Here’s a question I get asked all the time:
“What do you actually do
when you’re mastering ?”
And people seem surprised when I tell them it’s actually really simple.
I ask questions.
Seven of them.
So the next question is – what are these questions, and how do I use them?
What order do I ask them in, and why?
That’s why I put together this flow-chart – you can download a PDF version here.
Check it out, and then here are the answers to some further questions you may have:
What are “internal dynamics” ?
The relative levels of each section of a song.
So, if the chorus is much louder than the verse, the song has wide internal dynamics, and may benefit from being “pulled together” by compression. If everything sounds the same level, then the internal dynamics have probably been reduced too much, and less compression will probably sound better.
Why should I loudness-match when comparing, and how do I do it ?
To get a fair comparison – to find out more, read this post.
Why do I have to adjust the level if I tweak the EQ ?
Because we hear things that are louder as if they had more bass and treble – see the previous question.
If you reduce the bass level, the song will feel quieter, even if the actual level change is very small. So after any EQ change, we need to check that the level still feels right.
Why check the EQ settings after adjusting the compression ?
Because compression can affect the overall level, and so affect how loud the song feels. But also, compression can change the way the song sounds. If there’s lots of bass in the mix, compression will react to that and reduce it – but it may also pull back other frequencies, too.
Why should it sound better than the original ?
Because that’s the goal of mastering ! If it doesn’t, you need to try again, or maybe the song doesn’t need any more processing.
Why does it need to balance against the other songs ?
Because that’s another goal of mastering ! Notice that I’m saying it should balance, not match – every song should work well against the others, which doesn’t mean they have to be matched or sound the same. This is something I think is at the very heart and soul of mastering.
But it looks like I’m constantly going back to the beginning !
Yes – you are !
But hopefully every time you go around the loop, you song will sound better and better. And with practise, it gets easier and easier – after fifteen years, I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it ;-p