audio mastering lesson: Goblin live

I think one of the reasons why people find audio mastering so mysterious and such an esoteric art is because they rarely if ever are given an opportunity to hear the ‘before mastering’ and ‘after mastering’ versions of the same audio. Well, here’s your chance.

This is a very particular recording, so please allow me to elaborate.

Legendary Italian progressive rock band Goblin embarked on their first tour of the United Stated in the fall of 2013 for the first time in the band’s 40 year history. I attended the second of their three sold-out shows at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California.

While I am a professional audio engineer, specializing in live concert recording, for this event, my only recording device fr this was my pocket point & shoot camera: a Canon S100. Great little camera that grabs some really nice 1080, and which has some better-than-decent built-in, stereo mics.

Standard rock concert- loud music, fairly large theatre with a sizable main seating area as well as a large balcony, and as I mentioned, packed with people. I was sitting slightly off-center, about 150 feet from the stage.

The first half of this audio is the raw file coming straight out of the camera. Surprisingly, no low end distortion. It’s dynamic range is equally surprising. When recording an event like this, I always expect camera audio to come out pretty much automatically brick walled. But his one has some pretty peaky peaks.

I recommend that you listen multiple times on some high quality headphones, as well as a high quality soundsystem with a subwoofer.

You’ll hear that overall, it sounds OK, but not spectacular. Very narrow stereo image. Pretty thin. Kinda lifeless. But the individual instruments have pretty clear voices. It’s not a big blob of screaming midrange, which is what most rock concerts are. FOH soundguy was doing a good job.

The second half of this audio is, of course, the same bit of audio as the first half, only after I put it through the motions and maxed it out. Now this audio sounds spectacular, at least considering what I started out with. Much wider stereo image giving the instruments a lot more room to breathe. Much punchier and weighty low end, giving the entire recording a much stronger sense of closeness. High end is now sparkly, shinier, but not harsh. Overall a massive improvement.

How did I accomplish this?

1. FabFilter Pro Q equalizer in Soundtrack Pro. Boosted low lows to bring up the bass and kick, cut some upper lows to minimize the boxiness, boosted the highs to make it shiny. But not too shiny, because I know some of the later processes tend to accentuate the high end.

2. Still in STP, apply iZotope Ozone 5 Imager. This plug-in has some nice multiband controls to dial in how wide everything sounds. Really makes the later steps much easier.

Keeping in mind that the effects in STP are destructive (if you don’t save your audio under a different name after applying the effect, that is). It seems sort of counterintuitive or counterproductive, but most of the time this is how I prefer to work. I always keep a backup of the original audio just in case for some reason I need to start over, but that never really happens.

After these two steps, I send the audio to Presonus Studio One 2, which is more of a traditional multitrack DAW where the plug-ins are inserted into the channel strip and are non-destructive.

3. QuikQuak UpStereo with really mild/shallow settings. This does pretty much the same thing as the eq and imager, but with far fewer settings and parameters that are much less finely tunable than those previous effects. But in case I need to give just the slightest extra little push, I’ll use this.

4. Presonus Multiband Dynamics Compressor for fine-tuning the peaks in the drums and anything else.

5. Export that audio, then open it in iZotope Rx3 Advanced. In Channel Operations, send it through the phase corrector. This tends to be a very subtle effect, but generally makes an improvement.

6. Finally, open it up back in Soundtrack Pro, normalize, and then max it out with a limiter. NO, OF COURSE I’M NOT GONNA BRICK WALL IT. But I will kick it up a couple notches, being very care not to flatten it out too much. I’ve been doing this long enough to know when too much is too much, and I’m never gonna push it that far.

Also keep in mind that the visual representation of the audio here on Soundcloud is fairly accurate, but it does flatten out a lot of the peaks, so even though it may look brick walled, you can trust that it isn’t.

Any questions or comments? Throw ’em at me.

By the way, this song is a live version of the song Tenebrae, which is the theme song to the Dario Argento movie of the same name. If you would like to see the video that accompanies this audio, find it on my YouTube page here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvk1vbtx1I4), as well as a few other Goblin tracks from the same performance (Non Ho Sonno, Magic Thriller, and L’alba dei morti viventi / Zombi).

Thanks.

Brian, Humorless Productions.

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