We’re back for another marvellous FAQ Friday!
Today’s featured question is: What final volume limit is preferable when mixing before mastering? Should you leave any effects or equalizers on your master bus?
Honestly, you don’t want to be mastering when you are mixing. However, every single great mixer I know does have stuff on the master bus. When I am mixing, I have a pair of Mastering Bus Pultecs in there, and I also use the SSL4000 bus compressor, so I get a little overall compression and EQ, and then I mix into that. When I mix in the box, you’ll see me put gentle compression and gentle EQ on it, although increasingly, I do less and less in the box than I might do on the console.
If you’re mixing through multiband compressor, and all kinds of fancy plugins, you’re really stopping yourself from learning and, frankly, creating a better mix leading up to the master bus. If there is a plugin that is doing all kinds of ducking of different frequencies all over the places, go figure out where they are causing that buildup in your mix. We did this with the Gulfoss a little while ago! I used it on the master bus to find problems and solve them. Rather than having all the ducking on the master bus, I would much rather do it inside the individual tracks, and then by the time it hits the master bus, it is just gentle compression and EQ.
If all you are doing is some gentle EQ and compression, and maybe a tiny bit of limiting, that is perfectly permissable and absolutely wonderful. I personally want to avoid putting tons of multiband compressors, EQ, and limiters, and because you will end up with a big blob of square wave. Try to use the least amount you can on the master bus!
When it comes to levels, I always ask the mastering engineer what level they prefer, and all of the ones I have worked with say the same thing: it doesn’t really matter. The only thing they care about is that there is no clipping or digital distortion. Part of their job is to make sure it is at a competitive level, so if you want to print it loud, but it is a bit too loud for a streaming service, for example, they will help you bring it down enough to be competitive, and vice versa if you want to print it quieter!
Within reason, any decently printed level will be okay for a mastering engineer!
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