PreSonus Blog

Sneaky Mastering Page Tip

For this tip to make sense, I need to be upfront about two personal biases.

Personal bias #1: Drums should sound percussive. I can’t remember the last time I used compression on drums (although limiting or saturation is helpful to shave off extreme peaks).

Personal bias #2: I avoid using bus processors. The mix has to sound great without any bus processors, so the mastering process can take the mix to the next level.

Why I have these biases would take up a whole other tip. Besides, if your music sounds great with bus processors and compressed drums, then by all means—keep using bus processors, and compress your drums!

But There’s a Problem: “Super Peaks”

As a result of my biases, I send mixes with a wide dynamic range to the Mastering page, because that’s where I can control the precise amount of dynamic range processing in context with other related pieces of music. But, not restricting dynamics means that from time to time, there are “super peaks”—for example, if the kick, snare, cymbal, keyboard stabs, and a guitar power chord all hit at the same time (fig. 1).

Figure 1: The super peaks are outlined in orange. Lower peaks are outlined in white.

These super peaks go way higher than most peaks, so if you normalize, the super peaks prevent any significant peak level increase. Using limiting or compression on the track works, but alters the percussive character. Of course, the beauty of the Song/Mastering page synergy is that you can tweak the mix in the Song page, and the Mastering page will reflect the results. However, with super peaks that combine multiple instrument sounds occurring simultaneously, tracking down which tracks to reduce, and by how much, gets complicated—especially if you have to deal with a dozen or so super peaks.

The Gain Envelope is the perfect tool for dealing with super peaks. You can bring down the peak and the area immediately adjacent to it, without neutering the percussive waveform (fig. 2). The Gain Envelope just lowers the peak’s level a bit—it doesn’t flatten the peak.

Figure 2: The super peak on the left has been lowered by -3 dB on the right.

Although the Mastering page doesn’t have Gain Envelopes, there’s still a way to apply that Song page advantage to the Mastering page. Usually, audio goes from the Song page to the Mastering page. In this case, we’ll do the reverse.

  1. Create a new Song.
  2. Open the Browser, and unfold the Project’s folder. Then, unfold the Song with the file that needs editing, and open the Song’s Master folder to expose the file used by the Mastering page (fig. 3).

Figure 3: Locate the Master file. Note the -Master.wav suffix.

  1. Drag the Master file into the new Song, and start editing.
  2. Use the Gain envelope to bring down the super peaks. While the file is open, you can make any other needed changes (e.g., increasing the level slightly at the beginning to pull listeners into the music).
  3. After making your changes, rename the existing Master file to something like “Song-Master Old.wav.” Then, drag the edited file from the Song into the Master folder, and rename it with the original name, like “Song-Master.wav.” Now your project will think the modified file is the Master file (fig. 4). Once it checks out as okay, you can delete the old Master file.

Figure 4: The original file is on the left. The version on the right had the super peaks reduced, and was then re-normalized.

Mission accomplished! Both files in fig. 4 were normalized, but compare the file on the right—it’s more consistent and louder, yet the dynamics remain intact. It was necessary to change only the levels of ten super-peaks by about -3 dB. I also brought up the level in the beginning section, to make a stronger entrance after the end of the previous song. The end result was about a +2.0 LUFS increase.

So there you have it: you can win the loudness wars—but with a bloodless coup that doesn’t squash your audio.

  • Craig Anderton

    Standard disclaimer: I do not speak for PreSonus and I am not a PreSonus employee. So I am not privy to their plans for what features will be added, or when. I just assume that if they can make gain envelopes work on the Song page, they can make them work on the Project page. However, I also assume it’s more complex because of needing to accommodate tracks being re-ordered, and the Project page’s dual-“lane” design. I don’t code so I don’t know if those issues are trivial, or difficult to resolve. That’s their problem 🙂

  • Craig Anderton

    Standard disclaimer: I do not speak for PreSonus and I am not a PreSonus employee. That said, I assume the mastering page was never intended to be a digital audio editor, but that Studio One followed the Sound Forge paradigm at that time of edit your waveforms on one page (or in the case of S1, record and edit on one page), and assemble them on a different page (in the case of Sound Forge, CD Architect). Studio One’s difference was prioritizing assembly to reflect changes done on the Song page, which as far as I know is still unique to the program. So, it doesn’t bother me to take the occasional file that needs waveform surgery to the page that’s designed for that, then bring it back into the page that’s designed for assembly. Of course, I would like to have clip gain on the mastering page. But I don’t find a “drag – edit – drag back” workflow complex, especially given the mastering page’s main benefit of reflecting changes in a mix. Also note that while volume envelopes are a common feature in digital audio editors, I’ve yet to use one that altered the waveform image, which would make it useless for this application anyway.

  • Erik

    “I suspect that it wouldn’t be too hard to add gain envelopes to the mastering page” – I love the sound of that, any chances you could get confirmation from Presonus Engineering?

  • Tom Slowcat

    You have to admit, Craig, that having to go through such a ‘complex’ process for something as simple as just wanting to edit a peak or two, when you’ve got a supposedly ‘Mastering tool’ built in S1, is a bit of a joke. Take any mastering tool out there, I’m quite certain they all give you the ability to do waveform editing to some degree. Knowing that’s it’s already implemented in S1 in Song mode but for some reason not in Project mode is disappointing to say the least.
    Presonus are dropping the ball with their Project page, with a heap of long-requested features still not implemented and the Project remaining frustratingly neglected over the last bunch of ‘major’ S1 updates. Rant over.

  • Craig Anderton

    I suspect that it wouldn’t be too hard to add gain envelopes to the mastering page, but until that happens, this workaround has helped me out considerably with clients who want a loud master that nonetheless retains dynamics.

  • Craig Anderton

    It kind of depends on how precise you need to be. You can make these changes to master bus automation in song mode, but then you first have to locate exactly where the peaks are, so you’re going to have to do a submix anyway to find them. I also find it easier to do edits that are only a one or two milliseconds in duration with Gain envelopes than automation envelopes. Finally, by doing it this way, the original mastering file remains intact – you won’t overwrite it by mistake. I think the best option probably depends on your workflow.

  • I have to agree. The mastering functionality in Studio One is awesome, but it feels like they’ve neglected it for a while.

  • Erik

    The lack of volume enveloppes in mastering view is a major limitation. In this scenario, you probably would save yourself time by doing everything in song mode instead.