Loud, Punchy, Commercial Masters — What All Goes Into Them?

While starting up, mastering can be quite a confusing topic. Want to know what? Even with a couple years of experience, mastering is still confusing.

Now, let us get this out of the way. Mixing, and Mastering, are two different skills. They both need each other, but they are 100% separate.

What’s the difference? You’ll see in the video, or keep reading for more info!

What is Mixing? — What am I Trying to Achieve?

When beginning to learn mixing, I didn’t know what goal I wanted to reach, what tools to use, or even what certain plugins did.

Thankfully, this didn’t stop me. It kept pushing me to want to learn more about the tools and what they did.

Learn Your Tools, Especially Compresion and EQ,

Learning how to use your plugins for example, compression and EQ are very important in the process of mixing. They allow you to either make a sound stand out or fit in to the beat.

Mixing is definitely a process that takes time to learn, and you will only get better with practice! And I’m warning you now, save your original file/song first, before you attempt mixing. I totally wrecked a few beats here and there in the beginning ;). As you go on, you’ll learn, many times, less is more in the mixing and mastering stage (especially mastering).

And definitely get a good grasp on mixing before you start attempting mastering otherwise it’s just too much coming at you at once.

Mixing — How Do I Get Started?

How I start off mixing is, I make the beat, not worrying about mixing, then after the beat is done, I assign them all a mixer channel so I can now adjust volumes. During the mixing stage is where I usually create all my bring-ins for the chorus, verses, bridge etc. In other words, I arrange at the same time as mix.

Steps to Mixing,

Here’s some quick steps on how to achieve a faster mix:

  • Assign each sound to an individual mixer track
  • Group instruments / sounds into sub busses
  • Adjust your volumes first — Is anything not standing out, or, can you improve a certain area of the song?
  • When using plugins such as compression and EQ, ALWAYS compare before and after with an even volume. (Otherwise, the louder sounds better!).
  • When you feel the mix is done, hit stop, hit play, and walk away and listen. In other words, start the song from the beginning, and listen all the way through. (Does it sound complete?)

Headroom — What is it in Mixing and Mastering?

As you can see in the video that I already have mixer’s sliders down low so I do not have to bring every slider down each time I want to mix. I have this set up every time I open FL Studio which smoothens the process of mixing/beatmaking. Want to learn how? Create a Template!

The reason I like my sliders down low is because with them high, the beat is so loud. Then when you assign each sound to it’s own mixer track, it’s so loud, and now you have to drag down the volumes to mix properly.

So, with them low, I can just bring a fader up louder instead of dragging every slider down. This saves TONS of time, plus the beat will be below the -6dB like I was talking about in the video! (Headroom for mastering).

Mixing and Mastering: What’s the Difference?

Mixing, as described above, makes everything sound clear, balanced, and sit in it’s own spot. You do this by adjusted the individual mixers tracks volume, panning sounds to the left or right speaker, or applying EQ/compression and other effects like delay, reverb, chorus, distortion etc.

What does Mastering Do?

Mastering just amplifies what you already have. Mastering makes your track crisper, sharper, louder, and adds the final touches on your song/beat with techniques such as mid/side EQ, parallel compression, an amazing listening environment with expensive acoustic treatment, and invaluable ears of experience.

What’s this Headroom you Speak of?

Many master engineers will ask for -3dB of headroom. I personally shoot for -6dB cause just like I said in the video, if it goes a little bit over -6dB at loud spots, your not stressin’ as if it were at -3dB now you got to adjust the whole song! But talk to your mastering engineer before you mix your song for -3dB and he asks for -6dB!

To answer the question, headroom is the amount of space from the highest peak to clipping on the meter. In the digital world, above 0dB is clipping. You want to be 6dB UNDER 0, which makes it -6dB. Yes, while mixing, you will notice the track is quite quiet, just turn up your speakers ;).

This allows for a nice clear mix, without distortion, or cramming/slamming up your track to the limiter with no room for the track to breathe!

Mastering, it’s Time to Get’r Done!

So now once you have your song mixed, it sounds great, and is under -3dB, you now want to amplify your mix to compete with other commercial releases! You do this in a process called mastering. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not all that goes into mastering, but, it’s a big part of it!

Tools Needed in Mastering

You will use tools like an EQ (Research Linear Phase EQ), compressor, maybe a multiband compressor, clipper, and then you bring out the limiter.

What about my mastering chain? I’ve heard by having a great chain, you can have a great master!

Mixer Slot Set Up (Editied)

Surprisingly, yes, this chain can bring real professional results. It all comes down to taste, and experience.

By chain, what people mean is, “In what order, do you place your effects on your final master channel?”. Do you place an EQ, compressor, EQ, Clipper, Limiter? Or, what about a gain boost, Multiband Compressor, EQ, Limiter?

It can be as simple as 2 plugins, 3 plugins, 8 plugins. It depends on the beat, your experience in the industry knowing how the tools work, and if they will benefit the song, or again, many times less can be more!

Limiter — Always Last!

The limiter is always last of your plugins, and you always want the meter last to get accurate readings of what’s going on in your song/beat.

What’s a meter? Get my favorite meter free by IK Multimedia here!

Mastering takes a lot of trial and error. It requires mastering the track, listening to it in different speaker systems, and after a couple of years of experience, you start to realize what works, and what doesn’t. You will gain an ear of too much compression, and what it’s actually doing!

Mixing, and mastering BOTH take a very long time to grasp, learn, and understand the little tricks to keep your mixes strong, loud, and powerful.

Mixing and Mastering — Final Thoughts,

Remember, save the beat as a new file when attempting to mix it. Something such as Beat Name (Mixed). You can also do the same for mastering, but I’ll break that down in a moment.

This way you will stay super organized, and always have the original file!

But, I’m Getting my Tracks Mastered by a Mastering Engineer — What Are My Steps?

If you follow these steps, you will be good to go:

  1. Mix your track to taste (Most mastering engineers will say EXPORT with no plugins on your mastering channel. You can mix with them on, but turn them off when export. If you want to give them an idea of what sound you were going for, send them two versions of the beat. One with the plugins on, one with the plugins off, which they will master).
  2. Export it as a 24-Bit .WAV — DO NOT DITHER, this is the last step in the process you do at mastering.
  3. That’s it!

Watch the video, and if you have have more questions, ask in the comments below!

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