Basic Mastering Chain


Decided to write up a brief run down of a  basic mastering chain for a fellow Redditor today. If you are looking for a bit of guidance on what your mastering chain should look like, this should be a helpful starting point!


Bus “1”

Low frequency roll-off (30hz or below)

any trusty eq should handle this well

Bass enrichment

Certain specialty plugins can enrich bass (such as MaxxBass) and help tame it – this can also be achieved by sending your bass to its’ own channel and eqing and compressing it separately

EQ

Recommend a linear phase equalizer as it tends to be least “destructive” when dealing with a full mix.. but anything you think works well will be fine, just be sure to listen carefully all the way through for any undesired effects. Minimal is the key – if you find yourself making drastic EQ changes in the final mix it is a strong indication that you should visit the original to address the disparities there. Also important to keep in mind that sounds great on your headphones might be a bassy disaster in your car unfortunately. Switch up your listening environment to get a good impression

Stereo Enhancement

Preferably with different settings for different bands, such as Vitamin by Waves or MSED by Voxengo (free, awesome spatial plugin)

Harmonic enhancers

tape saturation is great for giving warmth to a clean electronic sound. ReelBus by ToneBoosters is quite good – rivals ones that cost considerably more

Compressor(s)

with so many out there you have to simply go with what works for your song – some add colour, some are all about being as transparent as possible. Kramer PIE is one I have been quite fond of. Some like to pair multiple compressors to leverage various strengths. My go-to for this presently is HComp and Kramer PIE (again, all Waves)


Send Bus

Impulse Reverb, Delay and other desired FX

The send bus isolates these fx from processing though every channel except the Master Bus .. this works well for smoothing out compression artifacts (if any) and giving depth to your sound. Impulse verb is recommended since it can emulate interesting spaces such as a church or a recording studio, depending on what suits your song. Many different reverbs out there – go with what you love!


Master Bus

Linear Multiband Compressor (waves) on the Master Bus

This plugin is golden to me, I don’t know of many that can do what this one does. It allows you to set the compression response based on your songs current frequency curves. So essentially, you play the song at its most colourful movement and you can take those values, stored in this plugin, input them and then drag the threshold down so that it touches each frequency band just a little bit. This does wonders for tightening a mix and will always reflect the tone of the song in an appropriate way. There are plenty more features but that is the main selling point for me. If there are better plugins out there for this I’d love to hear about them.

Limiter on the Master Bus

any kind of volume “maximizer”, such as Barricade (ToneBoosters) or a Waves Maximizer (L1, L2 or L3)

Lastly – a frequency analyzer

using your eyes helps take some of the guess work out of mixing – never underestimate the importance of seeing what frequencies your song is hitting the hardest. Take some of your favourite sounds and run them through to see what they look like and then try to make yours follow a similar curve. There are EQ plugins like QClone which go a step further and allow you to duplicate that frequency response very closely, so feel free to use that to help you along

Also it is important to note that envelopes controlling these elements to add a bit of life is nice to have as well.. so for example, bringing up the reverb/delay fx as you fade can give a sort of ethereal exit to your song, if it suits. Or say for example, the first half of the song sounds great but it gets really crunchy towards the end after being processed by your chain.. then simply run a gentle decrease in the volume to remove the crunch while keeping some of the dynamics intact


It has taken me a long time to get here and if I can help someone get a headstart, that’s excellent. Learning to master your songs well early on (assuming you’re just getting started) will help you focus on the most important detail of all: the music itself.

I used to think mastering was the magic bullet that took mediocre mixes and made them gold. While it can do a great deal, it follows that if you put garbage in you will get garbage out. So keep that in mind, watch for clipping, give yourself about 0.2 to 0.3 dB of clearance so that when the song is compressed in to other formats, you will retain all of the loudest signal properly (it will clip otherwise, with certain formats)

All the best!
Christopher


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