At the start of the trimester my friend Shay told me that he was endeavouring to record and mix a local Led Zeppelin cover band called Zed Leppelin (yes I know, it could get confusing) alongside his classmate Adam. They have spent the last half of the trimester doing so, while I have been busy with my Warframe project and Dead Weight. Unfortunately they did not have their entire project mixed by the time of my mastering session, so they chose to send me their mixes of “Immigrant Song” and “Good Times Bad Times“. You can listen to their mixes below.
Zed Leppelin – Immigrant Song
Zed Leppelin – Good Times Bad Times
Mastering is the final process undertaken to prepare a product for manufacturing, as such it involves technical adjustments to the format, including frequency management as well as compliance to loudness standards. Mastering engineers may also take it upon themselves to apply some mid-side processing to add some dimension to the mix. Upon listening to the tracks, I was quite impressed with Shay and Adam’s mixes, and at first found it difficult to imagine what I would do to improve them, so I started with some technical improvements rather than creative ones.
My first decision was to implement some equalisation to the sides of the mix, by using a high-pass filter to remove some problems to do with vinyl playback. While I was investigating the frequency spectrum of the sides of the mix, I also decided to add some crunch to the guitars at approximately 1.2khz. I then applied some minor cuts at 400hz and 3khz, following a technique recommended by my lecturer Guy Gray in preserving the balance of a mix when making decisions around equalisation by ducking the preceding or proceeding frequencies after a boost.
My decisions around the side of the mix then dictated some changes that I chose to make on the middle of the mix. Boosting the 1.2khz on the sides and reducing below 80hz with the high-pass filter meant that the sides were largely featuring instrumentation, particularly the overheads on the drums and the guitars. I therefore wanted to make the middle of the mix more about the vocal and the bass frequencies. This is why I chose to boost around 90hz on the middle. Making the vocal more prominent was a little trickier, as the vocal style already cuts through above 3khz, sometimes more than is comfortable for the listener. I therefore decided to give the vocal a little more presence around 1.2khz instead, to stay in line with the guitars on the side of the mix. I also cut 3.3khz a little to compensate, and to take a little of the sharpness off of the vocal.
Following my decision to make the middle of the mix more “thumpy” by boosting 90hz, I decided to apply some compression to the middle as well, exaggerating this feel that was provided by the boost to the sub-bass frequencies. To do this, I used the UAD Neve 33609 compressor, bypassing the side channel.
This required a little fine-tuning in order not to make the effect too overbearing, and at the end of the process I felt as though I achieved a sound that was appropriate for the rock genre.
Compression in the mastering phase also involves conforming to loudness standards. As I had previously not researched loudness standards for music, as I am studying post-production, I chose to adhere to -12 LUFS as recommended for CD standard by my lecturer, and made sure that the true peaks stayed under -0.3 LU. This was done with a brick-wall limiter on the master bus while monitoring the result through iZotope Insight.
Due to the airy aesthetic of Led Zeppelin’s music, I thought it would be a nice touch to give the sides of the mix a little touch of reverb to enhance the mood of the mix. For this I sent the original mixes to a separate auxiliary track than the one I was using for compression and initial equalisation, and bypassed the mid channel on the reverb plugin. The reverb plugin I used was the UAD Lexicon 224. I used the frequency management portion of the plugin to ensure I wasn’t introducing any more bass through the reverb that I had previously corrected.
From the three and a half hours I spent working on the mastering, I thought I provided an enjoyable take on the mix of Immigrant Song, which is the song that I used as the main reference for the mastering. Unfortunately I’m not sure about the quality of the mastering on Good Times Bad Times, though I think it is a little more robust and does solve some problems. For my first attempt at the mastering process, I think I did a satisfactory job of utilising the tools at my disposal. In hindsight I probably should have applied a separate mastering chain to each song to make the overall tone of each song a little more cohesive with one another. I also would have liked to use some of the great outboard gear in the S6 studio to add a more professional touch to the mastering, however, at the time of finishing my mastering through plugins, I did not feel I would have the time to do so. Another mastering session would have been ideal, although I had already used all of my booking time for the week. You can listen to my mastered versions of the mixes below.
Zed Leppelin – Immigrant Song [Mastered]
Zed Leppelin – Good Times Bad Times [Mastered]