Mixing and Mastering Workflow

When mixing and mastering, there are many ways to approach the workflow, especially when working both inside and outside the “box”. In this case my “box” is an Intel Quad Core, 4 Gig, XP Pro system using SONAR 8.5 PE for tracking and mixing (and occasionally Reaper 3), and Wavelab 6 for mastering and CD production.

Here is my workflow:

Using SONAR, where I originally laid down the tracks, I mix out through my console and outboard and then back into SONAR, and export the final stereo mixdown to a project \Mix folder. The mix version retains the original bit depth and sample rate, usually 24/48 or 24/88.

In Wavelab I load each mix file separately for mastering, create the master section fx chain, and save that as a per-song preset. I will set the loudness using the WL meters, or the meters in UAD Precision Limiter, set to K-14. I also use UAD Precision Maximizer, or possibly the Fairchild 670 plug, to get the sound where I want it in terms of loudness and clarity, warmth, etc.

Then I render out to same bit depth, with final gain set for the target avg RMS (I use the Global Analysis tool all the time to check this), generally -14 DBFS plus or minus a db. No dither yet. Note that this loudness level is average perceived loudness, set to less than today’s pop music standard, i.e. it retains much of the original dynamic range and is still loud enough to sound good on CD compared to many other similar tunes. As I am mostly doing acoustic, folk, Celtic, electronica, country and bluegrass, i don’t feel the call to squashing the sound just to make it competitive for radio play, as has been the trend in recent years. Anyway…..

Each of these 24-bit mastered files is kept in a \Master folder in the project subdirectory, so I can keep track of when I last rendered out a final version. At any time I can go back to the mix versions restore the preset for the tune, and work it some more if I need to.

I create a CD project montage in Wavelab, set order of the tunes, do the fades (top and tail), spacing, and only then apply dithering to the final rendered stereo file and basic audio CD file. That way I can adjust final levels in the montage if I want to before dither.

It might sound like a lot of work but it gives me pretty good control over each song, without having to render the entire CD montage with all of the original per song plugs, which takes a while. The final render only applies dither.

After the final render of the project I can then burn reference CD’s, which i listen to in a variety of contexts (home stereo, car stereo, iPod). Once its all good, a final master is burned onto a high quality CD-ROM, such as Apogee or Tayo Yuden, at 8X speed (which my DAW seems to like better than the often quoted 1 or 2X speed).

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