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Reminder: we work on this song I wrote: Life

(mp3 file)

Quick definition

We should say "pre-mastering" instead of "Mastering", but everyone says "Mastering", so I'll do the same.

Theoretically, the mastering is the process that results in a "Master", which is the final version of a recording before it's transfered to a physical medium (vinyl, cassette, CD, etc.), while controlling that all established norms are respected for the type of medium. Therefore, it's the last creative process as well as the last purely technical process of a recording.

But most of the time, when someone speaks about mastering, it's merely the last creative step of a musical work, the one that comes right after mixing and before broadcasting it to the public, whether that public be yourself and your family, or millions of people!

On this page

Before anything else... | What do I need? | Multiband compressor | Limiter | Conclusion

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Before anything else...

Before you start mastering anything, make sure you follow these rules:

- The mix must be completed. Don't start the mastering process unless you are happy with your mixing and there is nothing more to do in that area. Because mixing is the art of polishing each instrument individually to get a consistent whole, while mastering is the art of polishing a whole tune as a single entity. You don't deal with various parts anymore, you deal with the whole mix altogether. Which implies it must be finished.

- In order to be objective once the mix is over, I advise you to wait one day or two before starting the mastering. As the hearing memory is rather short, you will rediscover your work with a fresh ear if you wait that long.

- During the mastering process, it's better to work with studio monitors rather than with a headset, even more so than for the mix. But as always, it's better to work with a very good pair of headphones than with mediocre monitors. If you work with headphones, be aware that your perception of stereo sounds, as well as the balance of lows and highs are different with headphones. But if you know your headphones well, if you use reference songs that you know as well, you will be able to fix any possible mistakes by yourself.

- In professional studios, the mastering engineer is not the same as the mixing engineer. That gives him a fresh and neutral look over the song. Mastering monitors are also particularly accurate and placed in a well-studied room, sound-wise.
In a home studio, you will most probably mix and master yourself, with the same monitors and/or headphones (and not necessarily the best ones), in an untreated room of your appartment or house, with daily life sounds around you (cars in the street, noisy neighbors, family members in the next room...). And you're going to have to deal with it!

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What do I need?

Not much, actually, but here are the essentials, sufficient for most home-studio owners:
- A multiband compressor
- A limiter

As an option, you may also use the following gear/plugins:
- An equalizer. If your mix is good, you probably don't need to balance frequencies when mastering, but a few (very few!) corrections might be necessary here and there.
- A reference song. To help you reach your goal, keep a song you like within reach (use a song in the same style as the song you're working on, don't refer to Mozart if you're mastering a Death Metal song...). Your aim will be to obtain a sound similar to that song.

Other tools may help you give your song the atmosphere you're looking for:
- Stereo enhancement plugins
- Spectrum analyser plugins that will analyse your song and compare it to your reference song
- Plugins that will let you know about the dynamics of the song, so you don't get a sound that is too compressed and crushed. Like TT Dynamic Range Meter available on this page.

Personally, I only use a multiband compressor and a limiter. The first one helps me to highlight some frequency ranges to shape and enhance the sound. The difference with and without a multiband compressor is staggering.
The limiter will boost the perceived sound volume and make the song more energetic. But don't overdo it or you might lose some dynamics and make your song too aggressive and tiring to listen to.

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To be clear, on the Master bus, the bus towards which all other main buses converge (guitars, bass, vocals, synths, drums), I put a multiband compressor plugin on top.

Mise à part cette caractéristique, cela reste un compresseur, avec les réglages suivants :

A multiband compressor will apply different compression settings on frequency ranges defined by the user. For example, you may want to compress a lot the low frequencies, leave the mediums untouched, and slightly compresse the highs.

- Threshold: defines the level from which the compressor starts reacting.

- Ratio: defines the compression level you want to apply, from 1 (no compression) to infinite (in this case, the compressor becomes a limiter).

- Attack: defines the speed at which the compression reacts once the threshold is reached.

- Release: defines the speed at which the compressor stops reacting once the volume level goes back below the threshold.

- Knee: defines whether the compression starts reacting precisely when the threshold is reached, or starts reacting gradually when the volume level comes close to the threshold.

- Gain: the more the sound is compressed, the lower the volume gets. To compensate for the volume loss due to compression, use the gain.

Multidynamics (the multiband compressor plugin that I use) has two gain knobs; lo-gain and hi-gain. Lo-gain is the gain that is applied to the sound signal when it is below the threshold, whereas hi-gain is the gain applied to the signal when it is above the threshold. The ratio determines the transition from one to the other.

To use Multidynamics like a compressor, lo-gain must be higher than hi-gain, which will reduce the signal gain when it gets over the threshold. If you do the opposite (hi-gain higher than lo-gain), the compressor becomes an expander, that is to say the opposite of a compressor. For now, we are looking forward to using the plugin as a compressor and not as an expander.

- Output: the overall output volume.
The Wave Arts multiband compressor Multidynamics can use from 3 to 6 bands. Here, I defined 4 frequency ranges (bands):
- From 0 to 50 Hz, for infra-basses
- From 50 to 175 Hz, for lows
- From 175 Hz to 2 KHz, for mediums
- From 2 to 20 KHz, for highs.

Why these specific frequencies? Because after various trials, I found this was the best setting for this song. Nothing magical about it. Trials, errors, more trials...

Settings used for the first frequency band (from 0 to 50 Hz):
- Lo-gain: 0 dB
- Threshold: -24 dB
- Hi-gain: -5 dB
- Ratio: 2
- Attack: 35 ms
- Release: 40 ms

Settings used for the second frequency band (from 50 to 175 Hz):
- Lo-gain: 6 dB
- Threshold: -21 dB
- Hi-gain: -8 dB
- Ratio: 2
- Attack: 16 ms
- Release: 25 ms

Settings used for the third frequency band (from 175 Hz to 2 KHz):
- Lo-gain: 3 dB
- Threshold: -21 dB
- Hi-gain: -6 dB
- Ratio: 2
- Attack: 5 ms
- Release: 10 ms

Settings used for the fourth frequency band (from 2 to 20 KHz):
- Lo-gain: 6 dB
- Threshold: -18 dB
- Hi-gain: -8 dB
- Ratio: 2
- Attack: 5 ms
- Release: 10 ms

Common settings for all bands:
- Knee: Medium
- Crossover slope: 30 dB/octave (behavior of transitions between frequency ranges)
- Lookahead: 5 ms (used to analyse sound peaks that can occur during play)
- Mode: Vintage

Here is the Master bus sound without any plugin:

(mp3 file)

Then the sound obtained with the multiband compressor Multidynamics:

(mp3 file)

Obviously, the multiband compressor allows for a much better sound clarity and all instruments find their place. Everything seems to breathe better, the sound is less confined, more open. Just better!

Wave Arts Multidynamics
Wave Arts Multidynamics is a commercial plugin. You may replace it with a free alternative plugin like 5orcery from Platinum Ears Plugins, a free 5 band compressor.

Download 5orcery
(, 2.09 MB)

The zip file contains the PDF user manual, as well as a preset file named "5orcery_master.fxp". This is the preset I use for the song Life, and corresponds to the screenshot below.

With a free plugin...

I obtained a very similar result using the free multiband compressor 5orcery from Platinum Ears Plugins. Simpler than multidynamics, it offers all the settings you need. You get 5 frequency bands, you can manually choose the frequency that separates two bands, and each band has threshold, fain, attack and release knobs. The peak detection is achieved by selecting an RMS level for each band (RMS is an average level, similar to what the human ear can perceive), or the peaks (Pk). You can also activate or deactivate each band separately if you don't want to use all of them. You can adjust the Input signal, and you will find a Saturation knob, which does not add saturation, but is made to attenuate unexpected peaks. Finally, you have an overall Output level knob.

Using the settings shown on the screeshot above, I obtain a result pretty close to what I get with Multidynamics. It's a bit less accurate, a bit less defined, but it's definitely close.

Here is the sound I get with the multiband compressor 5orcery:

(mp3 file)
Platinum Ears Plugins - 5orcery
Platinum Ears Plugins - 5orcery
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We are one step away from the final result, and we are going to use a limiter. This is a tool that will boost the volume of a song, by raising up the volume from a defined threshold, up to a ceiling level you define manually. This is a great tool, but it can be damaging to the song. If you set a threshold too low, the sound is altered, it can become very aggressive, because the sound dynamics is crushed and everything will sound loud all the time. So, be gentle with it. With modern music (such as Dance or many Electronic musics), you can compress the signal much more than you would with musics that should have more constrast, where volume variations are desired and benefit the song, making it lively.

For the song Life, with the multiband compressor activated, the average RMS level is rather low, around -15 dB, with a dynamic range between -12 and -14 dB for the most part. This means we have quite a lot of margin, the dynamics is rather large, and we will be able to apply much compression without damaging the song, in order to raise the average level while maintaining good dynamics.

This is the dynamics we have before applying the limiter, measured with the plugin TT Dynamic Range Meter:
TT Dynamic Range Meter
In the top center, you can see the dynamic range at the moment the screenshot was made while playing the song (14.3 dB). At the bottom left and bottom right, you can see the average RMS level of the left and right channels (-16.3 dB and -15.6 dB).

Once the limiter is activated, we still have a dynamic margin between 9 and 11 dB. For your information, the album Nevermind by Nirvana, released in 1991, had a dynamic range of about 12 dB, as well as the album Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, released in 1975. The Fame Monster from Lady Gaga, released in 2009 has a dynamic range of 5 dB. Way more compressed!

The trend nowadays is to compress a lot, reducing the dynamic range as much as possible, which is bad for your ears and bad for musical finesse, but high compression levels allow for a high sound volume. It has been proved that a song is more attractive when played loudly, so record companies try to get the highest possible volume by compressing more and more. People are getting used to such high compression levels, they have become a standard and if you don't follow that trend, you may very well be looked down upon. Within a playlist, if the volume of a song is much lower than that of other songs, chances are the listener will just skip it, especially if they don't know it well and like it a lot. Yet, it would be so easy to simply raise the volume..

Here, the Wave Arts limiter FinalPlug is set with a threshold of -6 dB and a ceiling of -0.1 dB. This means that when the sound level reaches -6 dB, the signal will be boosted up to -0.1 dB. Release is set to Auto.
Here's the sound obtained with the limiter FinalPlug:

(mp3 file)
Wave Arts FinalPlug
Here is the dynamics measured after applying the limiter, at the same position in the song as the previous screenshot:
TT Dynamic Range Meter
As you can see, the RMS level goes from about -15 dB to about -9 dB, which corresponds to the 6 dB added with the limiter.
As for the dynamics range, it is reduced by about 3 dB, but we maintain around 10 dB.

Wave Arts FinalPlug is a commercial plugin. As an alternative, you may want to use the Classic Master Limiter from Kjaerhus.

Download Classic Master Limiter
(, 356 KB)

And with a free plugin...

Classic Master Limiter from Kjaerhus is a good limiter, very simple to use as there is only one knob. The only setting is the threshold. There is no ceiling setting, but it is in fact predefined to -0.2 dB. The sound obtained is slightly different from Wave Arts limiter's, but the difference is not that huge.
Here is the sound obtained with the Kjaerhus Classic Master Limiter:

(mp3 file)

Kjaerhus Classic Master Limiter
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Voilà... this tutorial is over. Mastering was the last stage.

From the begining, we went from...

a sound recorded in the box, with no effects:

(mp3 file)

We got to this version after mixing:

(mp3 file)

And obtained this final result after mastering:

(mp3 file)

Remember that this tutorial is not a magic formula that should be strictly followed all the time, with all songs of all genres. Mainly because it is not perfect, but also because there are many possible ways to mix a song to get various results. Finally, because each music, each song must be treated differently. Some plugins are useful for some songs and not for others, settings will need to change, etc.

I hope that with this tutorial, you understand better - if it wasn't already the case - how to mix a project, how to organize it, what is the purpose of the various plugins we used, how to set them, why you should use an EQ, a reverb, a compressor...

There are tons of other things to find out and learn, by yourself, with other people, through the Internet, this is a vast subject. Everyone has their habits, their hints and tips, but there's always more than one solution to a problem. Don't forget that the best way to improve your skills is to practice, again and again. So, experiment and have fun!!!

Mixing in practice : Preparing the session | Bass | Drums | Rhythm guitars | Solo guitars | Keyboards | Vocals | Mastering
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(laisser un message)

Page de messages n° 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

le 18/01/2020 à 18h08

Whatever happened to the Cranked AC plugin? I've been looking all over for it but can't find it anywhere.

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Sorry, I never heard of this plugin. If it's an old plugin, chances are it's also a 32-bit plugin, which may not work properly on modern systems, but anyway I couldn't find it either.

le 12/01/2020 à 23h06

So the chain goes:

DAW > Audio Interface Out > Amp > Speaker > Mic > DAW

This is correct based on my understanding from what I've read, and the few videos I've watch on creating IRs. My question, then, is when I plug into the Amp I've seen people say plug your Interface out into the FX return, but you say the guitar cable jack. What is the purpose in doing one or the other?

Side questions:

What channel should my amp be on? I'm assuming the clean channel.

What should my Amp settings be (EQ, Gain, Channel Volume, Presence, Master Volume)? I can't find a clear answer anywhere.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


About plugging into the FX return or the guitar jack, I don’t know. Actually, the amps I’ve used myself to make IRs don’t have any FX return, so I didn’t have a choice and had to plug into the guitar jack. I guess there’s no harm trying both (not at the same time!) and comparing if you have that possibility. Chances are there’s not much of a difference, but again, I may be wrong as I have not tried this myself.
About the choice of a channel, and the settings: the channel doesn’t actually matter. You’re not capturing the amp sound, but the speaker sound.
From what I’ve experienced, the EQ and Presence should be neutral, the gain/saturation should not be engaged (or set to a level where no distorsion can be heard). As for the volume, set it to a level that’s high enough for your microphone to be able to pick up a good signal (no need to record higher than -6 dB, by the way, give your signal a bit of headroom).
But you should also be careful not to set it too loud to protect your own ears. It doesn’t need to be pushed too high. I think a level high enough to cover your own conversational voice should be enough. I tried various volume levels, and it did not affect the results notably. I did not get better results with very high levels than with normal, humanely bearable levels. Don’t set it too low, though, because it’s better if your speaker does move some air.

Experiment, try different amp settings and see whether that changes the results.


le 20/10/2019 à 17h06

Hey, I downloaded the plug-in and extracted it. Then put it in the plugin folder but it is not working. C:|Program Files|Common Files|Avid|Audio|Plug-Ins. Would this be the right steps? Please let me know thanks!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As you explained it to me by e-mail, you were using Pro Tools First, which doesn't support third party plugins. The solution is then to either upgrade to a paid version of Pro Tools, or use another free DAW, such as Cakewalk by Bandlab (Windows only), or use Reaper, which is not free, but can be used freely without constraints. These DAWs do support third party plugins.


le 26/08/2019 à 11h06

Tout d'abord bravo pour ce site.
Je suis débutant et rencontre quelques soucis.
J'ai un PC Windows 10 (64 bits, 8 Go de RAM) avec carte son intégrée en 5.1, driver realteck, et quand je lance un programme de simu type Amplitube 4, il y a un son horrible qui sort, est-ce normal ? Y a-t-il un moyen d'y remédier ?
J'ai essayé également avec Bandlab comme séquenceur mais je ne sais pas comment intégrer le cab et le simulateur.
Merci d'avance

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bonjour Dam40,
Le son horrible qui sort avec un logiciel de simulation n’est pas « normal », mais c’est peut-être dû au fait que vous utilisez la carte son intégrée de votre ordinateur. Ce type de carte n’est pas du tout adapté pour enregistrer et mixer de la musique.
Pour enregistrer de la guitare par exemple, il faut passer par la prise Jack de la guitare et les cartes son intégrées ne possèdent pas ce type de fiche. D’autre part, les drivers des cartes intégrées ne possèdent pas non plus l’impédance électrique compatible pour avoir un niveau de son correct en provenance de l’instrument, et d’autre part, même quand ça marche, elles induisent une latence, c’est-à-dire un délai entre le moment où l’on joue sur la guitare et le moment où le son est entendu sur l’ordinateur.

Pour remédier à ce problème, il faut acquérir une interface audio, un type de carte audio qui se présente sous la forme d’un boîtier externe connecté à l’ordinateur par la prise USB (le plus souvent, même s’il existe d’autres types de connexions). Ces interfaces sont fournies avec un driver spécifique qui permet de gérer le son grâce au protocole ASIO. Ce protocole est standard et permet d’obtenir de faibles latences pour pouvoir jouer de la guitare et entendre le son, avec ou sans effets, sans délai gênant.


le 16/08/2019 à 04h18

Bonjour !

J'ai testé la quasi-totalité des simulateurs présents ici pour une raison : impossible d'ouvrir un fichier DLL !
Mon PC me demande d'associer l'ouverture des DLL à un logiciel mais je n'ai rien de spécial qui va avec...

J'ai eu ce souci, j'avais formaté mon PC vu que je ne l'avais pas fait depuis des années (1,65 To de données à re-télécharger)
Et là encore le même souci, je teste donc sur 6 PC différents et tous ont ce souci... Je suppose donc qu'il faut un logiciel spécial mais rien n'est mentionné, tu pourrais m'aider ? Merci d'avance !

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Bonjour Blastrax,
Tous les simulateurs d’ampli gratuits sous forme de fichiers DLL sont des « plugins », et non pas des logiciels autonomes.
Je l’explique ici.

Ces fichiers de plugins ne s’installent pas, il faut simplement les recopier dans un répertoire du disque dur. À noter aussi que les simulateurs d’ampli gratuits ne simulent que la tête d’un ampli. Pour avoir également une simulation du haut-parleur, un autre plugin qu’on appelle « chargeur d’impulsions », dans laquelle on charge des « réponses impulsionnelles », ou IR (impulse responses, en anglais). Les IR sont des petits fichiers audio qui reproduisent le son d’un vrai haut-parleur. On peut trouver des IR reproduisant le son des amplis Fender, Vox, Marshall, Orange, Mesa Boogie, etc. Il en existe des gratuites et des payantes.


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