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Mastering is the last stage in the production process, and takes place after you are done mixing all of the songs in a project. Mastering in Pro Tools can transform your final mixes into professional sounding recordings. Mastering treats your final mixes so that the song sounds good on all playback systems, from one-speaker clock radios to hi-fi stereos. In the mastering process, the volume level of all the tracks are made to be competitive with other mastered recordings. Also, the EQ and the volume of each song are put together so that they create a cohesive final product.
Other considerations in mastering are checking and adjusting the left/ right balance; phasing and stereo imaging; listening for and fixing any unwanted noises; adding real or simulated tube or analog gear into the signal path; dithering and noise shaping; choosing the song order and spacing between songs to create the best flow for your project; and balancing down and burning the final masters with their correct track order, timing, and fades to a CD. Let's set up a mastering session and Pro Tools. Here, I've created a new session with the same bit depth and sampling rate as my previous mix sessions.
That way I can maintain the same high resolution from the mixes into the mastering. Now we need to bring in our final mixes. So we can either drag and drop files from the workspace browser or even from the Desktop, or we can go to File > Import > Audio. I am going to go to the Bounced Final Mixes and choose these tracks. Now you'll 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'm bounced them down as the final mixes.
These multi-mono files can be added directly into the session. In contrast, stereo interleaved files must be converted to multiple mono files to be used in Pro Tools. I recommend creating multi mono files when bouncing your final mixes before mastering, so that you don't have to convert them when importing them here. So I can just hit Add All and no sample rate conversion is necessary because we're going into the same bit depth and sampling rate from our mixes into our mastering session. And for the Audio Import Options dialog, I'm actually going to choose the Regions list so I can put all the songs into the Regions list and then place them wherever I want them.
Next I want to create two new audio tracks, stereo tracks, and I am going to drag the songs onto the tracks. Let me zoom out here. And usually for my mastering sessions I like to set up to stereo tracks with the songs juxtaposed like this.
This works well if the mixes are relatively consistent from song to song. However, if each song needs individual mastering attention because the mixes are inconsistent, I may place each song on its own track. Now I have placed these in order to approximate the spacing between the songs and how it might sound listening to them in a row on a CD. This can give you a sense of the cohesiveness of the entire project when you're listening to it from the beginning to the end. And speaking of that, let's listen to little pieces of each of these tracks and compare them. We will see how this mixes sound against each other.
(Music playing.) Now, you'll probably find that some songs are louder, or have different overall EQ curves, or stereo images then others. Take some notes.
Listen for unwanted sounds too, like clicks from bad edits. And after playing these back, I can tell that the Road_to_ Ventura track is a little bit louder than the others. Also, the EQ curves are a little bit different between the tracks, due to their instrumentation. So I have to do some EQ work on the individual tracks themselves to make them all into one cohesive, finished product. Now that I've got all the songs imported, it's time to set up my mastering session, and I'm going to show the signal routing and all the affects that I use in a mastering session.
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