Compression, Clipping, and Distortion


DIY Mastering


Lesson Info

Compression, Clipping, and Distortion

As I said about loudness, frequency, distortion and how that all figures into a master tomorrow we're gonna go way mohr into that and do like actual hands on show you some of the master's I've done and dissect why they do each thing, but today we're going to go over a little bit of a broad stroke of it were also gettinto objectivity, and then we're going to get into how sequencing and making your master consistent works and all that fun stuff so that it's all understood when we get to the fun stuff tomorrow like hardware, speakers, what your room has to do with all this and everything when your audio interfaces to do and then which of the awesome plug ins you should be using and exactly how you should be using him? We'll also go over like common problems that happened in a master and how I deal with them and then we're also going to be picking one to two people whose tracks were gonna master live tomorrow on going to go over and dissect some of thie ten or so masters I have in this mas...

ter file, so with that said let's, get back into compression distortion in brick wall a minute so, um, compression at the basic form it's, a form of dynamic control now we all know that that's a geeky term to put it in and what it really is about and I think like a lot of people like you know if you're reading definitions too much you get into this like textbook thing of like takes a two d be down for everyone d b it's given but really it's a sound and I hate one of the worst things I did to myself was I read twenty books before I ever made a record because I was fifteen years old and so you start thinking about things like that when you should really be thinking about compression as different characters you can make with the shaping of dynamics you know if you want to sound more punchy, you slow down your attack and quick and you're released most of the time depending on the programme material you're going to have a more punchy sound if you you don't want it to be more spotty up that release or I'm sorry up they attack to a shorter time all the sun you're gonna get a spotty or sound if you want some more hard you up your ratio all these things are different things and one of the reasons you know yet again we get into the thing of that it's so ridiculous when you read online well, this is how I compressed this and this is exactly how it's much more important to just like you weren't how to play a scale or you know cool drum fill you can know that those air sixteenth notes but actually how you hit those sixteenth notes is what makes the magic happen um so what I like to think of compression as is, you know, a new automated volume knob that could be manipulated for a variety of sounds that's my geeky way of saying it that's at least a little bit more accurate in my book obviously the four basic controls that you use most the time I'm sure she assuming most of you have used one his threshold release threshold ratio attack and release there's two main types of compressors which is our mess and peek if you guys are familiar with those terms you should be peak measures the loudest point of sounds makes whereas our mess measures how loud the sound is is a consistent block this is important to know because a lot of time to when you're trying to get a record to sound consistent you're gonna want to use some sort of measurement to make sure you're not losing perspective in your mind hasn't played tricks on you I think one of the consistent things we'll also be talking about is that meters or exactly what I just said one of the things we talked a lot about in preparing this course is that it's you know your eyes should on ly be used to confirm what you're hearing when you're confused do not trust your eyes do not you know, look at things as much as you should listen and it's the same thing here is that like, you know, if we're talking about our mess and peek it's wonderful to sometimes look at your head room and say yes, I have sixty b of headroom I'm good to go on my mix now I can start working on putting mastering on it but the years are really important you know, if you still have sixty b of headroom and its clipping toe all helen, you're going where's that distortion from your probably clipping someone else somewhere else and you shouldn't just trust your meter um so the other thing that's very important is you want to wear your compressor like you would in instrument you want to play with it, listen to the way it does because the other thing about, you know, giving absolute instructions on compression and why that's a totally obsolete concept is that every bit of programme materials different some stuff is way too punchy stumps stuff is not punchy enough and when you get that control that different material the way you were just those controls is always going to be different every time and you can't just set it and forget it and learn some secret from the pre set that you know, some cool guy who made a preset bank made for you um while those precepts can be a great place to start and give you a good perspective, that's not going to your absolute answer, so compression in, you know, when it comes to discerning it from compression, distortion, saturation, clipping, those are all things were going to use and then of course, brick wall limiting. So when I think of compression, I think of as a light setting, whereas limiting is obviously a hard setting, since you're using a higher ratio, I think we all know this that if you're using a one point five to one ratio that's, the smallest ratio, pretty much you khun usana mex, whereas twenty to one ratio is a limiter, which is way hard, and then a brick wall winner is nothing gets past this no matter what. Um, so compression compared to clipping is clipping is amore abrasive setting? So a lot of time when you're thinking of clipping in the analog world, is you're turning up your mike pre to get some distortion, and we all obviously loved that song. The guitar sound is this is the exact same concept that goes into your app, so we don't. I think a lot of the time on the internet, you're taught to fear distortion, like it's, the reaper or something, and, um distortions great it sounds great and guitars sounds great on drones and sounds khun sound great on your master depending on what you want to do a lot of really cool songs have really good distortion you know whether and it's not even just modern music you know that song louie louie is one of the most distorted mixes you'll ever hear and that's way older than most about most of us uh age in this room by double so using clipping using saturation and using distortion and your mix it shouldn't be feared it all just because somebody on a message board says distortions your enemy it is actually your friend and it could really help give both a cool sonic character and bring out the details so like one of the things we're we're hearing this um mastered and mastered um examples I've been playing is is I'm doing a lot of very, very subtle saturation clipping distorting at other stages aside from the brick wall limiting that are getting it to the bring these details out um so I guess the next thing it to really say about this is that like I'm calling something's distortion but all of these kind of fall into distortion even compression the basic sound of it is you're distorting the signal I like to think of like you know, so the saturation is a light form of distortion compression is a creative character formed one um clipping is a much more abrasive special in the digital world like you know you ever listened to an early nine inch nails record there's tons of digital clipping all over that's that harsh high end sound where is an analog clipping? Is that warm sound that you'll hear a lot of the time driven on drums um and all these are a different flavor and like we're kind of getting into before of that like you know when you do use different tools and how you come about him a lot of learning to use thes different distortions is how you figure out how to cure things in a master so if I'm not hearing you know, especially if I'm getting instructions I wish the snare would crack more I know what you're my distortions makes the crack more and I have different plug ins and different settings of these pigeons that are going to help make us stare germ crack more some of them avoid distorting the bass better than others some of them bring out a harmonic high end that sounds really polished in radio so I go to those depending on what they needed apply a setting to those questions for you here you used the word harmonics yeah fairly often can you just explain exactly what that means? So distortion is a technically a measurement of harmonics um if you think of it this way when you're um distorting a signal what you're really doing is so let's say eighty hurts I believe is e on guitar my ten year old knowledge remembers that properly um if you hit the e on your guitar just clean into a d I um you're gonna get that and then some natural harmonics that occur from it but when you start to distort it it makes either second or third order harmonics which makes multiples of that so a second order will make one sixty three twenty six forty twelve eighty and I'm not going to do math higher than that no need to embarrass myself so the harmonics are technically the adage parts of that frequency that keep going up as you distort you get mohr her mocks they've become more rich and more parents more loud and eventually what we think of as absolute distortion is just way too much of those harmonics that you've brought so many of them out that it's a little rough on the years but a light amount of distortion is so pleasant in the years since we all like and when we oh you talk about things big too cold than not warm that's because they're not harmonically rich so when you're especially getting these cold old digital converters that have you know a technically right digital thing that's part of the problem is what we didn't like about the sounds they weren't harmonic same thing when you're hearing vinyl everybody's all I just love that vinyl it's not well, there's a few things that make files hungry, but some of it is the warmth of the harmonics that exist within the vital it's definitely not the crackling the dust that you know are making our favorite thing in the world. Um, that about answers anybody having questions about dynamic about the harmonics? I do have one question from the chat rooms, which is and I know you're going to get into this later, but on the topic of harmonic so you you're talking about how to make harmonics happen kind of naturally, organically or not even that very organically but like creatively, and they want to choose the right harmonic for the rights. What harmonic exciter plug ins there people are wondering if those have a place there are some people I know who used harmonica excited plug it's I don't know a lot of them who make record. I've never spoken to somebody who makes records I personally like who like harmonic exciter that's my jam, I'm sure it's possible that people use those I honestly every time I put them on, they make whatever I'm working on sound weird in the high end too fizzy and they don't could be detail as much as they just give me maur weird high end information that I don't particularly I personally like but I'm sure I've listened to some record where somebody uses that and they've done it to great effect I think it's a wonderful tool it's not a tool that is pleasing to my ear whenever I try so jesse um hernane gil wants to know if you can explain terms like punchy and warm okay, so this is ah interesting concept too is that everybody punchy and warm sound different when you think of this example and most of us know when you say warm your meaning not this cold little wispy um mix as compared to something that sounds like old fat an analog is a lot of what people think of as warm punchy is like that feeling you get where the drums are really hitting you hard whereas you know I would say the auspices of punchy is like wispy when you hear a mix and you're like wow, those drums sound really weak and just don't really make your head bop ines make you feel good um I think a lot of the john does were discussing, you know, warm and punchy are a lot of an exciting I think would be the three things that a lot of people are really looking for when I I'm sure if I did a word cloud of the e mails I get about mastering those are humongous words all over that word cloud of my e mails um sorry I use the term saturation earlier too and I'm kind of just unfamiliar what what can you explain what you mean by that? Sure, yeah we're perfect timing since that was one of the next things that is going to sew saturation is like the most common example of it is tape so obviously you say tape in the world of recording everybody's heart just pounds and everything and it's a funny thing because what I hear more and more these days is a sound that's getting away from the way tape sounded and you know, there's almost this digital sound that I don't think sounds bad I think there's a thing but there's still a saturation and that sounds so saturation is a very subtle compression and harmonic excitement that happened so the other interesting thing about we're talking about these harmonic says what distortion is also doing is it's called distortion because you have a way for me to say it's a eighty hurt sign and it's that perfect circle that goes up and down it starts miss shaping it in the distortion inheriting that is miss shaping it. So which saturation is is it's lightly saying hey, okay, you're not perfectly shaped let me miss shape you and I'm gonna compress you and mess with your dynamics a little whereas you know clipping is nope I'm going to start making you more square and um distortion could make it more fizzy and random um and then like uh I guess like, you know, the brick wall limiter is the absolute you never get past this I'm making everything flat you never get anything past this so saturation I actually really like that's a lot of what I employ in the mastering is that what makes the transience on drums and the in your vocal like all that nasty stuff you hear it a singer that I just did that kind of goes away and gets to smooth out a little as you saturate, which is why a lot of the time when you're hearing, you know, it's not the only thing people love about tape it when you talk about what people miss about tape in what people like his tape would saturate in a way that it was very gently just saying let's, get rid of these nasty things you don't need the spike of the hit of the snare on the snare the symbol isn't quite as abrasive, and in the high end it gets a little bit more teamed with silla been skin's a little more tamed on tape and that's the saturation that we, uh are kinda trying to achieve and also helps yet again it's a very white setting that brings out some of that back information and flattens out the front information is a sound that we've grown used to feeling like sounds really really good I think it's kind of the same reason a lot of people like amg guitar pick ups because they do that same thing they don't know exactly sonically what it's doing but it's smooth is everything out? Yeah, I mean the interestingly what the g two since they were like the first act of pickups they also brought out a lot of high end detail that people really liked the better maybe not better but like the original examples like the other pearly gates pick up that eddie van halen used that was a saturated but very articulate pickup it brought out a lot of detail that made the whole world of the eighties go crazy you know, because everybody wanted to be like eddie van halen and, you know, have those teeth or some, uh sorry it's one of my favorite bands of all time um anyway as I just discussed brick wall limiting is a absolute stopping point so that's the most extreme part of all this distortion and dynamic control that were ah talking about here uhm so um we wouldn't that that's though it makes a loud we heard the sounds of that but what we want to really discuss in this section is the more subtle part of how you make it loud without doing using that particular technique especially since the old brick wall weapon it is usually in fact, I won't say, usually, brick wall with me is the last thing you should do. Maybe, aside from differing, which we'll talk about later, um, it's, the last thing you want to do. But before you get to that brick wall limiting, the one thing we heard is, you know, I think you pointed out that, like, you know it, really khun pump in the bottom. And if you do some saturation and some clipping before you get there, some of that pumping, we'll go away, and you can get it. So it's, louder, your hearing. More details, and you get a little bit of harmonic richness.

Class Description

Mastering is often the difference between a good recording and a bad one, but mastering is notoriously difficult to understand. In this two-day workshop, sound engineer Jesse Cannon — who’s worked with the likes of Ross Robinson, Saves the Day, Animal Collective, The Misfits and Man Overboard — shares what he’s learned about mastering from working at top-tier studios like WestWestSide Music and Cannon Found Soundation. 

While there’s no substitute for having an engineer master your music, that’s just not feasible for many artists. This class is the next best thing: a comprehensive guide to DIY mastering.

Jesse breaks down the mastering process from start to finish. You’ll discover the basic principles behind mastering, and learn about the processes and tools at your disposal. Jesse will identify and troubleshoot basic rookie mistakes, discuss lesser-known essential concepts as well as share his essential behind-the-board tools as he takes you through a few real-life examples.

After two days with Jesse, you’ll have everything you need to master your tracks with affordable tools.


Michael Pena

This class was awesome. Jesse goes into detail about the mastering process and best practices for mastering in an easy to understand way. The live mastering session was very informative and educational.