Steve Corrao #1: Mastering Gospel Music
Posted on: Tuesday 23rd of October 2018
Sage Audio Mastering, located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee has southern Gospel music in its soul. CEO Steve Corrao tells us more…
Mastering gospel music requires an in-depth of understanding of the context in which it’s used and created. Gospel music is most often used for spiritual purposes in Houses of Worship (HoWs), but is also consumed on a daily basis by millions of people because of its positive and uplifting message. Gospel has been thrust into the spotlight recently by the death of, arguably, one of its greatest advocates, Aretha Franklin. What better time to look at what works for this genre in the mastering process?
Gospel music is heavily driven by vocals: and the message of the song needs to be clear. There’s often a choir or a large amount of harmonies to consider as well. Supporting all of this is normally a very pocketed low-end and percussive section. To bridge the gap between the vocals and low-end is usually piano, or keys and guitars.
If you’re going to get the best from a gospel master, you have to make sure it feels exciting and ‘full of hope’. The vocals must be powerful and clear, and the low-end needs to have punch and extension without congesting the whole song.
Here are three tips for mastering gospel music.
We need the sub and low-end to be present and extend into them mix, but we don’t want it to overpower the mix, or compression.
A quick tip is to use a High-Pass Filter (HPF) to clean-out any subsonic low-end information that will not translate to the listener. By setting a the HPF to around 32Hz, this will ensure that any sub-rumble will not get in the way of the master. In addition, this will create more space for the fundamental frequencies of low-end to live, keeping it present and defined.
A simple Q-ratio on your HPF, and you can create a resonate-peak around 40-50Hz. This can make the low-end feel lifted and large, but not overwhelming. See image for an example.
(PIC: An example of a High Pass Filter, used for cleaning-up any low-end sub rumble as well as a resonant peak to help lift the fundamental low-end frequencies)
2. Vocal excitement
After we have the low-end cleaned up, let’s address all the vocals. In gospel, we want to hear the energy and sibilance of the words being spoken. We want to hear “air” and “breath” in the vocals: and to do this, it’s over to the Exciter….
It’s easy to overuse an exciter, but a classic Aphex Exciter can allow us to blend in top-end harmonics to taste. It’s often more natural to use an exciter to get top end frequencies to ‘pop’ during the mastering stage because it plays off the already existing frequencies instead of impacting the actual balance of them by using an EQ shelf approach.
If we use an EQ to boost the top end, we may end up throwing off the whole balance of the mix. An exciter will create density and slight harmonic distortion which can give us the “airy” sound so many people seek to have in gospel music.
(PIC: An example of the Aphex Exciter. You can blend in the Harmonic Distortion to taste. This is how you create a pleasant top-end with density without having to use an EQ)
3. Mix Bus Compression
Finally, we need to glue all of this together with bus compression. Gospel music is often a journey: it’s very dynamic. We may have huge choruses – and even bigger bridges – that need to be full without feeling like they are being attenuated every time.
We can use two compressors stacked together to help do the heavy-lifting, so it never feels like the master is pumping. Try using an Opto Compressor like the LA2A: you want the needle to barely move in the big parts. After that, use a VCA-type compressor such as the SSL G Series – Master Buss Compressor, set at a 2:1 ratio with a slow attack and auto release. This can help level out the song in a tasteful way while enhancing the pleasing, musical, airy, tube characteristics of the Opto Compressor.
Finish with a clean transparent limiter such as the Fab-Filter Pro L2 taking off 1dB maximum in the largest parts of the mix and the song should feel like it has glue yet retained dynamics. For more compression ideas here’s a list of analogue mix bus compressors for attenuating and glueing dynamics.
If you follow these three tips, you will have a great start to creating full sounding gospel master that has a big bold low-end, present top-end, excitement, and pleasing transparent glue. Praise be!
(Left: Steve Corrao)