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Mastering Music Production

What’s In My Mastering Chain in 2021

Since the beginning of lockdown I had some more time to work on polishing music so I decided to take the dive into self mastering. I did some mastering in the past but never considered myself a mastering engineer. Now that I’ve been writing a lot more music, I like to be able to control every aspect of the chain all the way till the end. So here is a breakdown of my chain fof 2021.

The Setup

So this is a bit odd, but I do most everything in Abelton, in the same session. So I’ll producer, mix, and master all in one project. Does it destroy my CPU? Yes. Is it convenient? Also yes. I like doing this because I can fix things in the mix without having to re open a session and re-export every time I want to change something. This way, I don’t have to do that much heavy handed changes in the mastering chain.

The Mastering Chain

Eq -> Compress -> Saturate -> Clip -> Limit

First in line is EQ. My go-to is Fabfilter ProQ3. I use it to gently roll of the side channels in the low end and sometimes add a little bit of side boost with the high end. I’ll occasionally do some minor cuts, but I’d rather go look in the mix and cut it directly on that instrument. I also may do some bumps for presence or bass. I never do any sort of harsh eq moves here.

Next compression. My current choice is Plugin-Alliance Shadow Hills compressor. Usually very light, only for glue. No more than 1db of reduction here. I’ll toggle some of the settings around and see what sounds good.

Next, saturation. Currently using Sonnox inflator. A little goes a long way here. Just play with the 2 sliders until I get something I like.

Clipping stage is next, and I use Standard Clip. Depending on the mix I can clip quite a bit of db here. I always have it in Pro mode, with 8 or 16x over sampling. The clipper allows the heavy loudness processing to split between the clipper and the limiter, instead of having the Limiter do everything.

Finally Fabfilter Pro-L2 for final limiting. Usually, slow attack, fast release, and low look ahead. I don’t really mind inter sample peaks, so I keep the true peak at almost 0db.

Utilities

After the actual processing chain, I add a few utilities. Metric AB from plugin alliance helps me quickly a/b different mixes. TC electronic Clarity M gives me an additional meter that doesn’t take up screen real estate. Finally I’ll add Sonarworks to do some room correction.

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