Producing through "mastering" chain?

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antic604
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Post 12 Feb 2024

(mods, please move to Tutorials & Techniques if that one's more fitting)

Do you have things on Master when you're writing / recording / producing (important info: in my case I'm talking about strictly electronic, in-the-box music - I don't have hardware synths or FX, don't record "real" instruments or vocals)

I always struggle with this... :(

Option #1 If I don't put anything - typically a mid/side EQ, a clipper, a compressor, a limier / maximizer - on there, I find the difference after adding a simple mastering chain so stark, that I have to go back to the sound design, arrangement & mixing to fix stuff which I should've noticed earlier, but didn't.

Option #2 On the other hand when I already have stuff on the master then I feel like I'm constantly in the "make it sound as good as possible" mode at every step of the way, which clearly hinders the pace of my progress at the most crucial part of the process, i.e. capturing the musical idea.

It seems, whatever I do in most cases I end up with constant back & forth. :thumbdown:

For now I've settled for a workflow, when I only put stuff on Master after I've managed to create a bit of music that's representative of the whole piece (e.g. a chorus, with majority of crucial elements - pads, leads, bass, drums; in place), but perhaps there's other ways?

Intuitively I feel that #1 is the better approach, because it's more important to have interesting, captivating music idea properly captured, than it being bland and boring, but sounding pristine. But I find it's so hard to fight the urge to make it sound better along the way :oops:

How do you guys cope with it?
Music tech enthusiast.
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My "music": https://soundcloud.com/antic604

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TritoneAddiction
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Post 12 Feb 2024

I always start a song "clean" whithout anything on the master. But I typically add stuff like masterbus compression and a limiter once the song starts to take form. I might adjust the settings along the way when I'm working on a song. I know there are different opinions on the matter, but this is the approach that makes sense to my personal workflow.

PhillipOrdonez
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Post 12 Feb 2024

I don't touch it till I'm in mixing mode. 🤷‍♂️ And I only do light EQ then. No dynamic processing till mastering stage. 🤷‍♂️

xbitz
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Post 12 Feb 2024

I currently only have metering plugins installed that help maintain ranges rather than provide exact values (vs this problem " arrangement & mixing to fix stuff which I should've noticed earlier, but didn't.), and ADPTR with a reference track to prevent ear fatigue

these ones, to solve spectral, dynamic, and loudness ranges checking based on a(or some) reference track
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crimsonwarlock
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Post 12 Feb 2024

I do composition/tracking, mixing, and mastering in three separate stages/projects. During composition/tracking, I don't use any processing on the master bus. After tracking, I export all tracks as audio and import the audio tracks into a mixing project.

Although several pro-engineers that I admire, do mix into a master bus chain, I always have problems doing that. If I do that, I feel that I'm doing something that belongs in the master-stage. Also, I'm thinking that what I do on the master bus might interfere with mastering later on. Or maybe that I'm already mastering during the mixing stage, which I prefer to prevent (to keep focussed on mixing). These days, I do set up the master-bus compressor on the ssl-mixer, but only to reference my mix through it to get an idea of what the mastering will bring. When my mix is ready, I export the song in stereo without the master-bus compressor engaged. During mastering, I bring back the master-bus compressor and usually start with the same settings as I had in de mixing-project.

However, recently, I started using Andrew Scheps's rear-bus technique during mixing, and I'm beginning to think that mixing 'into' that setup gives better/faster results.
-------
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selig
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Post 12 Feb 2024

If your mastering chain is already doing so much that it’s changing the mix, then change the settings so it’s not!
If your mixes ‘require’ that much mastering that it’s changing the mix, also a good time to change the settings.
If you are mixing ITB and your mix is far enough off target you need mastering to make it work, go back to the mix and make it right.
If you want to learn to make mixes that don’t lean so heavily on mastering, mix without mastering and make it sound as good as possible.
I’ve heard the phrase “mix like there’s no mastering”, and feel like it speaks to how I have always liked to work.

As far as the creative process, I have been sucked into the “making it sound great before there is a song written” rabbit hole. My solution has been to let the sound “suck” until there is a song worth polishing. Split the creative and the technical process such that no major technical work is done before the core creative work is done.
If I’m stuck part way through the process, I have no problem doing a little polishing while I try to sort things in my head.

But long ago I saw the “trap” (through experience) and decided there were two stages: spew (creative) and edit (logical). The longer I can stay in the ‘spew’ phase, the more compelling material I can come up with that can more easily be edited to sound good. You have to learn to trust yourself (and practice delayed gratification) that the technical part WILL come together. And believe the results will be better for it if you do.
Can’t say this approach would work for anyone else, but it’s worked solidly for me for decades now! :)
Selig Audio, LLC

robussc
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Post 12 Feb 2024

Having all these toys at our finger tips does require applying some discipline in order to get the best out of them (and most efficient use of time and resources). There are some great approaches listed above and I can only second them as learning to be disciplined in my approach to working in Reason has definitely helped me get much better at applying the various tools at the various stages of Create, Arrange, Mix & Master.
Software: Reason 12 + Objekt, Vintage Vault 4, V-Collection 9 + Pigments, Vintage Verb + Supermassive
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moofi
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Post 12 Feb 2024

Here it´s more like a mixture of what you are mostly describing. While I usually keep the creative part going for starters I like for example cleaning it up and EQ already a bit here and there not that far in, basically when I reached some rudimentary foundation for the song. It´s simply much more pleasing to listen to and also contributing to the creative juices/flow because of the improved impact the sound has in a thriving way here.
Once the mix is halfway there I tend to put a little mastering on it, as well for the improved soundquality in regards to the enjoyment -> improved juices.
The finetuning of the mix basically happens along the pre-mastering and putting stuff on busses /the ladder happening often before the pre-mastering), in relation to how the mastering/bussing influences the acoustic outcome even if only slightly. While working on glueing and "densing" the sound, stuff is usually altered and I would have to adjust it anyway. This is especially the case when using stronger compression (as well for effect reasons).

Saying, here it´s usually a starting out creatively -> clean up/EQ -> continue creatively <-> further adjust the mix along the way <-> buss-mastering -> certain level of completeness reached -> introduction of mastering <-> adjusting the mix <-> creative process still going on anyway -> final mastering

Our genres are mostly varying from each other (from what I´ve noticed), hence the approaches are most likely varying as well. Yet this approach is working quite well here, because it combines several stages throughout the process, no hard borders, so everything can still be altered/adjusted in every area along the way till it´s done.

I as well like rendering the song before the final mastering, so it would feel like a done process followed by the final mastering, yet there really isn´t any strict rule and the process described above is merely to be understood as an often working and also happening guideline.


selig wrote:
12 Feb 2024
If your mastering chain is already doing so much that it’s changing the mix, then change the settings so it’s not!
If your mixes ‘require’ that much mastering that it’s changing the mix, also a good time to change the settings.
If you are mixing ITB and your mix is far enough off target you need mastering to make it work, go back to the mix and make it right.
If you want to learn to make mixes that don’t lean so heavily on mastering, mix without mastering and make it sound as good as possible.
I’ve heard the phrase “mix like there’s no mastering”, and feel like it speaks to how I have always liked to work.

As far as the creative process, I have been sucked into the “making it sound great before there is a song written” rabbit hole. My solution has been to let the sound “suck” until there is a song worth polishing. Split the creative and the technical process such that no major technical work is done before the core creative work is done.
If I’m stuck part way through the process, I have no problem doing a little polishing while I try to sort things in my head.

But long ago I saw the “trap” (through experience) and decided there were two stages: spew (creative) and edit (logical). The longer I can stay in the ‘spew’ phase, the more compelling material I can come up with that can more easily be edited to sound good. You have to learn to trust yourself (and practice delayed gratification) that the technical part WILL come together. And believe the results will be better for it if you do.
Can’t say this approach would work for anyone else, but it’s worked solidly for me for decades now! :)

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MirrorEyEs
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Post 12 Feb 2024

I've done it and can't make up my mind if it sounds better or worse!

I think the main issue is if you revisit a track and gut it for it's elements. You often end up having to include the mastering chain as the individual parts can sound out of whack without them.
Reason 12 - Horrible plastic M-Audio Oxygen 49 and a battered pair of Sony MDR V6 cans

PhillipOrdonez
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Post 13 Feb 2024

selig wrote:
12 Feb 2024
If your mastering chain is already doing so much that it’s changing the mix, then change the settings so it’s not!
If your mixes ‘require’ that much mastering that it’s changing the mix, also a good time to change the settings.
If you are mixing ITB and your mix is far enough off target you need mastering to make it work, go back to the mix and make it right.
If you want to learn to make mixes that don’t lean so heavily on mastering, mix without mastering and make it sound as good as possible.
I’ve heard the phrase “mix like there’s no mastering”, and feel like it speaks to how I have always liked to work.

As far as the creative process, I have been sucked into the “making it sound great before there is a song written” rabbit hole. My solution has been to let the sound “suck” until there is a song worth polishing. Split the creative and the technical process such that no major technical work is done before the core creative work is done.
If I’m stuck part way through the process, I have no problem doing a little polishing while I try to sort things in my head.

But long ago I saw the “trap” (through experience) and decided there were two stages: spew (creative) and edit (logical). The longer I can stay in the ‘spew’ phase, the more compelling material I can come up with that can more easily be edited to sound good. You have to learn to trust yourself (and practice delayed gratification) that the technical part WILL come together. And believe the results will be better for it if you do.
Can’t say this approach would work for anyone else, but it’s worked solidly for me for decades now! :)
100% This.

There's a myth that folk believe mastering does the heavy lifting when in reality, the true magic happens in the mix. Dividing the stages is a very effective approach regardless of genre.

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selig
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Post 13 Feb 2024

One final note - there is a difference IMO between mastering a single and mastering an album. If you’re making an album, you may want to master it as a whole. This allows you to create one “experience” from top to bottom, and may require a different approach on some songs than if just mastering in isolation. For example, some intros may be too quite if the previous song is loud vs if the previous song was also quiet. On an album, mastering engineers I’ve been lucky to work with describe the process as setting the vocal to be consistent through out (or the kick/bass for instrumental/dance mixes). This would of course potentially result in a different mastering approach on some songs compared to if in isolation.

All to say, if you’re making a song for an album, you can’t really do a final master when mixing. But for a single, you have a better chance of doing it all as one process (with practice). Luckily these days recalling a mix is as easy as opening a file, unless you mixed analog, so I prefer to go back to the mix if not happy with the master for any reason. I would describe it as a different form of “fix it in the mix”! ;)
Selig Audio, LLC

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tomusurp
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Post 13 Feb 2024

Producer and engineer here. First of all, mastering is something you do AFTER you produce and mix. Why would you even need any master fx when you're producing? I mean I'm always a believer there is no hard rules but in this case it doesn't make sense. The point is, you want to produce and mix a song where it sounds good WITHOUT any mastering.

These mid-side eq's for example, you should be adding on individual tracks that need it. You need to realize what every track needs. Does this synth need to be widened more? Does this bass need to be EQ'd and compressed better? Some tracks will be easy, some need more mixing. At the end of the day a lot of it is just compression and EQ. Some will need more surgical EQ, dynamic EQ, widening, saturation, etc. whatever it may be. And put things in order that makes sense.

So to your answer your question I always master after my song is produced and mixed. You can hear my music in link below as I'm very confident in my sound
"The hottest in the matrix"
My music:
https://www.youtube.com/c/TomUsurp
https://www.tomusurp.com


:reason: :re: :refill: :rt:

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selig
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Post 13 Feb 2024

tomusurp wrote:
13 Feb 2024
Producer and engineer here. First of all, mastering is something you do AFTER you produce and mix. Why would you even need any master fx when you're producing? I mean I'm always a believer there is no hard rules but in this case it doesn't make sense. The point is, you want to produce and mix a song where it sounds good WITHOUT any mastering.
I totally agree, but have a use case for your consideration. When I'm working with others and want them to check out a mix, I add subtle limiting so that the mix is at a level where the artist won't ask why my mix is so low. It's just a quick "mock up" mastering but makes a big difference when working with artists that may not know how to hear a raw mix. I've been doing this for quite a few projects lately so it is a pretty standard workflow for me - and to be clear, I only add the mastering as the final stage, I don't ever mix "into" any sort of mix bus or mastering plugin when setting levels.

That said, some genres don't need this at all, such as drone and ambient/chill music I often work on. But anything that's hitting hard sounds better to me with 2-3 dB limiting from a decent quality mastering plugin. And if the project is able I will always hire an established mastering engineer because IMO it's worth it!
Selig Audio, LLC

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tomusurp
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Post 13 Feb 2024

selig wrote:
13 Feb 2024
tomusurp wrote:
13 Feb 2024
Producer and engineer here. First of all, mastering is something you do AFTER you produce and mix. Why would you even need any master fx when you're producing? I mean I'm always a believer there is no hard rules but in this case it doesn't make sense. The point is, you want to produce and mix a song where it sounds good WITHOUT any mastering.
I totally agree, but have a use case for your consideration. When I'm working with others and want them to check out a mix, I add subtle limiting so that the mix is at a level where the artist won't ask why my mix is so low. It's just a quick "mock up" mastering but makes a big difference when working with artists that may not know how to hear a raw mix. I've been doing this for quite a few projects lately so it is a pretty standard workflow for me - and to be clear, I only add the mastering as the final stage, I don't ever mix "into" any sort of mix bus or mastering plugin when setting levels.

That said, some genres don't need this at all, such as drone and ambient/chill music I often work on. But anything that's hitting hard sounds better to me with 2-3 dB limiting from a decent quality mastering plugin. And if the project is able I will always hire an established mastering engineer because IMO it's worth it!
True but this is separate from mastering. It’s using a master insert effect to apply gain and some peak shaving for your artist, nearly the same as turning up volume knob for headphones since it’s not audibly changing much in the mix and sound design
"The hottest in the matrix"
My music:
https://www.youtube.com/c/TomUsurp
https://www.tomusurp.com


:reason: :re: :refill: :rt:

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antic604
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Post 13 Feb 2024

Thanks for your feedback, guys!

Even ones that made me feel like sh*t for asking such an obvious question :)
Music tech enthusiast.
DAW, VST & hardware hoarder.
My "music": https://soundcloud.com/antic604

avasopht
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Post 13 Feb 2024

selig wrote:
12 Feb 2024
As far as the creative process, I have been sucked into the “making it sound great before there is a song written” rabbit hole. My solution has been to let the sound “suck” until there is a song worth polishing. Split the creative and the technical process such that no major technical work is done before the core creative work is done.
If I’m stuck part way through the process, I have no problem doing a little polishing while I try to sort things in my head.

But long ago I saw the “trap” (through experience) and decided there were two stages: spew (creative) and edit (logical). The longer I can stay in the ‘spew’ phase, the more compelling material I can come up with that can more easily be edited to sound good. You have to learn to trust yourself (and practice delayed gratification) that the technical part WILL come together. And believe the results will be better for it if you do.
Can’t say this approach would work for anyone else, but it’s worked solidly for me for decades now! :)
I was very prone to trying to make a great sound first, and I didn't depart from that until about 10 years in when I collaborated with a producer named Kat who always starts out tracking with the most basic midi-like sounds.

The problem with that approach is that you will polish every turd, and because you're spending so much time polishing you have much less time for coming up with new good ideas, right?

One good piece of songwriting advice from a music magazine was to write songs with one guitar strum per bar (or half bar when a different chord is needed) so that your songwriting isn't coupled with or interacting with the rhythm or melody.

That's what Kat's process felt like.



I wasn't letting my playing or ideas be influenced or determined by the tone of a high-quality instrument or effects chain so I would think only in terms of the core concepts and whatnot.

Which is what I did when I started (before Reason came out).



... ...

Anyway, I'm waffling now, ...

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selig
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Post 13 Feb 2024

avasopht wrote:
13 Feb 2024

I was very prone to trying to make a great sound first, and I didn't depart from that until about 10 years in when I collaborated with a producer named Kat who always starts out tracking with the most basic midi-like sounds.

The problem with that approach is that you will polish every turd, and because you're spending so much time polishing you have much less time for coming up with new good ideas, right?

One good piece of songwriting advice from a music magazine was to write songs with one guitar strum per bar (or half bar when a different chord is needed) so that your songwriting isn't coupled with or interacting with the rhythm or melody.

That's what Kat's process felt like.
Wow, I worked with a woman in 1985 that taught me her approach which was similar. She builds tracks as follows.
Basic 1bar drum pattern throughout.
Whole note "roots" on a simple bass sound.
Block chords.
Rough vocal.
THEN - go back and start with the drums building the actual part, which you will now have "support" from all the key players while working out the drum part.
Then play the bass lines etc.
Get a good sound and start laying down synth parts to fill out the chord progression (lots of options for variations here)
Get a final vocal.

My variation on this is to iterate through the last round a few times, not trying to get the "final" polished drum track on the first pass (adding fills later), and circling around a few times even after the final vocal is recorded.

But very similar mind sets, and lines up with my 'rabbit hole' experience as well. Great advice for the 'solo' song writer that doesn't have (or maybe doesn't want) a band to play all the parts!
Selig Audio, LLC

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joeyluck
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Post 13 Feb 2024

If counting the Master Bus Compressor, I'll often have that enabled while I'm mixing and writing. I'll enable it and disable it from time to time.

If just counting what I have in my Master insert, I often have Dolby Atmos Composer or Spacelab while I'm working on a project, but those aren't for mastering as much as they are essential for creating my project and mix.

In terms of mastering plugins, I leave that for the mastering stage. As others have mentioned, better to work on the mix with individual channels first. And while writing, it's difficult to deal with all the latency introduced by some mastering plugins.

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tomusurp
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Post 13 Feb 2024

selig wrote:
13 Feb 2024
avasopht wrote:
13 Feb 2024

I was very prone to trying to make a great sound first, and I didn't depart from that until about 10 years in when I collaborated with a producer named Kat who always starts out tracking with the most basic midi-like sounds.

The problem with that approach is that you will polish every turd, and because you're spending so much time polishing you have much less time for coming up with new good ideas, right?

One good piece of songwriting advice from a music magazine was to write songs with one guitar strum per bar (or half bar when a different chord is needed) so that your songwriting isn't coupled with or interacting with the rhythm or melody.

That's what Kat's process felt like.
Wow, I worked with a woman in 1985 that taught me her approach which was similar. She builds tracks as follows.
Basic 1bar drum pattern throughout.
Whole note "roots" on a simple bass sound.
Block chords.
Rough vocal.
THEN - go back and start with the drums building the actual part, which you will now have "support" from all the key players while working out the drum part.
Then play the bass lines etc.
Get a good sound and start laying down synth parts to fill out the chord progression (lots of options for variations here)
Get a final vocal.

My variation on this is to iterate through the last round a few times, not trying to get the "final" polished drum track on the first pass (adding fills later), and circling around a few times even after the final vocal is recorded.

But very similar mind sets, and lines up with my 'rabbit hole' experience as well. Great advice for the 'solo' song writer that doesn't have (or maybe doesn't want) a band to play all the parts!
Interesting. I have a very different approach. I always establish what I want per track and mix every element on-the-go. So if I start with a melody which is usually the case, I don't move on until the melody is right to my ears. Then I have ideas what to add next and how to mix as I build stuff. Of course sometimes I go back to change parameters in a mix but usually most of the mixing is done towards the end once I structure everything how I want
"The hottest in the matrix"
My music:
https://www.youtube.com/c/TomUsurp
https://www.tomusurp.com


:reason: :re: :refill: :rt:

Steedus
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Post 13 Feb 2024

Everyone's different (clearly). I just have 2 devices when creating:

I personally work with the Rack version of the Reason Master Bus Comp at default settings *except I bring the makeup gain down a touch to match the built-in one (yes although these are essentially the same devices, the makeup gain different for the default/initial settings). I use the Rack version now because I prefer having all that stuff in the same spot - in the rack.

Then I run the extremely efficient (and free) Kilohearts kHs Limiter on default settings just to catch anything which gets crazy if I'm messing around with sounds while creating.

After I'm done, I'll swap them out, though I usually keep the Reason Buss Compressor.

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