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Once you've got your mastering session set up correctly, it's time to really listen critically to your mixes and decide what you need to do improve them. The first thing you might consider using is time compression and expansion. At the Mastering stage you may decide that a certain song could benefit by being sped up just a little bit or the pitch could be adjusted slightly to change the overall sound. There are a number of plug-ins out there that can do this, but the one that comes free with Pro Tools is Time Shift and we can access that by going to the AudioSuite menu and choosing Time Shift.
In this plug-in we can adjust the time compression or expansion or the Pitch control. Let's take a quick listen to this track that I have highlighted right here. In Preview mode I'll change up the speed and see it it's something that we would actually want to do for this master. (Music playing.) Now if you felt that extra speed made the track a little bit more lively, maybe we would actually want to process this track to create faster version of it.
Now for more information about this Time Shift plug-in, check out the video about it earlier in this course. Let's move over to the Mix window and check out the mastering signal flow. The way that I have it set up here is an EQ and a Compressor on the first audio track, then that is routed through another EQ and Compressor and maybe a couple of compressors here. Then that's routed out through this Stereo With Plug-in and this Enhancer plug-in. You can also add in Analog 2 for tape ambulation if you want and then it's routed to the track where it's recorded onto this audio track. But before it goes out to your speaker, it's routed through the PhaseScope, the Meter Bridge and the Master Meter where we can monitor the phase alignment and the levels and the stereo image and then finally it goes through the Dither and Noise Shaping plug-in.
I am going to talk about Dither and Noise Shaping in another movie. So let's get a little specific about this signal path. You usually start by adding EQ and Compression on the individual tracks. In this case we want to boost frequencies that are missing or cut frequencies that are too loud or too present in the mix. When you are EQing, be sure not to overload a track with a massive boost in a certain frequency. Boosting a frequency that peaks out your EQ plug-in can cause distortion. So make sure to watch the In and Out levels right here. Digital Distortion is a definite no-no in the Mastering process and remember the cutting frequencies is often more beneficial in mastering than boosting them. A tried and true way to determine what frequencies to boost or cut while Mastering is to listen to the frequency content of a master recording that you really like, your reference mixes. Listen to how they sound on your speakers, then try to emulate the frequency curve with the EQ in your session.
With EQ there are a lot of different things you can do. You can further define the bass by even cutting out little areas, like right here this is 300. A lot of the muddy frequencies live down here. You could boost the low end if you don't feel that there is enough low end in the mix or cut it, if you fee like there is too much. You can clarify the mid frequencies by even taking a little bit out, if the mix is too strident or boosting them up, if you think that there is a little bit missing like maybe the vocal needs to pop out a little bit more.
You can sculpt the high end to give it a little bit more sparkle by adding a touch or if you need to dull it a little bit, take the high EQ down a little. Whatever EQ you decide to apply to your track, you should save it as a preset. So do Save Settings as df_mastereq1 and now you can always go back to that setting if you need it. Just click on the Librarian menu and you can find it right there.
Now let's move on to Compression. You will note that I have multiple compressors along the signal path here. I have got one on the individual track. I have got a couple of right here on this Aux track and then also this Maxim plug-in as the final limiting stage in the signal path. Now using multiple stages of compression along the signal path enables you to spread out your compression in limiting so as not to put all the compression and limiting duties on one plug-in. Spreading out the compression can yield much clearer and more powerful signals, but because you have all this compression on here, do not over-compress the track.
Although compression does help to make a track louder, it can actually make the track sound less powerful and less energetic, if you over-compress it. Allow you songs to breathe by maintaining some of the dynamic range. I recommend using light overall compression at the beginning of the mastering signal flow. Like here, I've only got 3:1 as the Ratio for this Compression and the Threshold is pretty high and the Threshold will probably pick a lot of the signal. So we are getting light Compression on a lot of the signal here.
Later in the signal path, like right here with the Maxim plug-in, you will actually want to utilize peak limiting to take care of the final Gain boost. I'm going to talk about this plug-in in a second. In between the first Compressor and this last Compressor you can add some more in and I would not push it too much, but you can add some more light Compression in and that will boost up this overall track level until you get it here where you can apply the last step of limiting.
Now before we get to the Maxim plug-in, you can also add Stereo Width and this is a pretty cool plug-in, because it widens the Stereo image with this Width control right here and even though you can do that, you got to be careful though because making the Stereo image too wide can make it sound artificial and actually sound much worse than a more focused Stereo image. Now let's take a listen. I'm going to play this track back and I'm going to change the Stereo Width and you can check that out, probably a good thing to listen in your headphones for this. (Music playing.) After the Stereo Width I added in this Enhancer. Now this is technically another EQ and I would only use this sparingly, very discreetly actually and only if I wanted to add a little sparkle to the overall mix and you will see that I have got here just a little bit of high Gain and just touch of low Gain.
But putting in EQ this late in the signal path, you've got to be careful not to add too much, because you can mess up the sound that you have already created with the EQs and Compressors previously in the signal path here. Finally, let's talk about Maxim. Maxim is a maximizer, a very powerful limiter plug-in. I recommend using this is the last step of compression in the signal flow. It will act as a peak limiter to punch up the power and boost the output level of your tracks.
So what you want to do is bring the Threshold down and adjust the Ceiling and in this case I'm going to set the Ceiling to either -.1 or -.2 dB. I recommend against slamming it all way to 0 dB, because that could create a clip or an over that some CD players can't handle and that will make them either skip or make an ugly noise and we don't want that. So let's take a listen to what Maxim can do as I bring the Threshold down to this track.
(Music playing.) Obviously, it's making it a lot louder, but don't push this Threshold down too low or else you are going to create distortion. One last thing I should mention. In Maxim, I'm actually going to turn off the Noise Shaping and make sure the Dither is off, because we are going to hit Dither and Noise Shaping later in the signal path and I'm going to talk about that in the next video in this course.
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