DIY Mastering Chains with Ableton Stock Plugins

What Is Mastering?

Mastering is the balancing act between frequency ranges in your track, i.e the ratio between the bass frequencies, mid frequencies and high frequencies.

As well as this, mastering involves cleaning some of the frequencies that are emphasised too much in your mix, whilst also increasing the general loudness of your track without clipping, distorting, or compromising the overall sound and vibe.

A Few Things to Point Out

Your mix needs to be as good as you can get it. The better the mix, the better the master will sound!

Every single master will require a slightly different treatment, but the chain and process will usually be fairly similar.

This mastering chain will come in useful for things such as demos being sent to labels, and also DJ / producers wishing to test out their new productions in clubs.

When it comes to releasing your music, we always recommend that you pay a mastering engineer to master your tracks.

Finally, mastering is massively subjective, this article should be viewed as an option for mastering beginners who want a little help in getting their tracks to sound big, without forking out thousands on expensive plugins, or without going into the granular details too much.

DIY Mastering Chains with Ableton Stock Plugins

In this step by step guide, we will be DIY mastering straight from an original Ableton Live project, via the master output.

Here is our chain:

Low Cut EQ
Glue Compression
EQ Clean Up
Multiband Compression
Punch Compression
Sustain Compression
Final EQ Touches
Limiting

Low Cut EQ

First up in our mastering chain we start with an EQ Eight which is set to mid-side mode ‘M/S’. This will enable us to make low frequency cuts, ensuring that everything below a certain point will be set to mono. We do this because club monitoring systems are generally in mono, meaning that they will not pick up any bass frequencies on the sides. With mid-side mode on, go ahead and cut the low frequency level at around 100hz.

 

The second EQ cut we need to make is with the mid mode selected. This time we’re making another low cut, but in the middle of the EQ spectrum. Make a steep low cut at around 35hz just to round off those low frequencies.

Glue Compression

Next, we want to start working on the balance of our track by bringing out the peaks. This will allow our overall frequency picture to sound, feel and look more balanced and more importantly ‘glued’.

We recommend using Ableton’s Factory Preset ‘Catch Peaks’ for this. Check out the settings below

EQ Clean Up

Our next job involves cleaning out some annoying frequencies in the mix, this is always going to be different for every mix, but you’ll always find room for some gentle EQ cuts. For this section of the mastering chain we would only recommend small EQ change. We’d simply recommend that you experiment yourself to see what feels good to you. Remember that less is more.

Multiband Compression

The next plugin we are applying in this chain is a multiband compressor. Multiband compression is the mastering engineers secret weapon. In a nutshell it splits the audio signal into frequency ‘bands’ allowing you to process and balance them out, each separately.

Start by adjusting the attack / release within each frequency band, starting with the low end apply a slow attack at between 30/40ms with a longer release time between 800/900ms. Moving onto the mid band we could suggest an attack or around 10ms and release around 200ms, then finally your high-end frequencies could be set at around 5ms attack 100ms release. Be sure to experiment with thresholds and ratios to achieve a compression balance that works for your mix.

Careful choices of attack, release and ratio settings are vital, especially the placement of the frequency crossover bands. Where you choose to split the audio into bands, and how many bands you use, will have a big impact on the end result.

Punch Compression

Next up in the mastering chain many would use a compressor to work on the entire signal to add punch. Start by dragging another compressor into your chain and adjust the attack time to 5ms and quite a short release time around 63 and a pretty standard radio around 4:3:1

Sustain Compression

Following this, we need to flatten the signal whilst adding loudness and depth with a higher ratio and longer release. Duplicate the punch compressor in your chain and adjust the ratio to 9:0:1, then finally adjust the release time to around 130ms.

Final EQ Touches

Now our mix is nicely flattened, it’s time to do some final touch ups to the EQ to bring back some of the dynamics that we had before squashing our mix.

Limiting

With a little headroom left in the mix, it’s time to use a limiter to give a lot of gain back. Depending on your levels, you can usually give about 8-12db back into your mix.

To Conclude

There are several philosophies within mastering, for us, this is an interesting place to start with mastering your own records. With this chain, you can easily get a decent sounding master out of your songs. As is with everything, running your music through analogue gear would always be preferable, but when limiting yourself to Ableton stock plugins, this is a great place to start.

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