MixBus - Urban Music Pre Mastering

Samplecraze series of MixBus processing tutorials: Create a dynamic Urban master!

Dynamic Processors


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Although Mastering is a specialised vocation requiring years of experience, great ears and solid technical grounding it is by no means unreachable to the bedroom producer. I have always been of the belief that anyone can make an attempt at mastering and that the experience alone will reap valuable rewards. My job is to help you achieve your goals and if mastering is your objective then that is what I will teach you.

However, before you can jump into a manic mastering project it would help tremendously if you knew what the mastering requirements are for your chosen genre and it is for this reason alone that I have created genre specific pre mastering video tutorials and written a book, Mixbus Strategies, on the subject of managing the master bus in your DAW because ultimately that is what we will be concentrating on – the mixbus.

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.

Deciding which type of equaliser topology to use can be confusing as some digital equalisers behave like a vintage analogue equaliser and vice versa. I like to use a combination of both and let my ears decide which gives me the better result.

In this mastering tutorial I have opted to use a dynamic equaliser as it affords me acres of control and gives me access to a number of different equaliser modes notably that of upward and downward expansion.

Dynamic eq

A dynamic equaliser applies the gain change directly to the gain parameters of a multiband parametric equaliser. As with most dynamics processors, the the threshold determines at which point gain changes take place. You have control over the bandwidth denoted by the Q value and, much like a compressor, the response is controlled with attack and release functions.

Urban pre mastering requirements utilise the same principles and techniques that are used for all genres. However, that is where any similarities end. The requirements for pre mastering Urban music is very different to that of, say, House music, and it is this area I want to explore with you.

Upward and Downward Expansion

There are two basic forms of Expansion we use in music production – Upward and Downward Expansion, and the best way to explain them is to compare them to existing processes like a gate and a compressor. Whereas compressors narrow the dynamic range of a signal expansion does the exact opposite and extends the dynamic range. A downward compressor will reduce the audio signal above the threshold whereas an upward compressor will boost the audio signal below the threshold. Both narrow the dynamic range of the audio signal.

Downward expanders reduce the level of an audio signal below the threshold, making quiet sounds quieter. This extends the dynamic range of the audio signal.

Upward expanders boost the level of an audio signal above the threshold, making loud sounds even louder. This extends the dynamic range of the audio signal.

In the video I show you, in detail, how to prepare and process your mixes for Urban music mastering using both corrective and colouring processes. Using a dynamic equaliser in both upward and expansion modes I show you how we can create an undulating dynamic shape for the master. I run through all the processes step by step and use multiple variations of the same technique to highlight various frequency ranges of the mix.

Plugin used in this video:

TDR Nova GE

  • MixBus/Master Bus and how to manage MB dynamics
  • Cleaning and Dynamic Equalisation
  • Pre-Master preparation
  • Dynamic Compression
  • Dynamic Expansion
  • Redundant Frequencies and how to locate them
  • Filter Slopes
  • Inverse processing for advanced users
  • Band isolation
  • Headroom
  • Urban music mastering requirements