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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Logic PRO X > THE NEW WORLD OF IN-THE-BOX MASTERING

THE NEW WORLD OF IN-THE-BOX MASTERING

Maximising the impact of your finished mix has changed radically over recent years with the introduction of so many new delivery formats. Here, Mike Hillier covers the in-the-box tools and tricks you need to know…

MTF Feature In The Box Mastering

The days of mastering being used to squash the life out of mixes are over – the loudness war has been won, and dynamics are finally coming back. The process began with the introduction of EBU R128 in 2010, a set of recommendations regarding loudness set down by the European Broadcasting Union. This set of guidelines defined a new way of measuring loudness – the Loudness Unit (LU) – and recommended that broadcast audio be normalised at -23LU referenced to full-scale digital audio (LUFS). This guideline quickly found its way into law in Italy; and broadcasters in many other European countries, including the UK, set personal goals of complying with the standard. A similar law, the CALM Act, was passed in the US, which demanded broadcasters there comply with ATSC A/85, which is based on R128.

These systems, though, only apply to broadcasters – and while mastering engineers began to take note, it wasn’t until streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube all began implementing similar ‘loudness normalisation’ that the war was finally won. The loudness normalisation techniques used by each of these services differ slightly, but the principle is similar in each: the loudness of each track is measured before playback, and each file is automatically turned down so that they play back with the same loudness. Heavily limited tracks are turned down the most, while dynamic tracks are mostly left alone – meaning they now punch louder than the limited tracks.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that mastering is no longer necessary. Mastering has always been about far more than simply making everything louder. And artists haven’t stopped wanting to hear their music as loud and in-your-face as possible. It’s simply that the techniques to achieve loud and aggressive mixes have changed, and the methods we used to use now have the opposite effect, making mixes quieter and less noticeable.

With this in mind, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see many albums from the loudness wars getting the remaster treatment, but this time with their dynamics left alone, or even enhanced.

In this feature, then, we’re going to look at what you can do in your DAW to make your masters sound loud and punchy, without sacrificing the dynamics. We’re also going to look closely at the measurements you should be making to ensure you are listening to your tracks as they will play back on each of these streaming services.

THE NEW LOUDNESS PARADIGM

Previously, mastering engineers have used all sorts of tools to measure loudness: from PPM and VU meters to RMS measurements, dynamic-range meters, and now the Loudness Unit. So which should you use in your own mastering sessions?

Before we go on, it’s important to understand the difference between each of these types of meter. Peak meters, such as PPMs, measure the loudest points on the waveform, and are useful for informing you of how much headroom you have before the signal will clip, but do not offer any indication of the subjective loudness of the material. A heavily compressed signal may sound loud while not containing any loud peaks, while a less-compressed signal may sound comparatively quiet, while containing some very high peaks. Peak meters can also be calibrated to over-sample the incoming signal in order to determine if the signal contains any inter-sample peaks which may cause problems further along the chain, either when converted to an analogue signal, or when converted to mp3. This type of peak meter is sometimes referred to as a True-Peak meter.

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About MusicTech

We have 30 pages of workshops designed to help you to become a Logic Power User. There are also buyers guides, interviews with Logic developers and musicians, plus reviews of the latest software and hardware to use in your Logic studio. WORKSHOPS & TUTORIALS: In The Box Mastering - the new rules explained Reverb and Space Designer - in depth Drum Machine Designer - a masterclass of beats MTF Industry Guru: Spitfire Audio MTF Interview: Haken Mason