How To Approach Mastering Different Genres
When it comes to mastering, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Every genre of music has its own defining characteristics, and a good mastering engineer will know how to enhance them.
In this blog, we’ll break down the sonic characteristics of some of the most popular genres to help you dial in professional-sounding masters.
Same Mix, Different Sound
Depending on the approach you take when mastering, you can completely change the feel of a song.
You can make a mix sound warm and full by rolling off the highs and enhancing the low-mids. This technique works great for thin or harsh-sounding mixes.
Some engineers prefer a more open sound, with a focused mid-range scoop. This approach is great for adding excitement to tracks, with punchy lows and crispy highs. This works well for modern, uptempo songs.
For some songs, the classic balanced approach works best. With an equal focus on the full frequency spectrum, this style works well for most genres.
And while there are no rules when making music, some genres develop a signature sound over time. Let’s take a closer look at how you can achieve professional-sounding masters for different genres.
Pop + EDM
Pop music is all about clarity, detail, and punch. Dialing in the right amount of high-end can be tricky. Too much and your mix will sound harsh or brittle. Not enough and your mix mill sound dull and flat.
To help bring out the brightness in the high-end, try using a shelf-EQ to boost the highs. If boosting the highs causes the mix to sound harsh or shrill, use a de-esser to pin-point the problem.
MIXROOM helps you dial in the perfect balance of richness and clarity. The short video below will show you how.
Pop music tends to have a prominent low-end, with a tight, powerful kick and bass combo. Use a low-shelf and a high-pass filter to dial in the right amount of low-end without sounding boomy.
In terms of compression, pop music tends to sound pretty loud, so feel free to apply plenty of dynamics processing. However, it’s still important to retain as much dynamic range as possible to keep the mix exciting,
Pop music tends to benefit from a little stereo enhancement as well. The synths and other “ear candy” often panned hard left and right really shine when given a little extra room to breathe. GROW allows you to increase the width of a specific frequency range for a dynamic effect.
This approach will work for most “classic” genres with a warm, vintage sound.
Since tracks recorded in the 70s were typically tracked to tape and mixed using analog equipment, they tend to have a more pronounced low-midrange than other genres.
Start by gently rolling off the highs. Just be careful not to make the vocals sound flat or dull.
Boost the low-mids using a wide bell to avoid from making the kick and bass sound boomy. Classic rock isn’t known for it’s low-end, so feel free to use a high-pass filter to trim things up.
A little bit of bus compression can go a long way with classic rock. It’s important to retain as much dynamic range as possible, so use a low ratio and take it easy on the limiter.
For finishing touches, try adding a tape machine in 1/2-inch mode to add some subtle harmonics.
Modern Rock & Metal
With hard rock, heavy metal, and most other forms of modern rock, the approach is quite the opposite. These mixes tend to sound very bright, with noticeably scooped mids and tight, punchy low-end.
To help create separation between a sea of distorted guitar parts, try using a mid/side EQ like MIXROOM to emphasize the fizzy high frequencies on the sides of the mix and the low, chugging sounds in the center of the mix. It’s also a good idea to center the low frequencies in the middle of the mix.
The kick and bass need to be punchy yet powerful, so use a low-shelf to boost the bottom-end and a high-pass filter to roll off the subs and clean up the sound.
Multi-band compression can also be helpful for controlling these contrasting frequency ranges as well. Use slower attack and release times on the low-end and faster settings on the high-end to quickly clamp down on sibilance and harshness.
These genres tend to benefit from heavy compression, so use a fast-acting compressor with liberal ratio and threshold settings to add some excitement by enhancing the transients.
Hip-Hop + Rap
Of course, the most prominent feature of most rap and hip-hop songs is the bass.
Start by dialing in a powerful low-end by using low bell-shaped EQs to boost the fundamental frequencies of the kick and bass. Sometimes a shelf can work here as well but be careful not to make the lows sound boomy. Use a high-pass filter to help clean up any unneeded sub-bass info.
BASSROOM has extremely transparent EQ filters, meaning you can boost the low-end without introducing phase distortion or transient smearing, which can cause your track to sound muddy.
With the kick and bass dominating the low-end, move your attention to making sure the snare and vocals snap with a gracious high-shelf EQ boost. Use a de-esser to help tame any sibilance.
Hip-hop tracks are often comprised of vocals cut over two-track beats. To help glue these elements together, use gentle bus compression with slow attack and moderate release settings.
You may also need to enlist the help of a multi-band compressor to help tame the punch of the kick and the snap of the snare. Use slower settings on the low-end and faster settings on the highs to help make each element punch through the mix.
As always, no matter what genre you’re working on, it’s best to use reference mixes to make sure you’re making smart mixing decisions.
REFERENCE makes it easy to compare your mixes to your favorite tracks. Just drag and drop your reference mixes into the Wave Transport and press play for a detailed read-out on how your track stacks up against the competition.
After putting the finishing touches on your master, make sure it’s ready for publishing by using LEVELS to check your peak and LUFS levels, as well as info on your dynamic range, phase issues, low-end balance, and more.