Mastering Tutorial Needs Your Input

Someone has asked me to write a tutorial on mastering, but rather than throwing my ‘career’ as an online mastering engineer away by giving away all my trade secrets, it will just be a basic coverage of the fundamentals of mastering.

It’ll describing the foundations of mastering, which, if unknown to the beginning engineer or producer, would typically result in a lot of wasted time learning things by trial-and-error, rather than being able to gain that all-important experience.

I’ll cover things like what mastering is, what its pre-requisites are, and the general process with which to go about doing it (effect order, how to generally set up the effects, etc.).

Unlike too many other mastering tutorials though, I’ll focus only on digital music and mastering in a digital environment, so the focus will be on software only, and using things like noise reduction will be a thing of the past. Too many tutorials have confused me in the past because of the thin line between the analogue and digital domains, so I plan to clearly focus solely on the digital world.

It’ll be a beginner’s guide to mastering your own music produced with software, so that those who can’t afford to pay for professional mastering can at least attempt to start mastering their own work. And of course more professional producers are still welcome to look to me for doing a more professional job. B) (yes, a new site and official mastering service are coming just as soon as I can get my own connection installed at home). :rolleyes:

But the point of this is post is just to get some further ideas as to what I could include. So does anyone maybe have any particular questions they would like answered? Something you’ve always wondered about mastering and how to go about doing it? Either post them here or mail them through to my email address on my artist page here.

well ive had some questions about mastering with heavy heavy bass,
i really like having really low deep heavy bass and alot of times i get speaker flux
i was told to use a limiter to limit everything below (i think it was) 20 hz but when using a 35-40 hz sine it seems to take out alot of the heavyness i want when using a limiter, but then it also takes over my highend drums when i crank up the volume when not using the limiter an then also creates the flux.
is there some type of medium? or is it pretty much just trial and error the whole way through?
theres an artist for example called Dabrye that pretty much has the sound i would like to have, even tho i make completely different music then his. he has some incredibly low bass hits and some really crisp highs.

Great! :D
this is something good and usefull! Xpecially the digital-only part :P

I guess you should also divide your mastering tutorial by mastering styles?
I mean… things are different depending on the “style” of music you’re in, as far as I know. So you could really create some sort of “easy guide to start mastering” with small different sections about different styles?

What I would really like to see is also some kind of practical dynamic example that makes it clear about how different parameters are finally influencing the track… possibly in a visual way now that technology allows for animated flash movies or smalll videos… once again are coming to my mind the many tutorial videos for programs like Z-Brush

Another usefull thing coming to my mind (I suppose it goes under the “setting up for mastering” part…) is the single track handling. The way each track should come to the mastering point.
Do you have to render each track with a wide, full and well deployed spectrum and THEN while mastering give eq and cut to fit other tracks?
Or you can start giving EQ to each rendered track to give em a first separation/positioning (along the spectrum) and THEN mix em toghether?
Is there any difference? And if there is a difference… what is it?

Just brainstorming, of course :)
Feel free to use these questions as guidelines to understand the mind of someone who knows just a little about the general mastering concept ;)

good idea… :)

looking forward to it…

I’d like typical tips on EQ’ing. You know, like what instrument is more “phonogenic” on what band and so on… :)

i’d also like to hear about what audio listening equipment you use for mastering… what monitors, what headphones etc.

also, what you listen for specifically in level balances, etc.

Well, I use a MOTU 828mkII FireWire interface, Dynaudio Acoustics BM5As studio monitors, and AKG K 240 S studio headphones, but I don’t quite see how that can be useful information to a beginner? Sure, they might want to buy exactly the same equipment as I use, but then again they might not be entirely suitable to someone else.

Can you elaborate a bit more on that last part? What exactly do you mean with “level balances”?

Well, that’s getting into mixing territory. For a very general guide on that, check out this page, but replace all 2.8 values you see with 2.9. The author made an error writing that article, but the original article is now only available to subscribed members. For more precise Q values, though, check out my Kaufman Q chart.

Once you’ve come to grips with that EQ primer, use a spectrum analyser to find the exact frequency ranges of a particular instrument.

Well, I think going into mastering different styles would be a bit too in-depth. It would mean a lot more for me to write, but I also don’t want to give away too much information either since I’m hoping to work as an online mastering engineer one day soon.

Actually, mastering isn’t all that different for different styles. The only differences would be in the way you’d use EQ, and things like compression and limiting thresholds. But even then the differences are quite subtle, and I don’t think writing about those would be of all that much benefit actually.

Same with the movie idea. If I show people my own approach to mastering, and exactly how I go about doing it…well, you get the idea.

As for your “single track handling” point, that’s part of the mixing process. I will touch up on that though, as I’ve mixed mixing and mastering up all too many times in the past too. I have already written some general mixing tips for my new web site though, but it’s going to take another few weeks for me to have it ready and uploaded.

A large portion of the mastering is also just input from own personal approach out of experience.

Telling the important do’s and don’ts and specially why not seems however pretty important IMHO.

Didn’t have enough time to reply to this part yesterday, but if I understand what you’re saying, then, yes, there is a difference, and you would want to use the second approach.

In the mixing process, you want to render each of your instrument tracks (in the case of using a dedicated multitrack audio editor) and mix them together into a final state using effects like EQ and compression. This gives you full control over each instrument and allows you to fix up problems that might occur when you combine two or more instrument tracks.

If, on the other hand, you were to rely on mastering EQ to fix any problems that might occur between two or more instruments (frequency clashing, for instance), then you’re greatly restricting your options because you can only do so much. I guess you could attempt to use dynamic equalisation to separate two tracks that occupy the same frequency space, but it would be damn hard. Best way is to go back to the drawing board and fix all EQ problems, stereo widening and everything else there.

Mastering EQ is only aimed at treating the entire mix as a whole by boosting or cutting large frequency ranges (i.e. not the individual instruments, but the combination of those instruments).

Anyway, the tutorial is nearing completion already actually, and will end up about 8 pages of text - hopefully not too long. I’ll upload a preliminary version next week some time and will be open to suggestions or corrections.

Yeah, I realised I was being too arrogant about the whole thing, and I’ve added in a lot more helpful tips like important do’s and don’t’s now. It’s more or less a whole outline of how you could typically go about mastering your own music.

The only thing it doesn’t give away is the years of experience you need to produce good masters, but it will give you a good starting point in order to master your music with (hopefully) satisfactory results.

Oh thanks Atlantis :D
I look forward to see your tutorial where hopefully I will be able to learn some little more about this whole subject…

simple stuff like, how loud should the hihats be vs the snare drum, how loud should the synth pads be compared to the lead instruments, etc etc


I didn’t read the entire post, so I’m not sure if this has been mentioned…

I think on a CTG thread about mastering you were discussing using EQ to pinpoint precise notes and frequencies. I believe it came up when you were asking for the lowest and highest notes played in the track. I would be interested in knowing a little about this process. If you were to create a tutorial, a simple lookup table with this information would be cool (although I can probably find this on the web fairly easily).

I realize that you don’t want to divulge anything too closely related to your work, but I think covering this topic would be excellent.


Aha, well that’s going into mixing territory. There are no exact values for that since our ears perceive volume based on the average, or RMS, volume, so you can’t expect that having a kick peak at 0.0 dB will always mean that the hihat should peak at -12.0 dB or whatever. The best solution would be to use a spectrum analyser and ensure that you’re translating a gradually sloping frequency curve when the view is set to logarithmic.

Bloody IE. Just lost my entire post.

In short, the lowest note and highest note thing was just a way for me to deal with things I couldn’t deal with at the time. When setting up a multiband compressor, ideally you want to set up the crossover frequencies so that an instrument doesn’t spill into an adjacent band. Knowing the highest and lowest note of an instrument helped me to do that without having to do much extra work.

All that, as well as using ‘note-frequencies’ EQ (or whatever it may have been you’re referring to) on a mixdown, are a thing of the past now, as real mastering EQ requires a different approach that doesn’t take the individual instruments into account. What I was doing when EQing a mixdown with regards to the frequency locations of certain instruments, was just correcting the internal mixing of the track, whereas really I should’ve focused on mastering and translating a consistent frequency curve to the track.

Probably difficult to understand, but all this will be covered in the tutorial, and will actually give away a lot more info much closer to my work than any of that previous information. Just forget anything I may have said in the past as most of it, although it’s been really valuable learning material, isn’t even that accurate, and it certainly still wasn’t mastering what I was doing anyway.

The note-frequency table is available here though:…frequencies.txt, which I still use extensively while mixing and mastering.

atlantis, i was wondering how much you charge ? how much is 1 track? i thought it was pretty cool that you offer a free demo for prospective buyers. i might be interested in your services (in a while, after i have produced a good enough track)

I’m planning to start out with a price close to 25 euros per track, which should be a good tradeoff between the 65 euros+ other online mastering services charge and the relatively lesser amount of experience I have. But, with the free demo, you can always cancel your submission if you’re not happy with it, though I doubt that’d happen. :)

I actually have a brand new website ready to be launched in just a few more weeks, as in a week or two I’m moving flats and it’ll take me a while to get set up again. But let me know when you have something and we’ll see if we can arrange something.

i’m from america, so (does conversion), $32 , not bad. i was honestly thinking it would be somewhere more in the hundreds. although it does add up if you do a whole album. would you have some kind of discount for an entire album of 10-15 tracks?

i think i’ll probably employ your services whenever i’ve got somethin i’m ready for though, just so i can say… “i got my track professionally mastered” :walkman:

i also had one more question… how closely do you work with the producer? i.e. if you see something wrong with the track that you need to fix to make a good master, but you can’t do it without the producer altering something in the track… do you have him go back to the original and change stuff and then resend? just wonderin :)