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How do you master subtle/quiet music?
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Amber_tron
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18th November 2012
Old 18th November 2012
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How do you master subtle/quiet music?

Apologies if this thread is already somewhere or the question has been answered to death, but my searches weren't giving me anything back. Hopefully I can get some answers and the knowledge to improve my mastering techniques. If anyone can also point me in the right direction where this may have been answered, please do

The situation: I have recently recorded, mixed, helped to produce and 'mastered' an EP for a client. Usually I only take on one or two roles, rather than risking project and listening fatigue but this was a paying job I couldn't turn down. The style is Flamenco influenced folk music, played and sung very quietly. I've never mastered what I would call 'quiet' music, and although I have used pretty much the same processing tools (and even mics/preamps) throughout the project, I am struggling to achieve a sense of continuity between the songs on the EP. This is something I've never encountered during mastering louder styles of music.

I guess what I'm asking is; How would I go about mastering an EP for CD when the playing is so subtle?

Thanks in advance.
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18th November 2012
Old 18th November 2012
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No comments? I'll check back in the morning. I've mastered the EP to the best of my current ability and set up, I'll give it fresh ears tomorrow.
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18th November 2012
Old 18th November 2012
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I've done a few classical guitar recordings and mastered them as well.
First in the stereo recording chain is a noise gate for silences with matched pair of sd condensors. On the stuff I recorded I was able to get a consistant level level but as usual a limiter in place for safety.

Mastering was simply best done with a limiter to increase gain in my case and catch any overs first and slight cuts in an EQ and only a gentle use of compression barely working just to smooth some resonances.

Try the limiter first.

Ideally you want as little processing as possible to preserve the emotional content in the music but raising the gain will add noisefloor even when well captured. If you have to use restoration tools apply these on a printed processed track first to bring up the noise, then put the settings on a copy of the original track. The redo the processing. Combine to bring up the level versus keeping the floornoise acceptible.
Good luck
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18th November 2012
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Brilliant info, thank you for that. Luckily for me the client wanted a lot of ambience on the recordings, achieved with a mix of location sounds and my own field recording work. At the moment most of my processing is carried out ITB with minimal outboard processing.

What I wanted to avoid was simply turning it up, but maintaining a competitive volume. I lost a lot of 'air' within the track, but the client is very happy with the results I've mailed over tonight.

What are you using for limiting Jinks?
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19th November 2012
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Imaging you're watching a live performance. There's an inherent continuity to the way the instruments are played and how loud they are. If a song is played loudly it will feel louder than a song played softly - regardless of what any meter says. Consider the musical events and how they feel relative to all other songs.
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19th November 2012
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85% of what i master is quiet/subtle/ambient music. the consensus with my clients is that mostly the levels go up to a "louder" level than the recordings... far from slamming them.. but loud enough to be similar to other recordings in the same vein.

this genre has been my domain for well over a decade.. field recording music, minimalism, ambient, etc. and we always err on the side of quieter. we'd rather have someone turn up the album than make them turn it down. the ideal listening volume is much quieter than most other musics, so it's good sometimes to deliver it that way.

you say you're having trouble with a sense of continuity in the master... are there some songs that are loud and others quieter? what exactly is giving you the continuity problem?

you do definitely want to keep the emotional state of the music intact.. which i think is a result of less compression and absolutely no slamming of the volumes. use a limiter only to catch the occasional peak.. less than a dB of limiting..

it is important though to at least be close in volume to other releases in the genre, so if you can check against those it might be a good idea.

but, overall, just be natural and true to the music.. as with any master, do what it needs and do what sounds best.. just don't turn what's a subtle and tasteful performance into something you're slamming down the listener's throat.
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19th November 2012
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Great answers guys, I have avoided completely slamming the tracks into the limiter. A majority of the time the limiter isn't touched, set to -0.3 so it won't be as loud as can be anyway. I did add some extremely slight parallel compression as the guitar recordings were initially reading in around -30dB. This just helped fill out the sound in general.

I'm struggling to explain the lack of continuity, it's not down to the usual suspects as mentioned before the songs were all recorded using the same gear on the same day. I have a slight feeling this could be down to my processing though, due to a lack of knowledge with such a project but at least I can say I'm learning.

I think I was asked to do this project because of my background in ambient music and field recording work which was helpful.

A final check against the clients recommended listening material showed what I have done sounds more immediate and fuller, but not to the point of being over powering to the listener.

Thanks guys, really appreciate this information.
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19th November 2012
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How does one master quiet subtle music? Highpass. 20 db of gain. Clip on the way back in. Your subtle problem is now solved, and your track will keep the party rockin' in da club.

...What do you mean, I missunderstood? You must have a bigger subtle problem than I thought. Ok. We can get through this. Highpass, multiband comp, 24 db of gain, clip on the way in.

And don't worry. I won't tell anybody that your song used to be subtle before we fixed it.
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19th November 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheebs Goat View Post
How does one master quiet subtle music? Highpass. 20 db of gain. Clip on the way back in. Your subtle problem is now solved, and your track will keep the party rockin' in da club.

...What do you mean, I missunderstood? You must have a bigger subtle problem than I thought. Ok. We can get through this. Highpass, multiband comp, 24 db of gain, clip on the way in.

And don't worry. I won't tell anybody that your song used to be subtle before we fixed it.
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19th November 2012
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Context is everything in mastering. Think about what people will be listening to before and after.
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19th November 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
Context is everything in mastering. Think about what people will be listening to before and after.
I fully agree and I'm enjoying getting into this area of work. The client "wants to be heard and stand out", also hinting to up the volume when hearing the initial mixes before mastering. I'll use the less pushed of the masters for my portfolio and the louder masters can be duplicated. He is a paying client after all...
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19th November 2012
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as you said subtle & quit would be my approach , looking for tone and depth , trying to center the performance , but let the music do the work .. trying to find the level your client is happy with, try to sit together if you can .. and enjoy .. more focus on QC and nice flow, quality work, good fades , gentle denoise ... delicate de-clicking etc. making a great master.
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19th November 2012
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I'm do glad noise wasn't an issue with this project as all the songs include ambience both from the recording sessions and what was added later. I don't think I'll ever attempt a project like this without being away from surrounding noise.

I always find that noise reduction on the master channel is hit and miss. If it can't be fixed in the mixing stage it makes me worry.
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