You’ve finished your track, but it doesn’t sound good. What you do is slamming a bunch of plugins on your master chain and think that it will sound good afterward, but you are still not satisfied with your sound in the end. In this EDM Mastering Tutorial, I’ll try to go a bit more in-depth on how to make sure that your track will be great.
Start with the mix
“If the mix isn’t good, you’ll never have a good master.” Sounds familiar? Well, maybe because it is a fact! EDM Mastering actually is a lot of mixing. Work on your mix until it’s perfect. I know for sure that this could be a really big struggle, one of the great tips is to give it some rest, put it away for a few days and open the project again. Also, make sure to compare your mix between great speakers and small (shitty) speakers!
Okay, hold on, this is drastic. Yes, I know! The BIGGEST improvement you can ever make while doing EDM Mastering is going from inside the box to outside the box. This sounds cliché, right? Well, to me, it is really logical. I can remember the first time that I used an analog compressor (a Urei 1178). I had never heard anything like that, it was like magic. Off-course, the initial investment will be high, but realize yourself that good analog equipment keeps working for a lot of years, and never needs a software update ;-). I did invest a lot already in analog equipment, and I have never regretted that.
Use your ears!
The most important and precise instrument that you have at your disposal for EDM Mastering, in every studio around the world, are your own 2 ears. Use them wisely, and know how to use them! Make sure you’ve got a great reference track, so you can constantly reset your ears!
Master 200 tracks
The only way to learn the art of mastering is by doing it. It took me about 200 tracks before I really got the hold of it. A mastering chain is super organic, turning one knob can make a difference somewhere else where you wouldn’t expect it. Getting used to your mastering chain (and play around with it till you get the perfect setup) is very important.
Okay, now let’s look into my personal mastering process, it most of the time looks something like this:
I tend to add a lot of volume and EQ automation on my premaster, this is to make sure that the track hits the chain everywhere, and also keeps its loudness in the drop section.
2. Main compression
The first shackle in my mastering chain is the main bus compressor. This compressor is there to add the last bits of glue to the track. No rocket science here, slightly slow attack to keep the transients alive, medium release. I sometimes choose to, instead of using a compressor, run the track through a tape machine. Magnetic tape gives an indescribable glue, compression, and sound!
3. Multiband compression
This is where the fun starts for me, I really prefer to use an analog (of course..) multiband compressor. I divide the track into the 3 sections, low, mid and high. The crossover points are always different, and as soon as you’ve learned the trick of where to set them, you’ll never forget it.
I use a LOT of compression on my low band, this way, I will keep control over it so it wouldn’t overflow the last limiter. Keep in mind, sub=slow, so don’t try to catch it a bit too fast with the attack/release settings!
Isn’t that a beautiful word? If you think that you’ve added enough in the mixing phase, add some more on the master! Off-course, tape distortion is great, but I’d rather go a more radical way, for instance: the “Thermionic Culture Vulture”, every kind of harmonic distortion you need is in that simple 3 button box! (oh, and the scales can go up to 11… how cool is that?).
In order to comply with the EDM Mastering loudness standard, which currently is at around -5LUFS(!!!), you need some extensive limiting on the master bus. Keep in mind that this kind of limiting almost isn’t possible in an analog way. My personal favorite is the Fabfilter Pro-L, although I sometimes need 2 of them stacked…
So there you go, some of my own mastering tips, I hope that you liked them. If you are still not sure about your master, feel free to contact me and let me hear what you’ve made!