Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Visual Audio Mastering In Logic Pro

Update in 2013: I no longer use the multipressor or Logic Audio. I've switched to Ozone for mastering. There are still some good techniques to boost your sound. Always be aware of your loudness/brightness curve and your dynamic range (covered in a different tutorial). For most uses Ozone is a better choice for mastering I've found, but if you don't have that, try this out.

Ever had a hard time mastering your final audio track?? Don't know how to set EQ or Compression even if your listening to it? - Chances are that you don't have the perfect environment for audio mastering. You may not be able to trust your ears, your speakers, or your room. Using this **VISUAL** method we will master a final audio track using only our eyes & Logic Pro!! You could even turn your speakers off and do it blind. Sound crazy? Its not.

Why this works: There is no perfect environment for listening to music in its purest form unless you have tons of money. The next best thing is learn to read the audio spectrum right off your computer.

Lets get started!!


Step One: Have your master track recorded already. LOOP the most important sections of your music. Make sure its longer than a few bars. If you haven't adjusted the levels of individual instruments before getting to this step then you need to. (Method: Crank up your music super loud and adjust each instrument level's).


Step Two: Put on a Multipressor, Channel EQ, and Limiter In this order on your audio track. Put a MultiMeter on your main output. Turn OFF the Limiter & EQ for now. (Option-Click)


Step 3: Double Click Multi-Pressor to open it up. Find a Preset that matches the style of music your making. I chose Final Pop Compressor, because It had sounded "classy". Turn OFF Autogain.

Step 4: With Multipressor still open, open up your Multi-Meter.


This is the visual part. We are checking the Multimeter's EQ spectrum to help us guide where to set our Multipressor's Crossovers! So you will have to have both on the screen at the same time.

I set the low end of my Multipressor's crossover to 90HZ. As you can see on the Multimeter's display there is a huge peak at 40hz which is the bass kick sound. Setting it at 90hz ecansulates this peak and seperates it from the snare which has a peak of 125hz (not shown). So we are putting it somewhere in the middle for clarity. Depending on your mix you will need to move your Multipressor Crossovers to where the most significant dips are in the EQ level spikes. These dips supposedly are where different instruments sit in your mix.


Do this step for all your Multipressor Crossovers! The low end is the most important to get just right.

Step 5: Set your Multipressor's Threshold settings: The trick to do this (I think) is to keep the two I/O bars leveled off nicely most of the time. Bring the top triangle cursor down till its compressing the audio, but not too much. I/O bars should be balanced & level most of the time. Just use your eyes, bring it down till it looks okay, and stop. If one side peaks significantly higher *always*, then retry.


In this picture you can see that we brought the top threshold down to a nice sweet spot that will kill hard peaks most of the time.

Step 6: Turn on your Chan EQ. (Option-Click if it was Off). Open it up.


Turn On the Analyzer Lines. This graph (squiggly lines) are what will get your EQ set properly on your master track.

Mixer levels transform data using math. Everytime you boost the EQ, or adjust the audio level slider, you stretch the digital dynamics. Increased amplification increases the noise floor and other artifacts. Decreased amplification is like decimation. I keep this to a minimum. All EQ boosts will be kept to +3db maximum. Subtractive can be as much as -8.0db or more (if needed). I use alot of subtractive EQ on the low end bass. At first this might seem counter-intuitive, but it is not. Just look at the analyzer lines!! The entire mix is low end heavy. Most music mix is, and thats okay.

What we are going to do is reduce the peaks surgically and also adjust the total curve to make the analyzer lines fall off in a smoother manner.

Step 7: Set your bass curve crossover. Reduce your bass!!! I have mine at 85hz with a wide Q setting to grab most of the low end. Presumably the crossover will be close to what you had set your Multipressor's crossovers. As you can see in the picture above, my bass is peaking to around +10 db. A huge part of the curve on the low end is just up too high. Before the adjustment of -8db it was hitting as high as +20db! Since the idea is to make the analyzer lines less steep & smoother we subtracted 8db of all that bass. We still have enough bass to get your woofer going, and now the end result is that our top end will sound immensely cleaner!!! Remember the subtractive bass method. You don't always want heavy sounding bass. Sometimes it sounds unprofessional, or that you were mixing on crap speakers.

Step 8: Put a surgical style EQ on your snare drum (if needed). Squash the peaks to a normal level.


In this picture you can see that besides the negative EQ curve we just set, there is a little dip around 200hz. This was to take the hard peak out of the snare drum a little bit. -3db was enough for my mix. Now the bass & snare hit are both hitting the same levels of +10db or so. Before this surgical adjustment on the snare, it was going up a bit too high, and higher than our bass kick.

So we set the EQ crossover to 192hz, set the gain to -3.0b, and the Q to a really tight 1.10.

Its important to have the Q setting really small when getting surgical on your snare levels (and other tight peaks)
Have snare & bass kick peaks will both hit at about the same levels, since they are both in the bass spectrum.
Get the low end smooth looking overall. Set the Q to match the size of the dips.
It may never look smooth, but what we are looking at is PEAK levels and making them all relative to eachother.

Step 9: High end dips. Give it a EQ Boost!!!


In the high end of your mixes you might see a section of the Analyzer line that often has a dip in it. Since we are working in the high end of the audio spectrum now we can take care of these dips with more surgical style EQ. Since we are going to be boosting, we don't want to use more than +3db to our master mix.

Get surgical on the largest dips you see in your high end.
Use +3b gain on them.
Set the Q to match the size of these dips.
Let the curve fall off naturally, but in a mathematical looking fashion (Like the half life of nuclear waste, or a sine wave algorithm). It just looks like its rolling off nice!

Step 10: Set the very high end EQ curve & boost it.

Since there is such a huge fall off of the entire mix, we boosted the very top end as much as we could without increasing the amount of noise & other distortions. +3db, again is a good idea. You might want to go up to +5db and set your crossover high or low, depending.

Tip: Go back to the Multimeter. Its another way to look at your EQ. If any section is peaking higher than everything else and its doing it often, then you can go back through these any of these steps. Peaks are normal, but not huge ones.

Everything rolling off nicely on your curve (most of the time)?? GOOD!

Step 11: The limiter.

Turn on your Limiter. Boost it up +2db or leave it at ZERO. Hopefully you got your song to the right amount of overall loudness **while** you were recording it into your computer! The limiter will account for any quick peaking in your mix. It also protects people's speakers during playback to a certain degree.

Tip: Don't boost your mix hard up into the top range during any part of the recording process. Slight peaking is okay during your initial setup, and song construction/recording, because you are taking care of it later with the limiter!!!

Now turn on your speakers and see what comes out!!! You can turn off your plugins with Option-Click to notice the difference. With the plugins all turned on, chances are that you will have a clearer, less irritating, professional mix that sounds good on any speaker system!

There I just saved some of you a ton of money on professional monitors. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. This is my personal mastering method, and I'm sure there are other ways to do it, but this is a very fast, tweaky method, that seems to work every time! Later!

Updated Oct 21/2010:

After a lot of misinformed, lazy criticism, from readers unknowlingly reconfirming my technique with their own statements, I updated some of the terminology I used. As a reminder, this tutorial is for putting the final touches on a master track. This is not for mixing.

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