After a few last stereo adjustments, it's time to prepare your Studio One masters for release.
In the last few Studio One workshops, we've been exploring the program's mastering capabilities. To finish off our tour of the Project side of Studio One, this month we'll look at Mid-Sides processing and check out the options for exporting your finished masters.
Mid-Sides is an alternative way of representing stereo audio, where one channel carries the Mid or 'sum' component of the stereo signal and the other carries the Sides or 'difference' component. Another way of saying this is that Mid is what you get when you fold your stereo mix to mono, and the Sides is all the stuff that disappears when you do that. In his SOS November 2019 'Creative Mid-Sides Techniques' article, Eddie Bazil went into spectacular detail on using M‑S techniques creatively. His examples were focused in the multitrack arrange page, and involved duplicating audio to two tracks to process the Mid and the Sides signals separately. In Studio One's Project page we can't do that because we're dealing with a finished mix, not a multitrack. Instead we have to use some clever routing tools to give us the opportunity to work on our tracks in this way.
The routing is created in the Track Inserts part of the Project window. Hit the + sign next to the inserts for the selected song, go down to Mixing and choose Mixtool, the very useful utility plug-in that makes all this possible. In the plug-in, enable MS Transform. If you are playing back your track when you do this you'll notice that it now sounds slightly strange. The left and right channels have been matrixed to Mid and Sides, so you're getting a mono fold-down out of your left speaker and the 'difference' elements coming out of the right. To process these separately we need to route the channels to different destinations.
Open the routing window by clicking the little alien robot button next to the Pacman button at the top left of the plug-in GUI. To split the channels out of the Mixtool we need to add a Splitter from the toolbar. Drag this down to a position underneath the Mixtool and you'll see the routing of the Mid and the Sides channels nicely visualised. Finally, we need to add another Mixtool underneath the Splitter to transform the channels back to left and right again. You can do this by holding Ctrl while dragging the first Mixtool in order to duplicate it, or by selecting one from the Inserts menu. Again, make sure MS Transform is enabled so that the signal is matrixed back to conventional stereo. During this channel transformation we lose 6dB in level, so you should turn the gain up 6dB on the second Mixtool in order to compensate.
Your mix should now sound its normal self again, but with the added bonus that you can adjust the levels of the Mid and Sides signals independently by grabbing the little faders that emerge from the side of the Splitter. This is also where we can go to town processing the Mid and Sides differently. If it's not something you've done before, the results can be quite surprising. Start by playing with the levels and adding some EQ. It's quite easy to find frequencies in the Mid channel that will let you boost or attenuate the kick drum, or dial down some mud, while boosting the high frequencies on the Sides can increase the sense of space and air. Compressing the Mid and Sides signals differently can give the impression of pulling in the focus and widening the mix at the same time. It's interesting to watch the Phase Meter while bypassing and re-enabling the insert chain to see how the stereo content of your track has been affected.
You now have a load more things to consider before declaring your tracks finished and ready for delivery — you're welcome!
Once you've made the decision that your tracks are finished, there's a little bit of housekeeping you need to do before hitting one of the export buttons. First, check the gaps between the tracks in the edit window. It's usual to have a two-second pause between tracks according to the CD Red Book standard, but this can be varied, and is not necessary if you are aiming for a digital release. Silence at the start or end of a song can make a gap seem longer, so you might want to adjust the inter-track gap length to compensate.
Next, fill in the metadata. You'll find Album and Artist areas above the track list, which are good places to start. Then if you click on the little down arrow in the coloured area to the left of each track name it will reveal a whole list of fields that you can populate if you wish. These include the track's ISRC number, credits and artwork. Once you've filled in one lot, you can right-click it and select 'Copy metadata to all tracks', assuming all of the tracks should indeed have the same metadata. This information will be included with all exports from the Project.
Right... time to release your album!
Of course, it's all streaming or vinyl these days, but some people still buy compact discs, and short runs of CDs are affordable to make. You can check that your project has everything a CD needs by opening the CD Protocol window, which you'll find under the Project menu. You'll find useful information here such as the playing time and length of pauses between tracks. Nothing can be edited here, though: you'd have to refer back to the metadata editor for each track.
If you have an optical drive in your machine, you can write your own CD by clicking the Burn button in the top toolbar. Select your CD burner and the speed you want to burn at. Usually the default settings are fine, and CDs generally burn without errors these days, but if you have any trouble, reduce the speed or enable Test Write and 'use temporary image file' to improve the chances of a good burn.
CD duplication companies prefer you to send them a digital image, rather than attempting to duplicate from a CD-R with its rather weak error correction. Studio One uses the 'Continuous Wave file' disc image method, which is widely supported. The result will be a single audio file plus a 'cue' file, and it's these two files that you'll need to send to the duplicator.
Burning a Continuous Wave file also gives you the option to 'Use realtime processing', which is essential if you've set up any hardware outboard equipment for your master processing using Pipeline XT plug-ins — this option isn't available when you burn a CD or create a DDP image.
DDP or Disc Description Protocol is a popular method of supplying masters to duplication plants. It generates a folder containing all the information needed to precisely replicate your tracks, which can be opened in Studio One or any other audio software that supports the format. As I already mentioned, if you are using external hardware then it's probably better to commit your processing to the tracks by burning an image or creating a Digital Release first (see below), before assembling a DDP image with fully processed files.
For the most versatile approach to creating a release-ready product, go for the Digital Release button. With this you can export the individual tracks as WAV or AIFF files, and in compressed formats such as MP3 or Ogg Vorbis at your choice of resolution. You can select individual tracks, or a selection of tracks; you can add track numbers and artist names to the file names; and you can do the real-time processing thing for your external hardware. The resulting files all turn up individually in a folder, ready for upload to your chosen streaming service.
Each time you do it, Studio One creates an incremental folder so that you don't accidentally overwrite something if you end up doing it more than once. This is quite likely, because after exporting you will probably go and listen to your tracks on various systems, then come back and start all over again.
Studio One was the first-ever DAW to integrate a direct connection to SoundCloud, so if you are feeling brave and want to trust your online SoundCloud account to the PreSonus automatic upload feature, you just have to tick a box and enter your details.