Guest Post: 10 Tips from a Mastering Engineer!

Guest Author, Klaus Heavyweight Hill is a Mix and Mastering Engineer who has made his name working with labels such as Ministry Of Sound, Sweat It Out!, Soul:r and Spinnin’ Records. His lengthy client list includes work for artists including Pnau, Heldeep, SCNDL, Peking Duk, John Dahlback, Chris Lorenzo, DJ Zinc, Will Sparks, Felix Da Housecat, Yolanda Be Cool, and Kilter. 

Today, Klaus walks us through 10 Tips from a Mix and Mastering Engineer

1. Hit the mono switch…

Remember most club systems are still mono.

Every now and then check your mix in mono to make sure everything is sounding balanced and sitting in the right place and you’ve not got any phase issues. You may notice holes in mono that you might never have heard while working in stereo. 

If you hear only a little difference when switching from stereo and mono, hit those pan pots and get the stereo widener out!

It’s not for everyone, but I spend at least 50% of my time working in mono, just getting the mix balance right and everything sounding good. Once I’m happy, I’ll then start on getting the width I want.

2. Struggling with kicks that are not big and subby enough? 

Try this out the next time you’re in the studio!

To get a massive kick drum, layer your kick with a low sine wave and tune the sine to the key of the track. Remember to use a high pass filter on your original kick so that the low ends don’t clash and it doesn’t become too overbearing in that area.

3. Always trust your ears!!

Music isn’t for looking at. If you’re not sure, step back, close your eyes and listen!

If it sounds right, it’s right

If it’s wrong…you’ll definitely, know it!

4. Practice, Practice, Practice.

It’s all about putting in the hard yards, there are no shortcuts. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon!

5. Keep your plugins and samples to a minimum.

Learn to work with what you’ve got.

6. Step away from your mix. 

Your ears get fatigued. If you are working particularly hard on one sound/instrument, your ears will be quite literally numbed to that frequency range.

7. Your goal is not individual perfection, it is collective perfection in the mix. 

You need to understand that you can only do so much. Not every instrument can or should have a full, rich low end or a sharp attack. If every instrument is EQ’d to have the same effect, it will lose its identity in the mix. 

8.Take risks and don’t be afraid.

The best EQ tricks were found by the mad scientists of sound. So give it a go, no matter what it is!

9. Digital Notch EQ’ing.

When a particular sound is really bothering me, say a vocal or a tambourine, before I start doing broad sculpting equalization, I’ll often find one or two really offensive frequencies and completely notch them out. 

The Waves Q1 or the Sony Oxford EQ’s are good for this. 

Set a super tight notch and start very slowly sweeping where you think the really offensive frequency is, you’ll know when you find it, and it will often sound like its ringing, then just get rid of it. Often you’ll find what remains to be much more manageable. But be careful, sometimes those frequencies are too important to a sound to get rid of.

Don’t EQ so much! I often hear people going on about this 6 band or that 10 band parametric EQ. Most of the time I don’t use more than one or two bands to EQ a sound, and never use a ten band parametric, ever. Let your ears guide your equalization and not your eyes.

Often, I won’t EQ or compress a sound at all and concentrate on its stereo placement only. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s not right if it’s not processed!

Less is more, chisel away at sounds, cutting is better than boosting.

10. Record your work at the end of each day.

Even if you aren’t into it or feel you haven’t achieved much. Then, listen to it away from your music setup to refresh your perspective and to spark new ideas. When I’m mixing a big project, I listen to my work-in-progress every morning at home, make a list of things to address and then head to the studio. When I sit down, I can get straight into it and more importantly, I know that each edit will make a positive difference to the track – even if its just ‘1db on the vocal’ or ‘fix cymbal at bar 48.

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