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My Go-To Mastering Chain (That Works Even When I Don’t Know What I’m Doing)

I’ve gotten into the habit of releasing singles very frequently with my band The Long Wait.

It’s actually been a longer wait (pun intended) for the next one because my professional life went on hold while I bought a house, moved into it and got married within the span of one month.

It was…hectic.

But anyway, when I release singles I tend to master the track on the master buss instead of bouncing the mix down to a 2-track and master it the “old fashioned way.”

That way I can do it all inside one session, and if I need the pre-master for any reason I can always bounce the track without any master bus processing if I have to.

I went into the “mastering chain” of my latest single and although I don’t consider myself a mastering guru I thought the final product sounded pretty good so I thought I’d share.

My go-to mastering chain within my last mixing session went like this:

  • Multiband Compression – I tend to spend some time getting the low-mids right with the multiband compression because there’s something about tightening up that area to really make it sound like a record.
  • Linear Phase EQ – If certain frequency areas are jumping out and aren’t being tamed by the compressor I tend to cut them by just 1-2 dB here. You can argue whether the EQ should be before or after the compressor but in this case it was after.
  • Saturation – I used Fabfilter Saturn in 4-band mode to add some saturation in the lows and some tube sound in the mids. The biggest thing to think about here is to make sure you don’t overly saturate everything. Therefore all the mix knobs on each band are only at around 20%, leaving the rest of the signal clean. Subtle saturation goes a long way.
  • Tape Emulation – I used Kramer Tape for tape emulation to smooth out the highs. There’s really nothing crazy going on, just some light warmth to the mix.
  • Pultec EQ – I used the Waves Puigteq EQ but the funny thing is, I didn’t do anything with it. It just adds a nice character to the sound even though I don’t touch the EQ buttons at all.
  • L2 – I don’t really use the limiter for anything more than making sure the signal doesn’t clip. It’s set to -0.3 and lightly limits the loudest parts of the song.
  • Loudness Meter – I always want to make sure I’m not squashing the dynamic range of the song and sometimes it’s easier to make sure when you simply have a metering tool that tells you. In the heat of the moment you might overcompress your mix and having a meter is a good safety mechanism to tell you if you’ve gone too far.
  • Metering – I use Voxengo’s Span for all my frequency analysis needs. It helps you notice inconsistencies in the frequency spectrum and helps you locate areas that might be causing problems.
  • Perception – I use Ian Shepherd’s Perception plug-in to make sure my mastering chain is actually making the mix sound better, not just louder. The intelligent bypass is brilliant and it really helps you hear what you’re doing to your mix when you’re mastering it.

Most of my mastering chain comes directly from the teachings of Ian Shepherd. He’s the go-to guru (I prefer Jedi Master over guru…) when it comes to home mastering.

His approach (along with some slight modifications) works every time to make my songs punchier. As long as you’re careful and don’t go overboard with the processing it always works, even when you’re not sure what everything is doing.

The most important things I’ve learned from him are his approach to multiband compression and the importance of using meters to measure both loudness and frequency response.

Of course, his perception plug-in is nothing short of spectacular when it comes to making sure you’re actually making your masters sound better.

This knowledge, along with how to use mastering EQ, parallel processing, stereo imaging and other voodoo tricks like distortion during mastering is all thanks to his Home Mastering Masterclass.

It’s a class I took a few years ago when it first came out and now that I have some free time on my hands (no house to buy and no wedding to plan), I think I might go through it again to refresh my skills.

What do you say? Do you care to join me and learn how to master in your home studio?

Check out all the cool mastering things you’ll learn right here:

Image by: manda_face

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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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