Q&A with David Glenn: Mastering
Super excited, today we’re talking about mastering. A few weeks ago, I announced that I was going to be launching a Podcast/videocast type deal. With all the work I put into themixacademy.com, this podcast has gotten pushed off a little bit, but it’s still coming your way. I had a great question that I didn’t want to leave out there any longer, and it’s from Soren the Desperado Studios.
He writes in:
“What’s up, Mr. Glenn? Looking forward to the podcast. I really enjoyed the interview that you did over at Home Recording Weekly. Very inspiring how you’ve arrived where you’re at and the way you manage to make music professionally in a home environment.”
Thank you very much, Soren, I appreciate that. Shout out to Kern over at Home Recording Weekly, great guy.
“The first question is I know that you do your mastering on the Master fader in your mix sessions (the 2buss). I was curious how you handle an album or an EP with mastering? Do you still master the same way, and if so, how do you make the tracks cohesive and balanced against each other, when or if you master each track in isolation?”
That’s an incredible question, which is why we’re doing this tutorial, because I thought it was worthy of it’s own video.
The next part is:
“I know that you check your mixes on different speakers, but seeing as how you’re mixing primarily on headphones, I was curious whether you ever do a part of your mix flow while listening in mono? I’d like to think that my mixing improved when I started mixing in mono, but I’ve always noticed a discrepancy between the home studio tutors and the big name professionals that intrigues me. The home studio teachers often swear by mono mixing, while guys like Andrew Scheps, CLA, Dave Pensado, they state quite clearly that they don’t give a crap about mono. I mean, what’s up with that?”
That’s funny. That’s a great question. I’m going to answer the second one first.
I respect the heck out of Graham, therecordingrevolution.com, Joe Gilder, home studio, home recording, home studio corner… Tons of guys out there that are doing a great job teaching and bringing incredible content your way. I don’t mix in mono, I’ve never tried it. I think I’ve never tried it because before I heard about mixing in mono, I heard Dave Pensado say that he didn’t give a crap about it, and that mixing in mono would be like making movies for black and white TVs. He just doesn’t think about it. I think I quoted him pretty clearly on that.
So, for me, I don’t, but I don’t bash it. If you mix in mono, if you give it a shot, and you feel like you gained something from it, then by all means, try it, use it, if you like it, don’t feel like because a top professional – I’m sure there are top professionals that DO mix in mono and get great results, so I wouldn’t just throw it out the window because you hear online teachers saying one thing, and then you hear maybe some of the top professionals saying another.
Give it a shot, if it works for you, go by it, but if you give it a shot and you don’t like it, you’ve got proof that it’s not necessary.
Just a taste thing. By all means, all the stuff we talk about with mixing and mastering, it’s a taste thing. I hope that answers that question.
The first part, I really want to go over because this is something that I’ve had a reason slice of humble pie with. The mastering situation. He’s right, I do use kind of a mastered 2buss situation. I run things through several layers of plug-ins. We’ll link to that video so you can check that out, and I probably need to update it, but my 2buss is layers of processing for analog character, we’ll call it. A little bit of tape saturation, a little bit of multi-band compression, and then towards the end, we’ve got limiting. If I’m mixing a record at one time, I’ve got all the files, I’m in control, the deadline is go, I will do my best to have each bounce of all those songs to be mastered when I’m bouncing them.
The only situation I’ll be careful with that, is if I’ve got a record where there’s multiple genres within the record, some cohesiveness may still be desired by the artist or the producer to afford those final masters for it to all kind of gel, so if you’ve got like a pop/EDM type vibe going on, and they want it smashed at -6dBFS RMS or whatever, really hot, then I’m going to treat that song differently than I will if they have a pop-rock/acousticy type song, and that happens all the time on records that I mix in kind of a modern pop world. So maybe I can get away with a little bit lighter, -8dBFS kind of deal. So there’s a little bit of a difference there.
Well, if they want those two songs on the final record to be cohesive, and I’m mastering it, then I’ll try to have that discussion with them so we don’t go to -6, but ultimately, there’s going to be some work to do on the end there, so I may not limit those down to -6 or -7 or -8 or whatever I’m going for when I’m bouncing the final mix. I’ll mix into that limiter, but I’ll maybe wait until a final mastering session to apply a more consistent vibe to all the tracks in the mastering session.
I’m blabbing about it, but hopefully this is answering it and helping you guys.
If I’m mixing a record all at one time, I try to shoot for -8 or so. -7.5, whatever. I try to do that consistently so that when I bounce those final mixes, they’re ready to go.
I just did a record for the very talented LaRue Howard***. It was a live Gospel type record. Every mix was bounced .1 away from each other RMS levels or LUFS using Ozone InSight at around -7.5, -8dBFS. That worked out great for that record.
Up in front of me is a record where that didn’t work out so great, and the reason why is because I mixed it over the course of 7 or 8 months. The first song I mixed, I was a very different mixing engineer than towards the end, and a lot of us up-and-comer guys are going to notice that you’re always growing, you’re always learning, you’re always kind of evolving. Even some of the top guys, the same kind of thing is going on, but for them, it’s less of an obvious way.
So the very first song that I mixed for these guys sounded very different. Let’s see if I can pull open a snippet.
Okay, so that’s very different than this.
[different song is played]
Okay, so that one’s much brighter. It’s a little more of a happy tone, happy song. So, I’m not mad at it, but for the overall glue of the record, I wanted those to be a little bit more cohesive, so I give a little plug, that’s [???*** (appx 7:30)] I think that song… Yup, [???*** (appx 7:32)] is the song from November 2014, The Mix Academy. Give a little plug for that, you get to mix that record there.
But, let’s see here… The mastering process, I bit myself in the butt with this one. I bounced that mix, however long ago, at that RMS value. I crushed it, it was printed that way, and I didn’t give myself any headroom. Well, I got to the end of the record, and I mixed all of the songs with that final output being as hot as I wanted that record to be, and then I noticed that, wow, there’s kind of some inconsistencies here that I want to address in the mastering session.
So, when I imported these in, I noticed that song #1 just like we heard it, was a lot brighter and sort of a different vibe than song 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, whatever.
Well, how I addressed that was, I’m the mixing engineer, so I went back to the mixes and I bounced all those mixes all over again, and I left headroom. Then I came in here and used just the limiter of my chain. I removed the limiter of my chain, and then applied that in a mastering session, which is great. I love that workflow, I think that works incredible. But if I were to have sent these to a mastering engineer, I would’ve pissed them off. I probably would’ve embarassed myself, and if he wouldn’t have sent back and said, “hey, resend these,” the record may have suffered from it, and that would’ve been my fault, and I wouldn’t have wanted that to happen.
Let me give you a demonstration. I’m not going to give you the technical explanation behind this, but let’s come back here and let’s play a snippet. Guys like Eric Tarr and Matthew Weiss, Ian Vargo, they’re going to be a little more technically inclined to give you the science behind this, but let me delete this for now.
I want to take a look at the meter on the FabFilter Pro-Q2 when I hit play.
Okay, that’s a record I had the 2buss down by 1dB. Let’s find the chorus where it’s –
Okay, cool. So you can see that it’s going to -0.3, and that was my final limiter hitting the mix at the chorus.
Well, watch what happens whenever I instantiate just a simple high-pass filter at 25Hz. Watch what happens to this meter.
So before it, you saw…
It was -0.3. Now watch.
We’re clipping. It’s over. I can’t explain that, hopefully those guys will chime in. If you can explain it, please do in the comments below. But I didn’t give myself any headroom initially for this one, and the mastering engineer needs that. He needs some headroom so that he can apply EQ. All I did in this case was apply a low-cut. In my mind, I would think, “hey, I’m removing any of that sub stuff that I don’t want, why is it boosting the volume? It should be increasing the headroom and giving me more space to be able to put more stuff in,” but that’s not the case. Help me out, help me understand that.
So that’s that. The reason why I’m telling you this and asking you to explain it to me and going over this is because for me, myself, I had a slice of humble pie when I got to this.
Luckily, I was the mastering [sic] engineer, and I could go back, and I could bounce my mixes without the limiter on it, but so many times I hear guys saying, and I used to be one of them, “nah, I’m just going to send the mastering engineer the master with no headroom.”
This is why they need headroom. This is why whether you’re doing it, or the mastering engineer is doing it, you need to leave them some headroom so they have some room to do some stuff. If he goes in and he wants to take out a little bit of the tambourine that has a really harsh frequency, he goes searching for it, he finds it, for him to be able to do that, he needs some headroom. There’s probably a better explanation for that, but at the very root of it, hopefully that helps you to understand to leave some headroom.
If you’re mixing a record over several months, leave some headroom. Take that final limiter off when you bounce it so that you can kind of look at what you did at the beginning of that mixing process, towards the middle and the end, and help that record come to life and glue it together rather than it being all over the place and bright, and not bright, but anyways…
I’m rambling, I’m blabbing about it, I’ll leave the mastering stuff to guys like Ian Shepherd and the pros, but that’s my take on how I’m mixing, and hopefully that answers your question, Soren. I appreciate you sending that in. I got a little rambly there at the end, but man, if you guys have any questions you want answered like that, feel free to shoot me emails. David@davidglennrecording.com. Don’t forget to check out theproaudiofiles.com, and the new themixacademy.com where we’re going to go start to finish with mixes. We’ve got a private forum, exclusive tutorials, three, four, five tutorials each month, you’re going to get the session files, you’re going to mix the song, you’re going to watch me, learn from me, do it yourself, build up a resume, all kinds of great stuff, just $27 a month, and like always, like, subscribe, share these videos, it helps to bring you more content, and we’ll see you on the next one!