I am unable to stress enough the benefit of having your home recorded Hip Hop songs Mastered by an outside Mastering Engineer that are experts in the Hip Hop genre. The end result will no doubt be superior when done by an experienced ear with an acoustically tuned environment & Mastering specific gear. With that said, it is possible for you to achieve usable leads to your home Hip Hop recording studio & the objective of this article is to help you achieve those results while using recording gear/software that you already own. If you're recording on Digidesign Protools software you'll be able to use the plug ins that included the program. Most similar programs should have comparable processing plug ins so consult your user manual for those.
You will start your mastering session with a two track stereo mix of your song preferably with the master level peaking at about -3db never striking the red on the meter. This mix should already be sounding how you want while needing a lift in volume & maybe a couple EQ tweaks to make it translate well to various sound systems/sources.
Starting with the EQ make adjustments to the lows, mids, & highs, according to any notes that you simply taken after hearing your mix on several different types of sound sources for example earbuds, a car system, a bookshelf stereo, a mono clock radio, laptop speakers etc. Your ultimate goal is for your master to end up sounding good on all the different systems where of course on larger systems with sub woofers you will have more bass & on laptop speakers & earbuds there will be little or no sub bass. The key is to have a master that also retains clarity on each of these sources. When you listen to your mix on these sources listen for frequency issues that tend to show up on multiple sound sources as these are the first things you should focus on with the EQ. You should try trial & error to obtain the frequencies and remember it is always better to fix by cutting the offensive sounds then by boosting other frequencies to pay for them. Remember that any EQ tweaks that you perform on the stereo mix will affect the whole song so guarantee the adjustments are actually fixing the problem without causing a bigger one out of another area.
The next step in your home Hip Hop Mastering session after you are happy with the EQ results is going to be adding a Compressor towards the track. This will be used to give the song an even level sound making the track level consistent from beginning to end. The Compressor will also aid in boosting the perceived amount of the song. Below is really a set of Compressor settings which i have come to use on Hip Hop tracks as a starting place when putting together an audio lesson Master.
gain 3.5 db
threshold -22.6 db
attack 11 ms
release 50 ms
(These are compressor start off positions which i've found are a good starting point for Hip Hop recordings where the mix has been peaked at -3db)
The next device in line after the Compressor is a Limiter, which is kind of like a Compressor on steroids, the Limiter will be used to max out the volume of the mix & produce a master that is as loud as any commercially released Rap track.
The Limiter settings shown here are settings that I have found to be a good starting point achieving a loud yet not distorted final master of a Home studio recorded Hip Hop track
threshold 17.6 db
attack 1.0 ms
release 20 ms
(They are Limiter start off positions which I have found are a good starting point for Hip Hop recordings where the mix has been peaked at -3db)
You will want to do A/B listening comparisons between your working master & a commercially released Hip Hop track that is similar in style to your song. You will want your master to be as loud because the commercially released song and translate well on all the different sound systems/sources.
Just as you will want to do with a mix, after completing your song master save it & leave it alone for a day or two then come back to it with fresh ears and you may have a different perspective on it & finds things to fix that may have been missed earlier. when you feel your song master is comparable to the commercially released song you're done mastering your brand-new song.
There are many different specialty programs & software plug ins that are designed for Mastering however this article is geared toward those that want to master their songs while using options that are already present on their recording software or workstation. Also keep in mind that Pro Mastering houses will provide you with a master CD that will be verified to be error free as well as contain special encoding that'll be the master you would want to give to a CD replication/duplication plant to obtain mass produced CD's. This is an important feature though it seems in the music business more & more artists are bypassing the price of getting CD's made & instead having download only releases.
The information in this article should give you a path to follow when attempting to master your Hip Hop songs in your own home studio. There are no rules set in stone though trial & error have helped to formulate the mastering procedure given above.