Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Mastering saved my sound

Art work for "I Don't Want To Play"
(detail of Benny's Bounce)
Yay! I Don't Want To Play is now copyrighted, added to my BMI works, and up on CDBaby and Soundcloud! This third song feels like a big deal, but only for my experience book. I took two more significant steps toward knowing what I'm doing in Garageband.

Every preliminary mix I've ever taken to my mentor has resulted in this comment—"There's some distortion right here," accompanied by a pointing finger. It was always something that I hadn't noticed, but when I came back to the studio and listened closely, then I could hear it—the flat, garbage-y buzz. It was usually where I was layering a lot of vocals.

This time I again ran into the distortion demon, from poor level control on the many individual layers, leading to bad levels in the mix. I'll be paying particular attention to that on my next one, all the way from the first stage of creating the layers. I learned there's a great visual feedback technique in Garageband that shows any places where you hit the rails—exactly what I wished I'd had while chasing my distortion problems. This trick came to me from what Patrick Baird's The Ultimate Guide To Mixing In Garageband shows and explains about mastering. The trick is to save your song—at whatever stage you become curious about your levels—and then import it into a new/empty audio track in an empty Garageband project. Being able to see that composite sound wave was what finally turned on the lightbulb in my head—I could see exactly where all the distortion was, in the timeline of the song, and so knew exactly what areas had to be fixed. And, just repeating that export/import would be proof of when it was fixed.

Of course after I'd read about mastering and found out how many possibilities there are, I went with quaking knees to my mentor and said "Help!" The task of finding "the right" or "the best" mastering scheme seemed too much for me to handle alone.

He set me straight immediately: There is no single mastering scheme that's either right or best for any given song. Why not? Because every successful producer has a different approach, and they're all successful. Unless you're deliberately trying to copy someone else's sound, all you can do is find or create a scheme that sounds the best to YOU. So I came back to the studio, figuring, this is going to take a day or two, at least, but it didn't—it took me just a little over an hour to listen to the song using each of Garageband's newer mastering presets (they do still include legacy patches), and pick the one I liked the best. Part of my decision process was checking the levels with each preset and visually comparing each mastered version to see what they all "look" like. That helped me understand what type of general shaping produces a particular overall sound. In some, the drumming backbone was so much louder than the instruments and vocals it was clear that the beat would be the main feature of that listening experience—perfect for dance venues.

In the end, because I wasn't targeting any particular market or type of venue, and because I was already happy with the overall sound of this mix, and lastly because I really don't know what I'm doing yet,  I picked the mastering settings that changed that sound the least, yet still got everything away from the rails—and then I added a bit more compression. You can tweak any preset patch in Garageband to your heart's content, and you can save it.

And that's how mastering saved my sound—by getting rid of unwanted distortion.

1 comment:

  1. 'I Don't Want To Play' sounds great Patricia - nice work! :)