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Self-Producing an EP Pt.6: Mastering

While everything was being mixed into the same chain of plug-ins individually, we did at least know that mastering should be a clearly defined separate step. Again, we considered getting it done professionally, but sort of figured if we've made a mess we may as well roll with it, and if we haven't then maybe this won't go so horribly either.
It didn't take long to get this part done comparatively, maybe a few evenings. Having tried out a large amount of presets from various plugins I had a good idea how I wanted it to sound. All the mixed tracks were rendered, aiming for their peak to be around -6db, and dropped into one project. The preset from the tracks was applied, and then a run-through to listen for consistency in volume, sound, etc.
Oh dear. Two of the tracks appeared to have almost no bass in them, while the other three were quite consistent with each other. That had to be fixed and took an evening to identify and correct some high-pass filtering that was too aggressive on the guitars, and low bass guitar volumes. They'd sounded fine on their own, but stood up next to the others were clearly lacking. There was also some fizzing making one of the tracks sound quite bad too, which also got cleared up. Then it was a case of getting the mastering plugins right to allow for the right volume when compared to a reference track, and then varying each individual songs output volume to match the perceived volume.
I'd like to say that was it, but after we had a few reviews of all the tracks we had a handful of issues that were going to need adjusting. Chorus vocals slightly too loud in one place, bass guitar too quiet in another, and a couple of others that required some mix changes, and then tweaking the mastering again to get the consistency back.

Things that were important:

  • It's good that there was a (after that initial bit of repair) consistency across all the tracks, I think the effects chains I made mixing the first song helped a lot here, and having a mastering pre-set applied.
  • Doing them all in one project, as you'd expect, helped put them all together.
  • Using a reference track to check where the perceived volume was good.
  • We didn't destroy all of the dynamics, which we said we wanted to be the case from the start.
Improvements:
  • Maybe get someone else to do it next time, but we'll see.
  • Try and identify the handful of mixing problems before this point so there's no painful back and forth of rendering new mixes.
  • It doesn't sound amazing in mono. It was referenced in mono a fair bit but it's heavily reliant on stereo for space. I'm not sure this is much of a problem but worth considering.

At this point the audio part is mostly complete, but with the intention of making a 'radio edit' as it were of 1 or 2 of the tracks (trim some extended sections and make sure it works in mono, probably) to submit to various places there's still a bit to be done. There is of course now all the other stuff that you need to do. Photos, a logo, all the social media stuff, web-sites, uploading for streaming, and attempting to book gigs. I might post about those when I've actually done them.

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