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3 essential steps for loud mastering you probably overlook

3 essential steps for loud mastering you probably overlook

“Grabbing Those Decibels” by Phil Graham

So, you’ve got your mix sounding hot. Everything is pounding through the monitors and you’re happy with how it’s sounding. You come to do a basic master and push your limiter till just before it starts to sound distorted. Great, it’s sounding really nice and loud. Then you go to compare it to your favourite records and… it’s weirdly quiet in comparison. You try to push the levels further but they just start to distort and it sounds as if the mix is overly pumping. What happened?

Chances are it’s not your mastering plugins but actually because your mix, although sounding great to your ears, isn’t technically perfect. This doesn’t mean that it sounds bad but there are a few basic tricks you can perform to get a mix to behave itself, and get a basic master that sounds closer to the real deal.

1 – Subs

A lot of the time extra space is taken up in the extreme bass regions of a mix. Usually these cannot be heard through most commercial systems such as stereos and headphones and can safely be removed without adverse effect on your mix sound. A swift EQ cut below about 30hz is a good general rule of thumb and will tame some of those high energy low peaks such as kicks and bass lines.


2 – Frequency Masking

Many instruments have frequency content which, although present in the sound, is being masked by other sounds in the mix which have a larger presence in that frequency range. This extra masked sound adds to the actual volume, if not the perceived volume (It can also sometimes make a mix sound muddier). Good practice here is to play your song and go through each instrument with an EQ cutting specific frequencies and notching lo and hi content. The idea is to listen for the effect the EQ has on the sound within the mix. If you can cut a certain frequency range of a sound without really effecting how it sounds in the context of the mix, chances are its safe to remove it, giving yourself more space to play with. Common culprits here are lead synth sounds which have bass content that argues with the kick and bass lines.

3 – Limiting PeaksOzone limiting

Very often, sounds in the mix will have large peaks when the actual perceived sound is within the less high volume parts of the audio. Thus it can be a good idea to calm these peaks to give extra space to play with. One trick is to set a compressor on a very high ratio with as fast an attack and release as possible (basically so it mimics a slightly more forgiving limiter). Now solo each track and set the compressor threshold as high as possible. Move the threshold down till you begin to hear a noticeable change in the sound of the instrument. Set the threshold just above this point so that you are limiting the peaks but not drastically changing the sound’s quality.

You should find that surgically applying these techniques to the tracks in a mix will allow you to do a quick master and enable you to get the correct level of perceived volume without destroying your mix. Of course, there are other tricks and ways to achieve perceived volume (presence boosts, clipped gain, overloading analogue tape) but this should be a good start.

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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