Into The Gauntlet: Mastering Selenium
Welcome to Into The Gauntlet, where I dive into each mastering session that was part of The Mastering Gauntlet Season 1: Electric Summer. This episode, I’ll be doing a walkthrough of my mastering process on Selenium‘s single: That’s Me. Afterward, I’ll provide an A/B comparison between my competitor’s master and mine, as well as dive into some mixing tips for the song, and share lessons I learned during this season’s challenge.
There is so much that can be gleaned from watching the video that trying to write a monumental essay here for every episode would be an injustice. What I’d like to share here are some key takeaways that may be easily overlooked during the video:
- Working from a project template: this saves me loads of time and is something I’ve refined and re-defined over the years as I’ve experimented with countless plugins and even some outboard.
- I almost always create FX chain presets, and save out individual plugin presets for ease of recall in the future, after I’ve completed a project.
- I utilize Aux-tracks as a way to quickly A/B between various elements, thanks to the power of the grouping features in Cakewalk, which is available for free by Bandlab.
- I take breaks based on either reaching a milestone in my workflow that I feel I need to allow my ears to reset before moving forward, or based on the time I’ve been exposing my hearing to the same content repeatedly.
- Documentation is helpful for building content like the video and article here as well as a powerful retrospective tool for reflection, insight, and self-development & personal growth.
During the season, I competed head-to-head against Christian Caicedo, a mastering engineer at Envious Audio based in Texas. In the video, I talk about critical differences with some audio demonstrations. You can hear for yourself in the video, but I’d like to offer some further insight on the points made in the video:
- Our approaches are fundamentally different. Christian made some exciting moves with his master, but his overall strategy remained faithful to the mix, providing a boost to overall loudness, and doing some intelligent automation with volume to give the perception of dynamics that only our subconscious will likely pick up on.
- I focused on delivering the best experience that would launch the song toward the top echelon of the genre it deserves to sit in. I felt the mix left room to enhance in a way that could make it competitive with the top artists’ songs that are streaming and available everywhere today.
- Due to the nature of the challenge, we – as mastering engineers, have to make assumptions about the artist’s intent, goals, and desires with the master they want to receive.
While I did end up claiming the title of Gauntlet Champion, there were some valuable lessons to be learned here, and I gained quite a bit of insight from this session.
Normally, I would never take on mastering a project for a client without understanding their vision, goals, and intent. I usually do this over a phone call or video chat meeting, plus it’s also a great chance to connect with the artist and learn more about them and their story – I absolutely love making genuine new connections.
With The Gauntlet, communication is not possible. I was able to reflect back and see my ego driving the decision of wanting to provide enhancement and make the song loud and competitive. As a mastering engineer, our prime directive is to do no harm! I feel that what lost this approval for me was being overzealous in trying better the record assuming the artist’s goal(s) are loud and commercially competitive. In the future, I now know why it’s more beneficial to approach fresh projects with a more conservative approach. Preserving the integrity of the mix, and focusing more on transparency is in complete alignment with the prime directive.
Into The Gauntlet
The purpose behind launching The Mastering Gauntlet is to challenge producers and artists to shift their mindset and to be an example of what’s possible. I set about this challenge first to prove to myself that I could achieve anything I set my mind to, and the secret to achieving that goal is in acting quickly.
I didn’t have every detail and rule figured out before I launched it. I didn’t even have a clear idea of how I’d get people interested, or who my ideal sponsors would be. The reason that acting quickly is the secret to success is that action creates clarity. It’s not having the answers or knowing which things to do are right or wrong. As you move forward, each step organically reveals more and more of what potential lies ahead.
I’ve made a stock version of my chain available for fans of Cakewalk, by the way. I put together an entire article and vlog episode dedicated to mastering with stock plugins in Cakewalk, specifically for electronic genres. I cover the recreation of my signature chain with 100% stock plugins from Cakewalk & Sonar (an updated alternate version for just Bandlab’s release coming soon) and give a demonstration with a song I mastered for a client that has officially released.
Why We Partnered With A.F.S.P.
Having the courage to pursue your dreams with 100% conviction – especially in this digitally-connected, social media-saturated era, takes a LOT of mental, emotional, and even spiritual strength.
It’s not easy. As we pursue the path that has no clear boundaries or direction, it’s going to reveal to us our weaknesses. A challenge, by nature, is something that is beyond what we are capable of doing inherently. That’s why it’s called a challenge; we must grow into the person it takes to achieve that goal successfully.
Yet, for so many in the creative communities, mental health issues can stop us in our tracks, shut us down, and at the very worst, cause tragedies that end lives far too early. I speak from personal experience, having battled depression for years before I sought professional help.
When you couple dreams of being your boss with a lack of education on what it takes to build and run a business, and fuse that with an industry that for some reason has one of the highest mental illness rates in the world, it can be a recipe for disaster. Christian, Adam (over at Teknofonic), and Dylan (Ill Gates, Producer Dojo) were all on board when we discussed the idea of the losing engineer donating $250 to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. All of our sponsors were. We all see just how important it is to continue to spread more awareness on what much of society still treats like a taboo topic.
Your Burning Questions Answered!
I hope you found this episode and article helpful. If you’re unsure of just what mastering is and why it’s essential, I’d recommend reading my previous article titled just that: “Why is Mastering So Important?“.
If you have questions on production, mixing, or mastering, please submit them to TheGauntlet@neologicstudios.com and if you haven’t already visited my Patreon, please consider becoming a member or making a custom pledge!
Need your song mastered? I offer free mix critiques and mastering previews! Reach out to me with a brief description of your project, and what your goals are with this release and your brand! I’d love to hear from you.