My approach to mastering is best described as “sympathetic” to the original mix. If a mix has reached mastering I assume (unless told otherwise) that the vision of that mix is what was wanted by the Artist, Producer and Engineer. I therefore view it as my job to take that vision and put simply, make it sound as glorious as possible without damaging that orginal artistic intent. If there is something fundamentally wrong with the mix I would talk to the artist first and make suggestions rather than simply try and reverse engineer an out come with multiband compressors and MS tricks. A well balanced mix in the first place always makes for the best master.
To that end I like to work primarily in the analogue domain initially as I’m a big believer in “Analogue Vibe” being imparted onto your mixes especially if they have been done “In The Box” as many mixes are these days. A quality analogue chain can really make an “In The Box Mix” sound like it was done on a big vintage console.
My primary tools for this are as follows.
Experience. I dropped out of University and joined a band at the age of 18, that ultimately led me to 4 track project recordings and finally Alchemea College to try and consolidate everything I’d picked up along the way up to that point. 18 years after that I’m still working week in week out on music. I started Mastering seriously about 10 years ago I’ve done countless records in a huge variety of styles and you can’t just get that from a preset. I haven’t stopped learning either, you are always learning and gaining more experience and insight. In total I’ve been involved in music for 27 years.
For Analogue to Digital, Digital to Analogue I use the Avid HD i/o which on it’s release was lauded as the best converter in it’s class, but just to take it to the next level I have it clocked with the Antelope Isochrone Trinity master clock. If you’re going to go analogue and back again you have to make sure you ADDA is good.
Manley Massive Passive Mastering EQ. I got this valve EQ for it’s mastering optimized HPF and LPF that sound to my ears better than digital equivalents. It is also by far and away the best EQ for boosting any mid range info, Snare Punch, Bass definition, Electric Guitars etc it’s basically a modern take on those famous Pultec Eqs but with a much greater flexibility. An in the box digital mix can really be brought to life with this EQ and as I have the Plug In also I can categorically state good though the plug-in is, this is what you really want.
George Massenburg Labs 8200 EQ. This Solid State EQ is the Grand Daddy of all Parametric EQ you will find one strapped across the mix bus of 90% of all major studios. Ever wondered what that special high end “sheen” was on tonnes of hit records? It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s often this EQ. It complements the Manley really well as this excels at areas very low freq and very high frequencies that the Manley does not. It’s also more precise for cutting and smoother for top end on acoustic guitars, pianos etc.
Alan Smart C2 Compressor with HPF sidechain mod. I love the famous Solid State Logic 4000 Buss Compressor a fast VCA design that on Rock, Pop and Dance really is the hit maker but with only 3 ratios it can be a bit limited for mastering. Alan Smart an ex employee of SSL made this version with more ratios, release and attack settings and that gives me the flexibility for my use, but that famous SSL like punch that we all want.
Thermionic Culture The Phoenix Mastering Plus Vari Mu Valve Compressor. I chose this British Valve unit to compliment the C2, unlike the C2 being a valve design it’s got slower attack and releases and a soft knee smoother compression curve. Just like my two EQ s these two compressors compliment each other. On light acoustic music or slower rock this really comes into it’s own when the C2 can be too “in your face” it’s good to have a variety of “colours” to paint with. Finally as a valve unit it adds a most “euphoric” harmonic content to your mixes.
Once I’ve been through my analogue gear I like to finish off with the best of digital.
Really tiny and precise cuts or boosts can be very difficult to do in the analogue domain so I have a variety of digital EQ I like to use, Plug In Alliance V2 EQ (if I do need any MS EQ) and Massenburg Design Works Digital EQ my ultimate transparent EQ are my current favourites. These can do the final finesses in the digital domain.
After final precision EQ’ing I may wish to try some useful digital tricks like the Sonnox Inflator or the Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machine, but this is much more on a case by case basis.
The limiting is always done digitally to set the final volume and I have a variety of Limiters as although The Sonnox Limiter may be my natural favourite on a lot of jobs on some materials I may find something like the Fab Filter Pro L to be superior or The Slate or The Waves or …..you get the idea the music will ultimately dictate the choices. Unlike my analogue gear I’m constantly looking at new plug ins as and when they get released to make sure I have the best available.Tags: Equipment, Mastering