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#6 Mid-Side: mind the phase
It is important to understand mono matching. It means that a track is efficient even if listened mono: L and R channels are summed into one signal. It is a relevant topic, since it is about the way a tune will be played, for instance on TV, on the radio, at a festival or simply on mono sound systems and small single speakers. We are talking about the ratio between the left signal and right signal phases, to which we should pay attention especially in the mixing phase: it often happens that a tune that sounds good in mono also does in stereo, but rarely the opposite.
That doesn’t mean that Mastering engineers has no way to control a tune’s stereophony, but they can’t even solve the phase issues on the signal completely. The Low frequency range must be put into mono in order to avoid phase issues when your track is played. A processor such as stereo imager, although useful to boost stereophony in the chosen spectrum zone, will never be used on low frequencies, but only on medium and high ones, and still slightly.
Also in this case is easy to exaggerate, since our ear easily adapts to an amplified stereophony. An expert, knowing about these psychoacoustic effects, will focus on the signal phases and on the perceived acoustic result, switching multiple times between mono and stereo listening during the whole process.
Automating specific intervention parameters in the Mastering phase is quite common, because this allows you to use some processes only when it is necessary and useful. An efficient automation can involve the volume, a parameter that is measured in terms of peak level and average level. This last value is important for the Mastering Engineer, who can automatize it to increase the average level of drops, in order to highlight them in comparison to the previous and next parts.
Especially for EDM, this intervention can help making the main section of the track (drop) more powerful, efficient and rousing. The interventions should be really contained, especially at low levels of dynamic.
In some cases a reversed process can be useful: you can decrease the level of intro, verses and/or bridge and let the drop unchanged. Obviously, avoid to intervene on the faders of your DAW and try automating the threshold parameter of the compressor, in a range between 0,5 and 2 dB, with a low compression ratio to avoid excessive interventions.
Limiters are dynamic processors, which prevent the signal from overcoming a given threshold. There are two main categories: peak limiter and brickwall limiter, both in analog and digital form.
The software versions can avoid the distortions that are due to the extremely quick intervention times. They can do that thanks to their ability to create look-ahead times, which allow the limiter to know the input signal in advance. This guarantees a more transparent and clean result.
If aiming to levels that fit EDM music, the limiter is not the engineer’s first choice, since a limiting that is so evident can deteriorate transients and the lower frequencies. By setting the right release time (if the limiter has this parameter), you can increase the dynamic perception of the tune, even with strong compressions.
#9 Something about Loudness
There is a proper unit of measure to quantify how loud a tune sounds, in terms of Loudness or LU (Loudness Unit), on a specific scale of values, the LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale). 1LU=1dB is the equivalence between the two units of measure. In the standard EBU R128, 0 LU are equal to -23 LUFS.
The idea of Integrated Loudness extends the dynamic measure to the whole file duration, while in terms of RMS, the time interval on which this measure takes place is not specified.
The volumes normalization does not only affect broadcast, but also music streaming, with different algorithms, basing on the platform. In case some tunes are uploaded with an excessive Loudness value, they are normalized to the right value.
Although Loudness is one of EDM’s main features, it is not hard to find wider dynamic ranges in tunes from the past. Even an EDM tune could be more pleasant if it’s more dynamic than the average, but that is not always true, since listeners expect specific levels, effects and sounds.
#10 Your Mix is important!
In EDM, you should pay attention to many factors, especially to the plugins’ quality and to the algorithms used to process the signal. In Mixing and production phase of an EDM track, the amount of used plugins is considerable and it is variable on every type of processor. Consequently, a well-done Mixing will be the basis of a well-done Mastering, where the engineer will intervene with a few processors and limit additional artifacts.
For example, the Mastering Engineer could work on tunes that are too compressed and don’t allow further interventions.
This happens due to an excessive limiting in the production and Mixing phase, used not only on the main sounds, but also on every element of the tune. Even before Mastering, the result will not be satisfying, being too compressed and characterized by distortions and artifices due to the over-processing.
A good strategy (but not the only one) could be to bring the lead sounds to their peak in the production/mixing phase. They should be balanced by all the other elements, correctly compressed but not limited.