The Challenge: much of the album was very simply arranged â€“ singer, acoustic guitar, occasionally some light drums. This was washed with a fairly strong reverb. However, on a handful of tracks, a small string ensemble had been added, mixed very wide, and liberally doused in the same reverb. On headphones, it sounded lush and wide, but on a standard stereo system, the wide strings overwhelmed the mix, drowning the vocals. It was the kind of issue that one would hope would be fixed in the mix and not the mastering stage, but the project was beyond the mix stage and couldnâ€™t go back, so it was up to the mastering process to deal with it.
The Solution: This presented two real issues â€“ while it was possible to reduce the wash of reverb and strings on the tracks where it was most pronounced, it would then make the overall sound of the album less cohesive, so any twiddling done to the dense tracks would have to be done at least to an extent to the remaining tracks.
Every track was parallel-bussed and encoded into middle and side channels. The side channels were then either reduced in volume or given a downward expander and some EQing to reduce their prevalence without removing them entirely. Additional stereo-image processing was done on the side channels with the overly-wide strings to place them less overwhelmingly in the stereo image.