Music Record Mastering – the Final Mix

Introduction: Music Record Mastering – the Final Mix

About: Ugly pirate roaming the seas in search of Treasure.

Creating a music recording for a CD, video, download or radio play should always finish with a somewhat elusive step called ‘Mastering’. Here, I am going to explain what this actually means and give a practical example of a very simple mastering operation with a brilliant piece of software called ‘Fruity Loops’. No external gadgets are required and it can all be done on low budget on a table top.

So, you’ve spend hundreds of hours creating a wonderful piece of music either at home or in a studio and all the tracks are now laid out in a piece of software in a computer. All the mistakes are fixed and all edits have been made, a ‘mix’ has been programmed in and the piece is beginning to sound as it should do. The task now is to blend all the different sounds into a coherent and ‘produced’ end result called the ‘Final Mix’.

To use the following example, please download Fruity Loops at: CLICKY LINKY It’s free as a trial and is really easy to use, or if you just want to see the finished results watch/listen to the video at the end of this 'ible.

Copyright for the music is retained by Goat Industries.


Step 1: Tools and Equipment

One of the great things about Fruity Loops is that you dont need any external 'gadgets', in fact when I started using it about 8 years ago, I sold all my external hardware and ended up doing everything on a laptop computer. I invested some of the cash I recieved for the hardware into the best version of FL I could get hold of and that was that! (The rest of the cash I frittered away on takeaways and buying people drinks in the pub). If you want to make music on a budget, in a small space, Fruity Loops is the one to go for.

Step 2: Open Fruity Loops

Download Fruity loops free demo and load up the following zip file into the program by using “file ..... open ......”. Your screen should now look something like the image above. You may have to rearrange some of the panels a little bit.

Step 3: Processing the Drum Loops

We will start by looking at the drum loops. These have already been ‘equalised’ or ‘EQ'd’ for this particular type of music by removing most of the bass frequencies to produce quite an unpleasant ‘boxey’ sound, but please stay with me on this one as the drums may sound bad on their own, but when they are blended with the rest of the music they do sound really great!

On the mixer panel click on ‘insert 2’ and you will see an option on the right hand side appear called ‘Fruity Stereo Enhancer’. Wearing headphones, click on and off the green light next to it and you will notice the stereo spread of the sound change quite radically. With the green light ‘on’ the drums should sound nicer.

Step 4: Processing the Wailing Bagpipe

Now select ‘insert 3’, which gives a ‘Fruity Stereo Shaper’ option for the main lead instrument – the wailing bagpipe. Again, click the green light on and off and try playing around with the various dials and sliders in the ‘Mixer Matrix’ effects panel. You should be able to create a nicer stereo separation.

Step 5: Processing the 'Master' Track

Now click on ‘Master’ in the mixer panel and you will see an option called ‘Fruity Multiband Compressor’. Again, click the green light, but unless you have got truely amazing headphones you probably wont hear much difference, so take off the headphones and use your studio speakers. Now you WILL notice something very subtle happening to the music – somehow it just sounds nicer! Now go to the Fruity Multiband Compressor panel and scroll through the presets using the black arrows in the top right hand corner. Each shift should change the sound and most positions will probably sound worse than at present! The real trick that I use with this panel is that any application of it should be BARELY DETECTABLE unless you are looking for a very particular sound.

If you want to go really crazy, have a play about with the 'Parametric EQ' panel!

Step 6: Creating a 'Final Mix'

Use 'File ....... Export ...... Wave file' to bring up the export panel. You can now select if you want it in 16 bit for CDs and general use or 24 or 32 bit which will both be much higher quality. You can even create MP3s but these are always poor quality, even at 450 kps. Also, Youtube videos always have very poor sound quality so try and listen to the 16 bit 'wav' version if possible.

Here's a quick explanation of 'bits' and 'kps':

The best way to think about it is like an image or photograph. If the image is low resolution it will appear pixilated when you enlarge it. Youtube reprossesses the sound in cyber space and spits it back out at about 12 bit to save on disc space and download speed. CD's are made at 16 bit which is good quality but our ears are cabable of much higher perception - they can easily process 32 bit sounds and our brains can tell the difference - I promise! 'kps' is similar to bits but is the download speed - bits per second.

Step 7: Importrant Tips

  1. Play the music at a low level - you should be able to have a easy conversation with someone without shouting.
  2. Take regular breaks - our ears get tired - 10 minutes at a go is long enough for mastering with at least a 10 minute break in between.
  3. Play the music back on some crappy computer speakers once in a while and take note of any peculiarities.
  4. Every now and again listen to another finalised piece of music that you and your friends really love, preferably of the same genre. This is called 'ABing' and will give a really good comparitive guide.
  5. RSI - back strain can be eradicated by swapping your mouse into the other hand. Eye strain can cause headaches - make sure that you use a good quality screen with low contrast applications. Notice that Fruity Loops does not have lots of white and black in the screen. Greys are better for you eyes. Take regular breaks and get some exercise!
  6. Enjoy the creative process and STOP work when you stop enjoying it.

Step 8: Final Result

Remember that the youtube video will have poor sound and the 16 bit file good sound.

I hope you enjoyed this 'ible, it should appeal to both experts and novices alike. Please vote for it in the music contest (use the vote button, top right) - I badly need a new T shirt!

Step 9: Remixing and Copyright

If anybody wants to remix this track then that is ok. Copyright for the music is retained by Goat Industries. Please open the REMIX file below. I'm not sure if it will work in FL demo - you might have to buy the software?

Please upload your remixes as a 16 bit wav file using the 'I made it' button in the comments section below. Thank you!

DIY Audio and Music Contest

Participated in the
DIY Audio and Music Contest

On a Budget Contest

Participated in the
On a Budget Contest

Small Spaces Contest

Participated in the
Small Spaces Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Mason Jar Speed Challenge

      Mason Jar Speed Challenge
    • Pumpkin Challenge

      Pumpkin Challenge
    • Bikes Challenge

      Bikes Challenge

    2 Discussions

    This is a great instructable. It highlights things most people wouldn't think of, like using several headphones/speakers to make sure it sound good not matter what the listener is using. Taking breaks is super important! Comparing to other music. etc.

    Tecwyn Twmffat
    Tecwyn Twmffat

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    At last some recognition! Thank you so much! I worked in the music business for about 5 years and ran a small music studio recording various bands. I also did session work in bigger studios and helped 'produce' music too. Enjoy your music!