your post it sounds like your gain staging in the mixing stage is off. Not that your tracks are too dynamic, but maybe they need to be adjusted before bouncing out the track for mastering. Take a spectrum analyzer and check that your frequencies are even (and consider the Fletcher-Munson Curve). Check your stereo imager and make sure they aren't out of phase. Make the difficult decisions about which tracks are the most important and which can be dropped, keeping in mind that every track takes up headroom and emphasis away from the others.

EQ should be the first thing in your mastering chain. Ableton's EQ Eight is a good starter, especially since you can do Mid/Side processing. Think of the EQ stereo shape looking like this: < meaning, from left to right (or bottom to top) the stereo spectrum should go from absolute mono (bass) to wide (or wider) in the highest frequencies without antiphase.

A limiter should be the very last thing on the chain - NO EXCEPTIONS. Everything you do - whether it's EQ, saturation, compression, stereo imaging, maximizing, etc. That all comes before the limiter. The limiter captures the stray peaks and is your final chance to bump up the loudness in the chain. If you find yourself at the limiter piling on the gain, you've got to go back and reassess your chain because there's a problem, most likely with the mix.

This is just a quick post on what might help you get your song right, I hope something in my babbling helps!
--
Thanks!
Alex K/ Digital Geist

http://www.digitalgeist.com

dafeda
Posts: 143
Joined: Fri Aug 08, 2014 12:51 pm

Re: Question about mastering

Post by dafeda » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:20 pm

digitalgeist wrote: You should generally have about -6dB of headroom before starting the mastering process.
I do usually leave about 6dB of headroom.
digitalgeist wrote: From your post it sounds like your gain staging in the mixing stage is off.
Not that your tracks are too dynamic, but maybe they need to be adjusted before bouncing out the track for mastering.
Take a spectrum analyzer and check that your frequencies are even (and consider the Fletcher-Munson Curve).
Check your stereo imager and make sure they aren't out of phase.
What might be wrong with my gain staging do you think? None of my tracks are clipping, and no analog-modeled plugins are receiving too hot signals.
Also, I do leave quite a bit of headroom.
I also do consider that my frequences are even. I try to aim for a gentle slope up to about 10kHz and then a steeper slope after that.
I have not however used stereo imagers much, and will give that a try. I don't usually check whether things are out of phase,
something I probably should be doing.
digitalgeist wrote: EQ should be the first thing in your mastering chain.
Ableton's EQ Eight is a good starter, especially since you can do Mid/Side processing.
Think of the EQ stereo shape looking like this: < meaning, from left to right (or bottom to top) the stereo spectrum should go from absolute mono (bass) to wide (or wider) in the highest frequencies without antiphase.
A limiter should be the very last thing on the chain - NO EXCEPTIONS.
I use Ozone 7 for mastering and the default template is Eq -> Multiband Compressor -> Limiter.
I'll usually replace the Multiband Compressor with a regular compressor since I'm not commfortable using Multiband Compressors yet.
As for the limiter, it's always the last thing in my chain.
Also, I stick another EQ in front of Ozone 7 and remove some bass from the side signal.

My question might not have been clear though.
I want to achieve a certain loudness, say -12dB LUFS Integrated without hearing Limiter compression.
At the same time, I've read lately that compressors in mastering should not work hard at all.
I cannot seem to achieve the loudness I want, with gentle compression and a limiter.
If I want that loudness, I have to compress more than what is "recommended".
This leads me to think that my mix isn't compressed enough, or something else entirely.

Thanks.

Tarekith
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Re: Question about mastering

Post by Tarekith » Tue Jun 13, 2017 2:59 pm

It's not that uncommon for a limiter or compressor to be working all the time when you're aiming for a target loudness like -12LUFS. I'm a little surprised that you're distorting the Ozone limiter on it's own with that target, but a lot of that will depend on the mix and individual song elements. How much gain reduction are you seeing on the limiter when it distorts?

Anyway, nothing wrong with using a compressor to help fix some of the dynamics first. I'd probably try and balance out the work being done between the compressor and the limiter though. For instance, instead of doing 8dB of gain reduction with the compressor and then 2dB gain reduction with the limiter, maybe try for 5dB of reduction with both. Depends on the song as always though, whatever sounds best is best, so take that advice with a grain of salt.

Also, some of this is just expectations too. -12LUFS is starting to be a touch on the loud side, so depending on your track it might be impossible to get that loudness without the limiter or compressor taking away a good chunk of the dynamics to your ear. This is where really diving into the attack and release settings of both and tailoring them as best as possible to fit the song can come into play. So don't be afraid to experiment there.

Let me know if you still have issues though, I have some free time in the studio today and could take a look at it for you if you wanted.

Good luck!

dafeda
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Joined: Fri Aug 08, 2014 12:51 pm

Re: Question about mastering

Post by dafeda » Tue Jun 13, 2017 5:11 pm

Tarekith wrote:It's not that uncommon for a limiter or compressor to be working all the time when you're aiming for a target loudness like -12LUFS. I'm a little surprised that you're distorting the Ozone limiter on it's own with that target, but a lot of that will depend on the mix and individual song elements. How much gain reduction are you seeing on the limiter when it distorts?
I will check this as soon as I get back from work.
Will also definitely try to balance the work between the compressor and limiter, that sounds like a good idea.
I've measured quite a few tracks in similar genres and very few are as quiet as -12LUFS.
Most of them seem to be between -10 and -11. I'm not going to try to get my tracks that loud though.

I'll do some more research when I'm back in the studio, but for now, if you want to have a listen here is a link to the track I'm talking about:
https://soundcloud.com/notourdates/miss ... er/s-jsLac

dafeda
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Re: Question about mastering

Post by dafeda » Wed Jun 14, 2017 8:35 am

Tarekith wrote: How much gain reduction are you seeing on the limiter when it distorts?
I checked and it seems to be about 5dB. It's kind of hard to see the exact reduction in the Ozone Maximizer.
I might be looking in the wrong place though.
Right beneath the level-meter where I set my threshold, there is a flashing red-light which I assume is the amount
of gain reduction. Yeah, need to read the manual again!

Tarekith
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Re: Question about mastering

Post by Tarekith » Wed Jun 14, 2017 1:58 pm

The Ozone manual is one of the best guides to mastering anyway, and is often recommend even to people who don't own the app. Definitely worth your time.

dafeda
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Re: Question about mastering

Post by dafeda » Wed Jun 14, 2017 2:09 pm

Will do, thanks.

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