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Mastering n00b with 2 entry-level questions


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Hello,

I wanted to ask for help related to Mastering. This is my first time taking a whole album (7 tracks, about 35 minutes) from recording, to mixing, to mastering and publishing myself. I was planning to just work on loudness and use a reference track for "mastering", but now that I'm here I realize that have a few big questions about mastering. If you're able to help shed light on these, that'd be much appreciated:

1. What's the best way to ensure the EQ and volume of my various tracks match each other? All I've found so far is mastering tutorials for doing one song at a time. I want the whole album to feel like a unified piece of art, not random tracks with different volume levels and EQs. I've gotten all my tracks close to -14 LUFS integrated loudness, but I'm still having issues with the variation in volume and mix EQ between tracks. 

2. What's the best way to get a steady/equal volume level throughout a single track? One song starts quiet, and ends loud... not just dynamically, but related to volume. I don't know an objective way to equalize the volume for the whole track... doing it by ear feels too subjective.

Is there a tool or approach that would allow me to do these two things precisely? I haven't tried mastering tools like Ozone Elements/Standard/Advanced yet. Trying to first figure out what I need to do in mastering this album before buying the tools :).

TIA,

M

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I'm glad to try out the software, but was hoping to gather some information first. I'm mainly wanting to know what are the standard ways that mastering engineers can equalize volume across all tracks of an album, so they're a coherent whole? (And so people don't have to change the volume dial from song to song).

Thanks for the response @deckard1. It helped me further clarify.

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Your approach to master the tools you have before buying yet more tools you don't master (see what I did there?) is highly appreciated. 

Getting songs and their parts into dramaturgically meaningful levels is not something a machine can or will do. It's an art form, as there are many aesthetic decisions to make. Yes, the soft part or song needs to be less intense, but whether that's done through volume, different compression or less aggressive EQ or a combination thereof is an artistic choice and also one of taste. Also, one of the most powerful mastering tools is arrangement which happens way earlier. 

To get you started, you listen. Actively. First to , say, 100 songs where the soft part comes in just right. Find out how they did it. Is it volume ? EQ ? Compression? Did they drop the 15 stacked vocals and cut back the ambience on the one that was left ? Did the acoustic guitar go from heavy shredding to delicate picking of flageolets ? 

Once you figured that out, try it on your songs. You will find that it will sound inelegant and heavy handed. Don't worry, that's normal, be prepared to ruin a couple of songs on the way, it takes practice to get better.

Listen, listen, listen.

Edited by fuzzfilth
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On 11/6/2022 at 12:13 AM, sparrow2 said:

1. What's the best way to ensure the EQ and volume of my various tracks match each other?

I find that volume is best done by ear, after you've exhausted all measurement tools. Pay close attention to the transitions from one song to the next, and how that feels volume wise, making sure it won't trigger the need for someone to reach for their volume knob to re-adjust the listening volume from one song to the next. 

For EQ, use Match EQ in Logic Pro to see what global EQ curve you can apply to a project to match the frequency spectrum of another. Maybe start by determining which project has the best or most balanced overall EQ and use that as a reference, then try to make other projects close to the reference. It's perfectly ok if the projects don't all have the exact same spectrum, you may apply just small adjustments in order to get them closer, more in the ballpark. 

On 11/6/2022 at 12:13 AM, sparrow2 said:

2. What's the best way to get a steady/equal volume level throughout a single track?

Either compression, or volume automation, or a combination of both. 

If you use a compressor, set the threshold so that the softest part of the song barely triggers the needle. Adjust the ratio so that you get the desired volume difference between song sections. The higher the ratio, the closer in volume all your song sections will sound like. 

Once you're happy with the dynamics of your song, if you want, you can have a look at the compressor's meter and read how much gain reduction is applied to each section, then reapply that gain reduction with volume automation and then get rid of the compressor altogether. So you've used the compressor as a measurement tool, but you no longer need it. 

This has the advantage of giving you the same volume adjustments per song section, but without all the little compressor fluctuations that would occur within each song section. So for example your whole chorus gets a steady -5 dB of gain, rather than fluctuating between -4.5 and -7.2 dB depending on the part of the chorus. 

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Thanks all for your thoughtful replies @fuzzfilth and @David Nahmani - very helpful!! This answers my immediate questions so I can finish this project without feeling like I'm missing something obvious. I accept I will grow over time and may need to move forward with tracks that aren't perfect, but wanted to make sure I'm at least doing my 'due diligence' to do my best with it. 

Thanks so much.

 

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