2 Mastering Moves For Radio Ready Mixes (One Song One Month Challenge 7/8)

| Audio Example, Mastering, One Song One Month Challenge 2016, Plugins, Tips, Video

As you near the end of any mix you need to ask yourself one important question: “Is your mix radio ready?”

I don’t mean if your song is going on the radio, but rather can it sonically “hang” with the pro mixes that it will inevitably be up against in an iTunes playlist.

Today let me show you two simple mastering moves you can use to put that finishing touch on your mix to make sure it sounds good both in and outside of your studio!

Mixing vs Mastering – What’s The Difference?

If you work on your own music, you might be wondering what really is the difference between the mix process and the mastering process.

Isn’t the mix buss processing we did last week the same as mastering? Why do I still need to “master” my material if the mix sounds good?

Great questions. This video will explain a lot in case you’re confused.

Is Your Mix Radio Ready?

At this point in the process your mix should just about done.

So let me ask you: how do you like to complete your mix/master? How do YOU know when your track is ready to be released to the world? Let me know below in the comments!

 

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87 Responses to “2 Mastering Moves For Radio Ready Mixes (One Song One Month Challenge 7/8)”

  1. lucaslecompte

    I know my song is ready when I have listened to it on headphones, buds, and everywhere else and it sounds good to me. I also usually get a few people to listen to it too to see if they can get anything that I missed.

    Reply
    • Andrew MacDonald

      I was thinking that too. The reference was crowded, squashed and the vocals weren’t balanced. Graham’s song sounded great though.

      Reply
  2. olof

    The last things i do are listening,listening and listening. Every were. No pare of speakers is safe . 🙂

    Reply
  3. Jimmy smith

    Love the tune.
    Just finished mine. Ready for the big reveal. Good luck to all and I am looking forward to hearing what everyone else has created.

    Reply
  4. Andrew MacDonald

    Wow that sounds great! I really like the backing vocals. Awesome stuff. Thanks for this series Graham!

    Reply
  5. Donald Buick

    Hi Graham.

    Firstly, thanks for all the useful, invaluable even, advice you share with us.

    I was interested in the mastering process using a comparison with a reference track.

    However, what I took most out of the exercise was, once again, the principle of “less is more”.
    Perhaps it was an unintended consequence, but I felt that making a 1.5dB cut at around 50 Hz made the bass guitar stand out more than previously.

    But then, maybe that’s because I’m a bass player……….

    Cheers for now.

    Reply
  6. KD

    Hi Graham,
    Like your moves and decisions when mastering I will apply it to my mix, good stuff

    Thanks

    Reply
  7. Rick Spyder

    Killer … Ian Shepard would be proud of you
    Btw your mix is way better than the reference and you made it sound even better
    In the end … cheers

    Reply
    • Jimmy Smith

      Yes Graham’s mix sounded blatantly better . I listened to it on my JBL’s, my I pad, and on my computer speakers. Better all the way around.

      Reply
      • Kris

        Yo graham am afraid to put out my mix. Don’t know what people will say or think. Besides listening to it and laugh .
        Every one is way too good

        Reply
  8. Clive

    Your song sounds great Graham, as others have said Your Song is better than the Reference.

    My bad news, I was just putting the finishing touches to my effort sounding OK to me, saved as usual ( and backed up externally), only to find next day that my harddrive has fried losing a lot of vital info, plus the backup some how got corrupted. I am gutted to say the least. Not been a good start to the year for me so far.. This has made me even more focused, grrrhhh!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Tryggvasson

      It happened to me on an occasion. Horrible. Don’t give up, man! Also, try to have backups on different physical media, to be (a little) safer.

      Reply
    • Jack Kwait-Blank

      Don’t fret! (music joke) My drummer had the same thing happen and you can get your HD recovered (be it the internal or external). MicroCenter and other computer stores should be able to do this for you. Also, you might want to get an external enclosure and snap in your fried internal hard drive. It’s possible it’s fried from a boot standpoint, but not a storage standpoint. Try it out!

      Reply
      • Darin Skywalker

        Hey thanks. Is is. A great website I think I will put a link in mine. My problem is less is more concept. Looking at your mixdown wave file taught me a lot. Because my mixdown is always huge and it always sounds too loud and it will be at -4 db. so I can mix I’ll just use a limiter and turn things down a little. But I can never master the file after that or barely master it because I can barely turn down the threshold without things sounding like shit I make a lot of hip hop so the bass has to be high but learning that every instrument doesn’t have to be huge either especially a low frequency you can barely here on headphones anyways

        Reply
    • Mathias Waagnes

      Damn, I felt the pain and frustration when I read that. Our band had a similar problem with a file in ableton once. Impossible to recover. The second mix turned out better so we were not very sad about that.
      So now I usually back up our stuff in the cloud. So far so good. There is some services that keeps a copy of any folder you specify and continuously update it automatically. Box and OneDrive is quite good. I have 1TB with OneDrive and that works for me at least.

      Reply
  9. Tryggvasson

    Awesome! I actually think your mix sounds better, which is a lot, given the way the song was recorded (sampled drums and DI guitars with virtual amps). Which says two things – one, you can really cut it with those, and, two, it doesn’t matter how ”analog” and “pristine” your recording environment is, if you’re gonna ruin the sound in mixing decisions (I don’t like the `commercial` reference mix – but it could just be me). I assume the `professional` reference mix is recorded in a `real` studio, I could be wrong – it sounds like all those velvety, smooth, round textures are missing in that. I would have kept the bottom a little bit more, in my mix, and maybe have attenuated the presence boost, but I understand you are doing broad strokes to make the impact more obvious. Great thing that low mid boost does. Again, awesome!

    Reply
  10. Mike

    Hey Graham – much like everyone else, I liked your song better than the reference but that’s beside the point. My question: the reference song you used. Is the wave form to the reference song flat appearing simply because it has been limited? After you limited your song, did the wave form appear flat as well?

    Thanks again for another great video.

    Reply
  11. Charles

    This has been really fun!
    I probably have the best mix I have ever had in my life.
    Thanks for the challenge and all of this.
    I am quite anxious to hear others’ track.
    Thanks Graham.
    Ciao

    Reply
  12. Jack-E

    Hey Graham,

    I prefer your mix as well; less squashed is a good way to describe yours vs the reference.

    Clive, I had a similar mishap last week, and I was fortunate enough to recover the lost hours (and material) and get back on track. I really encourage you to make backups after every session. Plug a 16 or 32 gig USB stick in the back of your PC (they’re cheap now). and just run quick backups there .

    Waiting on input from 2 other listeners; then ready to master and publish!

    Thanks for the series again, G.

    Jack-E

    Reply
  13. Erik Dangenoir

    So let me ask you: how do you like to complete your mix/master? How do YOU know when your track is ready to be released to the world?

    Well to me my MIX/MASTER is finished and ready to be released when I login to your site and your not smilling on your picture !

    Maybe it’s just superstition or a mystic truth but it works.

    So you guys out should give it a try.
    If Graham is smilling on his first page pic after you thought your MIX/Master was ready…It is not !

    So go back to your mixing/mastering software and fix it some more. Then login to RECORDING REVOLUTION and look at Graham’ pic. Oh ! He isn’t smilling anymore.
    Then be proud for you have just made your MIX/MASTER your track is now ready to be released to the world !

    Simple as that !

    Sincerely,

    Erik Dangenoir
    Audio engineer at CERC’LOEIL
    Producer/Composer/Singer/Guitarist/Bassist/Keyboardist and Programmer at Cercl’oeil Productions
    Founder of IMAGINARY STEPS (Cult goth band in Quebec’s Province)
    Founder Of INSANASOMNIA (First french-singing deathrock band in the world)

    And I dig Graham though I do not know what he thinks of my MIXES or MASTERS or Songs for He never answered me (3 MONTHS already)
    Ian Sheppard a friend of mine did replied promptly and in his own funny ways. I like him a lot.

    I know it was riscky to try attempting an absurd joke but I have to do it in order to see if you are a robot mixing engineer or a human engineer.

    Cheers (I’ve been following you for a long time now…under many different names but I never felt any FUN or Happiness or… You are a good teacher but you do not make mixing sound like a pleasuring experience.) -I could be wrong !!!! But you make mixing sounds like a damnation !!! lol!
    I just hope that you are not that ULTRA-ALPHA-MALE-MIXER-HYPER-CONFIDENT and SELF-ADMIRING type of guy.

    I am following you on twitter but you do not followback ???

    Ho !!!!!

    I don’t care….
    Peace/health and humour to you Graham !!!!!!!
    EL VIVA The Recording Revolution

    Reply
    • Erik Dangenoir

      Forget most of what I said ! Please !

      Seriously Your TRACK sounded better (SOUNDWISE) compare to the other MASTERED Track !!!!!!!

      But (MUSICWISE) The mastered song is a much better song (TO ME)

      First your vocals are out of tune or have been treated (RIGHT)?
      And any songs that cheerish (GOD) I can’t stand it. I’m an ATHEIST. And like Richard Dawins, the late Christopher Hichens, Daniel Bennet, Sam Harris …up to Bill Maher!
      I forgot Lawrence Krauss and …..

      So when I hear your song on the radio although it will sound good …the lyrics will or could make someone skip your track or change station….
      Did or do also take that factor into account ?
      Because the sample of your song used : I heard : GOD I BELIEVE…..
      So that got me frighten and deceived.

      FOR all gods were created by men and to our image.

      I pitty believers for not knowing that they live in a prison called: RELIGION

      RELIGION HAS NO SENSE EXISTING ANYMORE.

      Just be free for god never existed !!!!!
      Cheers Graham !!!! (This has nothing to do with your MIXING talent.
      But MUSIC TALENT….. I do not think you are ready yet ! Sorry ! Just my opinion on your music. THAT IS ALL !

      If you had taken another song than one of yours. I wouldn’t had to mention this !!!!

      I just hope you can take a not like (AS A MAN) ! But i’m sure you can !

      I’ll keep on learning about (MIXING) that’s all.

      Thanx for sharing your knowledge to us all.

      May nothingness bless you.

      Reply
  14. Bryan Vanderhill

    How do I know when it’s done? I use a reference track to try to get it close with regard to tonal quality and volume. I have several people I know give it a listen. I trust they will tell me if it needs work and I think they have pretty good ears. But in the end, when I’m about tired of hearing my own song for the millionth time and my ears are numb, I give up! : )

    All kidding aside, this was a lot of fun. Thanks Graham!

    Reply
  15. Timothy Mendoza

    Hey Graham, I’m working in Studio One Artist and don’t have the mastering portion of the program. Would you recommend importing a final mix into a new project and mastering by adding EQ to the master bus? Or, should I just try to do my best in the master bus of the original project. (Sorry, I’m a total noob, maybe this is obvious)

    As promised, I’m still vloging about our attempt to meet your challenge. We finished guitars yesterday. Next will be vocals while still sick with the flue. More videos are on the way!

    Thanks again for lighting a fire. Working under a deadline with self imposed limitations inspired by your philosophy of simplicity has forced me to make decisions and move forward without getting wrapped up in perfectionism.

    Reply
  16. Michael Jensen

    Hey Graham,

    Thank you for this trick. I am absolutely going to try it as my mix is MUCH MUCH quieter than the reference mixes.

    As for how do I know when the track is ready to be released? At this point it’s based on diminishing returns. I’m at a point where anything I do to the track seems to take away from, rather than add to it. However this is likely just inexperience talking. I’m pretty new at this.

    Reply
  17. Smoov

    First of all…GREAT SONG! Can’t say thanks enough for this and all the other info and vids!

    Very, VERY helpful!

    Reply
  18. Mike Derrick

    Hey, are you going to post the songs somewhere so we can ALL hear them? Maybe you could do a “fan favorite” vote or something too? I’m curious how many folks completed your challenge and how many songs you’re going to end up with.

    Reply
  19. Frank Vivian

    I’ve learned a lot from you, Grahame but have to disagree with most of this. First, why would you ever want to sound like the “reference” you used? Second, the phrase “commercially viable” should be banned from all talk of recording. Do we really want to sound like everybody else? With that thinking Sgt. Pepper’s would never have happened. Just my feelings, not trying to be negative.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Thanks for sharing – if you caught the point of the video, the idea is to make sure your song doesn’t sound SO out there (too quiet, too off tonally) that it becomes a distraction in a playlist. It should have a certain level of quality to be shared. That’s all we’re going for here.

      You can pick your own reference tracks of course!

      Reply
  20. Chris (modson)

    cool video (As always) Graham!

    What was the reference track? It sounded cool!

    Also,
    Could you do something on how and why to use K-scale? I’ve tried reading about it, but I’m not getting it… If anyone can explain that one…

    Cheers again, keep up the awesome work!
    modson

    Reply
  21. Scotty

    Hey Graham, awesome videos as always! I’ve got a question that I don’t want to come off the wrong way, you’ve opened my ears to a lot of the nuisances and what to expect/hear in professional recording.

    I’ve realized in your past few mixes on dueling mixes, and this one, that the guitars always seem to be washed out and far in the background and quiet while the bass has a low, rich and round tone to it. Is it a preference to have them come off less aggressive? My concern is that the vocals are the main element, yet the kick and bass dominate instrumentally when I felt from your previous recordings that the guitars sounded like you put a lot of effort on the arrangement for them to be so far away from the listener.

    I don’t mean any offense in what I say, I’m honestly curious and just wanted to know your thoughts. I’m either a guitar tone freak, or was thrown off by how loud the guitars are in the reference mix. Awesome video, and GREAT song!

    Reply
    • Graham

      Hey Scotty – great point. After this video I did some more tweaking to another reference track or two and ended up bringing out the the guitars a bit more for the same reason. Cheers.

      Reply
  22. Chuck T.

    I usually complete my mix with a stock multiband but I run into some distortion or too quiet of a wav. file. After seeing today’s video I used a 5 band eq and referenced a vaguely similar ‘professional’ recording. It helped me with a different viewpoint of my song. I used a Limiter and that allowed me to get a closer volume level. This mix was preferable to my first two with the multiband.
    I’m getting better at knowing when a track is finished. When I’m comfortable with how the song sounds and to the best of my abilities I finally ‘let it go’ release it on soundcloud or wherever! Many thanks Graham !

    Reply
  23. Justin Mooney

    Graham, I just have to tell that I can’t get your song out of my head! I love it when you mix your own music.

    And as always, thank you for sharing your mixing expertise with us.

    Reply
  24. John

    Well it has been a fun ride. This project was my first attempt at writing, recording and mixing my own song. Based on the notes above, I should be just about done. I just have to find one or two people to run my song past, outside of my family, and I should be good to go.
    I had a blast, and by the end of the week will have scratched off one of my bucket list goals!
    Can’t thank you enough, Graham, for your commitment to teaching.

    Reply
  25. Jim

    Shows that the so called reference track was heavily limited and when the level of that song was reduced Graham’s track had much more life and dynamics.

    However i think it was a mistake to add that much limiting to Grahams finished track. It definitely ended up sounding harsher to me. 3dB of limiting in mastering is a lot.

    There’s no point trying to sound “competitive”. iTunes Radio and Spotify all works of average loudness now of around -16.5 LUFS so anything louder, like the reference will just get automatically turned down and the songs that are less compressed will actually sound louder. Dynamics finally wins again. Brick wall limited tracks finally lose, and about time too.

    Bob Katz used to recommend a ballpark of -14dBfs for average loudness for pop/rock so that it retained dynamics but still had an edge of “competitiveness”. The new standard playback normalisation for iTunes Radio and Spotify is around 1.5 to 2 dB QUIETER than Bob’s already good K14 standard.

    I personally think mixes and masters sound better with average levels around the ballpark optimum operating level for most pro gear of 0VU/+4dBu/-18dBfs/-18 LUFS. A little lower for classical.

    You retain so much dynamic range that all it takes is to turn up the old volume knob on your hifi and you have what is really meant by a loud punchy mix.

    I accept that hotter overall levels are useful for noiser environments such as cars where the best solution would be a built in loudness normaliser in the car sound system to bring average levels up around -14 to -12dBfs with the hardware applying the extra limiting required, not the mix or mastering engineer.

    And a properly dithered 16 bit 44.1 cd or wav file can still sound great and have all the dynamic range you could feasibly use. There was never anything wrong with CDs. It’s just that mastering got silly loud, ear fatigue set in with consumers and many people stopped buying and listening to music as music lovers. Their ears literally got tired of music. Some early CDs like Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits or The Visitors by ABBA sound phenomenal on CD in their original editions and they have very conservative levels. The original CD of Thriller is another great example. How good does Billie Jean sound? Bruce Swedien used very little or no compression.

    Headroom is everything.

    Reply
    • Dennis Fry

      Well said! I read an article by Mr. Katz not too long ago along those lines and I agree. Dynamics are (or should be) an important part of music. 1dB or so of gain reduction is about the max for me when it comes to mastering.

      Reply
    • Colin Tench (@CorvusStone)

      I have to say that I agree. Everything Graham does is just wonderful, informative and encouraging to me and everyone else. The mastering tho’. I didn’t expect that. I would never do that to music again. True also that radio, itunes and even youtube, are helping by limiting the loud uploads. Effectively helping to bring musicality back in to music.

      Reply
    • Chris Fezzler

      And by the way, I have spent more time on this song than any other to date, It has taught me, and trained my ears, to look for and hear the changes that small increments can make. Especially in the low and mid lows. Fix that bass rumble – pow – there is that acoustic guitar!

      Reply
  26. Martin Weeks

    I’ve been applying nearly all your suggestions now for a long time. But the EQ and Limiter in mastering is a break through for me.

    While the true really great sound doesn’t translate in mp3 nonetheless here’s the link for one of the last two songs we’ve produced in the last two weeks as a direct result of this video series. Hope you enjoy the song. If you’d like to hear the wav file mastered song email me and I’ll send it to you.
    http://linmarproductionsllc.com/track/958147/a-place-i-ve-never-been-mp3?autostart=true

    Thank you for finally helping me to understand correctly how to work with a limiter. By the way I use “Limiter6” which is a free plugin and a monster. Graham check it out and we’d love to see a video review of it from you? Peace.

    Reply
  27. Dion Gering

    Thanks Graham for all the help. After going to the studio for our first album we decided to record our second album ourselves. We started recording this month and have got the drums, guitar and bass tracks done. It could not have been possible without guidance from people like you. We used a cheap interface and mics and mostly stock plugins but our rough mixes already sound better than the studio tracks. Thanks again and I look forward to every video you put out.

    Reply
  28. Martin

    Hey Graham!
    Great challenge! I finished my song and posted it on soundcloud. How do we post it to you? Have I missed something?
    Thanks for your help, you’re an amazing teacher. I use to watch every video about mixing and realised that I was spending more time watching than playing and recording. So I’ve decided to watch only your videos and the ones that Warren Huart puts on YouTube. You guys are my mixing mentors!
    Thanks,
    Martin

    Reply
  29. Chris Willson

    Hey, Graham,

    Thanks for the detailed explanations. One issue I have never seen explained is that of balance between left and right channels after mixing. No matter the dynamics, panning or stereo spread, all professionally mixed/ mastered tracks seem to always have perfectly balanced volume between the left and right channels. What is the secret to this uniformity?

    Reply
    • Kris

      That is not always the case. Some AC/DC songs start with a guitar to one side which makes it lopsided for a while. The key thing is the arrangement (making sure besides are covered) and careful mixing. Also keep in mind that most commercial songs have a very high RMS level which squashes all the differences on any side into nothingness :), wouldn’t you say Graham?

      Reply
  30. Kris

    Great info Graham, as always. Ian is my hero too ;). Fantastic way to share your knowledge and allow independent artists to grow. I also like your Song better and I would like to add some thoughts not on the music side you mention but the technical side. Someone mentioned the reference track being squashed etc. it is, and it doesn’t have to be. Most online services do RMS normalization nowadays (-12 for YouTube and Spotify, -15 for ITunes). If a given track has an overall RMS level higher then that it will basically get pulled down so that it fits with “normalized” level (whichever one you listen to -12 or -15) The prefered peak level for the masters is -1dBfs. Watch out for the inter sample overs. A track mastered to 0dB can over inter sample overs of +0.6 dBFs. A true peak limiter will not allow that but most of the other will. The key thing really is to use -1dBfs as a your upper limit and chances your true peaks will actually be higher. The loudness war is slowly dying out. Let’s put dynamics back into our mixing!!!

    Reply
  31. Jerry Cook

    Graham,

    Thanks for everything you do. Your willingness to go the extra mile to help the average home studio owner is unmatched. Thank you.

    A few lessons I have learned from this exercise;

    1. I can record a song if I just focus.
    2. It will get better with practice.
    3. I am not the greatest singer in the world which leads to lesson 4.
    4. Record the song in a key that you can handle. I had a melody and riff in mind so I just recorded what I was thinking. After the fact when I was laying down vocal tracks I realized my mistake. Had to just continue on rather than re-record everything.
    5. My last lesson learned……nothing has to be perfect.

    Thanks again for everything and I look forward to hearing what everyone has been able to do.

    Reply
  32. michael jensen

    Well, I guess my song is done. I just finished the mastering phase with the limiter.

    This is the first one I’ve ever finished. it doesn’t sound as good as yours. More like a good demo I think. but from everything you and and Joe talk about, I suspect that’s normal for a beginner.

    Here is hoping that the more of these I do, the better I’ll get at it.

    Thanks so much Graham.

    Reply
  33. Brian

    Hey Graham

    I really like the song, and look forward to hearing the finished version. I’m getting ready to wrap up my song, but I was wondering if you or anyone else on here could tell me when the deadline is exactly. Will it be exactly a month, so on February 4th, or will it be 4 weeks from January 4th, which would be February 1st?

    This has been a very challenging and all-encompassing experience for me, and I’ve learned and developed a lot from it. Thanks for presenting it, and for all that you do.

    Good luck to everyone!!

    Brian

    Reply
  34. DjSker

    Hi Graham. I really enjoyed your series here. Just one thing…..I heard you never want to put a limiter on your master channel. I guess that is false? Why would someone say that?
    Thank you for your input and help.

    Reply
    • Graham

      You don’t really want to mix through a limiter, but limiters put on at the end of a mix can help you if you are “self mastering”

      Reply
  35. Jeff Wyatt

    Nice work on that demonstration, Graham. By the time you were done I found your mastered mix to be more pleasing to listen to them the commercial reference track.

    Reply
  36. Brian

    So I’ve been learning to record rock / metal and lately trying to learn mastering in PT. When I used a reference track it was just starting to clip. But still orange not hitting red. So I used Maxim to get it to the same and my song ended up being louder when I listened to it on my car stereo. Several metal redeems tracks I tried all did the same. Any ideas?

    Reply

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