Steve Corrao #3: Mastering Blues Music
Posted on: Friday 7th of December 2018
Sage Audio Mastering Studio, located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee has Blues music deep in its roots.
Owner Steve Corrao tells us more…
“The Blues [Ed note – yeah, Blues with a capital B!] is one of the most soulful genres in all of music. When we talk about mastering this genre, we have to consider the emotion and dynamics of the material. The Blues genre is often full of bass walks, interesting scales that contain thirds and fifths, and raw performance-based recordings.
These elements give us a feeling of groove and emotion. There’s a real push and pull, almost a ‘call-and-response’ type movement in all Blues music that should directly dictate how we approach our signal chain when it comes to mastering. The Blues can sometimes be tricky, as the treatment of the low-end is important in setting us up to treat the midrange and top-end of a mix. When we approach a Blues mix, we should always be thinking what will best serve the song and keep the performance alive. Pay attention to the kick and bass relationship. This gives the Blues its drive. The bass is the backbone and if the low end isn’t nailed, the song can fall apart.
Let’s start with the low end and set ourselves up to have a great master.
Mono the centre information using a Mid/Side EQ or a “mono-maker.” Start at 50Hz and go all the way up to 100Hz. See if the low-end becomes more clear and if the groove begins to lock-in more. Dial it in to taste. This can clear-up the mix immediately and give clarity to where the low-end sits.
To glue the low-end together, while maintaining top-end articulation for guitars and vocals, we need a compressor that handles low end information well while bringing some cohesiveness to the top-end of the frequency spectrum. Try a “Variable Mu” or “Vari-Mu” for this genre. These types of compressors are smooth and warm because of how the tubes respond when material is fed to them. They often have preset constraints on the attack, release, and ratio sections, so it’s important to use your ears more-so then looking at numbers. When Vari-Mu compressors are pushed, we often get a ‘glue’ and Harmonic Distortion that is undeniably emotional and dense.
The Fairchild 670 and the Manley Vari-Mu are two perfect examples of this. Adjust the threshold until you feel a bounce or groove. The low end will most likely be triggering the compressor, but this is what we want to create, a nice dense master. Start with just 1dB of compression and you may find that’s all you need (See image below for an example). While you may not be able to afford a high-end analogue compressors right now, the plugin versions can produce pleasing results. If you want to hear the real thing, Sage Audio has a Manley Vari-Mu for mastering.
After compression you may find it beneficial to add a wide ‘Q’ boost of the low-end, try 40Hz-100Hz at 0.2dB to bring out the character and Harmonic Distortion that was created by the compressor as well as a slight top-end shelf to open things back up. Start your shelf at 1kHz and dial it in to taste. You might not need your top-end shelf to extend to 1kHz, but starting there can really help make the guitars and vocal tangibility stick-out, which will make the listener feel more intimately connected to the material.
If you do these three things, you will find your song grooving in no time. Always remember to keep the performance in mind when using these techniques. If you feel like you’ve lost any of the feel of the recording or the bass falls apart, then just step back and try again.