Getting your work properly mastered is the final stage in the sonic process. If a record company is involved, this will usually be taken care of by a trained professional working with a combination of analog and digital solutions to bring the levels in line with industry standards and give your mix that final bit of punch and polish it might need.
Even if you plan to try mastering with an in-the-box solution—and especially if you’re sending it off to a professional mastering studio—it’s crucial to get your final pre-master signal dialed in. Not only does this mean preparing a dynamic file with plenty of headroom, but you can also take steps to eradicate low end mud, widen the mix with some air, glue it all together a bit, and even boost harmonic content.
Tim Xavier and Mike Grinser have been running Berlin’s Manmade Mastering studio for years, cutting vinyl lacquers and mastering digital files for a veritable who’s-who of techno’s biggest artists and labels, including Ostgut Ton, Plus 8, Klockworks, BPitch ,and Mobilee among many others. Over the years, they’ve been providing their clients with a Pre-Mastering Audio Effect Rack for Ableton Live, intended to be placed on the master bus as a final processing stage before exporting your pre-master for them to work with. I’ve just collaborated with Manmade on the latest version of this useful tool, and now Ask.Audio is providing it to you for free!
“The MMM rack is a tool I’ve used religiously on all of my personal production for the past four years. The original signal flow was designed to be implemented straight away with its default settings, directly adding excitation, warmth, and spatial attributes to a mixdown. Noah helped revise the 2016 design with more efficient controls and a new A/B function. With the new macros you can add more air and width in the high frequency spectrum, tighten the low end, apply analog-modeled compression on the input, and soft peak limiting for safety on the final output stage—all in all, a must-have!”—Tim Xavier, Manmade Mastering
Two racks are contained in the parent Audio Effect rack, which has two Macros: Input Gain attenuation and an A/B switch to toggle between two versions of the mastering tool so you can experiment with different settings without committing. Each MMM sub-rack is preceded by a Utility with DC filtration enabled and the gain mapped to the Input Gain Macro of the parent rack, followed by a Spectrum device so you can get a visual of the end result.
The two identical MMM sub-racks are where the magic happens: both are comprised of a Glue Compressor, an EQ Eight, a Saturator, an Overdrive enhancer, and finally a Limiter.
The Glue Compressor with Oversampling enabled helps your mix gel together; a reasonably transparent combination of Threshold and Makeup are assigned to the Glue Amount Macro, with the ratio assigned to the Glue Ratio Macro, to a maximum value of 4.
The EQ Eight, also with Oversampling activated, is in Mid/Side mode. A high shelf is applied strictly to the Side band, which is mapped to the Air Band macro, providing enhanced shimmer in the stereo field, while a steep high-pass is also applied to the Side band, removing unnecessary stereo information from the low end of your mix, up to a maximum of 300 Hz, via the Mono Bass Macro.
A Saturator in Hi-Quality mode with an Analog Clip waveform adds extra punch via the Saturator Drive Macro, while an Overdrive subtly adds upper harmonics via the Harmonic Drive Macro. Finally, a Limiter ensures no peaks come through while providing final boost or attenuation as needed via the Limiting Macro—though you should be sure to provide plenty of headroom, usually at least -3 dB, for the final pre-master file.
To be clear, the MMM Pre-Master Tool is not intended as a mastering solution: as the name suggests, this is a pre-mastering tool meant to prepare your mix for the mastering stage. Always check with your mastering engineer to make sure you’re providing the right format at the desired bit rate (usually 24-bit or higher these days), with the required amount of headroom. I would also recommend not enabling the MMM Pre-Master Tool until you’re already satisfied with your current mix, then add it in for a final bit of something special. Download it now to get your pre-masters all spiffed up.
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