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Get Started Mastering with Essential Tools in Ozone Elements

by Ian Stewart, iZotope Contributor January 6, 2020
Begin your mastering journey with Ozone Elements.

Equip yourself with essential mastering tools:

Ozone Elements

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Whether you’re a budding producer looking to get your latest song ready for your next gig or a seasoned mix engineer who’s just been asked to master your most recent mix, Ozone Elements has the essential tools and assistive technology you need to get up and running quickly. Don’t have Ozone Elements? Download a free 10-day demo below.

In this piece you’ll learn:

  • What’s included in Ozone Elements
  • The basics of setting it up for an audio mastering session
  • How to tweak settings for your best master yet

What’s inside?

Let’s start by taking a look at exactly what’s included in Ozone Elements.

  • Master Assistant, with support for modern mode, CD and streaming targets
  • Equalizer, with support for mid/side and surgical modes, per-band filter selection, and the new HUD (heads up display)
  • Imager, with support for Stereoize I and II modes, full metering, and antiphase prevention
  • Maximizer, with support for IRC I & II modes, stereo independence, transient emphasis, and more

These modules provide you with the essential toolset you’ll need to start mastering. In fact, in a great number of cases, EQ and limiting may be the only tools you truly need to create a great master.

Getting up and running

So you’ve got Ozone Elements installed and you’re ready to start mastering. What’s next?

Whether you’re mastering a single song, an EP, or a full album, my personal preference is to start a new session, though there’s nothing wrong with mastering in your mix session for a single. Creating a new session frees you up to focus on the work at hand with a mastering mindset, and saves you having to jump between sessions if you’re working on multiple songs, or getting distracted and sucked back into making mix tweaks.

How many tracks you use in your mastering session depends a bit on your software and personal preferences. While you can certainly always use one track per song, some software—like Studio One and REAPER—allow you to add plug-ins directly to audio objects. If this is an option for you, you may want to try using only two tracks with songs alternating between them.

Once you have your songs imported into your session in the order you’d like them, go ahead and add an instance of Ozone to each song (or track if you have one song per track). With Ozone open, find the loudest section of your first song and run Master Assistant (available at the top of the plug-in to the left of the preset menu).

Ready for the hard part? Resist the urge to start tweaking and repeat this process for the rest of the songs in your project! Once you’ve done this you should have a great baseline to start working from.

Fine-tuning your master

Start listening through all your songs, and take note of any differences you hear in the following areas:

  • Tonal balance: does the bass, midrange, or treble in any particular song sound too different from other songs in the project?
  • Stereo width: are any songs much wider or narrower than others?
  • Level (or loudness): do any songs feel too loud or too quiet compared to all the others?

Your ears should be your primary guide here, but if you’re having trouble, or want a quick sanity check, you can always check with tonal balance with Tonal Balance Control, stereo width with Imager, or levels with the LUFS meters built into Ozone.

Adjusting tonal balance

If you find the tonal balance of a song needs adjusting, start by modifying the gain of the filters Master Assistant has set up for you. You can do this either by engaging the detailed band view—click the globe icon at the upper left of the EQ module—and dragging the gains up and down, or by vertically dragging a band node and holding Shift to lock the frequency. Try small moves, maybe half a dB at a time.

Of course, if you find there’s a frequency range you’d like to adjust that Master Assistant hasn’t addressed, you can use any of the unused bands. Try holding Alt and clicking in the main display area to hear and zero in on a specific frequency band.

Adjusting stereo width

If you find that a song is noticeably wider or narrower than the others, Imager provides a quick and easy way to make broad adjustments. The stereo width slider allows you to increase or decrease the stereo width of your song.

Be careful though, width is a bit like sugar: a little can be tasty, but too much can make you sick. If you notice the correlation meter on the right regularly dipping between 0 and -1, or you see information on the vectorscope outside of the 45° lines, you may have pushed things too wide.

In the event that you end up with a song that is almost entirely mono, you can use the Stereoize tool to create content at the edges of the stereo field that wasn’t there to begin with. Be careful here too, though. While effective, it may be wiser to go back to the mix and add width either with panning, or by using effects like Stereoize on individual elements.

Adjusting level

There are a few ways to do this. The easiest, and the one which will allow you to return to the loudness recommended by Master Assistant most accurately, is simply the input gain fader. Adjust it up or down, and if you ever need to return to the default you can double-click the fader to return to zero.

Alternatively, you can pull the threshold slider down in the Maximizer module. However, it is not recommended to adjust the ceiling or output gain controls, as this can waste headroom, or worse, cause unwanted clipping.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve started your journey down the audio mastering path, I want to leave you with a few tips to help guide your development:

  • Never be afraid to go back to the mix to make an adjustment if you think it will help achieve a better end result. Mastering is, as often as not, an art of compromise, where one move can affect nearly everything in a mix. Use what you’ve learned in the mastering phase to craft better mixes.
  • Study and learn from the recommendations made by Master Assistant. Is it constantly making similar EQ adjustments? If so, ask if this may be due to something in your monitoring environment that’s giving you a false impression of your tonal balance. Try bypassing individual EQ filters to learn how they contribute to the overall sound. Try switching between IRC I and II modes in the maximizer to hear how they affect different material and better understand why one was chosen over the other.

You’re poised at the beginning of an exciting journey. Use these tips to take your first steps.

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