Academy Dashboard Forum Production Mixing Can we talk about the master bus chain, please?

  • This topic has 39 replies, 8 voices, and was last updated 5 years ago by Just Lisa.
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  • #46821
    James Gorman
    Participant

      I'm using the master buss (since I'm in reaper) mostly for glue and tone shaping. Like Niki, exactly what goes on is genre (and song) dependent, though it'll always look similar.

      The latest thing I've done* has:
      - Waves NLS Buss (Nevo, med drive)
      - Waves API 2500 (2:1, 10ms attack, .05s release, med knee, med thrust, feed back, 0db threshhold, HP filter in, ~2dB reduction)
      - SPL Passeq (1.3K, 13K boosts)
      - bx_2098 (3.25K shelf)
      - Slate Virtual Tape Machine (1/2" FG456, med drive)
      - Abbey Road Vinyl (saturation only, no click, wow, flutter etc)
      - Ozone (stereo width, safety limiter)

      Everything there except the EQs and the safety limiter (just there to avoid hitting 0dBFS) is to add at least one of sheen (subtle EQ changes + saturation) or glue. Each acts on a different part of the sound, which is why they are stacked. The idea is that it's stuff that I like the sound of, and is heavy on the hardware emulation.

      Once I have a balance mix (with no effects) I'll set up my master (with everything except EQs and stero width) and move things closer to the sound in my head. Then I'll do the same to the tracks with something like Slate Virtual Tape and/or Slate Virtual Channel/NLS Channel/bx_console to get a base-line (in this case I used Virtual Tape -> Virtual Channel). Next step is to go bottom up with most important (or if there's something I need to bed in, most irritating!) track first.

      Why do I set it up first? It's mostly stuff that is hard to do by effecting individual tracks and I want to mix into that so I'm getting straight to the sound I want. I don't put EQs on until late because I want to do that work on my tracks and busses first. In this case I found the whole mix a little dull but balanced well enough. The SPL got me close and I like the tone, but I couldn't push it enough without it sucking, so stacked the bx_2098 on it (and I preferred the sound of each doing a bit to getting the bx_2098 to do all the work). It's all on all the time so I hear what I'm printing and print what I'm hearing.

      Sometimes I'll use the EQs to find a problem, but then fix it on the specific track/buss. Something like, 'there's a bit of honk here. Hmm, cutting 700 clears it but kills the piano, time to track down the culprit so I don't lose that piano.'

      Why so much stuff? If I get it right this doesn't leave much for the mastering engineer to do, but it does mean when I'm done the band is hearing pretty much what they are going to hear once it is mastered. In the track linked I'm hit -14LUFS only touching the limiter at -0.8 couple of times _one on channel_, but I'm not loosing a lot of peak from my master chain so it's coming in pretty hot from the mix itself. If the band has budget, I'd still want an ME to go over it. I could squeeze out the last 5dB for an album version, but they could do that better; for a full length they'll spot any subtle shifts across the tracks and sit make everything sit together; I may be tonally together, but need some tweaks to fit into commercial radio or fix some problems.

      Another thing worth noting is I've started mixing hot. Originally this was so I had plenty of level into my monitors, but now I've got it so that I can print a track I'm happy with without having to normalise it. I run Waves VU at -15dB=0VU and bx_meter at Katz-14 on my monitor buss (a Reaper thing - plugins after the Master buss, where you can put monitoring and room correction pluigns) and shoot for 0VU/0K. I'm doing this from the first balance mix, right through. I was doing -18dB=0VU but then I'd have all this headroom I didn't use. After watching the Richard Furch tutorial where he mixes into -15dB, I kinda went ยฏ\_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ, I guess I can just drive it hard.

      * https://www.producelikeapro.com/forums/topic/morgan-mallory-of-this-im-sure-james-gorman/

      #46832
      Jason Davenport
      Participant

        The answer to the next question is yes... The master chain is used to simulate what a mastering engineer would do. Warren calls it "fake mastering". It is a way to make your mix sound competitive to other mixes your client might compare it to. This step is not absolutely necessary if you plan on sending it to a mastering engineer.

        I also try to use a light hand at this stage, because the hard work has already been done upstream. Subtle comp, light eq, and a light limiter to end the chain. If I am going for a more vintage sound I might put some tape saturation on there before the limiter. All that is taste driven, so often the best option is just to experiment with different combinations until you find something that works ๐Ÿ™‚

        • This reply was modified 6 years ago by Jason Davenport.
        #46841
        Just Lisa
        Participant

          Warren has brought it up specifically in the last two feedback fridays: it's not important for us because we have a fader... but in the real world, you'll want more volume. But it always sounds like he's just not saying what he really thinks about it to be nice.

          So far, I've got two problems. Everything is going great until I try to make it louder (a compressor, an eq, and a limiter (stock)). Or until I export a version to put on Soundcloud (something is getting lost in translation).

          I must have been influenced early on in the direction you were, Jason. Four plug ins, each with a specific function. Makes perfect sense. Clearly, I have more work to do getting the levels right before I get there, though.

          James: I started working hotter after Richard Furchs, too. I think it's helping. Also finally found the courage to put my fake synth strings into an otherwise analog project, because he said what I've been thinking but afraid to ask: if you made it sound the way you wanted it to start with, do you still need to process it when you mix it? No. Yay. (I wanted to ask Mark Needham, how many compressors in a row do you need? Imagined him replying, "I don't know, how many are there?")
          So, you're not really doing anything MORE, just using two plug ins to give a little of the right stuff rather than one big dose of something that might not work so well. And it also makes sense to not have the eq's on til you've done the rest of the work. Engage it as it's needed, right? And in the case of "of this I'm sure" it was completely about the song you were working on.

          This is very helpful.

          How do you handle volume automation on busses when you are mixing into a compressor on your mixbus? That might be the crux of my problem, now that I think about it.
          : )

          #46843
          Fabio Minuzzi
          Participant

            Hi you awesome,

            First of all i love this forum smooch awesome questions and threads.

            My master Bus looks like this.
            I tend to have a Tapesaturation plugin on first place and thatยดs the one from McDsp the Analog Channel 202 (It was the Salte VTM before but more versatility i have with the McDsp one)
            After this comes a compressor (SSL G Bus comp or the Slate Fg-Grey)
            thatยดs basically it. Donยดt have any more plugins on the masterbus.

            #46877
            Jason Davenport
            Participant

              I usually don't put any plugins on my Master bus until the very end. I do my gain staging, and get a rough balance of all the tracks before I create any other busses. Then I start bussing similar instruments together, like drums, acoustic guitars, electrics, etc... I try to do most of the processing on the busses as this saves cpu by using less plugins. Then I get my balances where I want them in a chorus part or other loud dense section of the song. Then I automate the busses for verses, bridges, interludes, etc.. I have been mixing into the Master bus the whole time, watching the meters. I prefer them to be about -2db or -3db with no plugins to give me plenty of headroom to get loud without squashing the mix to oblivion ๐Ÿ™‚ Then I would put on my SSL Gcomp looping the loudest section of the song and set the meter to gain reduction and only getting 2-3db of reduction. Next up is usually a Pultech emulation which is a high and low shelving eq. Boost 60hz and cut 60hz at the same time, it's life changing! Same thing on the highs, usually 10kish, depends on the song. Then sometimes a deesser to control the highs I just boosted. Then some form of Saturation, either tape, or some other plugin, again depending on the song. Lastly a limiter doing very little in the loudest parts of the song but bringing up the overall loudness, without squashing. Usually 2-3db of attenuation is enough to get you there if you've done your gain staging right. I always set the output of the limiter to -1db. The meters should be breathing, and not all the way slammed in the red ๐Ÿ˜‰ It's a good idea to do the "Mastering" process on a different day than the one you mixed it so you have fresh ears when listening...

              Upload the wav file to Soundcloud with the native sample and bit rate. With PLAPA stuff it's always 48k/24. This saves double conversions!

              #46878
              Just Lisa
              Participant

                24bit/48kHz. It does seem to be the best version, so I won't mess with it anymore. Finally got Studio One and my computer to agree about the audio quality settings, that'll help.

                Now, in theory, I've been trying to do like you wrt gainstaging, rough balance, buses, etc. Automate volume on buses according to song sections.
                Perfectly sensible.

                I'm thinking about just volume here...
                When you are gainstaging, do you go for a specific input level like -18dB across all of the tracks?
                And when you say -2 or 3dB on your Master, that's the whole mix at the loud part, right?
                But then a compressor for -2 or 3dB on the loud part for sure. (now meters read -4 to -6dB, right?)
                The the limiter before putting it out there, lifting the whole thing (artfully) to about -1dB.

                I'm troubleshooting.

                Everything is going well, I've done everything according to this general set of rules, I get to a point where I think I'm in the home stretch...
                My Klanghelm SDDR has been sitting there doing its happy tube-master thing all along. It's pressing down about 2 or 3 dB with compensotory make up gain.
                Feeding the mix bus is the usual suspects, All Vox, All Percussion, All Gtrs, etc. as well as a couple of reverbs and a parallel compression bus (generally bass, kick and snare). Let's say those are all adjusted right, with sends or effects automated the way I want them to be.
                I turn on the compressor for the first volume boost, about 2 - 3dB reduction.
                I listen through it, find I need to adjust some volume automation. I do that.
                I listen again, need to do different things. I do them.
                These are usually just little things.
                I listen again, and suddenly, I can't hear stuff I could hear before. Vocals and guitars that weren't competing are suddenly a blurred mess.
                I turn the compressor off again and now the kick and bass that sounded so amazing at the beginning have disappeared altogether. And I try to fix it and then everything cascades into disaster.
                Where did I go wrong?

                : )

                #46880
                Jason Davenport
                Participant

                  When I do my gain staging, I usually start around -10 to -12db across all tracks and adjust from there. Busses get -6 to -8db, and the master gets -3 to -4db most of the time.

                  The master bus meter is at -2 to -3db at the loudest peak. Then after the comp it does read somewhere between -4 and -6db, but then with the make up back up to -2 to-3db...

                  After you have adjusted your automation, did you re-adjust your comp to reflect the level changes? If you raised something in the chorus, it can affect your comp settings... Sometimes it is necessary to automate the threshold of your master bus comp so it doesn't squash in a really dense mix.

                  It's tough sometimes to only go and change one thing when you have a problem... I find myself changing a bunch of stuff, and sometimes only making my mix worse! Most of the time, I find taking a break and coming back to it a day later helps me find the problems without destroying my mix ๐Ÿ™‚

                  #46882
                  James Gorman
                  Participant

                    Oops, thought I posted this this morning...

                    > The master chain is used to simulate what a mastering engineer would do.

                    It's probably worth me noting that my Master chain isn't for this. At least until I need to loudify it. Since I have Ozone as the last plugin, if I want 'mastered' I'll use the multiband (maybe) and the limiter to louden it up (next time a mix comp comes up that feels like it demands excitement I might add some of the tricks Warren talks about to this too). Until I do this I have a loud, but not squared off, mix. But it's horses for courses, and you have to do what feels right for you and the music (and listen to your ME!).

                    > Everything is going great until I try to make it louder

                    I was having a similar problem - when I pushed the limiter post mix it would distort before it got loud. I often stick a tape emulator, clipper or limiter on loud, highly transient elements (snare, kick, bass are some prime offenders). Either this or changing the way I chain my compressors seems to have given me a lot more volume.

                    > Also finally found the courage to put my fake synth strings into an otherwise analog project, because he said what I've been thinking but afraid to ask: if you made it sound the way you wanted it to start with, do you still need to process it when you mix it? No.

                    I've only done two electronic projects in the wild. One the producer knew what he wanted but couldn't quite get the sound, so I had a bit of work to do; the other new his sound but had too much going on so most of the work was going through with him to thin out the mix. The Furch mix is next on my list, so doing something that requires very little work is going to be interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

                    > I wanted to ask Mark Needham, how many compressors in a row do you need? Imagined him replying, "I don't know, how many are there?"

                    Approve of this philosophy. My vocal chain will have 3-4 compressors on the lead parts before master. Not doing very much mind, and a some of them on lead + backing. I haven't looked at this yet, but it'll be the next one after I'm done with Richard Furch's.

                    > So, you're not really doing anything MORE, just using two plug ins to give a little of the right stuff rather than one big dose of something that might not work so well.

                    It's one part that - it's creating an EQ curve that no single EQ can do (at least not without losing the subtle harmonic changes) - and one part laziness - I could try to fold the sound back into a single EQ but it'd take a while to do (Warren's talked about this with why sometimes he ends up with long plugin chains - it's easier to keep going than try to make everything perfect and succinct).

                    > And it also makes sense to not have the eq's on til you've done the rest of the work. Engage it as it's needed, right? And in the case of "of this I'm sure" it was completely about the song you were working on.

                    Yep, I started poking at Get Over It and it has a much less saturated SSL based chain on the master. Though I don't run off a template, so I pick things as I need them. _But_ I do have things organised so I can quickly find the things I need. I'm actually about to reorganise my plugin folders to be even more descriptive.

                    > How do you handle volume automation on busses when you are mixing into a compressor on your mixbus?

                    Reaper has a nice trim mode, so I can automate and trim independently. I'll usually gain stage against the loudest section, then pull back parts I want quieter (I'll usually want less saturation on the quieter parts anyway).

                    I also set up up a VCA on my four final busses so I can change the volume of everything going in to the Master (Drums, Bass, Music, Vocals. Sometimes I might split out Music, but it's whatever I've got. Each of these is fed from other busses. I'm using Reaper so this set up using folders). Could also use a trim as the first Master Plugin, but I like having volume things on faders so I can turn off all my master effects with no volume change.

                    Between the two it lets me push just the right level into my master effects.

                    >

                    #46883
                    James Gorman
                    Participant

                      Oops, thought I posted this this morning....

                      > The master chain is used to simulate what a mastering engineer would do.

                      It's probably worth me noting that my Master chain isn't for this. At least until I need to loudify it. Since I have Ozone as the last plugin, if I want 'mastered' I'll use the multiband (maybe) and the limiter to louden it up (next time a mix comp comes up that feels like it demands excitement I might add some of the tricks Warren talks about to this too). Until I do this I have a loud, but not squared off, mix. But it's horses for courses, and you have to do what feels right for you and the music (and listen to your ME!).

                      > Everything is going great until I try to make it louder

                      I was having a similar problem - when I pushed the limiter post mix it would distort before it got loud. I often stick a tape emulator, clipper or limiter on loud, highly transient elements (snare, kick, bass are some prime offenders). Either this or changing the way I chain my compressors seems to have given me a lot more volume.

                      > Also finally found the courage to put my fake synth strings into an otherwise analog project, because he said what I've been thinking but afraid to ask: if you made it sound the way you wanted it to start with, do you still need to process it when you mix it? No.

                      I've only done two electronic projects in the wild. One the producer knew what he wanted but couldn't quite get the sound, so I had a bit of work to do; the other new his sound but had too much going on so most of the work was going through with him to thin out the mix. The Furch mix is next on my list, so doing something that requires very little work is going to be interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

                      > I wanted to ask Mark Needham, how many compressors in a row do you need? Imagined him replying, "I don't know, how many are there?"

                      Approve of this philosophy. My vocal chain will have 3-4 compressors on the lead parts before master. Not doing very much mind, and a some of them on lead + backing. I haven't looked at this yet, but it'll be the next one after I'm done with Richard Furch's.

                      > So, you're not really doing anything MORE, just using two plug ins to give a little of the right stuff rather than one big dose of something that might not work so well.

                      It's one part that - it's creating an EQ curve that no single EQ can do (at least not without losing the subtle harmonic changes) - and one part laziness - I could try to fold the sound back into a single EQ but it'd take a while to do (Warren's talked about this with why sometimes he ends up with long plugin chains - it's easier to keep going than try to make everything perfect and succinct).

                      > And it also makes sense to not have the eq's on til you've done the rest of the work. Engage it as it's needed, right? And in the case of "of this I'm sure" it was completely about the song you were working on.

                      Yep, I started poking at Get Over It and it has a much less saturated SSL based chain on the master. Though I don't run off a template, so I pick things as I need them. _But_ I do have things organised so I can quickly find the things I need. I'm actually about to reorganise my plugin folders to be even more descriptive.

                      > How do you handle volume automation on busses when you are mixing into a compressor on your mixbus?

                      Reaper has a nice trim mode, so I can automate and trim independently. I'll usually gain stage against the loudest section, then pull back parts I want quieter (I'll usually want less saturation on the quieter parts anyway).

                      I also set up up a VCA on my four final busses so I can change the volume of everything going in to the Master (Drums, Bass, Music, Vocals. Sometimes I might split out Music, but it's whatever I've got. Each of these is fed from other busses. I'm using Reaper so this set up using folders). Could also use a trim as the first Master Plugin, but I like having volume things on faders so I can turn off all my master effects with no volume change.

                      Between the two it lets me push just the right level into my master effects.

                      >

                      #46885
                      Guido tum Suden
                      Keymaster

                        Okay, Master Bus Chain.

                        EQ: I hope, I won't have to use it. Sometimes I go back to the channels and rather change things there and sometimes it's just a little tweak on the master bus. Anyway, I use the master bus EQ completely different than two years ago, because the sound that goes to the master bus is completely different after two years of learning how to mix.
                        While I often did the things you see on many YT videos like adding sparkle and bass, I now often do the opposite: Cutting bass so it cuts through better and lowering the highs, because again I used too much while mixing. (SPL Passeq, Volko Q3D, Airwindows Average, FF Pro Q2)

                        Compressor: Don't use it if you don't have to. Lisa, I think, this might be one of the reasons you lose some of the instruments. 2โ€“3 dB is a lot and what ratio do you use. I often see setting lower than 2:1 here. Attack and release have a huge impact on the sound. If you're not sure, just leave it of for now. (usually Vertigo VCS-2)

                        Gain Staging: I usually go for -12 to -9 dBFS peak. And there is an easy way to do that and looking at LUFS at the same time. I have HoRNeT VU Meter Mk3 for that. It's first on any channel. You run the loudest part of the song, hit Auto, and it will set the Gain for you. It can also set the gain of all channels at the same time but I haven't used that feature, yet.

                        Volume: If you have lot's of headroom left, like I usually have, just put in a Gain plugin for that so that the peaks won't reach 0 dB (in modern DAW you can go above without running into problems at once, but I just don't like the little red lights).

                        Tape Emulation: I think it's a good thing for most PLAP-typical songs. I use Airwindows Tape5 or ToneBoosters ReelBus 4. Depending on the plugin and how you use it, it can replace the master bus compressor and also the eq.

                        Final Loudness: That will be -14 LUFS integrated in my case, because it's the average loudness for the different online platforms like YouTube, so I guess it's good for PLAP as well. To get there I use a limiter (almost always FF Pro-L2) and hopefully it just limits a few very high peaks, nothing more.
                        If I already had less the -14 LUFS before limiting I guess I used too much compression on the channels.

                        As you can see, I like lot's of dynamic and I try to achieve that while mixing ๐Ÿ™‚ (Still working on it, though)

                        Guido

                        #46887
                        Just Lisa
                        Participant

                          Jason: adjusting compressor after volume automation changes. One change, you might not hear, but make a bunch of changes and ... oops. Combine with Guido's notion about the ratio and there's a huge part of my problem right there!

                          James: snare kick and bass.. that's what's feeding my parallel compression bus that's going into the mix. I know I haven't gotten into the habit of checking that after automation changes. And those are the things that seem to disappear when the death spiral starts! More volume means those will be the first things squashed, right? 'Cause when I'm trying to fix things, there's always a threshold where I start turning things up instead of down and I'm thinking about automation and not about the really great levels I set at the beginning when it all worked.

                          I don't even feel stupid. It makes sense, but I hadn't thought about it enough til just now.

                          Guido: "I use the master bus EQ completely different than two years ago, because the sound that goes to the master bus is completely different after two years of learning how to mix." Brilliant. I find it very encouraging. And thank you for your info with the numbers. I am definitely going to try not using a compressor on the mix for awhile until I'm getting better mixes.

                          I'm trying to think of a good way to describe the balancing act I just got a glimpse of in my head. I work in a ballet studio. I LOVE ballet (discipline, technical details, music, craft, history, traditions). Have you ever seen a full on Waltz of the Flowers in person? Have you ever been backstage during a ballet with a big corps number? It only looks like chaos, entrances, exits, crossovers. Every piece has to work together or it becomes a train wreck. But every piece is a person who has to remember where to be and what steps to be performing -- at the same time as controlling her own movements to perform all the steps properly so she doesn't fall over or run into someone else -- on and off stage. Ballet = balance. It's physically and mentally punishing. I suck at ballet. I'm better at acting like a dancer than actually dancing. But that's okay, I get to be in the thick of it whenever possible.
                          The point (ouch) in this case is that I've been thinking too linearly about mixing. I need to imagine more three-dimensionally. There's forces that act on all or many pieces at the same time. And there's forces created by pieces themselves that affect all the other pieces. That rough mix isn't 'rough draft' outline of a novel ready for the red pen and major changes, it's 'rough' like rough framing a house.
                          After you have balance that works -- you must preserve it carefully. And everything that can upset it must be attended too with every change. It's beautiful, and intimidating.

                          Gentlemen: I really appreciate you taking time to write all about your processes here. Being able to read them and reread them and compare... priceless.

                          We should keep talking about it, other people might like it too.
                          Sorry this got kind of long, it's only 4 in the AM. !?!?
                          : )

                          #46894
                          Jason Davenport
                          Participant

                            Like Warren has said, a couple of .5db moves, and you've rebalanced your mix by 1db ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad to help! It is also helpful to me to see other peoples thinking on this, so maybe more folks will chime in!

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