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Mastering Your Own Music
Many of home music studio users all ask the question of is it better to get a professional mastering facility to master your tracks or do the job themselves? Well, Midiman doesn't claim to know it all about this subject, but I have heard many, who are professionals in the music industry say that it is possible to master your own. They also does not tell us that it is not a good idea to take it to a mastering professional, only that you can do a real good job at it if you know how to use "plug-ins" and if you have a handle on using EQ's and Compressors.
Okay! So just what is "mastering"? Mastering is the process of making all music tracks sound as they all go together or all was made at the same time. It is the process of getting them sounding at the same volume level and maximizing the overall loudness in them, as well as, spacing the tracks in time on the CD and making sure that there are no bad artifacts in the tracks before they are committed to CD. This is mastering in it's basic form. So, how would you as the home mastering guy/gal go about mastering your tracks?
Well, the first thing you will need is a good DAW(Digital Audio Workstation). I personally use Sonar by Cakewalk-this is where I record, mix, and sometimes master my tracks. You can also get applications like "T-Racks", "Adobe Audition", and a free application called "Audacity." I have heard some songs that were mastered using this free application and I must admit, I could barely tell the difference between it and a commercial CD! It was totally awesome! The first step in the mastering process is EQing(Equalization). This is where you take each track and listen to it for bad frequencies and either boost or cut them to make the track smooth. What you are doing on each track is making room in the stereo spectrum for all of your instruments. You don't want them fighting for the same sonic space, so therefore you move the frequencies and pan the tracks to allow room for each other. The next step is compression. Compression is a process that many Home Studio users really don't understand. The subject is far too great for me to cover it comprehensively in this article, but I will just tell you that never use too much of it. If you do, you will squeeze the life out of your tracks. Compressors are used to get the dynamic range of tracks more balanced. They make your low sounds audible just like the high sounds. In other words, they make the lows and highs in your tracks more evenly matched together and therefore you can hear a whisper as well as a shout! This is what compressors does in a "nutshell."
The last step in the mastering chain is "Limiting". Limiting is the processor that keeps all your signals below 0db. Now if you don't know what db is, you should not be trying to master. Hehehehe! Pun intended. DB means "decibles"-a measurement in sound level. In the digital world of recording, anything over "0db" is called clipping. When your tracks clips, this makes a nasty noise and is very annoying. This will ruin a project for sure and you cannot fix it in the mix. The only thing you can do about a track when you have all of these overloaded volume levels is to record the track over, period! The "Limiter" keeps this digital distortion from occuring by keeping all levels below a certain threshold that the user sets in it. After this stage, if all is well, you will have a final project ready to be burned to CD.
Well, we made it to the end! I have by no means touched all the aspects of mastering. I just wanted to give you, (the home user) a little information and let you know what can be done. My opinion from listening to a lot of professionals talk on this subject would be this-If you have the funds for it, get a professional to do your mastering. If your tracks are good and you are gonna try to sell them to the public, yours will need to meet or exceed the industry standards! I hope this article will help somebody make the right decision about mastering their music projects! Peace!
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