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mastering for techno on a budget
Old 8th October 2018
  #1
Here for the gear
 

mastering for techno on a budget

Hi all:

I have been producing for about 20 years now. Started at the bottom with hardware that I could afford and later moved up to some more semi-pro level stuff. Now I do everything on the modular; all my music is composed and mixed to stereo there live. During tracking, I use a mild limiter to avoid clipping, otherwise there are no dynamics processing during the mixing/tracking phase. Again, I do my mixes in the modular rack so stereo two-track is what I'm working with.

Long ago I used T-Racks mastering software to pretty good effect. That was my standard for years. Then About 5 or 6 years ago I started with some hardware. Here is my current chain:
  • Chamleon Labs 7720 compressor
  • ART Pro VLA II with Mullard NOS tubes
  • Aphex Dominator 720 multiband brickwall limiter

I also have an Aphex 320 Compellor and a BBE 882 sonic maximizer that I'm currently not using.

Last, I have also done a ton of work using the Waves Multi-Maximizer plug-in. That's how I have mastered probably my last year of work. I'm not sure how I feel about the Wave MM. It does make things loud for sure, but I feel like somehow my mixes are lacking. When I compare to commercial tracks that I admire, I feel like my apparent loudness is still slightly lower (maybe by 1dB?); it's not a ton but it's there. Also I don't feel like I have the clear frequency separation that I hear on the pro mixes. I feel like on the pro mixes, there is a certain 'crispness' to the production that I'm having trouble achieving.

Recently, I went back and did a track through the aforementioned chain of analog boxes and I felt like it came out pretty well. I am using the 7720 with a high-pass on the detector so it basically smooths out things about 150hz. The VLA is there to handle slower changes in program level, and the Dominator catches the fast transients. I get a pretty good sound out of this method but sometimes I feel like the listening dynamics are a bit questionable in the final mix. There doesn't always feel like consistency between different frequency levels.

So, I guess my questions are many! I have been doing production for a long time, so I feel like my mixes are generally pretty good. However, since I'm not using dynamic processing during mixing, I definitely need it in the post-mix phases. My monitoring is varied, but generally I stick to DT770's for a 'consumer/DJ'-style listen, and the DT990's for a 'home system' or more flat style presentation. I also audition on two pairs of monitors in a decent room (some treatment, but obviously not perfect. However no significant standing wave issues as far as I can tell). I used a Behringer DEQ with its matching microphone to shoot the room and the EQ didn't come back with anything crazy in its room correction (which I don't use anyway).

Since I've been doing this for a while, I do feel like I can trust my ears and my meters, however I can't help but feel a bit "beginner-ish" at the whole process.

Any thoughts on what I'm doing right or wrong?
Old 8th October 2018
  #2
Gear Nut
 

Hi,

If you are mastering techno, you can easily obtain a big sound because this genre doesn't rely on dynamics.

1- Make sure to cut EVERY useless frequency on each track (for exemple, the low mids on your hit-hat loop. Though you might think they are too quiet to mess up the mix, they actually add to each other and eventually create a muddy rendering.

2- Make sure your highest peak does not exceed -3dB on your master.

3- Apply a low cut of about -15dB between 20hz and 40Hz. It will allow you to push the volume harder.

4- If necessary, apply a stereo imager to your track. You can give little width to the lows, a medium stereo to the mids, and a huge stereo to the highs (above 10kHz). This way, it will control the lowest frequencies, enhance sound clarity and gives more power to your song. However, don't do it if you don't feel comfortable with that, it can ruin your mix. Ozone Imager's presets could be a great starting point.

5- Apply a big compression. Settings may vary, but try a transparent rendering:
attack: 10
release: 70
ratio: 1.20
make-up gain: 0.

Then push down your threshold until it starts to pump (you don't want any pumping, just stop right before). Then compare the volume before/after compression, and correct the volume loss with your make-up gain.

6- If you feel your mix lacks lows, add some with an enhancer (but keeps things subtle, you want to tweak, not to mix).

7- Then apply a limiter. Make sure to set the output ceiling at -0.1, and push the threshold down. The limiting should never apply more than a -6dB reduction. If you have a multimaximizer, you can set high priorities to the mid and high frequencies so as to avoid too much compression on these. You can also obtain a fatter sound by setting a long release.

8- Et voilà. Your track should sound loud & proud. Of course, keep in mind that #1 tracks you hear on Beatport are mastered in top-notch studios with hardware gear and badass clippers. So don't worry too much if you still lack 1 or 2 dB.
Old 8th October 2018
  #3
Lives for gear
 
FreshProduce's Avatar
Quote:
5- Apply a big compression. Settings may vary, but try a transparent rendering:
attack: 10
release: 70
ratio: 1.20
make-up gain: 0.
Apply a big compression on what, exactly? Each individual track? Master buss? Offering values for audio you have never heard before is extremely questionable imo. You have absolutely no idea what it sounds like. It sounds like you're suggesting values that worked for you at some point in your experience
Quote:
Make sure your highest peak does not exceed -3dB on your master.
Your mix shouldn't exceed -3db to allow adequate headroom for mastering. Leaving his master tracks at -3 would result in a quieter mix than he already has! (I'm aware some people leave only -1 to master and that's fine too)
Quote:
6- If you feel your mix lacks lows, add some with an enhancer (but keeps things subtle, you want to tweak, not to mix).
if your mix is lacking in the low end, something went wrong earlier in the process or there is a balance issue of some sort. I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to when you say 'enhancer', as this is a very general term and could apply to more than one thing. Actually, most of what you said was either extremely general, or unreasonably specific. If the OP has been producing for 20 years, I'd assume that you haven't really provided much help with the advice offered.

With that being said, OP if you could post an example of one of your master's, I'm sure you would receive some accurate advice pertaining to where your mixes are lacking. It's really hard to offer advice when we haven't heard any of your work.. there's simply too many factors involved in achieving that polished, 'crisp' sound you're comparing your mixes to.
Old 8th October 2018
  #4
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by FreshProduce View Post
Apply a big compression on what, exactly? Each individual track? Master buss? Offering values for audio you have never heard before is extremely questionable imo. You have absolutely no idea what it sounds like. It sounds like you're suggesting values that worked for you at some point in your experience
I'm talking about a compression on the master. As I write it, the settings I provide can't be taken for gospel. However, they are quite transparent and will likely work on most of his songs.


Quote:
Originally Posted by FreshProduce View Post
Your mix shouldn't exceed -3db to allow adequate headroom for mastering. Leaving his master tracks at -3 would result in a quieter mix than he already has! (I'm aware some people leave only -1 to master and that's fine too)
I'm referring to the mixdown. Of course, the master volume shall remain at 0dB.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FreshProduce View Post
if your mix is lacking in the low end, something went wrong earlier in the process or there is a balance issue of some sort. I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to when you say 'enhancer', as this is a very general term and could apply to more than one thing.
If the mix lacks of low end, yes indeed, something went wrong earlier. However, you can still fix this issue with an exciter.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FreshProduce View Post
Actually, most of what you said was either extremely general, or unreasonably specific. If the OP has been producing for 20 years, I'd assume that you haven't really provided much help with the advice offered.
Of course, my guidelines are general. I can't provide him with specific settings without hearing the song. But at least I give him a standard recipe with transparent settings that will make a great starting point. Then he only has to tweak the knobs.
Old 8th October 2018
  #5
Here for the gear
 

First off, thanks for the replies.

Like I said, I am using two different approaches for mastering, each of which is 'ok', but not the pro-level production I'm looking for. To that end, if there is some equipment or software (Ozone?) that would help me out, please let me know. I know you can't buy good results, but at the same time an FMR RNC is never going to match a Distressor, so I'm aware of both issues.

Back to my work-flow, and this is super-important to me, is that I basically do a 'live performance' on the modular (http://renkucorp.com/jf/pics/modular...G_1258_sm.jpeg). What comes out is a 2-channel stereo mix. I do compress the kick with an individual compressor to tame it a bit (the source is an 808 kick clone, which as you probably know, has a very sharp attack that needs to be tamed for a bigger sound). The whole mix, aside from the kick, is buss-limited. No more than 3dB of gain reduction usually. Helps me avoid clipping during live tracking but still record pretty hot. This limiter has a side-chain, but quite honestly I have had poor results trying to use the kick to side-chain the rest of the mix. It just never feels or sounds right to me, and I know the sound; that Daft Punk Alesis 3630 crappy compressor pumping.

The idea to high-pass everything is very interesting. See, I have a unique problem here in the sense that modular synthesis tends to create a lot of conflicting frequencies, and each part tends to take up a lot of sonic space. The modular can easily create frequencies that are below or above human perception.

I'm a little embarrassed to post my material here, but I guess we need a common page to work from. This isn't my best track in terms of content or anything, but it's fairly short and I used my typical processes to produce and master the track.

Here is the original: Conquest_Premaster_Normalized_for_feedback by Renku Corporation | Free Listening on SoundCloud

And here is my master: Conquest_mastered_for_feedback by Renku Corporation | Free Listening on SoundCloud

If soundcloud is not good enough for listening purposes, I can post the .wav files or .flac files on my website. Just let me know.

Thanks again for the suggestions and feedback.
Old 9th October 2018
  #6
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
if there is some equipment or software (Ozone?) that would help me out, please let me know.
I don't own Ozone, but I've tested it and it's great (especially the dynamic EQ, exciter and imager). To achieve a maximum loudness, you could check Waves L3-16 limiter. Also, Sonnox Inflator, is a wizard plug-in that make your lows sound loud & proud. If you use it, just apply a very gentle compression before applying it, otherwise your track would be over-processed.



Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
Back to my work-flow, and this is super-important to me, is that I basically do a 'live performance' on the modular (http://renkucorp.com/jf/pics/modular...G_1258_sm.jpeg).
Impressive machine!

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
I do compress the kick with an individual compressor to tame it a bit (the source is an 808 kick clone, which as you probably know, has a very sharp attack that needs to be tamed for a bigger sound).
You don't necessarily need to compress the kick. In techno, this part is absolutely crucial to the groove, and in my opinion it should alway prevail over the rest. As long as there is a good eq or sidechain on the bassline, its attack won't mess up with the song. But it's your artistic decision.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
The whole mix, aside from the kick, is buss-limited. No more than 3dB of gain reduction usually. Helps me avoid clipping during live tracking but still record pretty hot. This limiter has a side-chain, but quite honestly I have had poor results trying to use the kick to side-chain the rest of the mix. It just never feels or sounds right to me, and I know the sound; that Daft Punk Alesis 3630 crappy compressor pumping.
I advise you not to use the limiter' sidechain. Only use it with a decent compressor. To avoid a huge pumping effect, you can EQ the bassline and cut some lows from 20hz to 60hz. Only the bass should receive a sidechain. Except for special artistic decisions (for example a pad or vocal loop that would need to be "bumpy"), the other elements should not play within the kick's frequency range.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
The idea to high-pass everything is very interesting. See, I have a unique problem here in the sense that modular synthesis tends to create a lot of conflicting frequencies, and each part tends to take up a lot of sonic space. The modular can easily create frequencies that are below or above human perception.
Yes, cutting low frequencies everywhere (except for the bass and kick) will give so much air to your song.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
I'm a little embarrassed to post my material here, but I guess we need a common page to work from. This isn't my best track in terms of content or anything, but it's fairly short and I used my typical processes to produce and master the track.

Here is the original: Conquest_Premaster_Normalized_for_feedback by Renku Corporation | Free Listening on SoundCloud

And here is my master: Conquest_mastered_for_feedback by Renku Corporation | Free Listening on SoundCloud

If soundcloud is not good enough for listening purposes, I can post the .wav files or .flac files on my website. Just let me know.

Thanks again for the suggestions and feedback.
In my opinion, you should bring the synths volume down. Because of them, your lows sound very quiet. Also, your kick should have more impact, don't compress it, let it live and make space for it. Final advice: add more fx, especially cymbals, swoosh on the build-up and white noise on the drops. It will create more intensity. I have a lot of respect for musician such as you who create their sound from scratch, congratulations !
Old 9th October 2018
  #7
Here for the gear
 

Hey Donedeal0 thanks for the feedback and tips.

My kick compressor isn't really fast enough to deal with an 808's initial transient, so I think those should be making it through the mix, but maybe I should try playing with a little longer attack time and see if it helps.

I can see your point of the synths seemingly mixed too loud. I'm not sure if you felt that way about the original and the master; if so, just not the best mixing job from me. But if it was only the master, I have found that Waves Multi-maximizer tends to really boost the perception of loudness in the mid-range. I have the plug-in dialed back in the mid-range by about -2dB and a slight boost in the lows around +0.7dB. The plug-in has a 'priority' related to each of the 5-bands that it processes. I have increased the priorities on the low bands and slightly on the high bands, and decreased it in the mid-range. But like I said, if you feel it's a levels issue in the mix, not much to be done but live and learn.

The high-passing makes a ton of sense, I'm just nervous I don't have enough filters to do that! I might ask someone about making me a dedicated high-pass module, so I can pack like 6 hp filters into one module. Is there a slope you recommend? I was thinking -6dB non-resonant of course.

Thanks again for taking the time to listen and to make a detailed response, it is greatly appreciated. It's funny, you know I've been doing this for roughly 20 years (started age 16) and I'm still learning and still not that good at mastering!
Old 10th October 2018
  #8
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
I can see your point of the synths seemingly mixed too loud. I'm not sure if you felt that way about the original and the master; if so, just not the best mixing job from me.
I've listened to both versions. I maintain your synths are too loud (of course it's only my opinion). I advise you to follow the following mixing routine:

1- Put each track in solo. Remove their respective useless and annoying frequencies.
2- Compress your bassline with the following settings: ratio: 2.0, attack: 10, release: 70. Bring the threshold down until you feel its peak are in control. Put a sidechain on it and link it to the kick. (Feel free to move the knobs, this is only a starting point, albeit it should do a nice job as such).
3- Use the same compression settings for your synths. Let the pad, fx and drums dry. Add some stereo width to your synths if needed (and even to your bass if you want. I know it's a sensitive topic since 90% of sound engineers would go mad at the idea of adding stereo to low frequencies, but if your bass-kick relationship is well balanced it will sound great).
4- Then, select your kick in solo, and add one by one the next tracks while adjusting their volume in real time. Once the drums are perfectly balanced, adjust the bass volume. Finally, select the bass as a solo track and adjust the synths and pads according to it. It's easier this way. Settings the synths while the drums are playing is sometimes tricky.
5- Verify the song is sounding well balanced.
6- Now you can follow the mastering routine I've proposed above, or add a NY compression (aka "parallel compression") to your drums before. Please check a tutorial for this.

Finally, take a look at Reid Stefan videos, these are pure gold: YouTube he talks about sound techniques with a puppet and goes to the point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
But if it was only the master, I have found that Waves Multi-maximizer tends to really boost the perception of loudness in the mid-range. I have the plug-in dialed back in the mid-range by about -2dB and a slight boost in the lows around +0.7dB. The plug-in has a 'priority' related to each of the 5-bands that it processes. I have increased the priorities on the low bands and slightly on the high bands, and decreased it in the mid-range. But like I said, if you feel it's a levels issue in the mix, not much to be done but live and learn.
I've used the Waves L3-16, and frankly, the warm analogue preset is very good. However, use priorities sparingly. They are only useful to avoid limiting too much on certain dynamic sensitive frequencies (usually above 2Khz). If your mixdown is well balanced, you normally don't need to change anything.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
The high-passing makes a ton of sense, I'm just nervous I don't have enough filters to do that! I might ask someone about making me a dedicated high-pass module, so I can pack like 6 hp filters into one module. Is there a slope you recommend? I was thinking -6dB non-resonant of course.
Are you mixing with a DAW or directly in your machine? With a DAW, you just need a basic EQ with an analyzer. When I cut lows, I usually don't joke around: I apply a -15 to -20db cut. The slope depends of each track.



Quote:
Originally Posted by tuj View Post
Thanks again for taking the time to listen and to make a detailed response, it is greatly appreciated. It's funny, you know I've been doing this for roughly 20 years (started age 16) and I'm still learning and still not that good at mastering!
We are all consistently learning, if we weren't it wouldn't be a passion . Good luck with your mastering!
Old 15th October 2018
  #9
Lives for gear
 
midiquestions's Avatar
Excellent track musically, but I can barely even hear the kick drum in both versions, which is a fundamental, build-the-track-around-it instrument in this genre. Lots of good advice here, and I look forward to hearing the final result.
Old 23rd October 2018
  #10
Gear Nut
 
JR Mastering's Avatar
 

Hi Tuj,

The most important thing is if your results are professional. Are you really hearing things properly, and what does your final product sound like?

If you upload a song to my website https://CDmusicmastering.com or DM me a couple of songs, I will let you know where your masters stand. I've mastered over 40,000 and will give you my comparison.

I wish you the best with your music!
Old 12th November 2018
  #11
Listened to master version, and I agree on working on the kick's detail a bit in the upper mid freq's, just to give it detail. Maybe the verb on the synth needs high passed, with the low-end tails of verb or just shortening the room/wet mix?. EQing verb and fx is a great way to get them to sit in the mix and enhance where you want and stay out of where you don't. I would like to hear another different verb being used on the hats, too.
For the most part, it's good, but I think you can get the sound sculpture from modular and basically let EQ, mix take care of the rest. There's still a lot of space in there, depends on what you are aiming for, but in my experience with live recording like this, electronic music tends to thrive on pushing instruments, sound selection and technique- very much about the mix, where final mastering touches are actually minimal.
I have found I tend more often than not going back to the sound selection and mix rather than post-processing if it isn't jiving.
I think what often gets overlooked, too is the mixer is an instrument and you can "get away" with pushing channels a bit for glue, with surgical EQ and filtering, besides compression.
Experiment and have fun!
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