Of all audio mastering topics, digital signal processing is probably the most popular one.
This along with “who” makes the best “what”!
So let me be clear here:
This is about what they do.
It’s an overview of the processes I use to deliver professional audio masters for the people I work with.
Here's the topics I'll touch on:
One of the simplest signal processes is volume adjustment – or leveling – or gain riding.
Yes sometimes the best solution is the simplest.
It’s important for me, as a mastering engineer, to know the order of songs when I master an album project.
A song may stand fine on its own, but sometimes the opening may come in too strong or too weak, based on the previous song’s ending.
For example: If a song seems to start abruptly after the fadeout of the previous one, simply starting the song just one dB lower and then slowly easing in to its original volume can be just the right magic tweak needed to make everything sit just right.
Since it’s been noted the most humans begin noticing a level difference when there is a 3 db change, I keep those kinds of changes, well under that amount.
However, my ears are always the final judge.
Compression automates those level change processes – but in quite a different way than I just described.
With the just the right settings applied I can:
Limiting is a more extreme form of compression.
In mastering, I will almost always use a digital brickwall limiter. With this I can:
Here is where a LOT of consideration is needed:
Think very carefully if you really want to be a part of the loudness wars.
Sometimes, ‘volume changes’ need to be confined to certain frequencies in a track. This is where filters come in.
Assemble a bank of filters and you have:
Filters can be arrayed in series; or in parallel (like the Manley Massive Passive or Steinberg’s graphic EQ’s).
My goal when applying equalization in a mastering project is to preserves the artist's original intentions, while making the song more pleasing to listen to – repeatedly or for long periods of time.
In other words: my goal is to keep the your listener engaged and wanting to come back.
Analog emulations are another method of audio digital signal processing that attempt to make a track more pleasing.
The main ones involve emulating:
There are also more specialized audio enhancement processes, for example, that can:
This, of course, would be done in ways that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with the more standard procedures like compression or EQ.
They are also considered more exotic forms of digital signal processing. Definitely not the first process on the list!
One of my specialties - mid-side techniques - deal with the imaging aspects the stereo field.
If I use this process, I can:
… the stereo image.
This correction is different from what a simple left/right volume change would accomplish.
Like enhancement processes, mid-side procedures are more exotic forms of digital signal processing.
It’s something I will apply with great care - and ONLY if needed.
These processes can be combined to create new sounds and color shadings.
Many programs now include mid-side options with their audio processes. More examples:
mid-side techniques are combined with any of the above procedures, the
power of audio digital signal processing is raised to a whole new level!
That, as always, will depend on the individual song and the project.
The most important process is:
Many times. To hear what - if anything – is needed.
I, first and foremost, listen for, and respect, the artist's original intentions.
Drastic changes are NOT the rule. Unless I’m told otherwise. Or if I feel they are absolutely needed.
Mastering your own music can be extremely challenging.
most crucial downfall of this approach is the complete lack of any
objective viewpoint, after you’ve spent months - maybe years - on a
As a leading advocate for going with one’s strengths, I have this suggestion:
If after trying things out yourself, you’re more in the dark than ever, it’s time to let go and look outside yourself.
Yes! Valuable time you can better use to promote your music!
Digital signal processing - wherever and whenever needed - at its finest.Give me a shout!
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