We recently spoke to Paul Winstanley about the work of mastering engineer and conversation led on to the most common problems he encounters when dealing with new material.
“Quite often these days as a mastering engineer I receive audio files that for all intents and purposes have already been mastered. It is not simply a case of not having adequate headroom, more that many “in the box” mix engineers will work with a limiting amplifier on the whole mix, quite often from the very early stages of production.”
“It is almost an essential component of many modern genres overall ‘sound’. The Waves L2 for example adds a certain bite to heavily distorted guitars and soft-synths when applied correctly. The problem arises when it is over-applied. I think it mostly happens, partly as a result of comparing your developing mix to a finished, mastered one and also because things seem to sound “better” louder.”
”The whys and wherefores aren’t really important. The results however leave the mastering engineer with very little room to maneuver. It is something of a quandary. If it’s possible to take off any 2bus limiting without completely losing the general feel of your mix then ideally you should. If removing the limiter disrupts the mix to the extent that levels of key parts are wildly ‘out’ in relation to each other then it may be an idea to supply your mastering engineer a reference mix with the limiting applied as well as one without.
A good mastering engineer will be able to replicate the effect as well as apply his own mastering processes.”
I’m sure many of us are guilty of strapping a limiter across the mix and letting it squash everything into place. It often just ‘works’ to an extent and the mix loses it’s edge without it. But just remember that when it comes to having your material mastered professionally, it’s best to let the Mastering Engineer have as much flexibility as possible as he can always add the limiter back on at the end if it is an important part of the track.
Remember – headroom, headroom, headroom!