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Fruity Loops - Tips and Tricks For a Better Sounding Final Output
Hello there, my name is Stan and I`m a guy who likes to produce electronic music as a hobby. I`ve noticed that a lot of the beginner level users of music production programs like Fruity Loops have a difficult time when it comes to the balancing and mastering work in the end so I`ll try to help them with this tutorial.
When you make music it is recommended to have a system with good bass response which can let you hear sub tones that your PC speakers can`t detect. Also, the flat frequency response speakers or headphones are the best, since they do not make certain frequencies more prominent then others. Otherwise, you may master the track to sound great on your speaker system, but sound bad on another one.
It is very important to do the balancing part before you start mastering. You have to make your song sound great before it so it can sound even greater after you apply it.
In the beginning make sure that you avoid any clipping. You need to keep the loudness of the track below 0 db. In electronic music the loudness is measured by negative numbers – the closer to 0 db, the louder it is (for example -5 db is louder than -10 db). If you cross that 0 db line you begin to hear clipping and distortion – that`s the reason why your track might sound not as you like. The balancing and mastering process has to be applied very gently. If your loudness meter jumps from the yellow to the red color it means you`ve crossed that threshold, so make sure you keep it in the yellow, even if it sounds quieter (for now :). It is better to cut volumes than boost them.
In the modern dance music style the beat and then the bass are loudest (and closer in the stereo field) while the pads and leads are quieter and wider in the stereo field. Usually, a sine sub tone is applied either to the kick drum or to the bass which purpose is to be felt rather then heard so don`t overdo it unless you want it to drawn your mix. Use Equalizer to cut undesired high tones in the lower frequency instruments and vice versa to the higher frequency ones so they do not conflict when mixed together. You can also do that with low pass filter (passing the low frequencies), or a high pass filter (passing the high frequencies). Notice that such treated sound might not sound very good when played alone, but sound nice when played with the rest of the song. If you have sound with a lot of undesired dynamics (or differences in volume), you can use compressor to even them out.
So start with your beat, then add the bass and the sub bass until it sounds nice and powerful, than boost the leads, accompanying sounds and hi hats. It is good to have the volume of the whole mix at about -3 db before mastering.
Before doing the mastering part, let your years rest for day or two so that you can have a fresh perspective on the track. The essential tools you have to use on the final mix are an equalizer, stereo image editor, compressor (or multiband compressor) and limiter/loudness maximizer. Make sure that you`ve already dealt with the balancing part and you like the output AND THEN DO NOT TOUCH IT after you begin the mastering process. Make sure also that you put the following devices in the master section of the mixer so that they can affect the whole track.
Let`s start with the Equalizer. We are going to use EQUO since it has spectrum analyzer in the background. It is a 31 band graphic EQ. You can click an manipulate the horizontal line to boost or reduce the volume of the frequencies (lower to high from left to right). By default, the EQ is set on bell drawing mode, but you can select the pencil drawing mode to affect single band (it is the first icon above the bands, left from ANALYZE).
Usually, you will want to give a little boost (up to 3 db) on the low and the high end of the spectrum.
When mastering, it is best to make your lower spectrum sounds mono and to enhance the higher ones in the stereo field. If you are using mastering VSTs like Izotope Ozone you can do this job in the mastering channel. The stereo enhancer in Fruity Loops is a device that can do the job without any additional VSTs, but you have to apply it manually on the different channels. Use the STEREO SEP of the device knob to do the job – maximum right makes the sound mono, the middle value makes it unprocessed while the maximum left makes it maximum enhanced in the stereo field. Notice that if you are using headphones while mastering you might overdo the enhancement, so make sure that you listen to the track on other sound systems as well.
The compressor is a device that basically flattens the volume of a song. It has the following parameters:
Threshold – Determines at what volume the compression will begin to affect the track.
Ratio – Determines by how much the sound above the threshold level will be reduced. For example, 1:1 means no reduction, 3:1 means for every 3 db above the threshold 1 db passes and so on.
Attack – Starts after the threshold has been reached and determines how much time it will take to reach the optimum reduction amount set by the ratio. No attack means hard immediate compression after the threshold has been reached.
Release – It determines how much time the compression will continue to work after the sound is back below the threshold.
Type – determines different types of unique volume reduction curves during the attack and release times (R are for release).
Gain – determines the output volume of the already processed sound.
For the mastering, set the ratio to about 2:1 as a starting point and then begin to lower the threshold squashing the sound. Do not overdo it so that it sounds overcompressed. Attack and
Release values are adjusted depending on the track and taste so you can play with them after that.
A word about the multiband compressor… You can use it instead of the EQ and the compressor. It is basically three different compressors - one for the low, middle and high frequency spectrums of the track.
The limiter/maximize device is used in the end of the mastering chain to boost the overall sound volume. We`ve already discussed that the 0db level is the maximum loudness level, so how does it manage to do that?
Well, in a song you have quieter and louder moments, right? For example, when you hit a drum the volume peaks up quite a bit. Let`s imagine that we have a tree in a room called “0db room” which occupies the maximum amount of space in it. The branches of the tree represent those high peaks of volume in the song. What a maximizer device would do is to cut a certain amount of those branches in order to clear some space and then will enhance the volume of the stem to fit the room again. The stem represents the perceived volume while the branches represent the peaks. This process reduces the punch and clarity of a song in order to make it louder. In today`s music the loudness is the norm so if you want to be competitive and don`t want your track to be beaten by the loudness of others, you have to sacrifice part of your dynamics… (Look at the term “loudness war” for more info.)
The gain reduction in the end combining the effect of the compressor and limiter must not be more than 6 db.
The knobs you need to use are the gain which will enhance the sound level above 0db resulting in peaks and the ceiling which will bring it back to 0db but with lesser of dynamics.
This concludes my basic mixing/mastering tutorial. It is a gentle process so make sure that you spend enough time doing it and not forcing things up. The more songs you master, the better and better you become.