Those of you who have dealt with online mastering services or submitted tracks for particular netlabel compilations etc. may be familiar with the instruction: ‘do not put anything on the master bus!’ I can see why they might feel the need to make such a statement, but it does seem a bit prescriptive. How should you go about applying master bus processing?
I think mastering engineers are perhaps fed-up with being sent mixes with no headroom and that have been limited to within an inch of their lives so that the waveforms look like sausages. The thing is, though, with most mastering of home studio productions being performed using an online service, and hence unattended, how does the mastering engineer know what you want your mixes to sound like? Sure, you can suggest a reference track or two, but do they know your artistic vision well enough to make those creative decisions for you?
If you want your mix to sound old, dark, crusty and brooding, I think you should just go ahead and stick those saturation and vinyl plugins on the master if you want, just go easy on the compression and limiting! If the ME absolutely insists, just mix everything to a subgroup first and put the plugins there; then your master bus can be plugin free and you don’t have to tell any fibs…
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