1) Have an Aim. In this case I am using mastering as a final chance to catch any mistakes, trying to sweeten the song slightly and also make sure it is loud enough. I have an aim at all times in the process - even if it's an experimental part, I still know that's what I am doing. At each stage I ask myself "What am I trying to achieve by using this VST? I also take time to get my head in the right place so that I feel creative and motivated to finish the project - Often overlooked but the most important step in my opinion!
2) Final Check and adding fades Automate the master fader (this is after the effects chain) to fade the start and end of the song. Checking - Listen from start to finish without tweaking anything. Listen for : Clicks, pops, cut breaths, clipping, bad edits, resonances (especially in the low mids), consonance, overly harsh "sss" in vocals, is everything perfectly in time etc? The MIX must be good for a good master. Mastering is not a quick fix for a bad mix.
3)Adjusting the tonal balance. This will help it sound good on all systems. Use reference track and compare to professional releases. If you hear that your balance is off you can use subtle EQ or go back to the mix to fix big problems. I like using Tonal Balance Tool to help me get in the right sort of area but I always set the final levels to taste. I am not paid to promote this plugin but Izotope did send me a copy to use without pressure of showing it in videos. The EQ's I like to use are - Custom Series EQ, TR5 EQual, Eiosis Earth for the high pass.
4) Trying any sweetening. Be careful here - we are not trying to FIX a problem, we are simply looking to give it that extra 1%. This could include saturation (Tape or Tube), Gentle stereo widening, Volume automation (macro dynamics), harmonic excitement and Bus compression. I would be very cautious if you are new to these effects, it's best to experiment with them but don't feel pressured to commit to them. In time, this practice will help you master these tools and before long you will feel in control and be able to use them to help your mastering. I demonstrate using the VBC to compress the mix. Many types of compressors can be used and multi band compressors are often used too. The aim here is the change the sound stage, "glue" things together and add some warmth. Immediately I was fooled by an increase in volume but after tweaking some dials it started to work. The threshold was adjusted until I could hear some gentle compression (I can't remember what the screen was reading but I try not to look at the screen. I kept a slow attack so that the snare wasn't being crushed, I adjusted the release to make it quicker so that it was more open and didn't feel heavy. Then I adjusted the High Pass Filter to make sure that the Kick and Bass were not being compressed (turned down). This final step really opened the song back up. Please listen to the compression again and hear how the bass becomes HUGE after I turn the HPF Dial on the right! The reality is that there are not many "go to settings" that work for all mastering situations. It's important to practice and get comfortable with the tools.
5)LOUDNESS- well sort of.. Mastering for online streaming makes life easier for us these days, we don't need to slam tracks super loud to be heard! When exporting, check what the sites are currently asking for, sometimes these details change but most are asking for a 24 bit Wav file. If you want to release your music after mastering,
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