In the final part of How to Master a Song In Pro Tools, we will be adding final polishing to our master as well as a mastering limiter.
Our master already sounds great after all the EQ and compression. What I want to do at this point is to add a little bit of stereo width to make the track sound wider and livelier. I’m going to use a dedicated enhancer or exciter plugin developed exactly for this task, the SPL Vitalizer MK2-T.
I insert the Vitalizer into my mastering chain, and reach for the stereo expander knob immediately. Just like during any other task in mastering, less is more. Don’t be drawn into the “instant maximization” effect provided by the knob. Be gentle.
I find a value just below 4 is more than enough to “stereoize” our track. If I go past the value I set, the stereo effect gets too overwhelming, crowding the whole master with stereo information. Once again, it might sound nice, but don’t go overboard!
I don’t touch the other knobs in the Vitalizer, as I only wanted some stereo excitement out of it.
Make it a record
The final stage of mastering is applying the mastering limiter at the end of the chain. The limiter is used to inject final volume into the track and apply a ceiling for peaks which sound will never pass.
I will be using Slate Digital’s great FG-X mastering processor.
The FG-X basically has a compressor and a level section in one, but I will be disabling the compressor since we already applied compression, and just use the level section instead.
The first thing I am going to do, is calibrate the VU meters on the bottom right, to respond to the RMS (the average level) I aim for in my master. I’m going to click “Settings” and set the reference RMS level to -10RMS, which is a very healthy average level of loudness, but still loud in today’s standards.
The meters are now set and we’re ready to go. I click “Constant Gain Monitoring” button so the gain I apply into the limiter will not affect my output volume. In other words, I can compare the processed and unprocessed versions easily by clicking the “Power” button on the FG-Level. The goal here is to get a loud sounding track without it becoming distorted or crushed.
I start raising the gain to reach my goal of -10RMS on the meters. When close to it, I use the “Dynamic Perception” knob, which enhances the perceived loudness of the track to bring up more perceived level, and enhance some transients using the transient knobs to taste.
After these treatments, I adjust the gain once again to reach -10RMS, which will be my final average level of the master. Lastly, I adjust the ceiling to -0.2 on the peak scale and make sure dithering is on for exporting the master to CD-quality 16-bit, 44.1kHz WAV-file. Also, I disable the “Constant Gain Monitoring” function before exporting.
After the finalizing tasks with the Slate Digital FG-X, my master is finally sounding like a finished record, ready to go. All I need to do now is bounce the finished master to disk with the right settings, making sure I have chosen the right bit depth and sample rate for the bounce.
I hope you have learned a lot for your mastering endeavors from this series of articles. The tools I chose to use are just a few among an ocean of plugins. So feel free to use the EQs, compressors, enhancers and limiters you have in your possession, and the tools you are comfortable with. The principles are universally the same.
If you have any questions about mastering, comments or feedback, please leave them below and I’ll get back to you.