With Ableton Plugins Even Mastering is Possible!

Posted by Esteban Miranda on

Do you know how to build a Mastering chain? Do you want to know all about Ableton Plugins?

Today with Top Music Arts, we plan on helping you with that. We have some tips, guides and plugin reviews with all you need to know about Mastering with Ableton´s Stock plugins. So you can master your tracks without having to install any plugins!

Our whole team is using them more and more in our Templates, Remakes, and Mixes. Now with the new features in Live 10, they sure are some remarkable tools to use and have exceptional results when you are mastering songs with Ableton´s native plugins. And we´re going to show you how they work and how you can use them.


When Mixing or Producing, you may hear the phrase “we can fix that later on the Mastering” out there; well it is true that to avoid losing focus, or to spoil your creative moment, you shouldn´t stop and fix every single issue, but if you feel something doesn't sound right when you're laying down your tracks, work on getting it better there and then, so you can build the rest of the song on a solid base.

The Mixing and Mastering are both very important process and surely can have a negative impact on your song if they are not right. You can have a great song, but if any of those processes aren´t done properly, you´ll end up with a song that people doesn´t like to hear. And none of us want that!

To help you learn to do them properly, first, we´re going to go through some of the fundamentals…

What is Mixing?

Audio mixing
 is the process by which Multiple sounds are combined into one or more Tracks (channels). In this process, a source's Volume Level, Frequencies Content, Dynamics, and Panoramic Position (among other elements of their sound) are manipulated and or enhanced. This practical, aesthetic, or otherwise creative treatment, is done in order to produce a finished version that is appealing to listeners.

Audio mixing is practiced for Music, Film, Television and Live Sound. The process is generally carried out by what we call a Mixing Engineer operating a Mixing Console (Mixer) or a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

Before the introduction of Multitrack Recording, all the sounds and effects that were to be part of a recording were mixed together at the same time during a live performance. If the sound blend of those tracks was not satisfactory, or if one musician made a mistake, the selection had to be performed over and over until the desired balance and performance was obtained.

However, with the introduction of Multitrack Recording, the production phase of a modern recording has radically changed into one that generally involves three main stages:

  • The Recording, of the tracks and or Effects.
  • The Overdubbing, where complementary tracks and editions are recorded.

  • The Mix-down, where the actual audio mixing is done and exported.

Then when it´s exported you can start with the Mastering.

What is mastering?

Mastering is a form of Audio Post-Production and can be simply defined as the fine-tuning of Levels and Equalization(tone) of a track, preparing it for Replication, Broadcast or Streaming. This includes optimizing the average and peak volume levels of a track, using compressions, equalizations and limiting, to achieve a level that’s consistent with other recordings and also correcting the tone if necessary.

Other tasks a mastering engineer typically handles include cleaning up unwanted noises (clippings, pops, clicks, etc.), arranging tracks into a final sequence, placing the proper amount of silences between the tracks and inserting track markers and other codes required for replication if needed.

Mastering is truly an art form: a blend of technology, psychoacoustics, educated ears, and musical intuition. In the right hands, the smallest increments of compression or equalization can have a major impact on the entire track. A good mastering engineer will make subtle decisions about sonic balance, bringing out the most important frequency ranges of different aspects of a song and achieving a blend between the bass and high frequencies that can give a flat track some punch and make a good mix even better.

It requires critical listening and working on the detail; however, software tools exist to facilitate the process. Results still depend upon the intent of the engineer, the accuracy of the speaker monitors, and the listening environment. In the mastering process, you may also need to apply corrective equalization and dynamic compression in order to optimize sound translation on all playback systems. 

On a basic level, in mastering we are trying to accomplish 3 goals:
  • To Balance dynamics throughout the whole song.
  • To clean up any
  • To add Loudness (Punch) to the track.

What is the difference between Mixing and Mastering?

In the Mixing stage, you need to be creative and keen on having balanced mix results, well-performed recordings, always having a more musical-focused point of view of the project. You work with each track individually, and you end up exporting all of them blended into a single stereo track (it also can be mono).

But in the Mastering stage, you need to be precise, keen on the detail, with more of a technical-focused point of view. Adding effects and always processing the whole Track, you don´t listen to individual parts or elements, but the entire song.

Basically, you give the finishing touch to an already mixed track, that´s why we strongly recommend you all to always focus your energy into having a great Mix because if you have a bad mix, you probably won´t be able to fix it properly in the Mastering.  


Eq Eight

The Ableton´s Eq of Eight bands has everything you need from any modern eq plugin. It has three modes to select:

  • Stereo, where it uses a single curve to represent both input´s channels.
  • L/R, where it provides an independently adjustable filter curve for each side.
  • Mid/Side (M/S), where it also provides a different curve for each Side, but for material recorded using this encoding. If you didn´t you won´t need it!

When your work is focused on mastering, you can double-click in the main display and have an Expanded View and be more accurate.

Also, you should set your FFT Block Length (the number of samples analyzed for each measurement) to the higher number, and Right-Click on the plugin and select the Oversampling option, for better accuracy in the performance of the plugin. But have in mind that this will surely increase your CPU Load!

We recommend you to use your Eq Eights Pre (before) and or Post (after) your Main Compressor Plugin:

  • Pre-Comp, to help you correct the tone before it is compressed, dodging some troubling frequencies. You can use it as a Low-cut or a Hi-cut (for a more precise cut, select the x4 option).

  • Post-Comp, to help you get your tone back if it changes when the audio is compressed. And to clean up any Resonating Frequencies. You can do this by selecting the Audition enabled option, and a bell type of filter, then sweeping your filter until you hear whistling or distortion frequencies. When you find them, dodge them down until they are not hearable.



The Utility Plugin is one of the most used Ableton Live. It´s a great tool to use at the beginning of any mastering chain, to better your Stereo Balance if your mix is not well on that front. And with the Width knob, you can spread a little more your Stereo Image, but be careful, you should do subtle adjustments because abuse of the stereo spread will cause dephasing that will mess your song up, and if you turn it the other way it´ll turn your song into Mono! 


Glue Compressor

The Glue Compressor is one of the greatest plugins Ableton has to offer. To make this one the creators of the Daw have partnered together with Cytomic to create an adapted version of the ‘The Glue’ compressor plug-in, released in the Live 9 version. It´s similar to an analog SSL bus compression plug-in, with a few new features, as a sidechain with its own equalization,

It´s a really handy tool that helps to tighten up instruments or to blend different elements together in a mix. 

In our Mastering chain, we can add it after the first Eq eight, and Utility (if you´ve chosen to use it), as a way of catching some of the peaks over the entire frequency range, giving us a more even sound. You can use the preset that is called exactly like that Catching Peaks, which is a very good starting point for you to adjust to your song and keep working.

 We can add another instance of Compression after the Multiband Dynamics, to get the evenly compressed version that is coming out of it a little more Emphasized Dynamics and more Punch. 


Multiband Dynamics

A device great for Mastering, this multiband compressor process the input signal dividing it into 3 frequency bands to add different types of compression and get the results you need. 

We recommend you to start getting used to it by using different Presets, the one called Multiband Compression is a great way to start. The goal with this kind of compression is to balance the Low, Mid and Hi of your song. 

Have in mind that although we are assembling a Device Chain to add into a Group (by selecting all the devices and pressing Ctrl or Cmd+G) and save it as a Preset Audio Effect Rack (by clicking the Save Preset button, and assigning a name), as we´ve done in our previous tutorials, not all songs are mixed the same way, so each and every one of the plugins must be adapted to each song´s needs!


In Ableton Live, you automatically start your projects with 2 Return channels (unless you have another template set) already routed to all of your tracks. The same as a Delay in another track. 

You could add effects like this to a song when you are mastering, but be extremely careful because this can make your mix muddy and unbalanced because these effects are added outside your mastering chain.

This is more commonly used when you need to master a full album for Youtube, for example. Where you also can mix your songs into one file. 

Here is a preset to add a light and subtle Reverb to use in your transitions with ease!


 The same as the Reverb, this is another effect that is added outside the mastering chain, so you need to be extremely careful with this one as well. 

We recommend you to set this Echo to match your tempo and select the Channel mode (Stereo, Ping Pong, or Mid/Side) that helps you better when you mix your transitions, Intros or Outros.


The Limiter plugin is similar to a compressor, but with an infinite ratio that helps to bring the signal´s peaks down under a selected Threshold point in dBs (Ceiling).

You can select between two modes:

  • Stereo, that applies to limit to both channels whenever either requires compression.
  • L/R, that applies independent limiting for each channel. Have in mind that the L/R mode allows to achieve a greater compression, but it can also mess with your Stereo image.

At the time of finishing your track, Limiter is a Key plugin to have on any mastering chain. But it can add unwanted distortion so be careful with your Gain knob (that boots or attenuates the input signal) and Lookahead time (that adjust how fast the limiter will respond to peaks); we recommend you to be gentle while working with the Limiter plugin. Also, mind your Auto Release, switch it off and adjust it manually if you are compressing too much!




If you are using Ableton Live´s Limiter for your mastering limiting, you may have noticed it can soften your drums very easily. Well, in that case, you could try this:

  1. Insert a Saturator before the Limiter, and try, maybe, 1 or 2 dB of Drive. And make sure of turning the Color button off. The Saturator will always clip your peaks a bit before they hit the limiter.

  2. In case that doesn´t help you, add another instance of compression to your chain (if you didn´t have one), if you have one, adjust your Threshold better so they can “share” the load between them. Also, you can set your Output back 2 or 3 dB.


In mastering, ALWAYS set your Glue compressor to Oversampling (by Right clicking it and selecting that option).

And always make sure to do a lot of On/Off comparison and pay attention to what your chain does to the song. You want to go for a smooth, transparent Mastering, avoiding distortion and adding tone.


You can Master your songs yourself without having to purchase expensive plugins! However, if you are going to mix and master your song, you should take a break of 2 or 3 hours minimum to give your ears, and your brain some time to rest and come back with another perspective, and to avoid auditory fatigue.




In the whole Mastering process, there's probably one most important thing to pay attention to and that is the Dynamic Range (the difference between the softest and loudest sounds in a recording). It’s also a very common mistake and one that even the more experienced mastering engineers sometimes can get wrong.

As compression is added to a track, the louder sounds are attenuated. As those louder sounds are squashed, the difference between the softest and loudest sounds (your dynamic range) decreases, and along with it all of your music’s the subtlety and distinction. The softest sounds have been brought up, and the loudest sounds have been limited, and the result is a track where everything is at its loudest, all the time.

Ask any veteran engineer what their biggest complaint about today’s radio music is, and they’ll all moan the disappearance of Dynamic Range.

The past few years have seen an unfortunate trend toward pumping the overall level of music tracks higher and higher, adding more and more compression under the misguided assumption that louder is better. The problem is, eventually you run into those darned laws of physics.

With a mastering Compressor, you generally want to start with a fairly subtle compression ratio. Especially with a multiband comp, start with a ratio of around 2:1 and slowly bring it up. Rarely, if ever, should you end up with a ratio of more than 5:1.

Equalization goes hand in hand with compression in Mastering. A very precise multiband graphic equalizer can compensate for changes in frequency balance caused by the application of compression.
For example, adding compression might make the sound a bit muddy, in which case you’d use the Eq Eight to cut a bit of lower midrange (around 300 Hz).
Or maybe the compression has made the mix a bit dull sounding. Adding a tiny bit of high-frequency EQ, around 12 kHz, can add some sheen and sparkle. A bit of cut at around 5 kHz might get rid of some of the harsh aspects of the drums and guitar parts. Of course, these are all subjective to your mix, and only that will dictate what needs to be done, and your ears should be the determining factor.


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