Headroom and Gain Structure


DIY Mastering


Lesson Info

Headroom and Gain Structure

So the next thing is head room and gain structure, so throughout the mastering or mixing process, I should say it's really important to ensure you're not overloading your plug ins getting that big, red flashing light now, obviously, I've been saying, hey, don't pay attention those meters there are times clipping a plugin sounds great, especially if your name is trent risner. Um, you do not contrary to popular belief to get a record loud, like it's one of those funny things of, like, you know, when you first start mixing and you know you're like, man, I want those sub hits, I'm just going to turn up the bass all the way on them, and then you realize that's the worst sounding thing you've ever heard in your entire life and you think I wanted fat? Turn up the bass, don't conceptualize, use your ears and react to the sound you're hearing. This is another case like that when you want a song loud, you need room to work with it, and part of that room to work is headroom. So what? His head roo...

m exactly it's how loud when you get to your master fader, how loud are you hitting your master bus when you're recording your guitar into a single track. Are you putting it all the way up? So it goes red. You do not need to do that guitar sound great. Even twelve devi down mixes sound great, even twelve d b down. Um, the head room allows you room since, um, when we were just looking at this, obviously I was boosting a lot of frequency on the high in the low end, so if you give me no head room with meaning that your mixes pushed all the way to the top and it's just about hit to hit red, but you've got one d b down below that read when I booster hyeon woo and three d b on each side, I've now clipped the mix sixty b gives me room toe work toe, adjust your dynamics and move things around, and I say me, it gives you room as well to adjust your dynamics and move around the other really great secret whether it's recording are mastering is is just about all of your equipment works and sounds better. Your mike freeze everything when they're not pushed to the limit. I don't care if you make really distorted metal, like whatever there's times that creatively yes, you do want to push it, but in general, you're going to get a better captured sound if you do this and then alter later unless you really know that creatively you wantto make a neutral milk hotel or converge record and you really want to blow it out that's a different story but if your yeah I love those bets if you really want to blow it out do it creatively as a creative choice but in general you want to leave space tow work um so um with that mixes that air six to twelve devi down actually have room so that the master and could some bigger I can work and in general too it's like because you're transients aren't hitting this unnatural bad especially if you're mixing the box which I imagine most of you are when your kicks and snares are overloading your mixed bus it's a very unpleasant sound the way logic pro tools ableto cuba's any of them say no you can't go louder it's much more pleasant to use those plug ins we were just discussing the saturation and the clipping plug ins um so I know you thought we were supposed to be loud, but as I said, this is where we want to leave some room to work to make it out this is the preparation you have the more you overload that thing the more you're killing your low end and if you want heavy guitars yeah way just heard that in all those examples we've heard how much the base just left with its such a such a great observation um is that yes also for your frequency span and getting good tones and keep in mind after you get a great guitar tone if you don't shape that right in the mix you could have dialed in the world's greatest toni and your diesel you're bogner and your matchless all sitting there toe create the gravestone if it's not sitting right in the mix it gets totally destroyed it's the same thing with your movie and you know your jupiter raid end your prophet five altogether it makes no difference in the end if it's not record with some air and room to be manipulated in the mix um so as you can see here somebody had the great sense of humor to show that's exactly what we don't want to dio is that red at the end of your mixed bus no matter what your dog is, every dog tells you when you see red there that's a bad thing um that means you have no more room to work. So with that said um some records needs severe clipping and brick wall living to feel good. We've already kind of been through that, but this is not the place to do that in your mix in your recording nine times out of ten unless you really know that this is the creative thing you want to dio you want to stay away from this and then let you have room to work clipping your mat master fader isn't against the law, but nine times out of ten if you go in and pull it down, you're gonna go ah, that sounds much better now. Later on, I'm going to show you an instance where I messed this up and I actually found that I didn't like the way the song sounded without the clipping that is literally happens to be one out of one hundred times a year, but then I also know how to dial it so that then I have room to work again, which will also show you how to do in the event that you're like, well, I dialed this mix and I can't get sound any better without this clipping well, which is a jesse one out of ten or one out of one hundred times? Well, for me, it's about one hundred, I'm not awesome um, so then I think the other thing about it is is what is a good master? What are the appropriate dinos like if you are making really open acoustic music or you're trying to be really pretty, I highly doubt clipping your master fader is going to be going if you are making really abrasive and you're trying to push the dumpster sure it might be that clipping your master bus a little bit might work, but no matter what, you're gonna have to create headroom, then later toe work. We'll also show you how to do that. Um, so with that I'm going to show you what you do about getting your head room back. So, jesse, just do a quick shout out to rob uh, shop she a chaperone should know I was gonna butcher that he's in the chat rooms and he's part of the stolen so I just want to give him a shout out that's awesome! And I think rob so much for letting us use his awesome song. Um, cool. So here we have I'm gonna turn it on a couple different tracks that we're not actually gonna listen because it's going to just play a bunch of people's mixes back hall once, which would not be the most pleasant sound. But I'm going to show you how we get back head room. So here I have a cool free tool from plugging company called massey massey make really high quality plug ins for very little money. This one is so high quality and cool that it's free on their website. If you google massey tools um, this will come up and you get ahead room meter, so the headroom meter will show you, um exactly how much headroom you have so if I hit play on this because we're gonna have to full clip or a couple full clip masters it's not gonna be very pretty pretty far over that zero as you can see um so then what you can do in your mix if you this was a bunch of trucks you have is that all button on pro tools? Aaron logic there's that there's every one of these you could select it turned out all your fader then all of a sudden we can get down to somewhere around sixty b maybe twelve somewhere nice in there and then you could have a nice date. The one thing to watch out for is when I just did that all is that you probably have ox ends with river bs during that down's gonna destroy your mix parallel things you only want to turn down made elements of your mix. Now this is a really complex thing and I differ how you mix them with which oxes and which things which uh groups you you mix with so everybody this is different. But this is a crucial skill you have to learn in making headroom. So the other thing is you could see is I turned down my master fader in pro tools so that's something we don't want to because your master fader should always be a zero so now I'm back that up there so now I have to turn these down again and you know, this sometimes takes fifteen minutes and it's not the funnest part of your day but maybe turn on a podcast or call your girlfriend while you do this or your significant other and you ask them how their day is what you're not really paying attention like we all do so so why would you not uh why do you need to wait until the mix is finished to do this? Why would I I shouldn't if I said that that would be wrong you don't wait till the mixes fish you want to actually do this what I like to do is get a quick blend here's my roughest blend then check my head room right away and make sure I have plenty of room to work you do not want a way to the because then you're too used to it the mix that I actually overdid the head vermont that was the problem is I didn't have enough coffee and I kind of skipped ahead and then I just liked the vibe on the song with it a little clipped and so ideally you want to be checking yourself along the way you want to check your head room any time you've done drastic uh mix element changes I don't think you need to check it every you know twenty minutes but any time you've done big level adjustments, you definitely want to check your head room so does that all makes sense? Everybody great? Well, I do want to follow up on that one more time we've got a couple questions chat rooms about it so uh it literally is a simple is just pulling down the failures it's a simple is pulling down the right feeders so what's say you're bussing through yet three guitar is going through a bus if you turn on the guitars and the bus you're turning those down sixty being your whole mix is to be rude you just want to turn down the bus and then not the guitars if you have a reverb that's a bus that's post fader you don't need to turn that down because that's going to get turned down with the fader it's a pretty nuanced thing and it's definitely something worth to investigate but since this is a master in class, I'm not you know I could literally spend an hour and a half showing you the different nuances to this on dh I think we'd be better served to show you what happens when you are clipped because I imagine a lot of you two are gonna have had the problem that at some point you would get to employ and you are going to say, you know what? I like my clipped mix screw the rules so here's my clip mix and I really, really loved this mix I will now put that on um I just mean it's big fat and it's not even that distort it but there was a thing that I tweaked thes drums and I probably could have done something different and make this not have happened so but now I have no room to work because the specs is pretty damn clips dot truth be told so to take all this off you just made a face your way let it get you so I messed up but I still love the way this song sounds and you know, um I decided to go with it because no matter what I did, it didn't sound better so as you can see here though, there's not that says output game, so the first thing I would do normally is I turned on the input gain on this, but then I found on this mix I didn't like the way that sounded either I've been mixing with this punch it on so this give you use of this flux is sarah, this is a dynamic range controller, they don't really call it a compressor because as you see, it doesn't have a tack and release so it's not really as manipulative it's kind of like a very transparent, almost moving of the volume knob it's very very light I yet again as well I am in love with this thing I use this on a lot of mixes I love this company it sounds very hi fi and grates me so but what I did do because after this I was one making the mixed louder I needed some room, I turned it down three and a half d b because then after that, as you could see that I'm adding some or gain to it yet again um I'm queuing going all over the place and then I'm taking the volume down by compressing in the next during the multi ben, I'll turn this office, we can watch while we talk. Um as you could see yet again out put game, I'm going downwards again because it's yet again, even though I'm compressing, you're adding on to the chain and it's pushing up blue frequencies and it's getting too loud. Let me let me ask couple more questions because some people in chat rooms are a little confused by this and frankly, so am I it's not the easiest concept, but but I know it's really important. Yes, oh, I want to make sure that we're all clear on this, so stereo launch asks, what about running the mix into a pre master bus ox just turned that bus down and therefore turned down the whole mix so that's the problem is that if you mix is too loud it's clipping your pre master ox and then as well what I don't like about the cremaster oxes let's also remember this while in class or any book you reads could say zero point one one zero nene binary file does not degrade a signal I challenge you to run your mix through talks and then running not through an ox and tell me it does not sound worse oxes some worse do not run your mix altering dogs or a master fared just pulling down the master fader does not do the same thing because if you think this this matter, all your one hundred twenty eight tracks are going down a pike and then into two the problem is, is that before you even get to the master fair, the master fighters here you're clipping here before you get to pulling it down there? So that's the problem with why you don't just do that now if your talk serves as what they call it, the cia and pro tools that's a different stories of vc a can pull all your fares that pro tools ellie ate which were working off of does not have a vcr my hd system does and I literally just pull a fader and I do this all very fast at at home but that's what you pay the tens of thousands of dollars for for any approach rules hd system is a nice little shortcut like that so I guess teo sum it up like there really is no substitute for just pulling down the right failures just one by one maybe not no substitute but you have tio no the substitutes well and what's not a substitute is pulling that an ox that is not a substitute and point on your master failure is not the same as your master feeders getting clipped that's a great question because this is very confusing but once you get the flow of it and understand what we're doing which is we're trying to just make nothing overload at any stage it's the same reason why when I'm queuing up I'm pulling down volume a second time is things were overloading and I don't want to see that red light come on because that means I'm flattening my transients in unfriendly way and I want it fought transients with my fab filter and with my distortion because those sound awesome you want to choose how you flatten the traps that's that's the eye I'm pro choice in flattening my frequencies uh questioned in terms of like your master issue do you typically boost frequencies or you more subtract ibs so here's here's the funny thing we're going to see this class is mostly my stuff I'm intending to boost on my stuff, but you're the funny thing is this is what the people stuff I get I subtract okay? I tend to find that maybe it's ego that like when I'm doing my comparisons to other things I'd like but it's not a high end is that so I want more of that and I want more of that so that's me doing what there's also think like, you know, if you look at this truck and I should have said this just by a great band called love electric that we played before they're great new jersey bands and this song should be coming out soon too as well I have a big old cut there at it looks like, uh where is that cut? Three hundred thirteen hurts I I was hearing the song I'm like, you know, it wasn't a trap right tried in the multi band compressor and then I noticed here that if I just had an overall dip, it wouldn't be doing that sixty be pushing down thing we saw in the stolen song of you know uh, sucking down all that compression I think in general in digital this is a phenomenally cue the massive design works it's where the only accuse I liked to boost on a lot of times boosting the my ears personally sounds really unpleasant a lot of time on a lot of issues this one is an exception, but this is also the guy who invented the parametric e hue in the style of the q so he better know what he's doing but in general if I was making a rule yeah, I would try toe cut more than boost I like to try to get my boosting done when I'm tracking on my nice need mike priest cause they sound also, you know, using any of that stuff to boost when you can sounds way better I'd love to just cut but it's not where I've been at lately for my own personal stuff, so put simply if you're mixed doesn't have a master your transience, the pleasantness sophie mixed will suffer at a lot of time I guess the thing we didn't get into too in which funny is like, which is why I didn't end up turning back on that well electric master is it's still super clean even though it's a little bit quint it's not so clipped it's insane but a lot of time once you're going to notice is your clipping is making it so your stereo image falls apart you're getting less based on you would you pull it down and all this on your base opens up to trouble opens up and you're mixed gets clearer and it's not as distorted we wanted to store and manipulate that with good tools instead of the very flat tool that you have no control over, which is your mixed bus so the next cop way have that we'll just go over very fast and I think is a pretty familiar thing to anybody who's interested recording is mastering basically deals with dynamics and loudness dinette, loudest, steadily apart diets and then frequency and equalization. Obviously we just got into talking a good amount about q um and then obviously so one of the reasons, you know, while multi band compression and expansion have the name compression in them, I think of those maura's manipulating the frequency span you can especially like, you know, it's very popular with rock drums to manipulate the pumping of the drums with compression, the way the frequencies go and especially dub step these days to a cz well, but I do a lot of my frequency control with the multi band frequency I see that is mohr of where we're going to try to smooth out the frequency span instead of destroying the dynamics. It's maura a subtle way of getting rid of a frequency that you don't always want to get rid of, you want to get rid of it when it happens, so would multi band compression really conduce you compared to equalization is like let's say your high end is so beautiful on those symbols but then when your singer comes in he's really abrasive but you want to preserve that it'll just tell the singer when he's too loud at that frequency toe relax with possesses and let your symbols fly that's why I really really like that as a tool so basically you know when we talked about getting really in over our heads and we're like, oh my god mastering so tough there's really just too basic things that have a lot of ways of being manipulated that you're thinking about frequency dynamic range if you're getting macro about that um it's pretty easy to keep your head screwed on straight am I messing up my dynamic rage and my messing up my frequency spent in my adding to those or am I subtract um so the other thing about you q if we could put back to the pro tools for a second is that there's two types of equalization um and that's what we'll get into a little bit more tomorrow and this is a prime example of those two is that there's broad strokes and equal and surgical cuts so as you can see what that or I should say surgical in general not necessarily cuts even know what usually is cuts would a lot of time you'll see is as you can see, this is a huge, huge boost here I'm going all the way from one hundred ten hertz on down, and then the same thing is I'm starting a boost at six and a half killer it's all the way up. Um, I make you so what you'll see is is that this one is a lot more of me trying to rid a frequency, so if I hit play on this, just a fool maybe baby, as you can hear that's pretty small and tiny detail of my new shop that's the surgical stuff like I'm hearing something in the kick drum and the way the base moved together that I wasn't getting enough definition, so I'm getting very, very micro and getting in there, but if I take off this boost on the high end thief high and and the woman I should say there's, a huge broad stroke, just full baby baby, don't do that, can't you? As you can see, that's a lot easier to here? Um, the difference of the equalization said with this stuff is you really want to think about it? And as I'm saying, two ways is when you get a master, if you're not hearing an overall character, you want, you want to do broad strokes now in this instance, I'm just doing to shelving in queues. The broad strokes definitely don't need to just be shelves they could sometimes be you know, if I go into here as you can see, I have this really wide q and a when we talk about surgical versus broad, small numbered cues are much more broad because they're big like so if I make this boost here with a one point okay, which is very, very broad versus a twenty five that's very sharp um this three thirteen cut I'm doing here it's pretty narrow but it's not as narrow as you can get on these digitally cues that's about as narrow as most consoles usually went in the animal domain, but what I like to do when I do my e q is I like to say what's fine and overall frequency spectrum we're gonna listen to other tracks we like the sound of and then we're going to see what you're missing and balance that ah broad strokes you have too much mids with suck out submits do you want more trouble in base? Let's put more trouble base then we want to get surgical after that because inevitably, once you make this big broad stroke, you're gonna have chain thanks so much you might need to go in and do some repair so that's what this cut in the three thirteen's about is that's about doing a surgical cut um so that's, basically the basics of frequency manipulation. Could we go back to the keep, if you don't know? Um, so that actually gets some of that section. Do you guys have any questions about frequency? I think that that's, the more simpler of the concept, since we're really dealing with two tools.

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.