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So, can one master a song in n-Track. I’ve played around with the standard v4 compression plug-in and EQ, but is there something I’m missing? If not n-Track, then what else can I use that isn’ too expensive.
My dilemma is that I ahve a good mix but the levels are really low compared to just about every other song I listen to. I know that volume isn’t everything, and I have researched the messages on this topic, but I was looking to see if there was something “special” that I’ve been missing.
Try Endorphin Compressor on the master channel and see whether that helps.
I was just re-reading some advise that was posted in the forum a while back - wish I knew who to give credit to:
In many mixes the reason you can’t raise the over-all sound high enough is because there are some “spikes” in the wave file that cause clips when the rest of the sound is raised high enough. After you have a good mixdown, zoom in on the stereo wave file and look for the spikes. When you find one, "Start your selection (click-drag) at the zero crossing point and select the entire cycle or cycles of the offending spike also to the zero crossing point.Call up the compressor to process just that brief region of both the left and right tracks.Set the threshold to -5 dB and the ratio to 4:1.Process the waveform selection and eyeball its new lower height to the norm.Better to make multiple passes at these gentle
settings until the spike has been squashed back to the level of the average RMS."
Once you have the spicks lowered, you can probably turn the volume level up and mixdown the entire song to a “louder” song.
Mastering is an area about which there is a lot to say. Louder is not always better, and if the mixes sound good but are rather quiet, folks can always use the volume knob! There are some comps designed to increase perceived vo.lume, like the free one kjerhaus (sp?) has. Or you might have a look at the PSP vintage warmer demo. That thing rocks. But in any case read a bit about what people do when mastering, and remember that mastering done by a pro though high end equipment designed for the task will almost always sound much better than anything we can do with a few cheap plug ins.
jmccullo, thanks for the VST plugin link to Endorphin. I got it and tried it out in the master. Real nice!
bax3, this was some very good advice. Never thought of this approach, but it’s worth a try. Thanks also.
TomS, the PSP vintage warmer looks really interesting. I may have to consider this purchase.
Great help here, it’s appreciated.
Please don’t compress your whole mix in a vain attempt to join the loudness pissing contest. Dynamic range is lost and the loudest louds and the softest softs are too close to have much impact.
Give a listen to classical music or movie soundtracks. They “breathe” with a natural dynamic space. You NEED that variety of dynamic movement or boredom sets in real fast.
Compress individual tracks as needed but not the entire mix. Even group compression would be better (drums as a group, horn section, backup vocals etc.)
More important yet for mastering then compression is EQ, or making each voice “sit down” in its own space without competing with the same frequencies of other parts.
That normally means lower mids, where drum hits compete with bass, lower guitar range, keys and vox. Think of EQing these like a jigsaw puzzle, where each part is cut to fit together without much overlap. Parametric EQ is the tool of choice here over the graphic EQ.
Another separation tactic is you move things in the soundfield so they seem to come from a different place. You have stereo left and right (panning) and front and back via dry or wet with verb.
Example, two rhythm guitar tracks playing the same part. Pan them fairly hard L and R to get a sense of seperation. Leave space in the middle for lead vox, bass and kickdrum. Most other parts should be moved left and right, front and back to avoid conflict with the beauty tracks.
Make the mix “sit down”, each part in its own distinct sonic space. Mix at very low volumes, not loud. Use speakers and not phones.
One thing along the spikes thing mentioned about is compressing as you go. Lot’s of guys try to smash the snot out of a mix at the end rather than taking care of things as they go. Lot of subtle compression only where it is needed on individual tracks is a much better option. If the hihat is out of control and that is the thing that needs compression, why compress the whole mix? Just compress the high hat and leave the rest intact. This takes a little more work, but the end result is superior. Plus, if you are compressiong something and have consistant compression on the whole track and the goal i not to fatten the track up… umm, turn it down. Some guys get hung up on the novelty of a compressor on some types of material where just turning the track down is really what is needed. When I am done with a mix, I almost never have crazy peaks hear and there and subsequantly almost never need to compress on the 2 bus much.The songs breathe and compression is only used on tracks that need it where they need it.
Har-Bal is not an end-all for mastering EQ, and can get you in trouble as fast as it can get you out, but it’s still very useful.
A little more on mastering, for beginners: Mastering 101. Written by someone who’s just scratching the surface of the art (me).
I don’t know if this is within your budget but Izotope makes an excellent mastering package, called Ozone, for $250. I’ve used it for about half a dozen projects and I swear by it. I mix the song down to stereo and then use n-track and Ozone to master it.
I understand what Tom Hicks is saying but the bands I record want their record to sound in the ballpark of commercial CDs. That means that a limiter has to be used to make the CD louder and punchier. Ozone has a limiter plus a very good EQ, a harmonic enhancer, 4 band compressor, plus a couple of other other modules. When you use these tools you immediately hear what’s happening in a commercially mastered CD. The first time I played with the harmonic enhancer I went, “Aaaaha! So that’s how they get that sound!” That’s not to say that I can make it sound as good as a professional mastering engineer but my clients have been amazed with what I can put out of my modest studio.
If you are serious about mastering, I would say that it takes about as much time to learn Ozone as it does to learn how to mix well. It’s not something that you can just do quickly and make it sound good.
I started mastering the stuff that I record because these are mostly self released albums by emerging bands and they don’t have the money to get the CD professionally mastered. It turns out that I really like the mastering process and it has helped me improve my mixes by understanding what mastering does and the limitations of mastering.
One example is the issue of compressing as you go. I usually have 8 channels for the drums and I send everything but the kick to a group. I then put a limiter on that group to control just the peaks. This allows me to run my mix hotter so the mastering limiter doesn’t have to do as much work.
Izotope makes a great downloadable mastering guide for Ozone. This will explain the mastering process in good detail and give you an excellent idea of what the program does. You can also download and try the program in demo mode. Here’s the link for the guide and the demo:
Hmm.. I never compress overheads myself, but will send the kick tom and snare tracks (with compression) through to a group with something like blockfish on it - love that sound. I've never made overheads or a groups of all drums sound good through a compressor. Obviously something I'm going to have to look at.
Actually, I don't compress enough so that you can hear it. I use a high ratio, fast attack, short release, and high threshold so that it just controls the peaks. This will let me get 3 to 4 db louder on my mix in many cases.
I usually compress the kick and sometimes I'll compress the overheads a little but that's a different matter. My goal in compressing the drums is to control the loudest transients while affecting the sound as little as possible.
What about the multi-band compressor and mastering eq that come with n-Track 4? Has anybody used them. I haven’t used them because I’m not sure how.
Phil, the multi-compressor has been around for a while as a freebie from another company; I have used it for 3 or 4 years now, and it is a very good sounding, and powerful plug-in.
I’ll let someone else chime in on the eq, but I personally use it on almost everything I record.
'til next time;
nTrackers are not a cult. Honest we aren’t!
Oh, btw Phil, you should google “compressor tutorial” and “eq tutorial” (with quotes!). I did that a few years back, and am still reaping rewards!
How about the mastering effects that come with N v4? Has anybody tried those?
There’s a multi-band compressor and a mastering EQ. I haven’t used them, because I don’t know how; but they seem to have the same features as other mastering packages.
what about a professional master?
Just check www.ba-c.de
wynot, thanks. I’ll check it out. I have a bunch of those already; but there’s never too much information. Right?
Sorry for repeating myself on the n-Track mastering effects. I didn’t read page 2 and had forgotten that I’d already replied… Sorry.
WOW!! I’ve been reading all the discussion here. I got some immediate take-aways and some research/homework is certainly in order going forward.
This is an awesome forum and thanks to everyone that has chimed in here.