Whenever I am about to master a mix I take some steps to ensure I get the best possible results.
Preparing to master
The first thing I do is to listen to well produced and mastered music that is similar to the mix I am mastering. I use this as a reference for the mastering process I am about to undertake. The ear/brain combination needs pampering to maintain interest in what it hears and well produced dynamic masters work every time in maintaining that interest. The idea is to ‘tune’ the ears of the mastering engineer to the reference. Once my ears are tuned and ready I step back and listen to the mix I am about to master. I listen at a level whereby I can hear everything in detail but without cranking the volume. Loudness doesn’t help when you are trying to master. It throws your judgement into the air and biases critical decision making. I make notes about what I feel needs addressing in the mix. I then listen again and again looking for frequencies that need treatment. Once I have completed my list of ‘things that need looking at’ I decide on what signal chain to create to achieve the master I am after and the one process that stands out above the rest is that of equalisation.
Mastering equalisation – linear phase or minimum phase
A well produced mix only needs fairy dust processing from the mastering engineer. It is so much easier to make creative decisions about how to master a mix if it is well produced and presented. Poor mixes force the mastering engineer to use all manner of corrective processes in trying to fix errors and that can sometimes compromise the creative processing. In both scenarios equalisation is used as the first process in mastering. Be it corrective or creative it is almost always nailed into the first spot of the mastering signal chain. The question arises as to what type of equaliser to use. Do you opt for a linear phase surgical equaliser or a minimum phase coloured equaliser? The decision is dependent on what you are trying to achieve. If you are performing corrective processing then a linear phase design might suit the task better than a minimum phase design. If you are performing colouring processing then a minimum phase design will give you acres of desirable colour to play with.
If you would like more information about the differences between linear phase and minimum phase please watch this video: Linear Phase versus Minimum Phase
If you ask any mastering engineer what their ‘go to’ mastering equaliser is you will get a variety of responses but they will all include the mighty Maselec MEA-2 and this tutorial uses this gorgeous equaliser, albeit in software form, to master a mix.
The MEA-2 is a stereo or 2-channel, four-band precision analogue equalizer with stepped Q/shelf, frequency and cut/boost controls on each band. Even though this equaliser is used for surgical precision eq tasks it imparts a lovely texture to whatever material it is applied to.
In the video I show you how to use a Maselec MEA-2 emulation plugin called Ivory made by Acustica Audio. I explain every feature on this special equaliser and show you how to use it on a produced stereo mix to achieve the best possible master. I show you how to process specific frequency ranges and offer industry tips and tricks on how to get your mix masters to sound epic!
Plugin used in this video:
Topics covered in this video are:
- Fixed Frequency
- Wide band versus Narrow Band
- Maselec EQ
- Ivory EQ
- Tips and Tricks