Day 31 – Mastering [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 31 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

For this final day of 31 Days to Better Recordings, I called in the big guns. This is a guest post by Ian Shepherd of the blogs Mastering Media and Production Advice. He is a professional mastering engineer in the UK.

Mastering is probably one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of audio production. So let’s start by getting this straight – what is mastering ? Well, here’s one answer:

Mastering is Photoshop for audio

And here’s another, more detailed attempt to answer the same question:

What is mastering ?

Great mastering can make all the difference to your music – as Tom Volpicelli said recently, it’s like finishing a painting – it isn’t ready to be viewed until it’s been framed.


Day 30 – Be Good With People [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 30 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Wait a second…what?!

I know. I know. This may seem like an odd topic for one of the last posts of 31 Days to Better Recordings, but I think this is hugely important, and it’s something that a lot of audio engineers simply ignore.

If we could rewind 30 days, and I asked you to give me 31 tips for better recordings, what would you say? Chances are you’d list off a lot of the same things I’ve talked about here on 31DBR. You would have had some tips about gear, technique, practice, etc. etc. But would you have mentioned anything about how you deal with people?



Day 29 – Revise Your Mixes [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 29 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Have you ever heard the following phrase?

Songs aren’t written, they’re re-written.

I was listening to a Nashville music business radio program the other night, and one of the hosts was berating songwriters who are too proud to make changes to their songs. He claimed that all successful professional songwriters almost never write a hit song on the first attempt.

They write the song, then they listen to it, get opinions from others, re-write it, get more opinions, re-write it, get more opinions, etc. The “wannabe” songwriters, according to this guy on the radio, will never stand a chance of being successful if they don’t let go of their pride and admit that their songs probably aren’t perfect without some revisions. (more…)

Day 28 – Compress the Master Fader? [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 28 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

When I’m working on a mix, once I have the basic sounds and levels I want, I reach for a compressor on my master fader.

I’ve talked about this before on HSC (see Using Compression on Your Master Fader), but it deserves to be repeated here on 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Do you compress your entire mix? Have you ever thought about it? Do you compress by default? Or do you shy away from compressing the master bus?

I’m not here to convince you to start compressing your master bus, but I do think there are some benefits. Read over these and decide for yourself.


Day 27 – Use Automation (Secret Weapon) [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 27 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Once you’ve set the levels and panning for your mix, and you’ve dialed in the EQ and compression to just the right amount, you’re done, right?

Not quite.

What you have right now is what’s called a “static mix.”

There’s a “secret weapon” that you should know about. It’s called automation.

Most of you probably know what automation is, but do you use it in your mixes? Or is it something you think doesn’t matter? Well, I have a few reasons why you SHOULD use automation in your mixes.


Day 26 – Don’t Compress by Default [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 26 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

Alright, so you’re neck deep into mixing a song. You’ve carved out space in the mix for each instrument by adjusting EQ, panning, and levels.

At this point, though, you may have certain tracks that are too loud in sections and too quiet in others. The lead vocal, for example, might be at the perfect volume during the verses, but it stands out too much at the chorus. You try bringing the volume down, but it loses its presence and…for lack of a better word…oomph.


Day 25 – Carve Out Space For Each Instrument [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 25 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

If you hang around recording circles for very long, you’ll inevitably hear someone talking about “carving out a place in the mix for each instrument.”

Sounds really smart and artsy, right?

But what does it MEAN?! That’s a fair question.

When you’re mixing a song, whether you’re dealing with a few tracks or several dozen, you are assigned with the task of somehow combining all of those tracks into a pretty, cohesive, smooth-sounding mix.

Consider baking a cake. Just because you throw flour, eggs, sugar, etc. into a bowl doesn’t mean you’re going to end up with a cake. You’ve got to know what proportions to use, or you’ll end up with something gross.


Day 24 – Wield the HPF [31DBR]

Welcome to Day 24 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

This just might be the most important mixing tip I can give you.

It’s something I talk about in-depth in Understanding EQ, but I couldn’t possibly go through 31 Days to Better Recordings without dedicating one day to the High-Pass Filter.

A high-pass filter (HPF) is also known as a low-cut filter. It’s a very simple tool that simply removes all frequency below a certain frequency. For example, setting a high-pass filter to 100 Hz essentially removes all frequencies below 100 Hz.

<Nerd-Moment>A HPF is actually a sloping curve. When you set the HPF to 100 Hz, then the volume of the signal at 100 Hz is at roughly -3dB. The volume at 50 Hz is roughly – 9dB, etc. etc. It usually doesn’t technically remove EVERYTHING below 100 Hz. </Nerd-Moment>