Hi, Doctor Nick! - Mastering Tips and and the Importance of Bringing in a Professional Engineer

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As we've said many times before, there's no stopping Nick Hook. Even while immersed in the madness of SXSW, he still took the time to dole out advice to the XLR8R faithful. There's no topic our resident advice columnist is afraid to speak on, so anyone out there with questions about music, DJing, production, travel, romance, or whatever else should drop the good doctor a line at doctornick@xlr8r.com.

Wassup y'all? I'm writing this live and direct from Austin, Texas. It's already been a blast after one day. B. Bravo, Kastle, and JETS all smashed it at the Surefire showcase.

Even before SXSW, I had an amazing week. I saw Rustie and The Deftones smash it in New York, then I hopped in a car and drove 30 hours down here.

I also gave a workshop for the Ableton guys for Live 9. It was really inspiring to see that people knew the column but even better was the realization that we are now in the era where dads teach their kids to make beats.

Anyways, I gotta go. I'm DJing on a boat in a few minutes. This is the broken record part. Send questions! doctornick@xlr8r.com.

Hi Doctor Nick,
Have you got any tips or tricks for mastering your own tracks? Do you always work inside the laptop? Do you put plug-ins on a bounced audio file, or just the master output of the project? Any crazy game-changing techniques you can share with us aspiring artists?


I don't always work inside the laptop. For the most part, I generally use the computer in conjunction with hardware, but I'm definitely not scared to work outside the box. Some master bus suggestions: Izotope Ozone 5, Waves L2, Waves SSL bus compressor, plain-old Ableton Limiter plus an EQ, Sonnex Oxford Limiter. I like them all really, but I like getting my shit mastered by someone who knows how to do it better.

But if you learn your room, and are able to go test stuff out in the club, you might be cool. Begin with a preset you like and start tweaking. Personally, I don't like super overcompressed and limited LOUD stuff. It's offensive to my ears. Another good test is to drag your "mastered' files into Serato and see what they look like compared to other ones. You can see if you need to turn it up, if it's missing bass, if it's too compressed, etc. It's actually a valuable tool. Even if you don't have Serato, the software is free to download and use.

Really though, spend a few bucks and get that shit mastered. It's worth it. I bet there are mad fools who master stuff that can comment below, and y'all can link. I like going to mastering sessions cuz as easy as it seems, I really see that these guys are pretty much beasts in the studio. I wish i knew how. Obviously, we all fake it sometimes, but I really respect their art.

Apart from that, I don't have any game-changing advice besides studying the records you love and seeing WHY you love them. I bet you they all will start to correlate somehow—try to emulate that. I also find that anytime you can clear out space in a mix, it helps. Ask what's essential to your track. Also, leave some headroom for your mastering guy.

That's my opinion, but I also reached out to my favorite mastering engineer in the world, Joe LaPorta, who masters the majority of my stuff. Here's what he thinks. Bang.

If you're going to master in the box with plug-ins, I'd say less is more. Try to find a plug-in or two that's very effective, but also not degradative to the mix that you've been working so hard on. There are many fancy-looking plug-ins out there with tons of bells and whistles, but that doesn't always mean that they're helping your track. Try to A/B the results as much as possible to ensure that you're not losing the plot. It's easy to make things loud these days, but have you maintained the warmth, punch, and clarity of your mix? Are things starting to sound harsh/thin or smeared? These are characteristics to look out for.

To follow up on what Nick was saying... working with a good mastering engineer with the right gear and approach can help you avoid these issues and obtain that specific "finished" polish that many digital recordings are in need of these days. More importantly, you're getting a second opinion from a pair of experienced ears that masters records everyday. They can help pinpoint potential issues in the mix that you may have not noticed due to your monitoring/listening environment or maybe because you've been too deeply involved in the process of creating/mixing the track and haven't had a chance to take a step back.

Okay... see you guys in Texas. Say hi if you see me.

Hi, Doctor Nick! appears every Thursday on XLR8R. Do you have a question for Doctor Nick? Please submit your inquires to doctornick@xlr8r.com. Nick Hook can help you.