How to Learn Audio Mastering | Are You Listening? | S2 Ep6

How to Learn Audio Mastering | Are You Listening? | S2 Ep6

(upbeat music) – [Jonathan Wyner] Hello,
my name’s Jonathan Wyner and welcome to another episode of ‘Are You Listening?’. Today’s episode is
entitled “How do I learn?” And I guess that’s sort of one of the motivations for everybody to be here, to watch this. Any of these videos or go on YouTube and learn anything about music production. Is to try figure out how
to figure something out. It’s not lost on me that
one of the main modalities for people of my generation in helping to learn about mastering or anything associated was mentorship. Sadly, I guess this is something that’s harder to come by. It’s harder to come by an opportunity where you can shadow an experienced, accomplished
mastering engineer and get paid to observe what they do. Of course you’re getting paid when you’re working as a mentee to provide real service
back to the facility. So it’s kind of a win-win situation, but but that was a scenario I think that many people
avail themselves of to help them learn to become experts. That doesn’t exist so much anymore. And so now we have to try to recreate this idea of mentorship and figuring out how to impart wisdom, best practices, and so on. There are other kinds of assets you’ll find in the world like ear training tools. And this is something that I think that really has come about, especially as we moved away from the sort of professional
mentorship environment. Something I think it’s
important to state upfront and it’s important to
remind ourselves about is learning how to be good at anything. But to be good at something creative, is both challenging but it also should be joyful. I mean part of what makes
this fun is the challenge. If this was easy, I don’t think it would hold our interest as long it does. So whether it’s playing an instrument or learning how to be
good mastering engineer it takes time. And I think it’s important for you to kind of set your expectations accordingly. So you’ll find books. You’ll find short form
and long form courses. You’ll find videos like this one. And the other thing that you’ll find is ear training, like interactive online
ear training tools. Several years ago we created something called
Pro Audio Essentials. Which was designed to help you begin to develop your brain and your ear. So that you can begin to understand describe and develop your vocabulary in the arena of audio production. Generally, it was certainly more focused towards mastering. But you’ll find ear
training tools of this sort all over the internet. I have to give a shoutout to Dave Moulton who created the Golden Ears program. Way back in the day when and this was something was disc-based and you go and actually train your ears through repetition listening over and over again as different parts of the
spectrum were boosted or cut and just training yourself
about how to learn and how to listen. The place I think that you need to start is really diving deeply
into listening to music. And trying to understand what makes music of various genres be most effective. It’s very easy when we start learning the craft of audio production to get locked into our heads and get very intellectual and heady about, you know the, geeking the last little bit out of an equalizer or dither or what have you. But it’s important that we not lose side of the fact that we’re dealing with music, we’re dealing with art. So learning about the music so that then when we start getting into our heads and thinking analytically about how to do the
thing that we want to do. We still can hold on to that experience of what a great example of EDM feels like or classical music feels like or whatever genre it is that you’re working in. I think being able to hold on to that sense of artistry and to some extent being able to refer to the feeling that comes from steeping yourself in the music will ultimately serve you well when you dive into the nitty-gritty the details of music production. It feels a little bit like restating and restating the obvious. But you’re listening environment at the end of the day is gonna be so, so important in helping you learn. And helping you manage the challenges and understand the challenges that you’re dealing with. I like to use the analogy of Olympic athletes and their diets. If they put something nutritious that gives them the right energy at the right time into their bodies they’re going to be able to perform really, really well. If they’re eating something that’s suboptimal maybe they won’t perform at the moment they need to perform in the way they need to perform. For us, in our listening environments if you can’t hear accurately then your decision making, your judgments are based on something that’s not quite dialed in. That’s not focused in the way that you need it to be focused so that you can make an accurate judgment and then a proper action as a result of what you’re hearing. This is especially important, the context of learning because you may not be learning the right thing. If you’re listening in an environment with no high end you may be developing habits around EQ or tone or even balancing high frequency energy in a mix compared to low frequency energy that won’t be quite right. And once you start to develop habits I think it’s harder to change those habits when you move to a different environment. So spending a little time focusing on your listening environment or maybe a lot of time on your listening environment is highly recommended. We have many videos here at iZotope and they’re others in the world that talk about proper acoustic, setting up your monitors, proper monitor position, using headphones compared to speakers and so on and so forth. So I would refer you to
some of those materials. Once we’re in a place where we can hear pretty well, then we start to think about well how can I learn to do some of the basic tasks that are involved in audio production or in mastering. There are a couple of I think pretty easy things that we can do to start to level up when we think about mastering. Probably the most essential tool in mastering is EQ and learning how to manage tone and tonal balance. And so one of the things
that’s most important I think to practice is
learning how to EQ well. This is something that one can practice one’s whole life. I recommend that people
start at the beginning by just making little
adjustments, little changes in a recording with an EQ and think about observe what happens when you make a change. For instance, if you were to take an equalizer and put the turnover frequency at 100 hertz and lower the energy by 3 dB and listen to what happens. Listen to the relationship between the fundamental frequency
of a bass instrument compared to its harmonics. Listen to the way it
might change the balance between bass instruments and mid range instruments. Because EQ is in someways like frequency specific gain. Listen to the way it may
create a greater sense of spaciousness and openness because you’ve removed some heaviness from the sound. So we think in terms not only of tone we think in terms of instruments, we think in terms of instrumental balance. And it’s really helpful to develop adjectives to help you explain to yourself and maybe even other people in the room the affect, the change that you want people to be listening to and listening for. What I mean by that when I say adjectives is that sense of openness or if you’re making something clearer or if you’re making something smoother or heavier or brighter. All of these words can help us develop a sense of what the sound is we’re hearing and what the sound is that we’re after. And by using EQ, we can move the sound that we’re working with in the direction that we want it to go. One strategy you can use to help you learn how to do better with EQ, is to have a folder full of references of great sounding records. Maybe even segment them by genre. So let’s just take rock, sort of generically speaking as a genre. If you have a bunch of great sounding rock records and you’re working on a rock record yourself, the obvious thing to do is to compare your work against all of those references. We also have technical tools that we can use, that can help us think about the difference in our work compared to the references that we aspire to make
our work sound like. There’s a module in Ozone for instance called EQ match. Which allows you to compare tone, the tonal balance of your mix or your master against your destination target. We have to be careful about taking the EQ match suggestions too literally. If you do this over and over again, where you master something just using EQ and then comparing your results against several references that you think sound excellent. You will begin to notice your own tendencies and maybe that will
inform your own practices so that you can gradually adjust and learn from the references that you’re working towards. I’ve created an entire
video about compression. Learning about compression is probably one of the hardest things to do or it’s hard to get good at using compression. I think in part because compression is a tool that we use to reduce dynamic contrast in other words we’re taking something away and it’s harder to notice when there’s less of something as oppose to more of something. I think the same can be true of EQ. It’s harder sometimes to hear subtractive EQ compared to additive EQ. I think that going back
to my comments earlier about listening to music
is especially relevant when we think about compression and we think about dynamic contrast. If you can stay in that feeling place, where you’re noticing when you go from a verse to a chorus, is there enough dynamic contrast so I feel something when the chorus hits. It’s not just that I’m noticing that I’ve got two extra background voals but I actually feel like
the track has opened up. I feel like the track has grown, whether it’s grown through image or it’s grown in terms of level and dynamic change. I think staying in that place where you’re making those
kinds of observations about the audio that you’re working with can be really, really important. That leaves me to talking about how do we learn about loudness and level. And again, I can refer you to a video that I’ve made about loudness. This is especially hard because I think that
managing loudness and impact in some ways involves leveraging all of the different skills that we learned over time. But something you could try to do is again looking at your reference
tracks in your genre, that you think sound especially good is to measure across all of those tracks and notice something about the integrated LUFS of all those tracks. Master a track yourself and compare where you land to all of those other tracks. If your track lands at about the same integrated level as all the other tracks but it doesn’t sound as clear as all the other tracks. It doesn’t sound as punchy, or the instruments don’t speak as clearly, then that probably suggest something about working harder with EQ or tonal balance or it may even send you
back to the mixing stage. Thinking about, can I make a better mix so that I can get the same level but maybe by managing the
low end a little better or managing my balance between instruments a little better I’ll get a more satisfying result. If you end up in a different place in terms of the integrated level compared to your target, then that might suggest well let me think about
what’s causing that. Is it the overall level
just seems to be lower? Is it that I’ve got too much low end compared to mid range? Is it, you know maybe my verses drop in level too much compared to the choruses. There can be lots and
lots of different things that contribute to these differences but by noticing the difference or what the level is of your work compared to your references it can begin to stimulate some of the questions that you need to answer in order to figure out how to get your level to where you want it to be and have it sound a good as possible. A question that I hear a lot is, “Is my gear good enough for mastering?”. “Can I learn how to master and can I do a good job on what I have?” Taking the monitor chain out of the equation for a moment because that’s a big piece and there some very specific things that we need to say about being able to hear well and hear clearly. When it comes to signal processing tools, there are a couple of things that I think are pretty obvious about what makes a tool suitable for mastering. For instance, if the tool can adjust left and right simultaneously then it’s a good mastering tool. If you have to set the left and the right separately and independently that’s probably not ideal. It creates a problem with work flow and may mean that your stereo image gets a little weird and so on. Fortunately this is
usually not a big problem when we’re working with plug-ins. Otherwise, you may be
surprised to hear me say to some extent, an EQ is an EQ as an EQ. There are probably a hundred different kinds of equalizers that are available in plug-ins. Some that are stock in DAW’s. Some that are made by manufactures like iZotope and others. That all do essentially the same thing. The way you interact with the tool however can really affect the outcome affect the result. If you have a UI, a user interface, where a little change, one pixel of change in a filter, results in 10 dB of difference that may be a tool that’s
well suited to mixing but it’s not well suited to mastering. So, I think you’ll find that tools that are set up well for mastering, allow you to make small changes and really have command and control of those changes and get the visual representation of those changes scaled in a way that marries well to the activity of mastering. Obviously at some point you have to make your own decisions about whether there’s a qualitative difference between one tool or another that you find satisfying and that allows you to do what you need to do. But I think that the way we interact with the tool makes a big difference. In terms of finding things that are well suited to mastering. One of the most valuable resources that you can find and can leverage to help you learn is other people. If you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, then that mentor can be a source of feedback about have you tried this or I hear that, maybe there’s another way doing things. But again, not everybody
has that advantage. I highly recommend that people develop a community of others who are interested in the same things that they are. You know offer to a master
track by a friend of yours, give them that track, but make it conditional say that I’ll do this for you but you have to promise
to give me feedback and I want your honest
feedback about that. Because it’s not until you can kind of break out of your own echo chamber of thinking that you will begin to understand or get that other perspective that can help you
develop in your own work. Sometimes the feedback
will help you understand something about your monitoring. Sometimes it will simply offer you a perspective that you haven’t considered about your own work and help you get better and to develop. So I strongly, strongly recommend connecting with others. It’s very easy to get isolated in our environments, in front of our machines and our screens. We have a whole studio in a box. But remember ultimately,
we’re making music not just for ourselves but probably also to distribute it
and play it for friends or to sell it or whatever it is that we’re trying to do. So remember there are no right answers. Maybe there are answers in your work that will produce something that you’ll find more satisfying than others. But because we’re free to and be in that creative space, I encourage you to experiment. Try things. One of the best ways I think to learn about what works or doesn’t work is to allow yourselves to do crazy things. Take 20 dB out in the low end and listen to what happens. It’s only then that we begin to develop a vocabulary about what we like and what we enjoy. And remember, just because your work sounds a little different
from somebody else’s doesn’t mean that that’s wrong. Doesn’t mean that it’s
in any way less valid than somebody else’s work. We’re free to enjoy the work that we’re doing
while we’re doing it and to enjoy it when we
play it back for ourselves. Hopefully that gives you a little bit of perspective about how to learn. To do better at mastering. How to learn to be better at audio production or music production. Again, it’s a lifelong endeavor and I don’t think we stop learning and that’s part of the joy of it. Partly cause they’re always more genres there’s always new artists. And ultimately, if you’re anything like me you enjoy it simply because you love hearing new music and
being exposed to new ideas. Thank you very much for
tuning into this episode. This includes our second set of ‘Are You Listening’ videos. Remember, we’re going to publish a ‘We Are Listening’ video. So comments, questions, remarks put them underneath in the comment field and we’ll be going through those and answering as many
of those as possible. In the meantime let us know what you’re interested in hearing more about in the future. Whether it’s about
mastering, mixing, recording, post noise reduction, restoration. Anything at all we’re happy to hear from you. Thank s so much for joining me. My name’s Jonathan Wyner and I’ll see you on this screen soon. (upbeat music)

47 thoughts on “How to Learn Audio Mastering | Are You Listening? | S2 Ep6”

  • A really great and instructional series of videos. I learned a ton of stuff in here. I always ask myself, how much do special Fx play a role in mastering or is there a different approach for this between putting something on a Mix Bus in the process of mixing or when working out a final Master. FX for me are the use of Saturation in different forms (Tape Machine, Summing, Several Saturation Tools like Clippers or Tube Saturation) or FX like Reverb (to glue the mix up a little bit). And I ask myself what kind of automation does play a role in Mastering or which effects would you use at which point? I really would love to hear about your opinion on these things 🙂 Thanks for these videos 🙂

  • Dear iZotop and other producers I just posted a song which was mastered after seeing your tutorials. Please watch that on my channel and suggest improvements in that.

  • I just wanted to say thanks for this series. I'm probably one of many who is mastering their own tracks. I've been trying out the methods Jonathan has been explaining and it's really helped me improve.

  • read the pdf instructions of the plugins and apply it to the songs you know since you were a teenager to understand the effects

  • As someone who is learning audio processing in a strictly digital sense, I'd be very intrigued to see how to set up mics, micpres, how to get a great recording, etc., though that might be outside of your normal content. a lil bit

  • Love the stress he puts on listening to music and respecting art. A good song resonates with people unmastered, so don't mess with the vibe, just enhance.

  • Inspiring stuff, great series. Would be interesting if recording process was explored in next series.

  • Hi Jonathan, I have a question – how loud should be mastered a simple speech e.g. when recording a preaching in the church. Thank’s in advance. Jan.

  • Thanks for the videos. Great work! Can you make a video about how we should master for Spotify? All the little details. And also, What if we master more than standart -14 Lufs? Skrillex for instance has like -4Lufs. How to achieve that?

  • Thank you so much !!!This series has really helped me a lot. Please keep up the good work you guys are really making a difference.

  • We record all our band practices so I have a lot of recorded material to practice mixing and mastering with. This series has been a great resource for helping me improve how those practice tracks sound. I don't think I am where I want to be yet but I am definitely getting better! Thank you Jonathon!

  • I can only afford Ozone Elements to do my mastering. Is it possible to create a 'radio ready' product with Ozone Elements?

  • Would love to hear more about using multiple limiters. I've been just using only the one in OZONE 9. I see you used 2 in another video, and I see other engineers using 3 or 4. I know sometimes boys just like playing with toys and i'm wondering if all prosumer mastering uses multiple limiters or if just using one is standard anywhere? Are mastering engineers trying to aggrandize their skill-set by over complicating things? Cheers Love the Vids!

  • Is your speakers' frequency response flat? If so, most other speakers or headphones are not, so why would we want want a flat frequency response. I trying to pick the right headphones i've bought 4 pairs and will return 3. I'm trying "Reference 4 by Sonarworks" which flattens your Headphones eq profile. It seems most headphones have a high frequency bump and and so when mix/mastering my music with my heaphones now flattened I add more high end to make the music sound good. But then the extra high-end is too much on most other unflattened headphones. I'm looking for some kind of "sonic reference of truth"? Will there be a Tonal Balance control guide in the future for standard car audio frequency response or headphones. Is there a standardized headphone eq curve in general? THANKS!

  • Thank you for this series 🙂 a thing i have learned (among other things) is frequency placement in the mix. What stays in the low end, mid and high. If i have several instruments in the low end i use ducking to higlhlite the kick etc 🙂 (im doing mostly electronica/edm)

  • Maybe not relatible. but one thing that bugs me is when you working with sampels (drums/kick/snares) they always come Maximised… and before i start a mix I gainstage everything. but should you do that with those kind of sampels ?

  • This is a great series. Gold nuggets in every episode. Thanks! I went to school for this and feel like I'm getting more outta you tube than I did in class.

  • A series on audio restoration/correction in archival type situations would be fantastic! For example, a client brings in a box of old cassette masters they recorded in the 80s.

  • I have just recently bought Izotope just because of their free online listening programs. Something that I had searched for a long time. Ear training is so fundamental, then comes all the rest.

  • I am just trying to cut to the chase to record and release my music. This LUFS thing is causing me to revisit results that I was previously happy with in sound and CD volume. Frustrating. 1 step forward and 3 back seems to be the way.

  • Excellent explanation. Thanks for doing the series. Not sure if you were at Sweetwater Gearfest last year, but if you're presenting this year, let me know. Thanks again.. Jack

  • Love love love this series and all the ways that a technical process you enjoy can be connected to broader outlooks on music and life ~ ♫♪.ılılıll|̲̅̅●̲̅̅|̲̅̅=̲̅̅|̲̅̅●̲̅̅|llılılı.♫♪

    Someone else asked about the context for using multiple limiters – I'd second that question!

  • #wearelistening ideas: I would like to learn more about out setting up a slave PC to help with audio production and its pros and cons.

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