Mastering

Mastering is such an important tool and process in the creation of music and a product that is worthy of the masses and it has been an incredible experience to learn this skill from some of the ‘best in the biz’ over the last few months. I have had the fortunate experience of mastering a track for Riley & Zoe for their EP ‘Magic Tragic’ over the last week. The enlightening experience of making a track sound loud without killing it has been wonderful and something I will continue to use and implement in my own work in the future.

After the loudness wars ‘ended’, a lot of popular streaming services implemented a peak playback level that was available on each platform, therefore, for digital release, it is important that these loudness standards be met. Across the board, the metering tool used to monitor loudness of a track is known as LUFS (Loudness Units Full Scale) and a certain LUFS peak is set by each streaming service. Here’s a table with the peak playback level for some of the more popular streaming services:

Screenshot at Aug 16 13-05-14.png

Mastering to the set level for each service is highly necessary, as, if the standard isn’t met, problems will arise in the uploaded track. If the track uploaded is louder than the set level, the streaming service will bring down the volume and therefore, the dynamic range of the track, resulting in a quiet track in comparison everything else uploaded to the streaming service. The same goes for if you upload the track too quiet. The streaming service will bring the volume of the track up to meet its standards, which can potentially distort the track and make it sound really bad. Additionally, all of the bad low frequency sounds will also be brought up in sound, muddying the track and again making it sound gross.

So, taking all of this into account, I went into my mastering session of Riley & Zoe’s track. I know that these guys wanted to upload the tracks to as many streaming services as possible, so I have mastered the track to each different peak LUFS level.

Screenshot at Aug 16 13-21-04.png

As for the processing needed to do each master, first I chucked a 1-band EQ onto the track and took out all frequencies below about 100Hz. I did this in order to clean up the low-end of the song and take out any harsh frequencies that would be audible once limiting the track. I then chucked it through another multi-band EQ to give it some ‘creative EQing’. The track was a bit buzzy, so I took out about half a dB of low end at around 800Hz-1000Hz to clean that up a bit. There were also a few clashy mid-high range instruments, so I took a little bit out at around 8kHz and this cleaned up the mids and allowed for a bit more identification of the individual instruments. I then put a compressor on the track and compressed the dynamics a little bit. I added a medium attack and quick release so it wasn’t too punchy and flattened out the dynamics a little bit. I also added a little bit of makeup gain on the compressor to bring up the levels in total. From here, I routed the track to a stereo AUX track, where I put on a limiter. I set the ceiling at -0.3dB, dither on and noise-shaping to 20. I then continued to bring down the threshold and monitor the LUFS level in iZotope’s Insight until I got to the correct level.

Anyway, it’s hard to see what all this would do unless actually given it a listen! So here’s a clip of the unmastered, then mastered version of the song! You can tell that the difference is fairly large, especially in loudness!


References:

Mastering audio for Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify and Youtube. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.masteringthemix.com/blogs/learn/76296773-mastering-audio-for-soundcloud-itunes-spotify-and-youtube

The Reason Audio Mastering Is Such an Important Aspect of Music Production. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.audio-issues.com/mastering/audio-mastering-important/

What is Mastering? Why Is It Important? | Audio Mastering. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.izotope.com/en/blog/mastering/what-is-mastering.html

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