FL Studio Mastering Tips
Mastering is an audio post-production process with many technicalities and details to consider. Mastering can involve, editing small mixing flaws, adjusting stereo width, adding noise reduction processing, equalization, compression, peak limiting and volume level control, and dithering. Let’s take take an in-depth look at these 8 FL Studio mastering tips.
Mastering Tip #1: Supply Yourself with Adequate Headroom to Work With
To start, your peak levels on your empty Master track should not exceed -6 dBFS (or -23 LUFS if you’re using a loudness compliant meter). If they do, it’s best to go back into your mix and lower your track levels.
Although it is better to set your levels properly while mixing, you could just add a Fruity Parametric EQ 2 to the first slot in the Master track signal chain and lower the gain. If your Master levels are peaking at or near 0 dBFS, then set the EQ gain to -6 dBFS. This will give you sufficient headroom to work with when you apply other mastering plugins, EQ, compressors, and effects.
Mastering Tip #2: Use a Limiter
A limiter will prevent your Master levels from clipping. As a general rule, you should never go above 0 dBFS. However, as we’ll see in Tip #3, 0 dBFS does not guarantee that you won’t cause clipping or distortion in the analogue realm when the digital signal gets converted to electricity for your speakers to use.
Mastering Tip #3: Master to -1 dBTP (decibels true peak)
Like we mentioned earlier, digital audio gets converted to analogue before being sent to our speakers and ears. The digital-to-analogue conversion can cause a slight change in the audio levels.
FL Studio and many other DAWs show us levels in the Mixer with whats called a Sample Peak Program Meter (SPPM). These SPPM levels do not account for the changes that can occur during the digital-to-analogue conversion. So you may be mastering to 0 dBFS and thinking you’ll never clip, but in reality due to the conversion process, you could still run into clipping and distortion issues on certain sound systems.
The solution to this is to use a True Peak (TP) meter to set your limiter threshold. True Peak meters will approximate what the peak levels will be AFTER the digital-to-analogue conversion. This way, there is no chance your track will ever clip or distort.
The AES recommendation for streaming content is -1 dBTP (Technical Document AES TD1004.1.15-10). Use a metering plugin like Youlean Loudness Meter 2 or iZotope Insight 2 to check your dBTP levels. Adjust your limiter (which should come before the loudness meter in the signal chain) so the limiter threshold does not allow for a signal higher than -1 dBTP.
And this brings us to FL Studio mastering Tip #4…
Mastering Tip #4: Master to -16 LUFS
LUFS (loudness units full scale) is a unit used to measure loudness based on a standard that allows for normalization across platforms. This helps achieve consistent perceived loudness levels between tracks from different artists. Many platforms have their own recommendations, however, and if you are mastering for a specific platform, you’re going to want to shoot for their loudness specification. On your loudness compliant meter, this value is the Integrated Loudness Value.
- YouTube = -13 LUFS
- iTunes = -16 LUFS
- Spotify = -12 LUFS
For general streaming content, the AES recommendation is between -20 LUFS and -16 LUFS. Many EDM artists and mastering engineers exceed this anyway, though. The loudness war rages on.
Mastering Tip #5: Apply a High-pass Filter w/30 Hz Cutoff Frequency
Frequencies below 30 Hz are mostly inaudible and add unnecessary spectral energy to the low-end of your mix. You can eliminate the unnecessary frequencies by applying a high-pass filter with cutoff frequency set to 30 Hz. This can be done with any mastering, filtering, or EQ plugin, but I like using native plugins in these write-ups where possible to keep everyone on the same page.
- Add a Fruity Parametric EQ 2 to the Master track
- Choose 40 Hz cut under Presets
- Move the Freq (cutoff frequency) knob down to 30 Hz
Alternately, you could choose a 30 Hz + 18 kHz cut preset and disable the 18 kHz low-pass filter. Just click and drag the blue curve until it becomes a dash to disable it.
Keep in mind that Fruity Parametric EQ 2 is not a linear-phase EQ. This means that any frequencies effected by the high-pass filter’s roll-off will have an altered phase relationship to the dry signal coming into the Master track.
Mastering Tip #6: Master with Mid/Side EQ
Mid/Side EQ allows us to boost or cut frequencies depending on where the sounds are located in the stereo image. Side frequencies can be heard on the left or right side (stereo), while Mid frequencies can be heard towards the center (mono).
FL Studio doesn’t come with a plugin specifically made to do mid/side processing, but there is a way to create one using Patcher. It’s well worth it do this and create a Patcher preset to use later.
Mid/Side EQ Patcher Preset
- Add Patcher to the Master track
- Add two Fruity Parametric EQ 2 and one Fruity Stereo Shaper to Patcher
- Set Stereo Shaper preset to Mid – aSide splitter
- Double-click Stereo Shaper → Right-click an arrow → Mixing → Mid – aSide splitter
- Set Side output to Send 2
- Right-click Stereo Shaper → Outputs → Audio → 3. Send 2
- Signal routing
- First, route the signal From FL Studio to Stereo Shaper
- Then, route the from Stereo Shaper Main Output to Mid EQ
- Next, route from Stereo Shaper Send 2 output to Side EQ
- Finally, route both EQs out To FL Studio
- Alt+Click to open both EQs simultaneously
Now, the Side EQ will control frequencies in stereo, and the Mid EQ will control frequencies in mono! There are loads of great and powerful things you can do with this. Here are just a few:
- Boost your highs in the Side EQ for a stereo widening effect.
- If you’ve got a muddy low-end, roll-off your low frequencies in the Side EQ using a low shelf filter. You can also boost the low end in your Mid EQ for an even more centered bass sound.
- If you use and/or record vocals in your mix, cut your prominent vocal frequencies in the Side EQ. Your vocals will stick out in the center of the mix while retaining everything else on the sides.
Mastering Tip #7: Use a Multiband Compressor
Multiband compressors like Maximus split the input into 3 frequency ranges called bands. Each band has it’s own compressor that acts only on the frequencies within that band. This means you can compress bass, mids, and highs independently of each other. Check out Image-Line’s YouTube series on Maximus here.
Mastering Tip #8: Use Dynamic EQ
Our final FL Studio mastering tip is to use some dynamic EQ. Dynamic EQ is just a fancy term for an equalizer that has parameters that change over time. In FL Studio, we can set up and use dynamic EQ while mixing and mastering by linking EQ parameters to internal controllers and automation clips.
- Add a Fruity Parametric EQ 2 to the Master track
- right-click on a parameter like frequency, bandwidth, or band level
- Click create automation clip OR link to controller
Now you can boost or cut frequencies in the Master based on where you are in the track.