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Once recording and editing are finished, audio engineers can take advantage of the training in Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools to punch up the final output. Digidesign Certified Expert Brian Lee White covers all the basic mixing tools that every producer and engineer should know, from using EQ to add clarity and focus to using compression and limiting to maximize track levels within a mix. Brian stresses the importance of setting up a solid mixing plan prior to any work in Pro Tools, and gives advice on the best plug-ins for each stage of the process. Exercise files accompany the course.
From a sonic standpoint, mastering engineers will use a variety of tools to give a mix that finished commercial sound. But for the most part, the same tools used in mixing are also used during the mastering stage. The major difference between processing tracks during mixing and processing a track during mastering is that generally you're working with only the finished stereo mix during the mastering stage. So any processing you did is applied to everything. So if I want to prepare to master in Pro Tools, specifically this track, what I can do is create a New Session and I'm creating a Blank Session.
I'm just going to make sure it's 24 Bit 44.1. The main thing is I want to match the bounce session that I just created. So the file that I exported from the Last stage of the bouncing was 24 Bit 44.1k, and I'll just choose Stereo Mix in the I/O Settings to get it back to a default. Just go ahead and save it in the Exercise Files as Take Me Down - Master. So now I have a blank session.
I'm not really going to need the Click here in this session, so I'll just right-click that to Delete it. Now I want to bring in those files that I created from the bounce. So I would just go to the Exercise folder, in the Take Me Down > bounces. I created a folder called bounces to put my bounces in, and I'll just drag those to the Tracks list in Pro Tools. Now Pro Tools were recognized the split stereo file, the left and right, and it will automatically put it on a stereo tracks.
So I don't have to worry about that. Now if you did just have a stereo file, an interleaved file it would split that up and create a new left- right audio file for you. So if we think about mastering tools, again we're going to use a lot of the same tools from the mixing process. However, a lot of times these are especially created for the mastering process. So in terms of equalization, as opposed to using something like the DigiRack EQ, which we could use if we wanted to, and that'll be fine.
Mastering engineers tend to use a higher quality EQs, like phase linear EQs that aren't going to introduce distortion as the filters are applied. Like I said, the stock EQ plug-in and dynamics plug-ins in Pro tools, might not be the best tools for mastering, but you can get away with using these if you need to. Now we're also going to use most of the time, compression and pretty much all of the time brickwall limiting, and we're going to use those to level out the signals.
So mastering engineers are generally going to use some sort of limiting process as the final stage to give it that extra loud sound. And in the next video, I'll cover how to use a brickwall limiter to make your track as loud as commercial releases. Now as far as strategies go to approaching mastering, I really to back to what makes a great mix. Mastering is generally going to be about subtle changes. So avoiding dramatic EQ cuts and boost, try to use gentle curves.
So think about using wider bandwidth on your Q. So when you do make boosts, it's affecting a lot more of frequencies, and this is generally going to result in less color from your equalizer. You're not going to get as much phase shift distortion from the EQ, and you kind of generally just kind of want to paint in broad strokes when you're approaching mastering. Little bits of dBs, 1dB, 2dB here, maybe some slight cuts. Generally, if you were the mixer and you're finding that you're having to do a lot of EQing at the mastering stage, you might want to kind of evaluate what was causing the problems and go back to the mix.
A lot of times what mastering engineers are doing is that they are hearing it in a room that know very well, so they can go and notch out those little problems that you had in your room. Let's say you're experiencing a standing wave at 200Hz that was creating all kinds of build up in your room. So you were cutting that and the mastering engineer might respond to that with the little bit of boost to kind of even that out. However, you're not exactly going to know this if you're mastering in that same room.
There is even some mastering engineers that preferred to mix from what I called stems. And so what they'll do is they'll take individual stems of the drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, and vocals, and they'll actually master from those. It's sort of like a halfway between mixing and halfway between mastering process where they can really correct any problems. Let's say in your bass or your low end and in the vocal, and how it was mixed. Now ultimately, we're going to use compression and limiting to fill out the track, make it sound fuller as well as make it sound louder.
Now if you are going to have your mix mastered professionally, just few pieces of advice for you. You want to retain the highest sample rate and bit depth possible, and bring those as a data files to the session. So that is to say, don't burn them into audio CD, use a data CD with the WAV file at the highest sampling rate and bit depth that you have. Avoid overusing EQ and Compression on the Master Bus unless you know exactly what you're doing. So you can do destructive things to your mix that the mastering engineer can't undo.
So generally, if you do a Master Bus Processing, which I do a lot of the times, I bring the mastering engineer two copies, one with the processed Master Bus effects and one without. And then the mastering engineer can hear exactly what I was going for instead of Track Level, and then he can use his own probably better sounding processors to sort of make that track sound even more like what I was going for. I generally don't worry about fades, fade-ins, or fade-outs.
So here at the tail, if you listen there were some guitar chocks. Now if I was mastering this myself, what I might do is cut that off and then add some sort of fade-out there. Edit > Fades > Create. However, if I'm taking it to a mastering engineer, I don't want to take him something that's already been faded. What I want to do is I want to leave him with exactly what I bounced, and I want to make sure I leave it tailing out as long as anything is left.
So I want to let all of the Reverb tails die out, all the instruments die out naturally. Then he is going to do a better job at fading out the music. They're really good at timing things and sequencing things between tracks. So I usually let them do their job in that department. Another thing that you can do is create alternate mixes when you go to mastering. It's a good idea to bring vocal up 2dB, vocal down 2dB, bass up, bass down, kick up, kick down, maybe 6 or 7 different versions of the mix.
That way you have your version that you think is pretty much there. That way if you get to with the mastering facility, and you find that wow! That vocal is just so low. You're going to just pull out that vocal up 2dBs and work with that one. Definitely, you want to know your track sequences before you go the mastering engineer. Don't sort of decide what order your tracks are going to go in there. They tend to be more expensive per hour than any other kind of engineer. So anything you can do ahead of time is great.
And that said, attend the session if you can. Even if you plan on doing most of your mastering yourself, I highly recommend you pay for and attend at least one session with the professional. Not only will this give you some great insights on the mastering process, but the engineer will be able to give you specific tips about your mixes and mix bass. For example, you might say well, Brian, you have a problem with your low mids around 150, and that's probably to do with some acoustic problems in your room.
Now you don't have to go to the $600 an hour mastering studio or LA or New York. You'll be surprised how many amazing professionals there are in almost every metropolitan area and they are generally extremely reasonable, and they are really great people to know in your community.
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