There’s so much software out there to keep track of isn’t there? When it comes to mixing a song, there’s a lot of different options to go with as far as stock and third party plug-ins, but overall they really function the same, just with a different name. There are a few differences between DAW’s when you’re on the topic of mixing, but mastering is another story.
When you have the goal of getting your song mastered, the process is the same across the board. The way I master a track in Pro Tools is the same way I master a song in Logic Pro. The difference is navigating around the software to find all the plug-ins, but the process does not change.
Today we are going to focus on the topic of how to master a song in Ableton. I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve learned are the key points to master a track after you have produced your final mixed version. Since here at Home Studio Nation we give you the tools you need, so let’s get to work!
What Is Mastering Anyway?
Mastering a song is essentially boosting any needed frequencies throughout your mix and also having a full stereo sound coming from your left and right speakers. You’re going to want to have your song mastered if you plan to market your song to an audience so when they listen to it, they get the full fledged experience of every single detail in your track.
If you’re a music artist who does all your own mixing and mastering, and you plan to submit a song to a radio station, iTunes, Spotify, etc., you’ll see that the majority of the music on the platform has a nice and loud sound. You’ll know when your music is not mastered properly if your song is noticeably quieter than the rest. I suggest having a reference track to use as a crutch to compare your song to. Also, radio stations don’t usually accept music that’s not mastered, so make sure you have your song boosted and sounding full before you send it off.
While continuing to read this, keep in mind that it’s not necessary to follow the exact procedure. Feel free to mix and match the plug-ins provided below to know which ones give your song the sound you’re seeking.
First Steps To Mastering
Start off by exporting your final mix into its own separate session within Ableton. Check that your entire session is selected before exporting so that it doesn’t cut off too early or too late. Click “File” and then click “Export” to start the exporting process. Make sure the “master” option is selected for the type of track you’re exporting.
A few other things you’ll need to do while in the “Export” window is to maddie sure your file type is shown as “wav” and not “AIFF” or any other file type. Be sure that your sample rate shows 44,100 hz, your bit depth is at 16, “no dither” should be selected, and your normalize option is turned off. All of these selections are important for a session to be exported properly.
Now go ahead and click “export” and after it’s finished, load up your exported track into a new Ableton session.
Here are the plug-ins we will be using to master your song in Ableton:
- Reverb (Bright Room)
- Multi-band Dynamics
- Saturator (A Bit Warmer)
- Equalizer (EQ Eight)
First things first, add some reverb. The purpose of adding a slight amount of reverb to your master is to increase the “flow” of your song. If your track existed in frame form, think of reverb as adding a few extra frames throughout your song. The reverb I’ve found to be a great addition is the “bright room” reverb. So go ahead and set your dry/wet to about 5 or 6% which is slight but will make a major difference in the end.
Next, we’ll add a compressor. One thing you never want to do is compress too much of a given track. The key is to make slight corrections to give your overall song a “makeover” so to speak. Click the button shown below to change the perspective of audio within the compressor, and then press play to view the file being compressed.
Next you’ll want to click the button that looks like a curved line right next to first one to view the graph in its default position. Now slightly drag the yellow circle toward the bottom left hand corner which will change the arc of the line in the graph. This will give you some direction of how much you need to compress.
Next, click the button to the right of it once again to analyze your changes. Now it’s a good idea to make some tiny adjustments to the Ratio, Attack, and Release knobs to get the results you’re seeking and to make sure it does not overly compress it. Once you compare what you’ve done so far to your originally uncompressed track, you’ll notice the difference in loudness.
The next plug-in we’ll be adding is Multi-band Dynamics in order since Ableton reads plug-ins from left to right. Using this plug-in depends greatly on your song itself and the way you want it to sound. You’ll need to find the frequency range you want intensified and then boost that. As shown below, adjust the kHz amount, judging by where you want your high frequencies to start.
You will do the same thing for the low frequencies which is to set it to where you want them to start. After you finish that, adjust your high, mid, and low inputs and outputs to what suits you. The point of the Muli-band Dynamics plug-in is to have a great overall balance in the frequencies of the mastered version of your track.
A Bit Warmer
Now to add our Saturator. This particular plug-in is called “A Bit Warmer” which describes the brightness in your song. This will automatically add tons of gain and compression to your track so you’ll most likely need to reduce it some, unless you’re okay with your ear drums pounding from high volume.
To reduce some of that not-so-great sounding distortion, turn the Drive to about 2db. Next you’ll want your Dry/Wet to about 30% and your Output to about -25db. Keep in mind, these are not to follow exactly but to give you a sense of direction.
This plug-in is a tool used to simply view the frequency scale of your song thus far.
When using the Equalizer within the mastering process, it’s essentially used to get rid of any unwanted low frequencies from the stereo version of the track, transitioning it to mono. We will be using EQ Eight today, and first clicking on the “Mode” button to switch it to M/S which is short for Mids/Sides of your stereo speakers.
Now click on the “M” under the “Edit” section and select the “S” for Sides. Switch adjustment number 3 into the shape that resembles a “Y” flipped on its side, and then move it to the right to remove more unwanted low frequencies from Stereo. Lower the Q to around .11 and the Frequency to about 200 kHz.
Let’s go ahead and add another EQ Eight and commence your usual EQing process. You’re not going to want to do too much here, only slight moves to essentially polish your song’s EQ.
Next on our plug-in list we’re going to add a Limiter. It is best that the Limiter remains the last of your plug-ins if we’re going in order of left to right. I recommend keeping your Limiter between 0db and -6db so the overall gain never exceeds that.
The last steps of mastering your song will include adding one more Compressor to your plug-in list. This compressor can be used to suit you in any way you need. I suggest making tiny adjustments to the graph or simply moving the output gain up a few decibels or however many necessary.
There you have it; your song is mastered! The final step is to export your song almost the same exact way you exported your unmastered track in the beginning. Everything is going to be staying the same except the Dithering Options. I recommend choosing between Rectangular and Triangular.
You can never make too many small adjustments. Be sure to go back and continue modifying your plug-ins before exporting. As I’ve mentioned a few times, it’s all about how you want your song to sound in the end. You don’t need to follow these steps precisely but instead, make the proper modifications necessary.
Quality Over Quantity
Being a recording artist who produces my own music, I have studied countless ways to get my songs and projects to sound the way I like and this is the best process to do so within Ableton. Mastering your music is a universal procedure that works across all DAWs, just a slight difference in plug-in names and locations of them.
I’ve had an amazing time sharing these steps with you and hope you’ve enjoyed every bit of information. Also to watch a video tutorial of mastering in Ableton, click here. If you have any comments or run into any problems drop them down below and I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.