Mixing into your mastering plugins?

Hey All,

So I know that the general wisdom is get your mix sounding exactly how you want, then do the mastering. I think this really applied to the days when you would send your stuff out to get mastered, and obviously for us here at AJ, it’s not cost feasible to do that!

These days, since we’re doing our own “mastering” anyways, using izotope or whatever various limiters and plugins everyone uses; Is there any reason not to mix directly into your mastering setup right from the start? I always find that if I do a mix, I still end up changing it once I hit it with the limiters and stuff, so why not just cut that step out and mix into all that stuff to begin with?


I do as well. Very practical. Sometimes i end up with a lot of very low faders… Easy fix when linking them.

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IMHO a good mix for me always begins with a well balanced track. After 25 + years mixing and then in the introduction of computers and plugins, mastering for me is always my last chain in music / sound production. I could get overwhelmed with the amount of plugins available at the mix stage and so I personally prefer to get a balanced track first and then add the icing to the cake afterwards. This is just my approach to things.

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i definitely agree that balancing is probably the most important part of all… but a lot of times I find that even when i spend a great deal of time getting a very nice balance, maybe with just some light compression and a bit of eq… then i throw my mastering plugins (typically ozone for me) and bring things up to a commercial level, my “perfect balance” isn’t quite as perfect any more and I end up going back and leveling stuff again… maybe I’m doing something wrong? Or could most likely be lack of experience before the mastering stage too I suppose.

At the end of the day it is all good clean fun.

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I’ve sometimes wondered about this as I do find myself inevitably revisiting the mix when I get to the mastering stage. But against doing it all in one go are it can cause problems with CPU load and it feels like too many variables to cope with at once!

I have exactly the same workflow as you @orbiterred . And I experience the same need to fine tune track levels/eq etc once I start the Mastering process. I do hold off turning on the Master Effects until I feel the Mix is ready; as you have talked about. I also find that I have to bounce the mix and/or master to audio to give it a good, detailed listen. I take notes from that and then go back into the DAW to fine tune based on the notes etc. It’s funny to me that I need to do it this way. Maybe it’s my concentration level is better without stareing at the DAW display…I don’t know :slight_smile:

I think there is something to this! I’ve been trying to move as much of my process “off the screen” as possible using midi controllers and faders and I really think it makes a difference!

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I’ve tried both methods with varying results. It all depends on the track and what you expect to accomplish with your “mastering” plugins. After all, mastering is a floating concept these days. Mastering a commercial track involves a lot of reference track a/b, adapting to radio / CD / streaming standards, and mastering an album is a lot about comparing levels and spectrums across a bunch of different tracks, not to mention track ordering, fine-tuning intros/endings etc, which doesn’t really apply to the average AJ upload.

If your stereo mixbus plugs are very heavy, like a lot of saturation, coloring EQ, or pumping compressors, then yes that would change the balance of the mix and if you slap all that on as a last “touch” you’ll be tempted to go back to the mixing stage again and again. So in that case might as well have them on from scratch.

For AJ tracks, I still tend to leave the stereo bus clean until I’m done with a lot of things on the individual tracks - including gain staging, balance, eq, dynamics, convolution etc. Then I build up my mastering chain little by little, basically trying not to change the balance and feel of the original mix too much. I may do some a/b reference eq matching, push the RMS up where it should be, smooth things out just a bit with a multiband compressor.

For me, this final stage is all about polish. It’s about listening to the mix as a whole and only addressing reference and coherence issues. To answer the OP question, if I had the mastering chain active from the get-go, which would kind of work, I would probably just add some more mastering plugins at the end anyway!

I think, from what you’re telling, that if you find yourself going back to the mix after mastering, you’re using the mastering stage with too heavy processing, heavy enough to alter the signature of the track. What you could do instead, as a middle of the road kind of thing, is add a “pre-master” stereo bus second-to-last in the chain with the heavy stuff that you obviously think you’ll need or want regardless of how your mix turns out, and keep that bus active during mixing, and then add the “polishing” mastering plugs in the Out 1-2 once you have a finished mix.

The idea behind separating these workflows, if nothing else, is to encourage creating a decent mix without chucking all your signals into a heavy stereo bus processing. In the long run this will increase your comfortability in achieving your desired soundscape without the “help” of mastering plugs, the benefits of which, IMHO, should be thought of as an “added bonus” rather than a “mixing prerequisite”.

The illusion of comfort and ease you may enjoy while blasting your tracks (possibly unknowingly poorly eq:ed and dynamically processed, at close to -0dB, etc), into a forgiving multiband compressor can, and will, eventually bite your tail, in shapes of unwanted distorsion, balance issues, pumping, offset eq and automation. Also, it’s way harder to address loudness issues in separate tracks when all audio is competing in a crowded fishbowl of compression, exciters, limiters and whatnot.

That been said, you may also have a lucky day, or grow accustomed to that kind of workflow over time and achieve astonishing results. You may feel more inspired when tracks sound “mature” from inception, which may yield better musical results, what do I know. But my take on the mixing stage is, if you depend on mastering plugs to make your tracks “happening”, you’re losing out on the opportunity to create a reliable sonic “army” before moving into mastering territory.

Good luck :sunglasses:


good point!
actually recording and mixing with your mastering set up on, could bring latency issues…and I think it’s difficult to manage dynamics on tracks while a limiter and compressor are active on the master bus; also frequencies are alterated…you don’t hear exactly the clean eq of your track.
As we all know, mastering is after the mix, because its goal is to give the whole track more presence, volume, dynamic control, glue everything together and so…from a good mix first. But Eq is also very important in the mastering fase, because when your track passes through limiters and stuff, also already cutted frequencies will jump up a little…and mastering engineers eq on the track to fix the issue.
i have been in mastering studios a lot, and when you hear your very good mix in THEIR system…it sounds weird and messy. After the process: wow
also leave room for mastering, -6 db for example
hope it helps :slight_smile:

Great post @Stockwaves !

@thebigsound i definitely wouldn’t recommend recording with the mastering plugs and stuff setup… my system would bug out pretty quick! But once everything is composed/arranged/recorded i’ve been experimenting with going into my limiters and stuff pretty early in the process. I think @stockwaves makes a good case for why it’s better to stay away from some of that stuff early on though even if we have the ability.

yep! exactly