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Help me with some mastering issues.

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Benjamin Strange, Dec 10, 2004.

  1. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    My final mixes are too quiet compared to the rest of my commercially released CDs. I'm using Protools and the master fader is at it's absolute highest before clipping. Is there a way to take the stereo master and make it bigger and louder? I'm looking for a way to do this cheap and/or free. Thanks!
  2. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    You need to put multi-band compression and Limiting on the master fader.
  3. Droog


    Aug 14, 2003
    If you can get it, use an L2 Ultramaximizer plug-in. Its a great limiter, you can squash the crap out of stuff and still come out sounding good.

    If you are still in the mixing stage, maybe try globally raising the channel faders 2 or 3 db.

    Otherwise, as said before use the best compressor you have.
  4. +1

    you should however be careful with those tools, because it's also pretty easy to ruin your sound, which imho is more important than volume
  5. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    I've tried to put a compressor or limiter on the master, but that doesn't solve the basic problem. The music is already right at the threshold of clipping - I need it louder, and compressing it won't help that. I think I need to use something outside of protools, since I've already maxed out its headroom.
  6. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Actually, that's exactly why compression is used in mastering.

    And I very much doubt that Pro Tools is the problem.

    As a test, burn a commercial CD track to digital, and import it into your PT project. Solo the CD track and play it. Is it at the same volume in PT as it is in your CD player? If not, you have your PT levels set incorrectly, and the CD track will help you find the problem setting.

    If it is as loud, then that's compression used on the commercial CD that you think you don't need.

    All that said, mastering is a very complex subject and the odds are huge that all you'll do it butcher your mixes. Check out a mastering studio some time. Do you have $50,000 monitors? Neither do I, and neither do most studios, including very high end professional studios. But mastering studios do.

    To professionally master music, you need to be able to hear, and correct, level imbalances or frequency imbalances of less than 1 dB. You also need a room and speakers that allow you to really hear what's present in the mix.

    Last tip- digital audio tracks often contain a lot of energy in the ultra low frequency ranges, which eat up headroom even though you can't hear them on most speakers. As a rule of thumb, for all tracks that I don't want to have huge lows I'll use a highpass filter set at 60-80Hz. Kick drum, bass, some piano or organ parts, etc, I'll low-pass at 20-40Hz, depending on the track and the frequencies involved. This doesn't change the sound, but all the tracks have a lot more digital headroom.

    Use plugins to try this so you can hear the change in available headroom, but don't apply the highpass filters permanently. Like any new approach, it takes time to get right and you'll make some decisions you regret. So keep the filters as plugins rather than permanent changes to the recorded tracks.
  7. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    Benjamin. What you seek is totally possible "in the box" (in the computer) I downloaded your track Lamentions 25. It's a good mix - but it lacks the GLUE that holds it all together. That glue is compression on each track and the master fader. Remember - when you gain reduce a few db - you need to add it back in with the make-up gain function.

    The subject of mixing and mastering is enormous - too much for a single thread. I've used Pro Tools TDM systems everyday for nearly 8 years and had to learn it all myself - it's literally like learning an instrument.

    Here's some resources you should spend some time with.

    Grammy winning producer Charles Dye is the master of turning out major label material from totally within the box.


    Also - digidesign's own forums - the User Conference is loaded with posts and threads by master producers answering just about every question regarding mixing with Pro Tools. As you know - the "search" function is your friend!


    Good luck.
  8. rusmannx


    Jul 16, 2001
    one thing i've found to really help me get a better feel for the music i'm mixing, is to burn it to cd, and play it in any cdplayer i can find. things that sound good in your $40 radio shack headphones (what i use also) will sound like crap in your car.
    what about your friends car? or truck? or home theater. the crappy stereo you listen to at work? the one your friend has in his garage???? you keep playing your tracks in every player you can find, and listen to what is missing, then find a way to add it in there. dont rush through this process, write down what you hear and don't hear. i don't have $50,000 dollar monitors either. but you will notice that a professionally mastered cd sounds good EVERYWHERE. once your CD starts to sound good everywhere, your on the right path.

    remember to write down everthing you do to the track, what you've tried, what didn't work. this is how you learn.
  9. Against Will

    Against Will Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2003
    Big Sound Central
    I put a dither on the master tracks.

    That's it.
  10. What you may have to do after compressing is use some sort of plugin to apply gain to the signal. Some software does it all in one shot, but it sounds like in protools it requires a second step. After you compress it you should have room to apply more gain. I'd assume there's some sort of gain plugin where you can set the peak to 0 db or -0.1 db to get maximum volume after compression.

    I use audacity's built in compressor for "mastering." (Actually, I'm just trying to get the volume up to maximum, I realize that real mastering is highly involved) Its default compressor has an option to apply gain after compression. It's free software if you want to check it out. Crank the ratio way up and check "apply gain after compressing" and see if you like what you hear.