Days, where music production studios were the only space where you would do mixing and mastering of your song, are long gone. In the modern world, you have unlimited options so that you can adjust and customize the sound to your needs in your home studio. Here are a few points what’s the mixing & mastering all about so you can understand a bit more about these two pillar music production processes.
How Important is The Mixing & Mastering?
First, keep in mind that mixdown is a more important process than mastering. The reason for that is just because if your mixdown sounds weak, then the final mastering will amplify and transfer what you already did. What it does is it make it better or even worse, so you have to be careful in your mixing session. For this reason, it’s better to have e nice and clean mixdown because there is a core of the sound. Keep in mind that you have to spend most of the time on the mixing process to have as best results as possible first.
Then there is mastering – Even when mastering would do wonders with some tracks, in the vast majority of the songs, it’s not that case. Try to put yourself into the role of the professional mastering engineer. What’s the thing that he expects to be right before he even starts to master the song? Only one thing – the pre-master (mixdown) itself. If it’s terrible, he wouldn’t even bother to try to do the mastering because he would be concerned if he can improve that in some way. So take the mastering process like a final improvement – something that will intensify what you already did in the early stage – in other words, mastering is like the cherry on the cake.
Also, here is our post about how to master your music at home in steps.
Does Will Limiter Make My Track Louder?
Limiters/Clippers/Maximizers are the last plugins that are adding the final loudness to your song. If you want to boost the volume on your limiter in the final stage, before that, you want to make sure that you have a nice dynamic range in the mixdown. Here are LEVELS from Mastering The Mix, where you can see waves representing the range – keep in mind that this is the first step to make your music louder. This is more kind of visual side than technical, but it can help you before you start doing mastering.
With that said, to be able to maximize loudness with the Limiter, FIRST, you need to start using multiband plugins, compressors, EQs, transient shapers, saturators, etc. in your original project. Simply everything that would improve the dynamic range with purpose to maximize the final loudness. Besides that, when you start with the mastering process, you can apply various plugins (for example, Multiband Dynamics) to increase the chance of being sound louder. Otherwise, if you will try to boost the final dB on the limiter, it would result in the “loudness war,” which means that your sound will start distorting, clipping, and generally, decrease the quality of your audio and enjoyment of your listeners. Lastly, it’s recommended to don’t exceed the -6 dB Threshold on the final Limiting.
Is Mastering Necessary?
Well, let’s say that the mixdown of your original composition sounds great – In this case, you don’t need to over-process your track with the mastering by adding additional plugins that are not necessary. You can use similar plugins when mixing like when mastering – it would be an exciter, imager, etc. but remember – even better than the mastering itself is to have complete control over your sound when doing the mixing.
The reason for that is because if you apply exciter for a particular sound, it will affect only the specific single sound and you can use different exciter models for different sounds as you like it meanwhile if you will apply it on the mastering, it will apply for your whole audio track. As I said above, mastering is just the final improvement of your audio signal.
Anyway, here are two steps that you would consider to do in the Final Mastering Process:
-You have to use Limiter or Clipper to cut the peaks and treat your audio to make sure that it doesn’t clip, distort, or anything that would have an impact on your sound. Also, keep in mind that every single track needs different settings. It all depends on the character of your sound to be able to set up your limiter appropriately. You have to find the balance – try to avoid unwanted pumping, but also distorting – make it slightly quieter BUT with clean sound. Check this post about How To Maximize The Loudness Without Clipping or Distorting.
-Also, it’s not necessary, but in most of the tracks, it’s recommended to cut your highs from 16kHZ with Brickwall High-Cut in your EQ. The reason is that you perceive the highs that matter instead of very thin highs that come after 16,000 Hz. Also, people using the brickwall technique when they want to pay attention more to the low-end section of their track, so they just get rid of that very high region. This is the question of the genres, and it’s not required to do, but it’s a thing that you would definitely consider to do!
For example – Uplifting Trance Producers don’t do this very often because the genre has brilliant pads, synths, and leads that are playing lovely at these frequencies, so it’s better to keep the frequencies after 16kHZ to let those sounds shine. On the other side, there are genres like Drum & Bass, and also it’s subgenres called Deep/Neurofunk, where this trick is most of the time necessary. The point is that this genre is more low-end focused, and it’s essential to hook the listener by removing highs after 16kHZ, and this simple technique is the perfect thing to do to get the results. You can easily do that with FabFilter Pro Q3:
Difference between mixing and mastering
The Mixing Process
When doing mixing, you are taking care of your individual tracks and applying appropriate effects, so in the end, each sound is different, and that’s the magic. In this process, you want to balance the sounds to play together perfectly. Basically, It’s a relation of the sounds interacting with each other.
If you want to achieve the great sound from the early stage of building your track, try to follow this progression. The thing is that a lot of producers are doing their composition first, and only then they start doing the mixing process. To be able to achieve the best results, try to make the first perfect sound as best as possible. Only THEN start to layering other sounds according to that. With that said, don’t try to add a bunch of sounds one over the other just because you want to have instant results. Anyway, it’s a great idea if you want to make some concept or initial structure of your track from the beginning.
But, when you have the concept done, try to grab the individual sound, make it perfect, and then start with the layering and balancing to make a great mutual relation with the macros, levels, panning, etc.
The Mastering Process
The whole next thing is the mastering – this is the last step where you are adding the final shape of your track. The mastering chain would include many advanced plugins or just a few basic ones. It all depends on what you did in the mixing process. If you’ve made only basic processing there and your sound isn’t that great, sounds dull, and you want to elevate your sound a bit more, then you would apply for advanced mastering plugins that will add some additional color or warmth.
But as I said, it’s incredibly individual for each track, genre, but also the producer’s preferences. Moreover, don’t forget to sharp your ears to be able to know when to use the appropriate plugin for your song. That’s the best and most effective way, and on top of that – after you learn it, you will never forget that. And slowly, you will reveal these small details that you overlooked to improve the mastering. Check this post for more info about differences here.
Even when mixing is totally different process from mastering, they have something in common – you have to know when to use appropriate effects and also how to set up them properly. Sometimes less is more and sometimes you don’t need to add more plugins to forcing and drastically changing the sound. Rather than that, listen to your track more times before you are applying any effects. Just try to keep these things in mind and hopefully you will get the better results in a long run!