Djent is one of the newer additions to the sub-genres of metal, but it’s among great company. Heavy, distorted guitar chugs, low-tuned and extended range instruments, fast and aggressive percussion… All of the elements of great metal are here.
With several huge artists in the djent arena, we’re seeing that technical proficiency can be just as important as musicality. There are artists receiving millions of plays from their song with little more than a guitar, computer, and the drive to create music people want to hear.
But as quickly as djent has grown and catapulted itself to the forefront of modern metal genres, many new entries seem to be missing one mark along the way: mastering.
What Is Mastering?
For those that don’t know, mastering is the process of taking a final mix and applying some final touches to make the mix clear and consistent for public consumption. It entails many of the same tools applied to mixes (compressors, EQs, etc.), but they’re all applied to the final stereo mix printed by the mixer.
Professional mastering engineers work to make small changes that have a big impact on your song. It’s common to find them making slight EQ moves to add some air to a track, or some multi-band compression to tighten up the low end of a mix. Transient processors like Transify also find their way into the hands of a mastering engineer from time to time.
Many mastering engineers will tell you that their job is as much a science as it is a form of art. For as many creative decisions as they make, they’ll also be looking at things like headroom and RMS. They’ll work to comply with different formats like Mastered for iTunes, CD/Vinyl mastering & even surround.
While many of these different formats won’t necessarily vary from each other significantly, a mastering engineer is going to focus on creating a great sounding stereo mix, no matter the device it’s played on.
Because budgets aren’t endless, many engineers and producers choose to make mastering decisions themselves. While the results may not be identical, a good mastering job can be done by anyone with a bit of pro audio experience.
This also happens to be the part of modern metal that’s getting skipped because when it’s done right, it’s nearly transparent to the listener.
The big guys know this, and they’re doing it. Whether it’s being done in a separate session with just their stereo mix or right on the master fader isn’t for me to say, but ask any producer making djent and they’ll tell you they’ve got a mastering chain they use every time.
Often, this chain will consist of plugins identical to what the pros are using. Things like the Bus Glue collection don’t just work to compress groups of instruments; they can actually give your mix bus just what it needs for the mastered vibe you’re after.
Beyond compression, tools like spectral analyzers and goniometers (like the one in Sidewidener) can visualize what your final mix is doing and can help make subtle changes for a balanced mix.
Just like a great mastering engineer, you should avoid clipping your output – saving yourself a bit of headroom in case one of the streaming platforms decides to normalize your song. This will prevent your waveforms from getting chopped off and ruining the mix you worked so hard to achieve.
Check out Nick Pilotta’s full walkthrough on self-mastering djent in the video below:
Mixes Worth Mastering
At the end of the day, a mastering engineer isn’t going to be able to make a bad mix sound like a good one just by mastering it. They have limits to what they’re capable of doing with just a stereo track. You need to give them something worth mastering if you want decent results.
You should be holding yourself to that standard too if you plan on mastering your own mixes. Don’t work sloppily during the mixing stage with the intent of fixing it in mastering – that mentality is no different than recording something incorrectly and thinking you can fix it in the mix.
If you really want to know what it takes to carry a song from tracking through mixing and on to mastering, come check out the resources we have available for JST VIP members. We’ve got guides on getting the best takes during the recording session, tutorials on how to mix them, and exclusive plugins to help you get the job done in mastering.