So when I first started mastering, I didn't have any plugins whatsoever.
There were no computers to master with; I would just use tape. So I'd have an EQ, and I would have some numbers on it, cues and gains and stuff. What I would do is I'd have to change them and listen to what they did.
The thing that's been quite strange for me is now that I've got plugins, I use them in a similar way, where I'll do stuff, and I'll listen to it. The curves that I'm using when I go into the presets and things that other people are doing – it's fascinating to see that what I was doing in the analogue world all those years ago is very similar to how people have set things up and how things look in the digital world now.
Now, a lot of people these days will do it the wrong way around, which is they'll be looking at stuff and not changing something based on, "Well, that means it's too much because I've added dB there and that doesn't look right."
Well, there's no such thing as "it doesn't look right" when you're an engineer. It's all about sound and feel. So really what you need to do is not work from the metres but with a lot of EQs. A great tip: using an onboard EQ is like using hardware where you're just using knobs without having to see. With something like FabFilter, you'll see the curves. Sometimes that's a bad thing because you're going to do things just because your eyes are telling you that they're right. But really, they're wrong because your ears are telling you the truth.
So it's a good thing to kind of shut your eyes or use plugins that have knobs rather than visuals to train your ears up and get your ears used to how something sounds when it's got 1dB at 10,000. It's really about hearing those things and making sure that you know what's going on with your ears rather than with your eyes.
It's just interesting to me to see what I was doing all those years ago. Just turning knobs is quite self-satisfying when I see that that works the same way with your eyes, too. So all I'm saying is use your ears and not your eyes.