I cannot stress enough the benefit of having your home recorded Hip Hop songs Mastered by an outside Mastering Engineer that specializes in the Hip Hop genre. The end result will no doubt be better when done by a trained ear with an acoustically tuned environment & Mastering specific gear. With that said, it is possible for you to achieve usable results in your home Hip Hop recording studio & the purpose of this article is to help you achieve those results using the recording gear/software that you already own. If you are recording on Digidesign Protools software then you can use the plug ins that came with the program. Most similar programs should have comparable processing plug ins so consult your user manual for those.
You will start your mastering session with a two track stereo mix of your song preferably with the master level peaking at about -3db never hitting the red on the meter. This mix should already be sounding the way you want while needing a boost in volume & maybe a couple EQ tweaks to make it translate well to various sound systems/sources.
Starting with the EQ make adjustments to the lows, mids, & highs, based on any notes that you taken after listening to your mix on several different types of sound sources such as earbuds, a car system, a bookshelf stereo, a mono clock radio, laptop speakers etc. Your goal is for your master to end up sounding good on all the different systems where of course on larger systems with sub woofers you will have more bass & on laptop speakers & earbuds there will be little or no sub bass. The key is to have a master that still retains clarity on each of these sources. When you listen to your mix on these sources listen for frequency problems that tend to show up on multiple sound sources as these are the first things you should work on with the EQ. You should try trial & error to find the frequencies and remember it is always better to fix by cutting the offensive sounds then by boosting other frequencies to cover them. Remember that any EQ tweaks that you perform on the stereo mix is going to affect the whole song so make sure the adjustments are actually fixing the problem without causing a bigger one in another area.
The next step in your home Hip Hop Mastering session after you are happy with the EQ results will be adding a Compressor to the track. This will be used to give the song a smooth level sound making the track level consistent from start to finish. The Compressor will also aid in boosting the perceived volume of the song. Below is a set of Compressor settings that I have come to use on Hip Hop tracks as a starting point when putting together a song Master.
gain 3.5 db
threshold -22.6 db
attack 11 ms
release 50 ms
(These are compressor start off positions which I have found are a good starting point for Hip Hop recordings where the mix has been peaked at -3db)
The next device in line after the Compressor is a Limiter, which is kind of like a Compressor on steroids, the Limiter will be used to max out the volume of the mix & create a master that is as loud as any commercially released Hip Hop track.
The Limiter settings shown below are settings that I have found to be a good starting point achieving a loud yet not distorted final master of a Home studio recorded Hip Hop track
threshold 17.6 db
attack 1.0 ms
release 20 ms
(These are Limiter start off positions which I have found are a good starting point for Hip Hop recordings where the mix has been peaked at -3db)
You will want to do A/B listening comparisons between your working master & a commercially released Hip Hop track that is similar in style to your song. You will want your master to be as loud as the commercially released song and translate well on all the different sound systems/sources.
Just as you will want to do with a mix, after completing your song master save it & leave it alone for a day or two then come back to it with fresh ears and you may have a different perspective on it & finds things to fix that may have been missed earlier. once you feel your song master is comparable to the commercially released song you are done mastering your new song.
There are many different specialty programs & software plug ins that are designed for Mastering however this article is geared toward those that are trying to master their songs using the options that are already present on their recording software or workstation. Also keep in mind that Pro Mastering houses will furnish you with a master CD that will be verified to be error free as well as contain special encoding that will be the master you would want to give to a CD replication/duplication plant to get mass produced CD’s. This is an important feature though it seems in the music business more & more artists are bypassing the cost of getting CD’s made & instead having download only releases.
The information in this article should give you a path to follow when attempting to master your Hip Hop songs in your own home studio. There are no rules set in stone though trial & error have helped to formulate the mastering procedure given above.
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