How to Remix: Part 7: Mastering And Delivery

Almost every major music single release gets the remix treatment. In the Final Part of this "How to Remix" series, Mo Volans explains the mastering and delivery process for the final remix.  

In this series of tutorials we are going to be taking you through the step by step process of creating a real remix. I have been remixing for many years and I’ll try to share with you some of the techniques I have used in my studio work.

You can find the previous articles in this series here:


In the final part of this remix series we’ll be finishing up our remix and preparing it for delivery to either the artist or record label. This involves applying mastering processors to our exported mix and then re-exporting the result in the correct format and resolution. Let’s get going...


Step 1 - Exporting Your Mix

So it’s quite likely that most of you have a computer powerful enough to allow you to master your track right within the project we’ve just created. Even with this in mind I always advise people to export their mix as a stereo file, and then start a fresh project with that file, ready for mastering.

The finished mix

The finished mix.


This approach achieves a few things: it allows your CPU to breathe and gives you an uncluttered workspace in which to complete your mastering session. Most importantly though this method gives you a clear psychological separation between the mixing and mastering processes.

The new mastering project is created

The new mastering project is created.


So first up we need to export the best possible version of our mix in the right resolution. Now different people work at different resolutions but a widely accepted format to export in is either wav or aiff at a resolution of 24 bit/44.1khz. This will give you a great result and only needs to be knocked down to 16 bit for delivery.

Export settings in Logic Pro

Export settings in Logic Pro.


More importantly you need to ensure that you have a good amount of headroom and your master output is set to 0dB (unity gain). Also, make sure that there's no processing taking place on the master bus. So that means no limiter, no compressors. Thats right: nothing!

The master channel with headroom and no active processing!

The master channel with headroom and no active processing!


With all this in place you are ready to export your file. Set the locators just before and after the start and end of the track to allow a buffer. This can be trimmed later and will ensure there are no errors. 

The pre-master in Soundtrack Pro

The pre-master in Soundtrack Pro.


We now have our pre-master and are ready to start processing.


Step 2 - Applying Bus Compression

Mastering chains can be anything from very simple to very complex. I’ve decided to keep things reasonably straightforward here. I’ll include every processor that is needed to get the job done but accessible enough so that the relative beginner can join in.

The first processor I like to use is a single band bus compressor. A bus compressor is simply a compressor strapped across an entire group or bus, in this case our master output. 

There are companies that produce compressors specifically for this purpose, some of them are actually modeled after dedicated mastering compressors. Many of these emulations recreate probably the most popular hardware bus compressor: the SSL Bus Compressor from the British company's legendary consoles.

SSL’s software version of their famous bus compressor

SSL’s software version of their famous bus compressor.


A few different software manufactures sell versions of this awesome processor: UAD, Waves and SSL themselves have versions available. Even Propellerhead has included one in Record’s new console.

I have opted for the most affordable model I could find, namely Cytomic’s ‘The Glue’. This should be in the grasp of most of you and also includes a free trial, which is handy for completing a few test runs.

Cytomic’s trial version of ‘The Glue’

Cytomic’s trial version of ‘The Glue’.


When applying bus compression, I tend to opt for low ratios, slow attack and release times and only around 4-5dB of compression at the loudest parts of the track. This is exactly what I’ve done here and I think it’s imparted a nice sense of cohesion to the track.

The settings used with our bus compressor

The settings used with our bus compressor.


A section of our track without bus compression:


And the same section with the compressor engaged:



Step 3 - Some Light Equalization 

If you intend to apply any equalization to your remix now would be the time to do it. In this case there wasn’t much work to be done but if you are working on electronic material you should be focusing on controlling the high and low frequencies. If you come up against any serious problems here it is usually sensible to go back to the mix to correct them rather than relying on your EQ as a magic fix.

It’s important to use the highest quality EQ plug-in you can lay your hands on. Generally speaking, Linear Phase models are your best bet as these introduce next to no distortion and produce an extremely transparent signal. 

I have actually used a plug-in from Fabfilter called the Pro-Q. I like using this as a mastering EQ due the fact it has a great analyzer and several different Linear Phase modes. 

The Fabfilter Pro Q

The Fabfilter Pro Q.


In this case I didn’t need to do a huge amount of work, most of the EQ work had already been tied up in the mix. I used a high pass / low cut filter to remove everything below around 25 Hz. This ensures that there are no unwanted subsonic frequencies entering our final limiter. I also added a small amount of high end to introduce a little bit of ‘air’ to the mix.

The EQ is added to the mix:



Step 4 - Brick Wall Limiting

The last stage of processing in just about any mastering chain is a solid brick wall limiter. This generally performs a couple of tasks: it ensures there are no overs and it also induces extra perceived volume and signal density.

By simply setting an absolute output level and driving signal against this ‘wall’ we can achieve extremely loud masters, just how loud you go is of course up to you. I like to hit around 3dB of gain reduction but this can go up to 5-6dB at the most intense parts of your track.

The Fabfilter Pro L limiter in action

The Fabfilter Pro L limiter in action.


These sorts of settings will allow you to achieve pretty intense levels whilst retaining at least some of the dynamics in your track. Ideally I would use less limiting but the current market pretty much always demands louder masters. The sad truth is that quieter tracks just don’t compete, especially in DJ sets.

Just to be clear: I’m not condoning overlimiting or removing all signs of dynamic range here, just telling it how it is!

Step 5 - Export, Dithering and Delivery

The last thing we need to do is export our work in the correct resolution for the client. It’s pretty much accepted that the standard resolution at this stage is 16-bit/44.1kHz. This allows the track to be burnt to CD and easily converted or compressed.

To get from 24- to 16-bit we need to use a process called dithering. Without getting too heavily into the maths, dithering uses some rather clever algorithms to insert data into the gaps created when we move down in resolution. The end result is a file that is smaller in size and hopefully sounds the same as our original 24-bit file. This should only be performed once in the entire production process.

The export settings with Apogee dithering activated

The export settings with Apogee dithering activated.


With the file exported the result can be exported into a sample editor, inspected, trimmed and saved. When delivering this final file you might want to label it clearly and also use a conversion application to create an Mp3 version.

The final master getting trimmed

The final master getting trimmed.


 ... And labelled

... And clearly labeled.


And finally filed ready for delivery!

And finally filed ready for delivery!


So that's it, we’re done! I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of tutorials and with a bit of luck it has shed some light on the remix process. If you have any questions please post below and I’ll try to get back to you.

The final masters are available for download in MP3 format for your listening pleasure!

The mix in its unmastered state:



And now with the mastering processors engaged:



The song used for this remix series was kindly provided by Church Williams. Please support him by visiting his site.

Church Williams - Touch the Sun

Church Williams - Touch the Sun


Interested in learning more about how to remix? Check out Olav Basoski's Remixing in Live Tutorial-Video series.


Mo has been a professional in the music industry for around 15 years. He has released material with the world's leading record labels and also produces music for TV and Film. Mo is also a prolific writer and is a regular contributor to magazines such as Music Tech, Future Music and EQ magazine. There isn't a piece of music software tha... Read More

Discussion

Rounik
Nice work Mo!! The final remix sounds great!

In case anyone missed the original mix you started off with, you can listen to it in Part 1 of this series here:
http://www.macprovideo.com/hub/sound-production/how-to-remix-getting-started
The Bus
Wonderful, inspiring! Is this available for download somewhere??

Thanks

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