Mastering Help (any Good Books?)

OKay, maybe my songs don’t sound terrible, but I can’t definitly hear a stark difference between one of my songs and something well mastered.

I’ve read tricks and tips here and there, but they haven’t muched helped me. I need something more…

Does anybody know of a good book on Mastering?

I’m looking for something that explains everything, but doesn’t go too deep into any one area.

Also, I recently downloaded a Nyquist EQ VST Effect based on one of those tips/tricks. There were RGB bars and lines. Anyways I screwed around with that on my tracks and BOY I really starting getting something that sounded right… I sure wish I knew what I was doing.

This is something you cannot get from books. Mastering is a seperate lengthy craft outside of song composition and mixing. The area is fraught with issues. In brief, consider these things:

  • Your mix must be healthy before you master. If you are clipping you need to lower everything, and usually that will have something to do with making the bass end behave. This can be done via acurate monitoring with the subs. Mixing is a whole seperate lengthy craft, but must be sorted before mastering.
  • Mix down to 32-bit float at 44100hz, only use higher sample rates if you’re mastering to media other than CD.
  • Master in a seperate program, so that you are encouraged to get your mix right first and NOT fiddle with it while you are mastering. The two process require different listening headspace.
  • Get quality plugins. Bad plugs have phase issues, especially with compressors and EQ. Most people use these two tools too savagely and it’s made worse when ugly phase characteristics are introduced. Your aim is warmth, clarity and low phase. The Nyquist EQ is not recommended. Fork out some money for something quality like DSP FX’s bundle; or a good EQ is the A0 Parametric; or a good limmiter like the PSP Vintage Warmer. Do lots of research and try to find out what ‘working and experienced’ engineers prefer. Magazines are full of misleading information due to advertising $.
  • Once you have the juice with plugs you need to develop a signal chain/process appropriate to your style of music. Generally you’re aiming to increase the RMS value of your audio without compromising the expressive and aural quality of your audio.
  • The main problem lies here with differences of opinion in approach. I prefer a clearer dynamic sound to others - some prefer to destroy expressiveness by turning their songs up very loud. You need to have an open mind and give dedicated time to understanding what you want from the sound. What follows are my parameters:
  • Always be reductive in using EQ. I usually have a reductive shelf above 16khz, and a roll off or shelf on the sub, depending on the song. Do NOT touch the mids at all. If you feel compelled to touch the mids your mix is wrong or your monitors are wrong.
  • Use an Aural Activator or a Harmonic Booster - do not use tone boosts or exciters. Find a tasteful clear tuning point in your song and boost the upper harmonics gingerly. A-B with mixes you think sound immaculate. Avoid overboosting or placing emphasis on higher harsh points that your mix may be fragile with.
  • If desirable, use a very small amount of saturation. Too much will destroy the quality of your bass.
  • If feasable, upsample your mix to 88200hz to perform any compression and limmiting. This will provide room for the plugs to behave more analogue-like.
  • Try not to use a knee, unless you have some bombasic bass or kicks for short sections in your song. In that case use between 1-4% knee and tweak the attack and response to specifically suit the expressiveness of the song. Avoid puffy overcompression as it greys the sound. Avoid compressors if possible.
  • Use hard limmiting in conjunction with with a RMS analysis tool. Again, opinions differ on what RMS is appropriate for music. My ears currently prefer a RMS around -8dB, it usually drives well but retains clarity. If you get much higher than that it starts to become obvious the sound is being compromised. Try different genres in comparrison. Pop is around -3dB RMS, movies around -14dB, and classical usually isn’t even normalized, let alone boosted. My advice is don’t succumb to the pop trend and overboost your music. You and your audience will regret it.
  • Make sure your peak is set around -0.03dB - old CD players sometimes misunderstand data at 0dB and distort it, especially if the DA converters are cheap.
  • Downsample to 44100hz and 16bit. Use dither if you prefer the sound.
  • A-B test your master on different speakers: small nearfield, PC speakers, mono radio speakers, car systems, large stereo PA speakers with subs that are phat enough to rock a party. The issues will present themselves if you listen carefully with an open mind. Usually there’s too much bass, but if it’s any worse than that you’ve either overdone something or you need to go back to tidying your mix.
  • If you can, get a DJ to spin the track or get it played on community radio. If it sounds like it sonically belongs with everything else then you’re headed in the right direction.

The more years you do this the better. You’ll learn stuff slowly but all the time. Personally I’m relatively only starting out, but certainly now know what I don’t want my songs to sound like. The rest is in enhancing the detail. You’ll have deeper respect for getting pre-production and mix just right.

nice post foo?. Some valuable points to take into consideration.

Thanks for the replies, but (if you haven’t been able to tell from my other posts) I am very amateur at making music. I’ve made bleeps and bloops for years since I had an Amiga, but until last year Renoise was just something fun I did once and while, kind of like musical Solitaire.

Now I am kinda serious about it, but still not at the point where I am going to invest too much money for good plugs or equipment, because… well, part of the problem, is despite seeing the definitions for the terms above I still don’t know understand them.

I don’t want a final song to sound awesome, that’s a while, but, with my cheap/free plugins I want things to sound acceptable (my songs rarely sound acceptable to me). I need to know and understand what everything means and resources on the internet, or postings such as Foo’s don’t work for me.

Probably a class would be best, but I just went ahead abd bought the S.M.A.R.T. book on mixing and mastering, which is written by a professor and has a DVD, and had good reviews. I’ll tell you all if it helps.

Foo, I am assuming you took a class on this or knew somebody who taught you?

No classes, but I read widely, listen to music of all genres intensly (I have DJed on radio and live and I work as a recording engineer during the day), and have one or two mentors. I’ve been ‘attempting’ to master my tracks since about 2000, and I’m only just starting to find a path that works. If I had better equipment (monitoring and soundcard) earlier on I might have done it quicker, but half the process is your attitude to sound and your listening experience.

Anyway, it sound more like you’re having MIX issues. Do you want to post an example (x)rns for me to look at so I can understand where you’re at? You can get all the native effects sounding wonderful in Renoise if done in a certain way. From that point we might be able to go through the basic terminology. Funny, a lot of terminology is difficult and a lot of us just have ‘working understandings’ of what they mean.

I just read the latest copy of Wired. In it a bunch of people had how I improved X in a month (X being Shooting, Brain Age, and Running). I think I’m going to focus on Mixing for a month exclusively, and see how it turns out. If I’m still stuck, I might just take you up on your offer.

I had a quick listen to your songs at your website…
I guess these forums are filled with people much more suitable to advice you than me but here goes:

The one issue that struck me is that you use the Reverb way too much… I guess you put a quite heavy reverb on your master-channel, am I right? try to put your reverbs on send-channels and send approriate tracks through while staying clear of applying to much reverb to drums and bass if any at all… (I could Try to give you an explanation of why but I leave you to your own explorations) this will give you much more control over each track/instrument and their relationship in the mix…


Hey thanks for the feedback. Actually I rarely put any reverb on the master channel anymore, but I used to put a lot of reverb on drums on bass with send tracks. For whatever reason I stopped putting verb on the basses sometime in the middle of 2006, but I still do it with the drums. I also use a lot of echo – again never on the master track, but virtually every else.

The better the mix is the easier the track is to master, I think. I’m not so sure about the terminology but the DSPs you add to master track is mastering.

I’d recommend cutting the sub bass under 30-40 Hz and if you lack bass then either boost single bass tracks or (not recommended) boost bass in master track, still cutting the sub bass. A way I use, I send bass tracks to a send channel, and cut bass there and limit the signal along the louder element (bass/kick), so that the peaks that come from both elements are limited. Waves Lineq or anvida 32 band EQ are good plugs.

If treble is too dim, again do some boosting on single tracks. However, boosting frequencies doesn’t sound as good as cutting them, so just listen how it sounds when you boost. 10 KHz with renoise’s native EQ is kinda nice, but don’t over do it.

If you want a good limiter, then try Waves L2, Classic master limiter or TLs Maximizer, which has treble boost as one parameter. It’s nice. Don’t over do limiting, because it sounds bad! Been there, done that.

Another point is that a single sound shouldn’t clip or be limited. If you kick is limited in the master track, then there’s no room for other sounds and they get affected by the kick more than if you leave a 2 or 3 dB space for other sounds than kick.

Again, tweak your single tracks so well that it sounds good even when your master track is empty. After that add a limiter and tweak it so that the sound doesn’t distort but the song is louder. Or you can compose a track with a limiter added to your master channel at the very beginning, but make sure that no single sound is limited at it’s own. If you want a hard limited sound, do it on a single track.


Waves Ultramaximizer + is a good limiter on single tracks, because it doesn’t have any delay (that can be heard) and sounds really good!