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How to Master Music — Beginners Tutorial

  • Step 1: Subtractive Equalization
  • Step 2: Subtly Compress the Signal
  • Step 3: Subtly Excite the Signal
  • Step 4: Additive Analog Equalization
  • Step 5: Use TRackS One
  • Step 6: Introduce Limiting with Lookahead
  • Step 7: Monitor Your True Peak and LUFS

Step 1: Subtractive Equalization

Start your master using subtractive equalization. For this step, I’ll use the stock Logic Pro X equalizer, and use the linear phase option to avoid creating phase changes to the signal.

I’ll cut frequencies below 20Hz using a high-pass filter. This will give me more headroom later on in the processing chain.

Then, I’ll listen intently and determine which frequencies I’d prefer to have less of. There’s no exact way to determine this, and you’ll have to consider things like the genre, the mix you were given, and what your desired effect is. This may take some practice and a good amount of patience.

Lastly, be sure not to make any cuts greater than 2dB.

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Step 2: Subtly Compress the Signal

Compression may or may not be needed when you’re mastering - if the mix you received is already compressed significantly, do not compress more. But if there are some dynamics you’d like to control, or if you’re trying to glue the signal together, compression is helpful.

Personally, I like to use smoother forms of compression with a soft-knee setting to create more gradual compression.

If you’re mastering something like EDM, you might way to use a hard knee though.

For the attack, use a time over 20 milliseconds, and for the release, use a time of at least 50 milliseconds, but nothing greater than 250 milliseconds.

Keep the amount of attenuation less than 3dB, and ideally less than 1.5dB.

Step 3: Subtly Excite the Signal

Unfortunately, Logic Pro x doesn’t have a distortion plugin suitable for mastering; however, the exciter can be used for a similar effect and can be subtle enough for mastering your signal. Exciters will increase the level of harmonic content, which will make your master sound full.

First, I’ll lower the filter on the left to 20Hz - this means that the exciter will be processing the full signal.

Next, I’ll make sure that Color 1 is selected since Color 2 is too aggressive.

Lastly, I’ll make sure that the Harmonics percentage is less than 2%. The odds are you won’t need more than 1%.

With that in mind, avoid higher values.

Step 4: Additive Analog Equalization

Additive equalization is when you amplify any aspect of the mix that you like, like maybe 2kHz to emphasize vocals, or 80Hz to make the kick stick out. By using an analog emulation plugin, we get unique EQ curves and minute phase changes that are pleasant-sounding.

I’ll listen intently and start boosting things I enjoy, like the kick, and amplify the high end to add some clarity.

Then I’ll find the vocal’s center and boost a little bit of that. All of these changes should be less than 2dB since we’re affecting the full track.

This plugin also offers a drive option, so I’ll very subtly increase this value to taste.

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Step 5: Use TRackS One

Although mastering with paid plugins is something to hold off on until you get a good understanding of the processing used, TRackS One is a great first paid plugin. It’s incredibly easy to use and offers a lot of useful functions that can greatly improve a master.

If I was mastering with this plugin, I’d focus mainly on the Push, Width, and Transient functions.

I’d very subtly increase the push value to increase the level of quieter parts of the signal. I’d use a very small amount of the width dial to expand the stereo image.

Then, to make the master’s snare, kick, and other transients pop, I’d increase the transient dial.

Step 6: Introduce Limiting with Lookahead

The last processor you should use in your mastering chain is a limiter - this will both increase the amplitude of the full signal and protect it from clipping distortion. Logic Pro X offers a good introductory limiter that offers some useful, distortion-avoiding functions.

Using Precision Mode, I’d slowly start increasing the gain until I achieve a loud signal, but not a squashed one. Avoid attenuating more than 6dB, since more will easily become noticeable and cause distortion.

Use the true-peak detection function, and reduce the output level to -1dB. Additionally, decrease the Lookahead to 2ms.

For a louder master, set the release to 50 milliseconds. For a more controlled, or smoother one, set it around 200ms.

Step 7: Monitor Your True Peak and LUFS

The very last insert you should use in your mastering chain is a Multimeter that shows both the LUFS of the signal and dBTP. This lets you monitor both the loudness of your master, and whether or not you signal is clipping in any way.

A good LUFS for your signal is -10 LUFS. This makes your master loud enough for most streaming services, without it being so loud that loudness normalization will greatly impact it.

To increase or decrease the LUFS, increase or decrease the gain of your limiter.

If you’re noticing true peaks greater than -0.5dB, decrease the output level of your limiter. this way if your track is turned into an MP3, the encoding process won’t result in clipping distortion.

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