Mastering Plugins in Fl Studio 12: A Guide to Using Them

A lot of times, mastering your music seems very challenging. Mainly because it's kind of hard to find solid resources to help learn how to do it. Probably the most important first step is to really understand what is going on during mastering.

Unlike mixing, mastering is about getting entire levels of the music balanced, adjusting the total volume of the track, and bringing out the details to really make the music come alive. You can check out the article Difference Between Mixed Music and Mastered Music to hear the difference between mixed music and mastered music.

Now I just finished mastering and releasing a new rock track: From the Moon to the Sun. Below is the track.

I master using the same 6 plugins all the time. Those plugin's are Parametric EQ2, Maximus, Thrillseeker XTC Blue, Transient Processor and Fruity Limiter. I put them in that order. The steps I use to master are also pretty similar, but every track is uniquely done. I'm going to go over the plugins I use and how I use them to master. Hopefully you can use it as a guide for your own music.

Now the first step to mastering is making sure your mix sounds as good as it can be and not so loud it clips. My personal preference is around 5-6db of head room. Export your mix as a 24bit WAV and throw your mixed music into your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

I use FL Studio to create all the music I produce, so the plugin's I'm going to describe may not be what you have but try to find something similar.

The first thing I do is add 2 Parametric EQ's to the master channel. The first one is only for cutting the low and high frequencies that are inaudible. The second one is for either cleaning up muddy sounds or boosting preferable frequencies.

Once you've EQ'd the music, then it's time to use a multi-band compressor. I use Maximus for this, other people use Ozone, but really use your preference. With Maximus the music is separated into low's, mid's, and high's. The goal with this stage of the master is balancing those levels, compressing when needed, adjusting the stereo fields, saturating different sounds, ect. This can be real nit picky. Here's a walk through video showcasing some main ideas.

The goal is that by the time it the music comes through Maximus, or whatever you're using. It's sounding real good and just about there. All the levels should be pretty much balanced at this point and should sound better then your mixed music.

Next it's time to kick up the sound with an exciter, specifically Thrillseeker XTC Blue. Basically what this does is adds a little analog character to the sound. It gives the music some warmth while at the same time targeting frequencies that might sound a little dull. You'll have to determine where it makes sense to use this with your music. This is another nit picky process but you'll have to play around to get the desired effect you're after. Here's a good video showing you this plugin.

The next plugin I use to master is Transient Processor. This is a native plugin for FL Studio and is basically a dynamics processor. The idea behind using it is to shape how the transients play off each in the music and works on a dial knob system. The trick is finding that sweet spot when adjusting the knob.

After all these steps are done, there might still be some subtle enhancements left to do. At this point I will go back to the Parametric EQ and put the final touches on any frequency that is not sounding the way it should. A little goes a REAL long way here so be careful not to overdo it. These are tiny tweaks.

Finally, use a limiter to keep your music from clipping. Personally, I prefer more dynamics in music so I'll bring the gain up to the point where the music is just barely getting an effect from the limiter, but it's your choice how you want your music to sound. At this stage it's very important to adjust the attack and release times in your limiter. You can really tighten up your sound and dial it in by adjusting these settings.

At this point your music is mastered, but there are some final checks you can do with some additional meters. The first meter I like to use is the TT Dynamic Range Meter. This is very useful to gauge how dynamic your music is and can help keep you from going overboard with compression. The next useful meter is Voxengo SPAN. It's useful because you can visually see how your levels are interacting with each other, and is a good way to double check that you haven't got carried away with a particular frequency. Finally Solid State Logic X-ISM is a nice inter-sampling meter which you can use so you don't get carried away with to much gain with your limiter. If the meter starts lighting up, dial back the loudness a little bit.

I want to end this article with a few useful tips to help you when you're mastering.
  • Save Often- Before you make any big decision save your project. It's very easy to start going down a path that makes your music sound worse and it's difficult to go back to where it sounded good if you don't save regularly.
  • A Little Goes a Long Way- When you are mastering it's really easy to do to much. Think of it like salt. A little salt makes food flavorful, but to much makes it taste like shit. 
  • Mastering is a Process- It's not unusual to master a track more then once, and I kind of recommend it. The reality is it's pretty hard to nail it on the first go, and it's easier to make decisions when you are demoing two mastered tracks back to back. One will be superior, or you'll get valuable feedback to remaster the track again.
  • Take Ear Breaks- It's so easy to get in the zone and just try to bust a track out. The reality though is sometimes when you are mastering you are adjusting very subtle areas and if you're ears are strained it will make it more difficult.
I hope this information helps you next time you're mastering a track. This is not the only way to master music, but it's the way I do it. Use it as a guide but keep an open mind to other mastering techniques as well. There are very talented mastering engineers out there that specialize in this, so don't feel discouraged if you have a hard time with it at first.  

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share, like, and comment below.

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