How to Master a Track with FREE Plugins - ModernMixing.com





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Published on Jul 7, 2013

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#24 How to Master a Track with FREE Plugins

Depending on your role in a particular project, you may get to a point where you have to squeeze just a little bit more from the record. Even though I think that the final stage of mastering a track should really be left to a mastering professional, us mixing engineers can get a "pseudo master" ready for the client to listen to. If we can't get it to sound even somewhat competitive than chances are that our mix may seem inferior to everything else.

In my first post on how to master a track, I showed a fairly minimalist approach on how I treat the master bus and to be honest I still approach it very similarly today. The difference with this track that I "mastered" is that I'm applying these plugins to a Two Track and not in the mix itself. I actually prefer to do any "pseudo mastering" in the mix itself just in case something sticks out that I didn't notice before. That way I can make tweaks as I go.

That said, there are still some great tips here for those situations where maybe you don't have access to a full breakdown of the track like when you're mixing vocals into an instrumental.

I chose to use VSTs for this article for a couple of reasons:

1) There's so much great freeware out that I felt like I could get a better sound using the FREE VST's that are available.

2) I wanted to show that even with FREE or cheap plugins you can get really good results.

List of what I used:
- FerricTDS (Variety of Sound)
- Baxter EQ (Variety of Sound)
- Volume Elven (Sir Elliot)

I honestly don't feel like I could have done quite that same job using only FREE plugins in Pro Tools. I probably could have done something decent but for the most part the best sounding freeware is definitely in VST format. You could always try and use that VST to RTAS wrapper from FXpansion but from my understanding some VST's don't work when they are wrapped so there are no guarantees.

So Let's Get into what plugins I used on this session.

Our Objectives for Mastering a Track

We need to have some objectives when we're mastering a track and since every track is different that means our goals will be different.

In this particular case, I listened to the record a few times and decided what I felt needed to be done. For the most part I actually liked the tone of the record and didn't want to get too far away from the original sound. So with that in mind I determined that the track could come up in volume, could be a touch wider, could be a bit tighter sounding and could also benefit from a little more focus in the mid range. I used 3 methods to achieve all those goals: Limiting, EQ and some saturation.

Each of those methods served a much different purpose but they also complimented each other. For example to get the track louder, limiting wouldn't have been enough and that's where the saturation complimented the limiter at achieving more volume. But at the same time the saturation also complimented the EQ in bringing out some more mid range focus.

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