Mastering Your Tracks

For those of you who have ever produced your own album, the importance of mastering the final cut can drive one insane. Mastering, can possibly the most crucial step to having a quality produced album, and for those of you who have not had much success in mastering, this article may help you save some time and give your recordings the quality polished finish they deserve.

My band and I were on a tight budget that would not afford us to enter a “real” studio to record our album prior to our scheduled mini-tour. So like many artist on a budget, we setup a home studio to bang this thing out before going on tour, in hopes to promote our band in the various cities that have never heard of us.

Laying the tracks seemed to be pretty straight forward, and what we were hearing in the cans (headphones) seemed to sound great for live recording. So we mixed the songs down, went out to the car to listen to our masterpiece we just recorded! So we hit play and boom, PURE CRAP!! The drums sounded like someone hitting a cardboard box, the guitar was small sounding and overly distorted, vocals would be too loud, then get buried in the mix two seconds later, and the bass was non-existent.

So we turned to google for help, and after reading countless articles on mastering, it seemed overwhelming to take in all the different parameters such as cutting frequencies, Hi pass, Low Pass, Compression, EQ, and the list goes on… We would often read a new article on mastering that provided a baseline on setting up some parameters, and apply them to some of our songs in hopes of getting a quality master. When that didn’t work out so well, we would sweep the frequencies on the EQ until we had what we though was a good mix. The problem was, the sound we had in the cans would not transfer to the living-room stereo, or the car stereo. Getting discouraged, and facing a deadline on producing our album before our tour, we quickly turned to the vast options of out-of-the-box mastering software.

We tried countless mastering software trials, to find the easiest to use, yet best sounding solution for our mastering needs. Remember, we were under a deadline to produce this album before our tour. The first thing we noticed was all the software sounded the same, good in the phones, and crap everywhere else!

What we found – Our headphones were not for mixing like we though, they added color to the mix that made everything sound great. That’s why our mixes would not transfer to different audio devices and our mixing volumes were off too. So we bought and borrowed as many pair of headphones that we could in attempts to find a true flat sound to master our album.

As for easy to use software for mastering, we tried: (1) Landr, a web service that you upload your songs to, and they spit out a mastered version for a small fee per song. (2) Lurssen Mastering Console, which is a downloadable software for PC, Mac, or an app for your cell phone or tablet.

(1) Landr – Was the first one we tried and by far the easiest to use, because there are no control options other than three preset choices of “Lo, Med, and High”. Each preset offered a slightly different sound as far as a boost to the high end, low end, and overall volume level. You also could tell there was an overall quality compression added to the mix, where the vocals that were buried before were now present and cut through the mix. The bass was even present in the mix now. The songs transferred well to other audio devices for the most part.

PROS: Overall Landr, provided a simple and effective solution to getting songs mastered quickly, with a nice sound. Price is not bad at roughly $10 per song for a quality .wav file, they do however have less expensive choices for mp3’s and such.

CONS: I felt the cons were not having the ability to control any parameters. If you have a muffled recording for instance, your only choice to brighten the mix is to select “HI”, and that does not provide enough brightness to doctor a crappy recording, you are kind-of out of luck.

The other thing I noticed is that due to preventing users from lifting the “sample” mastered track off of their site without paying, is that you only get to hear a part (usually the chorus) of your song. So when I purchased the song and played the whole song back, I realized the verse mix was off a bit compared to the unmastered version. Meaning that some instruments were now too loud in the mix, so a remix was in order to get the verse mixed evenly. I had to over compensate on the mix end due to Landr’s mastering pulling certain instruments to the front of the mix.

Overall: I would definitely recommend Lander Mastering service to those who struggle with getting a decent overall master of their songs. Or for those of you that just want to get a quick reference of how your end product will sound.

Sorry, I did not include any links to their site, or screen shots due to their copyright department not getting back to me after emailing them for permission. But, if they do get back to me, I will update this with screen shots and links.

(2) Lurssen Mastering Console – As mentioned above, if you happen to record a mix that is muffled with no highs, as we did due to our overly colored headphones, we needed to bring out the highs a bit and opted to try Lurssen.

Lurssen is available for download through most major music stores for around $160 U.S., which isn’t too bad considering it would cost around $120 to master a 12 song album on Landr, plus if you need to remix your song and remaster it, you have to shell out another $10 per song on Landr. Our though process was we could use this for future recordings if it worked well, and save in the long run.

Buyer Beware: We first watched the Lurssen video where Lurssen himself would master a track inside on a computer, then run outside to his BMW to listen to the track he just mastered, and tweak it on his iPad in his car. We thought, what a great idea! After buying the desktop version and mastering a track, we ran out to our non-BMW to listen to the track and tweak it on our iPad… BUT you don’t get both the Application for mobile devices AND the desktop version, they are separate purchases!! WTH!?! So you would have to drop $320 if you wanted to use the software as they advertised on there YouTube video. —>

Lurssen was very easy to use. It could be used as a stand alone program, or within your recording software user interface. We chose to use it as the stand alone version, because it was much faster to use that way. Lurssen had the ability to provide a clear sounding master right out of the box. There are not too many options to overwhelm a new user, but enough options to set it apart from Landr for our needs. We were able to select our genre of music (Landr does this automatically), then if we needed extra highs added, we were easily able to bump the highs. There was even a feature where you could set the volume to increase automatically for certain parts such as the chorus to give your song that extra push.

Pros: Lurssen provided an easy to use mastering console that gave you a nice mastered song right out of the box. If you need to tweak it more, you could do so with the main controls on the center console. For even more tweaking options, you can also open the effects chain and tweak the compression among other linked effects.

Once you own it, you can master as many songs as you want, making it an investment that will pay off in time.

Cons: After using this software for future mastering projects where our recordings were not muffled, we noticed that the Lurssen Console produces a bit of a dark mix. Whereas the highs are not there with the standard mastering starting points. You will need to play with the highs and lows until you get a good master.

Overall: I would recommend Lurssen Mastering Console for those who need a quality mastered track and the added ability to further tweak the sound to your specific taste. It would WAY be better if you could use it as advertised in the video on both a desktop computer, as well as a mobile devise without shelling out another $160.

I sent customer service for “IK Media” an email stating that it was BS that customers don’t get both the app and desktop version, but all I got was a sorry to hear that response…