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How do you treat your project's mix buss when planning to master the track yourself?
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NBarnes21
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29th December 2012
Old 29th December 2012
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How do you treat your project's mix buss when planning to master the track yourself?

Pretty much as the title states. I'll start off by saying that I am no masterer- I own the waves masters bundle with the Lin MB, Lin EQ, L2, and S1 Imager/Shuffler. A mixing class I took online had a small part covering mastering but it's an intimidating and crazy task to me. However, I'd like to understand it better going forward.

My question is this- I'm doing a project where I'm writing, recording, performing, mixing, and (taking a stab at) mastering everything myself. When mixing I typically have Slate VCC and VTM on the mix buss, as well as some light compression (almost always) and light EQ (when it's needed, usually Lin EQ). I also throw an L2 on there when bouncing to reference the mix against other material.

Given that I have all that going on in the mix buss during mixing, how do I go about being objective in the mastering process and which effects should I be saving for the master? Besides limiting, should I also wait for mastering to do light mix buss EQ ing? I mix into VTM from the get go on the mix buss usually- would it be wrong to then again pop it on the master track when mastering? I know I'll need to be matching levels across multiple songs, but just don't want to be redundant in processing my mix buss/ mastering track, and want to use the optimal effects for each step.
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29th December 2012
Old 29th December 2012
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Your mix buss should be clean when exporting your final mix for mastering. You can add some subtle multiband compression if you feel like you want to stabilize your mix a bit, but really, your master buss should be clean when exporting your final mix.
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29th December 2012
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Leave everything off the master buss while mixing and create a mix you are absolutely 100% satisfied with. You should feel as if your mix cannot get any better (besides how loud it is). When you've reached that point, save it, and don't listen to it again for one or two weeks. I've found that in "self-mastering" this is the only way to gain somewhat of a fresh perspective on your mix again. If you are doing an entire album and need to reference your mix in the context of the album, mix the album and put the whole thing away for a couple weeks.

If you try to master your own material right after the mix process, you'll be chasing your own tail.
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29th December 2012
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I do not ever put any processing on the main buss, regardless of who's mastering it. I also never touch the master faders. Mastering is all about working with the whole collection of songs in context, so I'll get what I think is an ideal mix with only processing I think is necessary for the individual tracks. 95% of the time, I need SOME EQ come mastering time, so why bother having on the main buss if I have to do it again later? You can't undo compression if you find it isn't perfect, so you're stick with it if it's on the main buss of the mix. There's quite a few people who do it, but it's not for people who aren't absolute experts.
Also, if you find yourself using multi-band compressor while you're still in the mixing stage, you probably can't mix well... sorry.
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29th December 2012
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Wasn't it fairly standard practice to run your mix through that bus compressor on the ssl before sending it to mastering?
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30th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StringBean View Post
Wasn't it fairly standard practice to run your mix through that bus compressor on the ssl before sending it to mastering?
No, not always. I would sometimes add the tiniest bit of compression, mix depending, but the compressor on the desk has a VERY defined sound and effect on a mix. It's sometimes hard to be subtle with it, because even with just a dB of compression you could still hear it, and in more ways than one.

When i use bus compression, i usually go more for a little tightening up so to speak, binging the low end into focus, or just adding the tone of the unit onto the mix. As soon as i sense any lift in density from the compressor, i tend to back off. This is often where you screw things up for mastering. Because the act of bringing up a mix to hotter levels will bring a certain amount of density on it's own. And when you factor in the density from bus compression, after mastering the whole thing can get a bit spongy sounding.

Same goes for multiband compression, but can bring in other elements that can get pulled out of sorts in mastering. It further ties your hands. With that said, sometimes i'll ad a dB or two tops of gain reduction in the uber bottom end via one band only. And this is because i've exhausted every other option in the mix, and it's just not coming together the way i want it too. And then a little touch of bottom end compression can just do the trick.
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30th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StringBean View Post
Wasn't it fairly standard practice to run your mix through that bus compressor on the ssl before sending it to mastering?
It depends on the engineer. I'll state, though, that hobbyists and beginners don't generally mix on SSLs. That kind of budget was generally reserved for people who REALLY ARE experts.
NBarnes21
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30th December 2012
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Thanks for the responses so far. I can definitely see the benefit of waiting a couple weeks before mastering to gain some level of objectivity. I've always thrown a really mild compressor on the bus when starting to mix, just a DB or two of reduction to glue things together a smidge from the get go. Also have been really enjoying using Slate VCC and VTM from the get go, including on the mix buss- it really gels stuff together and is a really great starting point to mix into. So I wonder how that will fit into the mastering equation. Maybe it will just leave less to be done in mastering, because I've been pretty pleased with the mixes I'm getting.

And I've never used a multi band comp on the mix buss when mixing- IMO that's only for subtle drum group shaping during mixing or cleaning up in mastering.
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30th December 2012
Old 30th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NBarnes21 View Post
I've always thrown a really mild compressor on the bus when starting to mix, just a DB or two of reduction to glue things together a smidge from the get go. Also have been really enjoying using Slate VCC and VTM from the get go, including on the mix buss- it really gels stuff together and is a really great starting point to mix into. So I wonder how that will fit into the mastering equation. Maybe it will just leave less to be done in mastering, because I've been pretty pleased with the mixes I'm getting.
If your mix buss chain is integral to the sound of the mix, do not remove it and expect the mastering engineer to recreate your magic! If you love your compression and EQ, commit to them. Your balances may change if you remove them, depending of course on how liberally you applied them.

That said, I suggest you mix without a peak limiter.

To put things in perspective, I've been in this game for a long time, so I'm very confident in my skills. I have a clear vision before I start working. I begin most mixes with a compressor on the mix buss and additional compressors and EQs on the submixes (busses) that feed the mix buss. I already know how I will set them before I start the mix, then I employ the appropriate gain staging techniques to make the gear operate in the sweet spot, where it was designed to sound best. Even though each of the compressors and EQs may be doing less than 1 dB of GR or boost, they add up to something that would completely change the vibe and balances of the mix if they were removed. I spot check the mix with a peak limiter during the process, and I print two versions of the final main mix: with and without limiting...so that the mastering engineer has a point of reference, re: what the artist likes.

The thing that fascinates me is that a *great* mastering engineer can usually beat my limited version, by making the unlimited mix louder while retaining the illusion of dynamic range.

I've learned that mixing and mastering are in some ways polar opposites: a mix must be *exciting* and a master must be *portable* (translatable to multiple listening environments.) I want the mix to be emotionally unruly and visceral; my mastering engineers want the master to be technically controlled.

Long story short, if you know what you're doing with your mix buss chain, go for it (minus the limiter) and simply give the mastering engineer (even if that's you!) enough headroom to make your great mix sound even better.
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NBarnes21
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30th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mu6gr8 View Post
If your mix buss chain is integral to the sound of the mix, do not remove it and expect the mastering engineer to recreate your magic! If you love your compression and EQ, commit to them. Your balances may change if you remove them, depending of course on how liberally you applied them.

That said, I suggest you mix without a peak limiter.

To put things in perspective, I've been in this game for a long time, so I'm very confident in my skills. I have a clear vision before I start working. I begin most mixes with a compressor on the mix buss and additional compressors and EQs on the submixes (busses) that feed the mix buss. I already know how I will set them before I start the mix, then I employ the appropriate gain staging techniques to make the gear operate in the sweet spot, where it was designed to sound best. Even though each of the compressors and EQs may be doing less than 1 dB of GR or boost, they add up to something that would completely change the vibe and balances of the mix if they were removed. I spot check the mix with a peak limiter during the process, and I print two versions of the final main mix: with and without limiting...so that the mastering engineer has a point of reference, re: what the artist likes.

The thing that fascinates me is that a *great* mastering engineer can usually beat my limited version, by making the unlimited mix louder while retaining the illusion of dynamic range.

I've learned that mixing and mastering are in some ways polar opposites: a mix must be *exciting* and a master must be *portable* (translatable to multiple listening environments.) I want the mix to be emotionally unruly and visceral; my mastering engineers want the master to be technically controlled.

Long story short, if you know what you're doing with your mix buss chain, go for it (minus the limiter) and simply give the mastering engineer (even if that's you!) enough headroom to make your great mix sound even better.
Great post, thanks for the info
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30th December 2012
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I'm with mu6gr8 on this one.

Do whatever you feel is right on the mix-buss from your mix. If you like to mix into compression, tape or EQ, then have at it!!
When it comes to all buss processing I think it pays to make all your decisions based on how it sounds, not how loud you can make it or to try to second guess the mastering process.

A little bit of limiting can even be OK if you are just using it to tickle a few stray transients. Some people mix into a limiter all the time and that is part of their sound - it's generally not wise to limit hard before mastering but if the whole mix has been designed in that context, then it's not REALLY the ME's decision to tell you it MUST be removed. That's something to work out between you, and perhaps you could send it with and without but don't be bullied into changing something you instinctively feel is right.

Ultimately, I think the best course of action is to print the mixes exactly how you like them, and then send them off to your ME ahead of time and see what they say. You can tell them how you've treated each track if you like, and they can advise you before the session if any changes might be beneficial.
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31st December 2012
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I would probably mix with nothing on the master bus at all with exception to a very small amount of very high quality compression which suits. Get it sounding hunky dory with that and mastering should be very easy.
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NBarnes21
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5th January 2013
Old 5th January 2013
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Thanks for the responses all, so far seems like a matter of opinion. I know what I like on my mix buss so I guess when mastering ill just take that into account and probably end up doing less in that phase
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5th January 2013
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If you know you are not going to send it off to a mastering engineer, I would say put whatever the freak you want on your masterbus. All these little rules people make up about what you should or shouldn't have were is all completely 100% taste prefrence and opinion.
You might find it more liberatirng to mix into your L2, or you might find that its hard to get a good mix because you'll have a tendancy to try and cram everything into it.
I bet like most anything, you try different things, have some periods of hair pulling frustration and moments of blissful ah-ha moments.
What opened up my mind was hearing some well respected and talented engineers say their goal is when they do a mix and it gets sent to the mastering engineer, that the mastering engineer will have nothing to do.

Why wait to fix it in the mix? Fix the source and those mics! Why wait to get it how you want it to sound till mastering?

All this being said I personally don't like super compressed songs, but mixing with a limiter on your mix bus isn't wrong or bad, its just a different workflow, and doesnt automatically mean your mixes are going to be over compressed.

Otoh if you know your getting your stuff mastered, go ahead and put whatever the freak you want wherever, limiter eq, multiband comp, do a pass, but then bypass them and do another pass to give the ME some options.
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5th January 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by abechap024 View Post
If you know you are not going to send it off to a mastering engineer, I would say put whatever the freak you want on your masterbus. All these little rules people make up about what you should or shouldn't have were is all completely 100% taste prefrence and opinion.
You might find it more liberatirng to mix into your L2, or you might find that its hard to get a good mix because you'll have a tendancy to try and cram everything into it.
I bet like most anything, you try different things, have some periods of hair pulling frustration and moments of blissful ah-ha moments.
What opened up my mind was hearing some well respected and talented engineers say their goal is when they do a mix and it gets sent to the mastering engineer, that the mastering engineer will have nothing to do.

Why wait to fix it in the mix? Fix the source and those mics! Why wait to get it how you want it to sound till mastering?

All this being said I personally don't like super compressed songs, but mixing with a limiter on your mix bus isn't wrong or bad, its just a different workflow, and doesnt automatically mean your mixes are going to be over compressed.

Otoh if you know your getting your stuff mastered, go ahead and put whatever the freak you want wherever, limiter eq, multiband comp, do a pass, but then bypass them and do another pass to give the ME some options.
Discover your true inner potential!
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5th January 2013
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Mix buss processing is your friend. Try to achive your sound without thinking too much about the mastering process. Be happy with the resulting sound and send it over to your ME.

Just avoid clipping and brickwalling till death, leave some headroom on your master output and everything will be fine.
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7th January 2013
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Throw another hat into the ring for doing any processing you want on the mix buss. Sometimes I go with nothing, sometimes I go with some heavy squash.

I also like to toggle a limiter on and off as I mix just so I know none of my choices will come out lifeless on the other end... depending on if there is a chance it will reach for loudness or not.
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15th January 2013
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I'm a self do it aller on my own projects too. I've had success both ways, but its more time consuming to mix clean, wait, approach mastering fresh. Usually get a little better result though - most likely from a fresh set of ears removed from the creative process
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15th January 2013
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The only thing to leave off the mix buss is the final limiter.

The reason for this is that you can't know what the final level and eq. needs to be outside the context of a particular album or compilation the track may become a part of. The final level dictates which limiter and limiter settings will sound best.

I do generally put Ozone or PSP Xenon on with flat 24 bit dither enabled and the limiting disabled. (Ozone needs MBIT+ set to "high") I also record to -10 average with peaks to -6 so I'm never compensating for a studio's D to A and monitor system running out of steam.
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11th August 2013
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i have a question. I am in the same boat as the OP and i have been working this way for 5 years.

if i am recording, performing, mixing and mastering myself. (even if i do a shitty job at those things) If I use plugins when mastering my mixes after i have mixed them down what is the difference between just putting them on during the mixing stage?

it seems like i am able to hear what my final result will be better and adjust parts of the mix that i normally didnt hear in the same way without the bus compressor and limiter.
i know that maybe my whole work flow would change if i could afford to send music to a mastering house.
But for at home DIY songs i always put the waves L2 on my master bus when i am about 80% done with my mixing. it just makes so much more sense to me.
But i am definitely down to changing my approach, if anyone has any suggestions as to why mixing down my own tracks all the way, exporting, then making a new file to just put the L2 on it makes more sense.
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11th August 2013
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It makes sense if you have more than one track and you need to look at the larger picture (i.e. sequencing an album). It also helps to make you a better mixer, however frustrating it may be (going back and forth to your mix to achieve better balances)
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11th August 2013
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I usually mix into a small chain on the 2Bus. (Analog or Digital. Though in PT I use an AUX send pre-master fader to insert plugins. It seems to keep processing down and increase headroom overall.)

After several years of this way of thinking I'm used to working that way, mainly to keep monitors from ever popping by accident while controlling the dynamic range and apparent volume of the overall mix. Also it helps me with cutting and boosting key frequencies I usually cut without getting too aggressive at any one stage in the mix when it comes to using EQ.

I can mix without processing on the 2Bus, but overall it's not my thing anymore. That being said I pay a lot attention to gain-staging, headroom, and to keeping my adjustments light. (I am not really into radical aggressive anything, from EQ, to compression, even using multi-band compressors as expanders...it's how things interact in light shades that helps me achieve the balance I'm looking for...and more and more it matters less and less what gear or software I use to get to the sound in my head as I get older.)

I will say that it's rare for me to not EQ before compressing, AND after compressing. (Unless it's a final stage hard limiter.)

On releases where I'm mastering I strive for a coherent sound track to track above all else, and I try to encourage the mixing phase to make that easier to obtain those similarities if I'm not involved with it but find myself in the position to advise. If the tracks are coming from different mixers I might find myself doing some slight surgical pre-rendering before running a mastering chain in order to match volume, headroom, and keep the same essential keyed EQ and compression chains consistent.
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12th August 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
The only thing to leave off the mix buss is the final limiter.

The reason for this is that you can't know what the final level and eq. needs to be outside the context of a particular album or compilation the track may become a part of. The final level dictates which limiter and limiter settings will sound best.

I do generally put Ozone or PSP Xenon on with flat 24 bit dither enabled and the limiting disabled. (Ozone needs MBIT+ set to "high") I also record to -10 average with peaks to -6 so I'm never compensating for a studio's D to A and monitor system running out of steam.
Thanks for that Bob - wise words indeed.

To the OP - my philosophy, which I've learned over the shoulder of some great engineers, is that you're aiming for the perfect mix that all the ME has to do I'd make a bit louder.

We don't get there often of course, but that's the aim.

It should be the same when self-mastering. Mix the track as you want to hear it - if your track wants the sound of mix buss compression, mix into a compressor; if it doesn't, don't.

What you don't want to be doing is leaving any mix decisions to the mastering stage - how do you know your track is finished?!

Likewise with width - if you're self mastering you have no reason to need to use widening or any stereo processing like that at the mastering stage - just make things wider at the mix stage (and not through mixbuss processing, but through good mixing techniques!).

If you're mastering yourself, I really don't see any reason why you should need to do anything more than limiting and sequencing. Anything else, you can go back to the mix - and will probably have more control that way.

IMO.
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12th August 2013
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Originally Posted by Riccardo View Post
It makes sense if you have more than one track and you need to look at the larger picture (i.e. sequencing an album). It also helps to make you a better mixer, however frustrating it may be (going back and forth to your mix to achieve better balances)
This is it.

You (I) are writing, arranging, recording, mixing, hopefully trying to improve every time, so that when done, you can ideally fire up a blank slate new project with a only limiter, remove the extraneous headroom, and call it a day. Isn't that how it should work?

Its frustrating that each time, I need to go back to the mix to fix something so embarrassing and obvious, I can see how people get lazy and resort to quick fixes in the pre-master. It goes to show that when you're immersed in a mix, you cannot hear the problems well enough to make these sort of mastering judgments, like how much comp/EQ on 2 buss. Tail, be chased.

Its as easy as taking a day or 4 off, starting a fresh slate to remove yourself from the mix into a pre master mentality. That said, it is worth considering at which stage you choose to do this 2 buss "utility work". How much are you able to separate musical work from technical work? Can you be objective?

-I prefer to 'finish' mix, then take a few days remove myself from the mix.

-Set up a pre-mastering project, just to remove headroom

-Upload to something, Soundcloud. This is now a 80% removal from the song, once it's uploaded and audience available. You are now the audience. Listen. Its amazing how perspective change and honesty enters when you are out there naked (as opposed to clothed in your safe DAW home). Take a few days.

-NOW go back to the mix with new perspective, Remix as necessary.

-ONLY THEN do a proper premaster.


You need to remove yourself each step of the way, if you are a one man band.
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