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I've read some pretty conflicting statements about what people should or shouldn't do when it comes to putting effects on the master bus. In general, what I always do is put on a compressor but have it set to very gently compress the mix and make sure it doesn't clip. I normally don't have a clipping problem but since I mainly mainly make electronic music, sometimes some extreme synth basses with a strong mid section don't like to agree with me when added on top of other sounds.

I know its better to compress the individual tracks and not the master bus, but I can tell a difference in the overall quality of the sound when I use a compressor gently. I still try to leave a good amount of headroom.

So to get down to it is this a bad method of practice? I honestly like the sound better if I use a little compression. I don't fully understand what mastering engineers actually do yet but if you feel like explaining that feel free.

What confuses me about this is some people say mastering adds the "sparkle and shine" to the song while also evening out the levels to make all your songs sound more even, which I assume they do in part with COMPRESSION ON THE MASTER CANDIDATE. Isn't this what your do while mixing though? I thought getting that "magic" into your track came from getting all the pieces to fit together nicely. Please correct me here. I want to learn it all.

I don't get why I should add compression later when it sounds good now

Also keep in mind, I mainly make electronic music and mostly use VSTi's which are sometimes difficult to mix while maintaining the sound you want

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are two questions here that I think should be addressed separately:

Question 1: "is this a bad method of practice?"

As I understand it, the reason it's considered "better" to compress individual tracks and not the master bus is because you have a finer degree of control, especially in today's digital world where you could instance a compressor on every track if you wanted to. From what I can tell, a lot of beginners online seem to like putting a big compressor or limiter on the master and calling it good, and so this advice is usually given to stop them from doing that.

Gentle master bus compression can sound very nice, and I personally use it myself (incidentally, also for electronic music) as I find it to be a pleasing effect once I've got the rest of the tracks generally mixed the way I want them. Using it is not "wrong" and I would encourage you to experiment with it and find the best way to make it work for you.

Question 2: "What confuses me about this is some people say mastering adds the "sparkle and shine" to the song while also evening out the levels to make all your songs sound more even, which I assume they do in part with COMPRESSION ON THE MASTER CANDIDATE. Isn't this what your do while mixing though?"

The best online writeup I've personally read about this is Tarekith's Guide to Mastering. In it, he points out that while professional mastering provides a lot of benefits (such as a fresh pair of trained ears and a lot of specialized equipment), most people mastering their own work generally just want to get the levels and frequency balance right. Both of these are best done in mixdown, and since you're also the one doing the mixdown, there's no longer a reason to master your own work:

"Yeah yeah", I hear you muttering, "but how do I master my songs in the first place?"

To put it bluntly, you don't.

What?

Let me say this again, in case you skipped over it. If you are writing and releasing your own songs, there is no reason to “master” them per se.

Everything you need to do to make a song sound polished and balanced can be done in the mixdown, and this is where you should focus 100% of all your attention.

So, yes, that is exactly what you do while mixing. If part of your mixing involves master bus compression, then great - that's how your mix technique works!

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thank you very much! This is perfect and exactly what I was wondering –  Travis Dtfsu Crum Sep 21 '12 at 19:03
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