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Mastering in the Box Explained

Everyone who uses a DAW at some point will attempt to "master" their production. Many however, will fail. This new series from studio wiz Michael Costa will show you the basics of mastering in the box using typical plug-ins and how to address many common issues found in recordings, as well as as more advanced techniques to solve other trickier problems.


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Introduction 3m:43s

Get a quick holistic look at the mastering process and some of what you'll be covering with Michael in this series.


What Happens & Why 12m:20s

Michael discusses his thought processes that underly the art of mastering.

EQ, Dynamics and Dither


EQ 10m:15s

Join Michael for a discussion about the mastering approach to using and applying EQ.


Compression 17m:24s

Learn about single band bus compression, its purposes and examples of three popular models.


Limiting 14m:59s

Discover the function of the peak limiter in mastering, for tone and protection.


Dithering 5m:03s

Explore the subtle but integral part of delivering your final master.

Fixing the Mix


The Harsh Mix 8m:32s

See how fixing a harsh element in the mix with something other than EQ might be a better choice.


The Thumpy Mix 9m:23s

Learn how a dynamic EQ can tame an overly thumpy kick drum while retaining more of the warmth in the track.


The Loud Hi-Hat 7m:45s

See how to tame a specific overly loud instrument in the mix to hopefully blend it in better with the rest of the track.

Mid Side Processing and Phase


MS Intro 6m:00s

Michael introduces the concept of MS processing, showing some plug-ins that exploit it and pave the way for the tutorials that follow.


MS Fix Imbalance 6m:38s

Learn how to rebalance the left and right of your lopsided mix without adversely affecting the center.


MS Widening 14m:22s

Explore making a mix wider, first by using widening plug-ins, and then by manually tweaking your own MS processor.


Phase 9m:29s

Learn about the issues faced when an element in a mix has phase issues.

More Mix Fixes


Vinyl Considerations 7m:35s

Discover the things you need to keep in mind if your intended medium is vinyl.


The Flat Mix #1 12m:55s

Watch Michael deal with a problem mix that lacks punch and excitement.


The Flat Mix #2 19m:45s

The second of our flat mixes is a bigger challenge - an old bedroom mix that is too boomy and too bright while still lacking depth and impact.

Stems and Mastering


Stem Mastering Pt. 1 11m:08s

See Michael introduce the concept of mastering with stems, explaining some of the many advantages as well as showing two different ways of creating the stems.


Stem Mastering Pt. 2 14m:24s

Now watch Michael process the stems individually to create a better final master.


Mastering Session 25m:29s

See Michael put together many of the things already learned and run a fictitious compilation mastering session to get numerous disparate tracks to gel.

Michael Costa

1. When did you start dabbling in music?

I was classically trained in piano from the age of 7 and had a strong obsession with popular music right throughout my youth. I played keyboards in various rock bands in the mid 80's but found a pronounced leaning towards the technology and computer side of music as samplers and computers became more attainable in the late 80's.

2. What training have you had?

In 1989 I completed my Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Music Technology from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Much of my tech knowledge in those pre-internet days came from devouring issues of Keyboard, Mix and EM - monthly, without fail.

3. When did you get into recording?

I started getting into recording in 1984 with a Tascam 244 4-track cassette system. In 1989 I moved to a Digidesign Sound Tools II system - a true random access 2 track editor - and that was the beginning of a long association with Digidesign products. I married this hardware up to Opcode's Studio Vision for many years as well as getting in at the ground floor with Pro Tools v1 in 1991. I've been a Pro Tools user since then right up to the current day.

4. People you have worked with/for?

I've been lucky enough to work with a huge cross section of talent within the Australian music scene. Names like: INXS, Little River Band, John Farnham, Kasey Chambers and Richard Clapton. Plus music editing on breakout movies like Shine and Strictly Ballroom with Oscar nominated composer, David Hirschfelder.

5. Why are you so good at training people?

I think I'm good at training because I really love this stuff - I genuinely want to show people how cool these tools are. Even as a fully grown adult, I still find myself getting excited like a little kid about the magic we can do with our systems these days and wondering how far it can go in the years to come. I hope that enthusiasm is contagious!

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