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Mastering is the last stage in the production process and takes place after you're done mixing all the songs in a project. Mastering in Pro Tools can transform your final mixes into professional sounding recordings. Well, why do you want to master your tracks? Well, mastering treats your final mixes so that the songs sound good on all playback systems, from one speaker clock radios to hi-fi stereos. Mastering makes the volume level on your tracks competitive with other mastered recordings. Mastering also involves adjusting the EQ and volume for each song to create a cohesive final product.
In the mastering process, you can also adjust the balance, phasing and stereo image of your tracks. You can fix unwanted noises; you can add real or simulated tube and analog gear into your signal path. You can apply dithering and noise shaping. You can also select the song order and the spacing between the songs to create the best flow for your project. Finally, you can bounce down and burn the final masters with the correct track order, timing and fades to a CD, a DVD or any other playback or storage medium.
So, let's set up a mastering session in Pro Tools. I'm going to create a new session and we're going to pick the session parameters. In this window, we want to choose the File Type, wherever you bounce your final mixes down to, choose that as the file type. Also, choose the highest bit depth that you used in your sessions. Most likely, you probably use 24; however I'm going to use 16 here. Also, keep the sample rate high, if you actually recorded at a higher sampling rate. So, if you recorded your tracks and your mixes at 96 kilohertz, keep that for the mastering session as well.
With our new session open, we now need to import files into the session. Now, you can either drag-and-drop the files from the Workspace browser or even from the Desktop or use File > Import > Audio. Now, I'm going to scroll to where I have my final bounced mixes, right here. I'm going to click and hit the Command key, Ctrl-click on a PC to select the files that I want to bring in. You'll see that all of these show up in the regions to add to the current file. But we need to hit the Add key or the Add All to bring them all in.
Now, note that I have left and right side files for each of these songs and that's because I created Multiple Mono formatted files when I bounced them down as the final mixes. Now, Stereo Interleaved files must be converted to Multiple Mono files to be used in Pro Tools. So, I'm going to go ahead and add all of these and click Done. In this window, I'm actually going to choose Regions list so that I can just pull and drag them in wherever I want to on a track. Now, I'm going to create two new audio tracks, two stereo audio tracks. Go over to Slip mode here and start pulling these tracks in, just clicking-and-dragging.
I like to use only two stereo tracks with the songs juxtaposed, if the mixes are relatively consistent from song to song, and I think that these ones are. However, if each song needs individual mastering attention, because the mixes are very inconsistent, I might place each song on its own track. So, you notice how I placed the songs here. I've got little space in between each track and what I'm trying to do is to give a sense of the cohesiveness of this and how it would actually sound in real playback on a burnt CD. Once you have your songs in the session, listen to them and compare them song by song.
You'll probably find that some songs are louder or have different overall EQ curves or stereo images than other ones. So, you should take notes. Listen for unwanted sounds as well like clicks from bad edits and consider importing some of your favorite master tracks into the session as references for straight-up comparison. So, I'm going to take a quick listen to some of these and make a few notes. (Music playing.) After playing these back, I can tell that this track right here, Road_to_Ventura, is a little bit louder than these other two tracks and you can actually see that in the waveform. Also, the EQ curves are a little bit different between the tracks. So, I'll have to do some EQ work on the individual tracks themselves to make them all into one cohesive finished product.
So, now I'm going to show you how I actually set up a mastering session. Since I've already created a template for this, I'm going to go ahead and import session data from that template. I'm going to go ahead and add all of these tracks except for the first two and I don't need to import anything else from this session. I'm going to click OK. Now I've got all of these tracks in here.
Let me move my audio back up here and let's take a look at the Mix window. So, it's kind of an elaborate setup, but let me show you what I'm doing here. The most important part of this is the routing and what I'm going to set up here is to have both of these audio tracks go out of Bus 1-2 and then be picked up at this first Aux track. So, I'll set the Bus 1-2 as the input for this track, so these tracks are routed here. Then I'm going to route this out to Bus 3-4, which will be picked up by this track.
So, I'm just cycling through these tracks and I'm going to do the same thing here, Bus 5-6. Now an interesting twist here is that I'm going to actually route the output of this Aux track to both of these audio tracks and you'll notice that I've written down here that these are called 1st Pass and 2nd Pass, so I can record one mastering pass onto this track and one onto this one, so I can compare between the two.
So, basically the idea is this. You have your initial final mixes on these tracks. You route them through this Aux track, which in this case will add Compression and EQ. Then we route the output of this track to this next Aux track where we'll will add stereo imaging, maybe some tube emulation, some other effects here. Then we route the output of that to an audio track where we'll actually record enable that track and then record the mastered version right into the session.
I've got a 2nd Pass over here, a second audio track that's routed the same way. So, if we end up changing some effects that we have in any of these signal path here, we can do a 2nd Pass and compare the 1st Pass versus the 2nd Pass. Now, because these tracks are routed through Analog 1-2, they will ultimately go through this Master Fader track and this is where we can add Metering Tools that won't affect the output sound. Finally, on the right side we have an audio track where we can put reference masters into, that we can listen to, and they're routed through the same Analog 1-2 out. So, you can compare how they sound with your mastered tracks that are on these two tracks.
One last thing I should mention. Because I'm recording right onto an audio track inside the session, you've got to make sure that Pro Tools is in Input Only Monitoring, so that you can always hear the Record-Enabled track during playback. So, just go up to Track > Input Only Monitoring. Now, you know my personal technique for setting up a mastering session. Check out the other videos in the mastering chapter for the steps to take after setting up this mastering session.
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