What should be in a mastering chain, how is it setup and what’s the difference between a track that is mastered, verses an unmastered track?

When people listen to songs on the radio, they automatically think that this is how it sounds when it’s all finished. But what is a finished track? How does it sound good as an industry standard mastered mix? What’s the difference between a mix that is not mastered verses a fully mastered track altogether? This next part in my mastering engineering series, I’ll be showing you what chains most mastering engineers used, how they are setup and some of the plugins that I use to get the sound as an industry standard mastered track. As previously stated in my previous blog post, it’s not all about loudness, but EQ and leveling out frequencies to get them leveled out through out the entire track as well as having loudness being consistent as a constant level. The video below will go through all of this and I also talk about the order of the chain as well. This is important it you want your mastering engineering to sound industry standard. So? What are you waiting for, let’s dive in and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my contact page, through email, twitter or any other method I have on that contact page. As always, thank you all for the support and letting me help you all who are interested in this kind of stuff.

Mastering chain and the difference between mastered and unmastered

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Audio mastering, an introduction and how I got started

Hello, this will be a series of blog posts having to do with audio engineering with regards to mastering, weather it be a single that you’re working on or a full album. these next few blog posts, along with some videos that will be added along with the blog posts that I do, will teach you from the basics of mastering all the way to some advanced stuff and what I use but, for now, let’s just talk about the introduction about how I got started and a little bit about what mastering is.

Introduction

What is mastering? A lot of producers, or even artists may or may not know what the process of mastering is in the post production faze and in this part of the post, I will try to explain, my best of what mastering is from a non technical stand point. Mastering is, essentially, the faze of which a mastering engineer will make all the instruments in a track balance out across all levels across the board with some EQ, compression and make the track role out to loudness standards for the music industry. When mastering, a master engineer is able to adjust different parts of frequencies to make certain parts of elements within a track stand out a bit more than others. For example, if you want a bit of warmth added to the vocals because, you, as the mastering engineer, is not feeling where that vocal is sitting at the higher frequencies. If you, as the mastering engineer wants a bit more punch in the lows, yes, you can do that as well and give it that punch. All this and more can be done with mastering and in a few blog posts, I would have hopefully taught you the basics of mastering and so you might be able to do it yourself and get it to industry standards, like I do with all of my masters. Note: The only time you would ever want a producer to remix anything within a song for you to master is the fact that not, everything you can fix with mastering, most things, yes, but others, not so much. This is why, if you want it to sound great with whatever you’re working on, as a master, you must make sure that the mix is how you feel it should be before starting to master. Listen to the track a couple of times before starting out and take it back to the mixing engineer or producer and ask them to give it a better mix. For example, if you feel that the vocals sound a bit muddy across the highs, and or a bit to loud, this is when you would go back to the engineer or producer and ask them to fix. Or if you feel that the levels are all over the place, because lets face it, you want to do much less work then you have to when mastering. You, as the mastering engineer should be focusing on balancing out instruments and elements and adjusting frequencies where you feel they should sit. Mastering is all about making vary subtle changes to a track. When I master, I think of it as a puzzle. What frequencies should I use that best fits this song and what should I either turn up or down within certain frequencies to give it that right feeling of sound that I’m feeling? What plugins should I use for this process on this song because lets face it, you may use a different EQ plugin than you would on another master of what you just did the night before. You may use an imager to spread some parts of frequencies through out the stereo field to make it more of a spacious feel, if you’re feeling it and if you think, the artist will go for it. These are the types of things that you should be asking yourselves, every single time when you do a master. and even if someone is showing me something that they will ask me to master in the future, I already have an idea of what I’m going to use, before I step into the studio and master, but that process will come in time as you start getting more comfortable with mastering. You start to, even before you ask yourself questions, start to get the feel of where everything should sit mastering wise and once you’ve done that, you’re able to work more quickly and efficiently with your masters. To be quite honest, I still ask myself the questions that I have listed above even when I’m mastering just to double check, and even during the post mastering faze. You always want to go back and double check your work and make sure it’s how you want it. People have a different ear when it comes to mixing, but mastering, is indeed a whole different animal. You’ll use totally different plugins a lot of the times and even mix in different plugins from different manufacturers just to give it that sound you want if you feel you don’t have the tools from the plugins you have right now.

How I got interested in mastering

A couple of years ago, or maybe even less than that, whenever I would want to release something as an IR, (independent artist) and if I wanted it out on all music streaming platforms, I would have to pay someone for mastering and my thought process goes like this. I would want to make money in the stuff that I sell, not lose it, and so thus my research for mastering began. I started asking mastering engineers that I knew and how they would master, and even then, I’d have questions about where everything should go and how you know, what loudness levels should be at at the end of your mastering process. I’ve asked a lot of questions during this time and while I thought I had everything figured out, I still would have more questions. At the end of the day, it’s all in how you want your sound as a mastering engineer. I would go from using stock logic plugins and when using all of that, wouldn’t achieve the sound that I would want. I went from that, to native instruments plugins and believe it or not, I’d use some compressors and EQs from NI to make it sound how I would want my tracks to sound. When my first single came out, Hillbilly chase, I mastered that single with all native instruments plugins and while that did work and achieved most of the sound that I wanted, there was still some stuff that I was missing. So, then again, I went back to the drawing board and found Ozone. I will link that at the end of this blog post, but Ozone, what it is is essentially a mastering sweet of plugins and they had, everything that I was looking for, and more. You can get either standard, or advanced but I did end up getting advance, and that costed me like $500 but it was all worth it. After my first single, Hillbilly chase, and another single that I have produced with a couple of people, I use Ozone as my main mastering sweet and love it every step of the way. I’ve also switch from logic to reaper of the fact that with Reaper, I can use meters that I would have access to that I wouldn’t have access and otherwise, see in logic. With Reaper, it’s become my main DAW for mastering, not for what it can do, but how I can have it do whatever, I want with my masters. I always get tuns of questions of what I would use when mastering, and my answer is always, Ozone. Maybe, I’ll throw in different plugins, but I haven’t had to do that as of yet. That is essentially how I got started with mastering and now, I’m mastering for people, from singles to albums and it’s a lot of fun! In the next blog post, I’ll be going over what a chain is in mastering and how a typical mastering chain should look like. I’ll also post some videos on how my setup would look like just for people who would like to know. Stay tuned. We’re not done yet with this series. I hope I explained things as thoroughly as I could but should you have questions, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll answer back in the comments.

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