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Pushing the Analog

by Phil Graham

The life-cycle of a piece of music can often be split into 4 stages: writing, recording, mixing and finally mastering. Mastering is the step of the music production process that is typically handled by a separate person and considered to be something that it is worth paying a bit to have done professionally. It is the finishing touch required to add polish and bring a piece of music up to a commercial standard with regard to EQ, volume and dynamics.

This said, many people still master their own material, either because of a budget issue or a desire to handle all aspects of the process themselves. This type of mastering is also very attractive due to the relatively low cost of software mastering bundles when compared with the cost of having an album professionally mastered.

Typically, when DIY mastering is performed, it involves the use of a variety of plugins to bring a sound up in volume and process its dynamics in certain ways. The purpose of this is to push the dynamic range of the sound closer to 0db.

The problem with this process is that analog and digital gear don’t deal with ‘overs’ (when a sound goes above 0db) the same. If a sound is over 0db in digital gear it will clip: the top of the waveform of the sound will be chopped off leading to a nasty clip or pop. In analog gear, the process is different – sounds over 0db will typically distort but in a softer, less harsh way. This can often lead to a more forgiving, compression-like, effect.

One trick involving this is to take the full mix and run it through a couple of channels on an old analog desk or some other piece of analog gear, relatively hot, so that it is being pushed into the distorting region. What many find is that this process leads to a more pleasing way of compressing and volumising the mix when recombined with digital processing.

I found myself using this process when mastering a track recently using my 1970s studiomaster desk that was originally used in the Albert Halls, Bolton. Under normal use, the desk is crackly, hissy, with a really high noise floor. But for this extreme use, it functions perfectly well due to its old, soft distorting analog circuitry.

Hint: The level in digital gear is typically about 18db higher than that of analog gear, it is for this reason that many analog products will have a 20db pad on them and this should be engaged when running input from a digital source.

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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