Master Buss Processing

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cowparsleyman

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« on: April 23, 2019, 08:18:41 AM »
There are quite a few plugins one might use on the Master Buss or 2Buss as some call it.

I'd just thought I'd share what I'm finding useful in my line of production.

First I'd answer the question "Why bother with the Master buss at all?"

Master buss processing adds global nuances, a typical song might have collections of elements, say 2 Bass guitars, 3 guitars, 2 synths, Backing Vocals, plus Lead Vocal, and a shed load of other stuff.

They all get mixed and processed, some individually, some on a submix buss, maybe aux busses for common fx.

But the Master buss processing applies to the whole blimmin lot, so it should be used very very sparingly, just hints to slightly change the overall feel.

One can add punch, groove, more of a 'a want to dance' feel, remove extreme highs and add more bass.

For me then, I try to get the complete song as close as possible to how I want it before applying anything to the master buss.

I first apply any EQ using the Elysia museq, but again there should be virually nothing needed really, just a smidge and I always try to cut frequencies at this stage rather than adding them, (cutting makes things sound better, adding makes it sound different) choosing a narrow frequency band(Q value) to taming the offending rogue frequencies, (I use my ears, different speakers and a super mastering plugin called Metric Audio ADPTR AB - this tells you every everyrthing you need to know, and you can use an one of your own un mastered tracks that you liked as a reference to compare how that was done, that's really useful.

The museq is so clean and transparent it doesn't colour the mix at all, just tames those things that you want to tame, or subtley enhances those thing you want to hear more of, and as it has Mid/Side processing it is very easy to tame stuff on the edges of the sound stage, different to those in the middle, which is extremely useful.

IThe next thing I apply is a master buss compressor, there are 4 that I like, and believe me they are very different from each other, and the genre of the song determines which one I use (in no order)
ACME Opticom XLA-3
Elsysia Alpha
bx_townhouse master buss
Wave SSL buss

Then if I reverb on everything I use the Lexicon Native mpx usually, it's very clean, totally believable and you don't need much to add overall depth.

My DAW has some magix dust that I use very often STE (STereo Enhancer) this is just brilliant and move stuff about depending on the frequencies, maybe a bit like M/S EQ's but to be honest I just let it do it's thing and my ears tell me only good things when I A/B it.

Then the ADPTR A/B at the very end of the signal chain, just to help, (it also has a very very good collection of metering (Dynamics/Correlation/Loudness etc) all of which I use and are very accurate.

What I always do is to turn off all the master buss plugins to listen to how it was before, and it turns a song from what you think is ready to really ready, or put another way one you can pick production issues out and one you can't so easily. I very often listen in mono when working on the mastering.

I use SoundForge 11 to do the final fades, check the overall loudness levels and that's it, I don't touch it sonically any more afer the DAW.

I hope this helps

Rich

Boydie

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« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2019, 09:22:05 AM »
Hmmmm - I am in 2 minds about this @cowparsleyman

What you are describing could be seen as a very blurry line between “mixing” and “mastering”

To over simplify for a moment - there is a school of thought that the different “stages” of producing music music should be treated separately - eg engineering, tracking/recording, production, mixing and mastering

Some even have different people/experts doing each stage

Due to the vast increases in CPU processing power and reduction of software costs (and arguably “free” or pirated software) it is now possible for a humble home based DAW to completely blur these lines so someone can now open a session and record a new take in to a full mixed and mastered session, with unlimited tracks & busses, and you will still achieve good latency with all of the plugins running - which is mind blowing for someone that struggled with 4 tracks on a cassette machine not many years ago!

The slight problem I have with the “master bus processing” approach is that I personally draw the “mixing line” at the master bus - ie for mixing I would not do any overall master bus processing - this is a “mastering” process for me and I still try to think of them as separate processes (probably more so now that I am mixing and mastering for others on a regular basis so it helps to define where one stage stops and another begins)

For example, if I am mastering a track for someone I would prefer to receive a mix with none of the master bus processing you have described as I would either apply it as part of the mastering process or ask for it to be fixed in the original mix as there is always only son much you can do with the “stereo, 2 track, mix”

Eg you mention fixing specific frequencies on the master bus - I would personally still be in my “mixing” mindset so would prefer to identify and fix these issues on the individual tracks or busses

Likewise, I would apply “bus compression” and general EQ on busses (very subtly) to “glue” them together I the mixing stage but would I avoid the same approach on the master bus to affect the overall mix until I am mastering (which is the same for the master bus stereo enhancements, multi-band compression, over-arching EQ, reverb, Tape saturation, limiting etc. - these are all “mastering” elements in my mind when applied to the master bus)

I am NOT saying you are “wrong” - I am just pointing out the wonderful stage we are in where we have the power to blur the lines between the different stages of producing music, which can lead to creative and different workflows - and I am all in favour of change if it helps people become more creative

However, the lines between these stages will be different for everyone now so it can be difficult to give a “one size fits all” workflow - finding a workflow that works for you is probably the biggest challenge with lots of conflicting advice out there on t’internet

We have highlighted 2 approaches here but I can think of many more different ways to approach it

To check out my music please visit:

http://soundcloud.com/boydiemusic

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BoydieMusic

cowparsleyman

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« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2019, 10:04:51 AM »
Hi @Boydie - Lovely to hear from you, of course your'e right, about mastering/mixing processes, My post actually started as naming a  few useful Master Buss plugins that otrher might nbenefit from and how to apply them, but then it kind of changed as I wrote it, as I have had a few fellow collaborators ask me about how I mix/master.

My workflow has pretty much always been... mix as good as it can get... then apply the gold dust on the Master buss, so subtley that it all adds, rather than spoils the hard work of getting a great mix, only recently did I apply EQ on the Master buss, and even now I use it very sparingly, and it's more likely (as you say) that I'd go back and change the EQ in the mix, and that's why I like to do it in the DAW, if there is something that I missed, or feel that I can remedy in the mix, It's so easy to do, I have the choice of where I fix it.

I have tried mastering the mixed wav, using Sony SoundForge (which is an excellent piece of SW, and more than capable of doing the job),  but can't seem to warm to that scenario, and getting a 3rd party to master it never appealed to me, as I always have a very clear picture of how I want the finished song to sound, in all the sonic aspects that are considered at that stage, to me a very important phase is the pre release listening phase, where often fundamental issues are picked up, and If I have to return to the song, it's great that I can go and tweak elements in individual tracks and on the masterbuss.

On the latest release of Lazy Weekend Rainy Remix, I thought it was ready, but on a few listens in the car, earbud, and my mid fields at home - I needed to fix an EQ issue on Martyn's vocal, and wanted to change the amp on the Gtr solo, and increase the verb on the master buss, in the DAW it's so much easier for me to manage these.

I still admire mastering engineers, as they do balck magic, and even those vinyl lathe operators who must be in big demand again these days.

I agree Boydie that nowadays the lines are blurred in many respects of music creation, I often don't know if a song has been played by musicians, or is entirely sampled...

Love this forum, and love to chat with you Mr B.

What tools do you use for Mastering? Fab filter? Izotope? something else?

Rich




Boydie

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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2019, 05:16:19 PM »

Quote
What tools do you use for Mastering? Fab filter? Izotope? something else?

Hi @cowparsleyman

I always carefully listen to the track and try to understand what the song/mix is trying to "communicate" - my job is then to choose a mastering approach that best supports and enhances the mix and the song

If possible I also talk to the "song owner" (either the writer, producer, mixer etc.) to understand their "vision" for what the end product should sound like (eg some say they don't want it too squashed and would rather sacrifice volume for dynamics etc. - whereas on other occasions it is perfectly acceptable to sacrifice dynamics for volume - this varies from song to song and producer to producer so understanding the "vision" is vital)

I have purposely not developed a robotic process for mastering and I have no presets - I start from scratch with each master

Having said that I have developed a "chain" of plugins that I tend to use, which I can switch in and out depending on the approach I am taking

There is obviously only so much that can be done with a Stereo master file - mixing a song using the original tracks allows for much better mixing and mastering so I am a fan of blurring the lines between the mixing and mastering stages - but sometimes you only have a stereo master to work from

Here is the general approach I take and the plugins I use for this mastering:

Waves SSL G Bus Compressor - Some very subtle compression to help glue everything together

Izotope Ozone - Detailed EQ shaping to remove any "mud", booms, and if necessary enhance certain features of the mix

Izotope Ozone - Exciter to add some SUBLTE excitement (light distortion) to specific frequency bands

Izotope Ozone - Multi-Band compression - this is where a master can be quickly ruined! I very carefully compress different frequency bands by different amounts to sculpt the sound

Izotope Ozone - Stereo Image - check stereo image and apply widening (or narrowing) of the stereo image of the mix - eg narrow the lower frequencies to give a more "mono" low end to beef up the foundation of the mix, widen the upper mids/high to help with the clarity and separation of the mix. I also usually do a test for mono compatibility at this point (even though most people will play in stereo this is still a consideration for mobile phones, bluetooth speakers and big sound systems)

Waves J37 Tape Saturation - I really like to use the J37 in a subtle way to add some "analogue warmth" to the mix

Izotope Ozone - Final EQ - I have another instance of Ozone near the end of the chain with an EQ to do any final EQ tweaks

Waves L1 Limiter - The final stage of my mastering is the limiting where I decide how "loud" the final mix should be. This is very much done "by ear" to achieve the most appropriate balance between achieving a commercial loudness but retaining the dynamics. This is VERY subjective and is done to support the song

Although this looks like a linear workflow it is most definitely not - I constantly jump back and forth between the different steps to achieve the right blend and if necessary go back to the original mix (or request another mix from the producer if there are things that I think need fixing in the mix)

I will also leave these plugins out, use other plugins such as the FabFiler Pro Q2, other Waves plugins and a gazillion others!  ::), but I find the ones listed above tend to be my "go to" options when mastering as I can get the sound in my head out

The most useful thing I have learnt is doing "lots of very subtle" things rather than trying to make dramatic changes
To check out my music please visit:

http://soundcloud.com/boydiemusic

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BoydieMusic

Cawproductions

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« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2019, 09:20:03 PM »
Hi all,
I come here with my can of worms, ready to open,

Interesting read from both you guys.
This could upset a a few.
So heres the deal, I have just bought the Schepps Omni Channel. Also been watching a lot of videos with Andrew Schepps.

He is the only guy I have really watched who said that he doesn't really follow the old methods or try to hang on to the old skool ways because, There is a better way with the new technology. (ie, in the box)

Now I am not knocking anyone who wants to still go all outboard and analogue, I have a mate who loves that method.

Ok, Back to the mixbus....
I always run a mixbus and route all my tracks and subgroups to it. But heres the thing, I have a limiter plug in on the mixbus and like to switch it in and out during the mix process so I get a feel for what might pop out on my mix.
Once my mix is very nice and balanced, I add all my mastering plugs onto the mixbus and do the business, sometimes, going back into the mix.
A lot of peeps won't like this approach but it works for me and seems a very flexible workflow.

So yeh, master bus compression, hell yeh, But no more than 4db's for me. I use it right after the Linear phase EQ to Glue the Mix (Basically smooth the mix a little more) I use my native instruments version,

I guess what I am saying here is that I feel the whole process was split into individual skills as that was the only way back in the day, These days we can have it all and should jump at the chance to exploit it to our advantage.

Anyway, Remember , My way not the highway...there are a lot of methods.

Enjoy.
Andy

Boydie

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« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2019, 07:14:00 AM »
@Cawproductions

I am not seeing the “can of worms”? - we are basically all saying the same thing and embracing the blurring of the lines

This approach is basically what we have been saying:

Quote
I always run a mixbus and route all my tracks and subgroups to it. But heres the thing, I have a limiter plug in on the mixbus and like to switch it in and out during the mix process so I get a feel for what might pop out on my mix.
Once my mix is very nice and balanced, I add all my mastering plugs onto the mixbus and do the business, sometimes, going back into the mix.
A lot of peeps won't like this approach but it works for me and seems a very flexible workflow.

You have still split your process in to “mixing” - and then when everything is mixed and balanced you move on to “mastering”

But, like myself and @cowparsleyman you are embracing the “blurring of the lines” and May go back an tweak the mix whilst “mastering” and even consider the “mastering” whilst mixing

I complete agree and endorse this approach BUT for someone learning this stuff IMHO think it is still better to learn how to “mix” first and then learn about “mastering” as separate disciplines before blurring them
To check out my music please visit:

http://soundcloud.com/boydiemusic

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BoydieMusic

cowparsleyman

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« Reply #6 on: May 01, 2019, 07:54:09 AM »
@Cawproductions & @Boydie - A most interesting chat, nope no worm can for me either, Do your thing Andy, and if you and your clients (and their fans) like what you do then that's cool Man.

The master buss is a great place to make some lovely enhancements, but it a place where you can easily balls it all up, so if there are any forum members reading this, Trust your ears, rather than feeling you have to use your latest EQ plugin because Miss XYZ uses it in LA and she has 3 trillion followers and it cost you 300 bucks, if it sounds better without anything the go with that. Once I feel the mix is there or thereabout I'll enable my Master Buss plugins and usually it's doesn't take long to be happy with it, it's often makes me smile when I stick that master bus compressor on it, completes the genre in my view, that is, make you want to dance on EDM, Jump about for punk, Cry on sad acoustic numbers, to me that's where it all happens (except on LVox when the choice of compressor, EQ and EXACT level with respect to the Instruments is to me the most important thing)

I've only just started using EQ on the master buss and I'm still a little uneasy about it as it affects everything I took so much care to get right in the mix, that's why I'm using a non dynamic EQ with M/S capabilities (Elysia Museq) rather than a fab filter or Waves F6, its VERY clean and clear, and doesn't colour, and I like the way it sounds, I'll not hesitate to drop it if I'm not convinced.

Boydie - you put me onto the Waves SSL master buss comp, (Thanks Man) and I've used it on nearly everything last year, just superb, but blimey the bx_townhouse compressor is also great, and is one to try, different not better.

Schepps Omni channel, yeah, a good plugin indeed.

Guys, just a coupe of questions, nearly related...do you use stereo master buss compressors on any of your subBusses? Drums maybe? BVox? Do you use different master buss compressors for different genres too (The ACME opticom XLA3 - needs quite a bit of taming, but therefore is great for when tame isn't what one needs).
Do you use Transient manipulators like SPL or TransX on Acoustic Gtrs or drums? had to use one the other day on a Classical Gtr that was way too plucky on rest strokes, that tamed it beautifully.

Wandering off the point a bit here....As you say Boydie, you can't polish a richard, if that's what your given as a wav to Master, but you can buff it up nicely if you have access to the desk, I bet you think very often, "give me the mix and I'll sort it right there", so as a 3rd Party Mastering Engineer, you try hard to give it a shine. If howeever you have a great mix, then Bingo!






Boydie

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« Reply #7 on: May 01, 2019, 10:55:49 AM »


Quote
Guys, just a coupe of questions, nearly related...do you use stereo master buss compressors on any of your subBusses? Drums maybe? BVox?

The caveat to all of the following answers is "it depends" - but generally I would usually use a VERY light compressor on submixes if I want to "glue them together"

By this I mean if I want them to gel together in a nice harmonic way - eg tight backing vocals/harmonies

If there are a bunch of backing vocals I may choose to group together some "oohs & aaahs" and process them as a sub-buss (eg EQ and compress the individual tracks to taste and then glue them together with an overall EQ and very light compression so they share a common dynamic movement) but I may also choose elements of the backing vocals that I don't want glued with the rest so will route them through a different sub-bus

Quote
Do you use different master buss compressors for different genres too (The ACME opticom XLA3 - needs quite a bit of taming, but therefore is great for when tame isn't what one needs).

Yes, but do tend to lean towards the SSL bus compressor. I do also like the Waves SSL channel strips (G & E) with one of them being a little more "aggressive" so suits heavier styles better. I also regularly use the CL2A and CLA76, which both suit different genres but are always worth trying out

Quote
Do you use Transient manipulators like SPL or TransX on Acoustic Gtrs or drums? had to use one the other day on a Classical Gtr that was way too plucky on rest strokes, that tamed it beautifully.

I now tend to use detailed manipulation of automation envelopes to either tame or enhance transients - it does take longer but IMHO is time well spent to be able to manipulate transients EXACTLY how I want them on a "transient by transient" basis

If there is a consistent issue (snare is too cracky, harsh cymbals, too much attack on plucked guitars etc.) I would use a transient shaper mainly to enhance/reduce attack or

Quote
Wandering off the point a bit here....As you say Boydie, you can't polish a richard, if that's what your given as a wav to Master, but you can buff it up nicely if you have access to the desk, I bet you think very often, "give me the mix and I'll sort it right there", so as a 3rd Party Mastering Engineer, you try hard to give it a shine. If howeever you have a great mix, then Bingo!

This is a really interesting point

My mantra is definitely "You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter"  :o

A great mix will lead to a great master - and the difference is usually really subtle and often hard to define

However, I personally specialise in making poor mixes sound amazing a professional - which I find particularly rewarding, especially when someone has a recording for long ago and all they have is a stereo master. I have developed some techniques to do amazing things with just a stereo WAV!!!
To check out my music please visit:

http://soundcloud.com/boydiemusic

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BoydieMusic

Cawproductions

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« Reply #8 on: May 01, 2019, 03:52:28 PM »
Hi Guys,

So I guess we agree , we all know the difference between mastering and Mixing but we are doing a bit of each as we go, Ok, I am not saying that I am mastering as I go along  BUT as I mix, I am very conscious of my final mastering process.

I have been using the Master bus comp on my own vocal lately, right on the end of the chain just to make the vocal sit in the mix a little better. I am a fan of the multiple compressor approach, ie, 1176 style followed by a slow La2a style to smooth things. Also I Comp before I EQ (don't want to get into that conversation) but sometimes the master bus on a channel can sound nice.

On the topic of transients. Yes, Sometime on solos and harsh snare cracks, I haves used a transient designer but like Boydie, I do a lot of automation and and Compression techniques.

I have literally watch hundreds of hrs of video and read a lot about different techniques so there defo is not only one way to skin a cat here.

I am no pro and certainly do not profess to know everything but love the art and science behind all this.

Interesting chat.

Andy