As technology changes, sometimes you need to adjust your thinking. Take mastering: Traditionally, your ecorded a stereo mix that you then handed over to a mastering engineer. This engineer brought a fresh perspective, expensive gear youcould never afford, and (hopefully!) a golden set of ears to the mix, enhancingit beyond the original version.
However, today’s DAWs make iteasy to insert mastering-type processors into the master stereo bus while mixing. Some programs come with this class of processors (e.g.,Cubase’s Apogee dithering, Record’sMClass devices, Sonar’s linear phaseEQ and multiband compressor, etc.)but if not, you can always insert plugins. This is also where devices like TCElectronic’s PowerCore, UniversalAudio’s UAD2, and SSL’s Duende Minicome into play, as they includeprocessors designed for mastering.
But as with so much technology today, just because you can doesn’tnecessarily mean you should. . . .
I do quite a bit of mastering, and sometimes receive mixes where I wish I could have made some slight tweaks in the mix. With today’s emphasis onLOUD, although I try to keep loudnessmaximization within sane boundaries,any maximizing or compressing alters the mix, however subtly. Ditto EQ.
After getting the mix squaredaway, when you insert masteringprocessors you may want to make afew small changes to the mix. Or not!But in any event, you’ll know what thefinal, mastered version will sound like.
However, there are some processes,such as noise reduction, that may notlend themselves to this approachbecause they aren’t available as plugins.When removing noise you want a consistent hiss level, so ifyou master your musicand then decide toremove the noise, thenoise will vary and makenoise reduction more difficult. You then haveno choice but to mix tostereo without mastering. Nonetheless, consideradding some light compression in the mix bus toget a better idea of whatthe mastered version willsound like, then bypassing the compression before doing your mix.
You might also wantto “master the master”by adding high-quality dithering (orother specialized processing) that’savailable only in two-track digitalaudio editors like BIAS Peak, SonySound Forge, and Steinberg Wavelab.Again, you’re probably best off doinga pretty straight mix, and using thedigital audio editor for the “heavy lifting.”
Although mastering while mixing is convenient, if you do it yourself you’relosing one of the most importantaspects of mastering—a fresh perspective from an objective set of ears. Also,your listening space has to meet masteringsuite standards; while your room might work fine for tracking, masteringups the ante. Some people who mixassume that a mastering engineer willtake care of any minor frequency response an omalies or “rogue resonances.”But if you’re mastering in the same room where you’re tracking and mixing, any existing problems will becompounded by a factor of three.
I’m often asked at seminars whethermastering is absolutely ...