If you want to try your hand out at mastering, I recommend building a mastering template that you can start to use with your tracks. It is always best to send your material to another sets of ears to master, or even better a professional mastering engineer. But this isn't always possible, and it's always good to get a better understanding of the mastering processors and how it affects your audio. In this article, I explain how to build up your own mastering template in Logic. Let's jump in and see how this is done.
For the mastering template, I like to set up a couple of different tracks. The first track will be called Unmastered, and as you can make out from the name this will be where I place my unmastered track. Create another track and call this Reference. On this reference track I will insert audio files that I will use as a reference. So it will be a collection of ready-mastered tracks of a similar style and genre that I will compare my tracks to. It's very easy to get caught up in your project and apply tons of different plug-ins, but then when you compare it to other commercial releases, you'll notice that your track sits differently to the overall volume and the frequency spectrum.
For the routing, my Reference track will go straight to the output. But on my Unmastered track, I will be applying different forms of mastering processors, so I want to route this out to a bus. I don't want these mastering effects applied to the main output as they will be applied to the Reference track as well. Then I won't be able to give an even comparison between the two. Route the Unmastered track to Bus 1. An auxillary track will be created with this Bus input. Rename this aux track to Mastering.
Now route this track's output to Bus 2. You'll see why I am doing this soon. Rename the auxillary track with Bus 2 as the input to Mastered. This will go to the main output.
Insert a Multimeter onto all the tracks: Unmastered, Mastering, Mastered, Reference and the Output. Each Multimeter will give you a clear indication of each mastering stage. From before any mastering processors through to the output with all the mastering plugins applied.
On the Mastering track, I am going to add most of the mastering processors. What I first like to do is add a low cut to cut out any lower register frequencies that are unheard by the human ear and that are taking up valued headroom in the mix. I have used the Channel EQ with a low cut at 50 Hz with a slope of 36 dB. I have also enabled the Analyzer so that I can see what I am cutting out.
Next up in my chain is the Multipressor. This is a multiband compressor. Don't be too scared off by this plugin. It's simply multiple compressors chained together, each dealing with a specific frequency range. I have 4 bands. Each band has the standard compression settings such as Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release. The bottom settings deal with expansion of the audio on each band. But I wouldn't worry too much about this in the beginning. Simply deal with the compression setting on each band.
You can also change the gain volume (Gain Change) per band. So let's say you compress the 1st band quite a bit. You can raise the Gain Change to increase the volume for that band. Make sure to do numerous listens to your reference material to see what areas are lacking in your track. If you need more bass raise the lower bands, if you need more high end raise the lower two. You can also change the size of each band. I would recommend solo-ing each band. This way you can fine-tune what area each band focuses on, For example, Band 1 can focus on the low end. Band 2 can deal with the next lower register instruments of the song. Band 3 is a good band to fine-tune to the vocals and lead instruments, and Band 4 will focus on the higher register instruments and sounds in your track. Resize the bands by dragging on the horizontal lines between each band. Or you can dial in different frequency amount into the Crossover boxes.
Bear in mind that when you get to the mastering stage, you are dealing will subtle changes, not big ones. So use slower attacks and release times and slight gain changes. If you need to make a big change, then it will be better to jump back to your mix and make them there.
Adding a Linear Phase EQ is also a good way to make some slight EQ adjustments. The Linear Phase EQ doesn't introduce any phasing that might occur if you used a standard EQ, but it is a bit more CPU intensive. Also use this EQ to make subtle equalization changes to your song. Listen to your reference material and try to find in what frequencies range your track may differ. If you need some more low end raise one of the lower bands in the Linear Phase EQ, or if you need some more high start raising the bands near the higher Hz. Don't think you always need to boost frequencies. Try cutting some frequency areas. Scoop them out where it may sound a bit muddy and see if it works.
You may have added some amounts of reverb to your song during the mixing stage, but it's also good to add a small dose of reverb in the mastering stage to help smooth out the song and give it a sense of space. I have applied a very subtle reverb with the Space Designer. I have used the Nice Room preset (02 Medium Spaces > 01 Rooms). Drop the Reverb signal all the way down, then start increasing it slightly until you are happy with the amount of reverb. You only need a very small amount here. It should hardly be audible, but this small amount will make a huge difference.
I will be working with the Mastered track in this section. I have inserted another Channel EQ with a low cut at 50 Hz. This will cut out any inaudible low frequencies that may have been introduced by any of the mastering processors. After this, I have inserted the AdLimiter to raise the overall volume of my song. I have applied the following settings:
The Out Ceiling will keep the audio from clipping, and the Gain will increase the overall volume of your track. Take numerous listens to your reference tracks and compare the gain amounts to your track. With commercial recordings, there is this big battle to get your tracks as loud as possible. So don't feel you have to compete with this as it does reduce the dynamics in the track. Raise the gain of your track to an acceptable level where it is close to the commercial recordings, and make sure it doesn't destroy the dynamics in your song that you took so long to create in your mixing process. As I mentioned there are Multimeters on all the tracks so you can take a look at each one to see what effect the mastering processors are having on your track.
Here's a quick tip on how to do A/B listens between your track and the reference track. Solo your Reference track, then when you want to switch to your track hold down Option and click on the Solo button on the Mastered track. This will un-solo the reference track and then solo the Mastered track. To switch back to the reference material try the same thing. Hold down Option and click on the solo button on the Reference track.
Now let's save this out as a template so that you can use it for future mastering projects.
Go to File > Save as Template'¦
And give a name to your new mastering template. This will save the template to the Project Templates location on your Mac.
~/Library/Application Support/Logic/Project Templates.
So if you ever want to remove the templates you can always go here and delete them.
Now when you launch Logic, you can go to File > New > My Templates, and then open the mastering templates. All your audio and auxillary tracks, routing, levels and plugins will be set up.
Obviously, with each song you will need to apply different mastering settings, but this will be a good starting point.
Here is my track unmastered:
And here is the track after the mastering processors have been applied:
So that's how to create a mastering template for your future projects. Sure, it's always best to get your material mastering by another set of ears, but you can really learn a lot about audio by getting your hands dirty with these mastering processors. And by using your eyes (on the Multimeters) and ears (through your studio monitors) you will increase your understanding on audio and how it can be changed in a stereo format.
For further mastering techniques take a look at the following tutorials: