Mastering for dummies

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by 6Tones, Jun 26, 2006.

  1. 6Tones

    6Tones Supporting Member

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    My bandmate in the process of mixing our CD (hes using Sonar along with other programs,and we sending out to a company to get it mastered)
    I have a basic ideaof mastering I think ,but what else do they do when they master it besides make the levels of each track uniform,eliminate unneeded hiss ect..?
    I dont expect miracles from this process but can I expect noticable improvement in the quality of the recording?
     
  2. thesedaze

    thesedaze Member

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    often times they'll run the final mix through a 1/2" reel to reel setup, through some tasty preamps, then back to digital. Overall EQ is also applied.
     
  3. therigaletto

    therigaletto Member

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    EQ'ing to the type of music you like is key also. These guys have incredible ears (most of them) and are doing these masterings in highely treated enviroments so its not something you want to attempt yourself. The biggest names in the business get on the gearslutz.com mastering forum all the time. Maybe they can answer some questions for you! good luck!
     
  4. enharmonic

    enharmonic Old Growth Gold Supporting Member

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    I haven't heard a good mastering job in years, so I almost couldn't tell you what it takes to do it well. However, I think Soundgarden's Superunknown is the last record that I truly loved the sound of. I'd really watch the levels on your multi-band compressors, and if anything, focus on subtractive eq.

    If the album is recorded and mixed well, the mastering engineer's job shouldn't be very hard at all...and shouldn't require a significant amount of work...but that's a perfect world situation.

    *EDIT*

    I'd like to add that I've only heard a few albums pre-mastering in recent years, so my statement above is not entirely accurate. I cannot be certain of who is crushing the headroom out of a mix or loading up the low end with non-musical, useless frequencies on many modern albums, so I don't want to arbitrarilly lay that at the feet of mastering. :)
     
  5. elambo

    elambo Member

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    The A&R guys are often to blame. The mastering guys typically hate the fact that they have to keep their tracks up to the pegs at all times. They have great ears - they're aware of what's happening to otherwise good audio. But yes, most top-selling albums do sound terrible.

    A lot of jazz albums aren't victim of heavy mastering. And some other smaller record labels. There are good sounding records being made today (Al Schmitt's typically are), just fewer than before. One of the best recording I've EVER heard is semi-recent -- Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue. I'm not a huge fan of the content, but the record just sounds amazing. Listen to the drums and bass in particular. Mmmmmmm!
     
  6. joseph

    joseph Member

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    I don't get it. If they mixed/mastered without the distortion, it would sound punchier, clearer.
    And volume shouldn't be an issue, as even cheap boom boxes etc can get way louder than hifi gear from the past...hell, most pop music nowadays is going thru earbuds anyway.
    Everyone wants to sound like the first 4 Zep albums, but they fail to notice how those discs had dynamics....I guess it's the corporate committee approach?!
     
  7. UnderTheGroove

    UnderTheGroove Supporting Member

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    If you have the budget, you really should have a pro do the mastering. If you decide to do it yourself, this book might help out a lot: The Mastering Engineer's Handbook. I haven't read it, but I have his Mixing book and it has a ton of good information.
     
  8. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    I feel the same. It's hard to beat their skill and gear, and it really can make a big difference over doing it on your own. Sometimes these guys are willing take on small budget projects at a huge discount. Some places have an official price list for indie projects, but if you can talk to an engineer personally you might be able to do even better. If they're slow for a few weeks they might be more flexible with pricing.

    About slamming it: one engineer I spoke to told me the standard instructions given to the guys in his facility for a major label release were as follows:

    "Make it loud, put a smile on it (EQ), move the good songs up front and get it out of here."
     
  9. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    P.S. - it's very hard to say what you can expect as far as "improvement." If there are inherent problems in the mix it may or may not be possible to compensate for them, depending.
     
  10. JingleJungle

    JingleJungle Member

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    I agree on most of the previous posts.
    I'll add that the state of art appears to be doing the masters from the "stems" - i.e. the mixed guitar tracks separately from the drums, keys, etc.
    But that's where the $$$ really talk - many good masters are done from the 2 track final mix.
    One big rule is: don't mix and master (but this you probably knew already).
    Another tip is not to mix with too much compression on the master buss. Leave the final comp to the mastering lab. Maybe you stand a chance of getting a final product that does have some "air" and dynamics left to it.

    JJ
     
  11. elambo

    elambo Member

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    In every case that I've had an album mastered it came back with very nice improvements (I always use Bernie Grundman, Bruce Botnick or Steve Hall, in that order of preference) and I only include a few notes - things that I wanted them to listen to but only treat if THEY thought it was necessary. Keep in mind that the main reason a mix engineer sends it away for mastering instead of doing it himself is to get the perspective of someone else (and why film directors dont typically edit their own films) so too many suggestions from the mix engineer will fight that process. Mixing engineers tend to deal with Micros - mastering engineers tend to deal with Macros.

    You're absolutely right that it's a subjective process, but in my experience everything these guys have done was necessary (eq'ing, limiting, level matching). I guess that's why they are who they are.
     
  12. Bassomatic

    Bassomatic Silver Supporting Member

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    Can you point the curious to any of these projects, elambo?
     
  13. 6Tones

    6Tones Supporting Member

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    Yes my bandmate(whos doing all the recording/mixing) uses that book,it has some good tips on EQ n stuff.

    Can anyone recommend a good mastering/studio in the NYC/LI metro area?I was looking into truetonemastering.com.
     
  14. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    I don't know your budget, but Sterling in NYC has discounted rates for non-label projects. Can't hurt to call.

    Then again - how important is it that they be local to you? Would you be OK with handing it over?
     
  15. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    i can't recommend bob katz' book, mastering audio.

    http://www.alibris.com/search/searc...t=p&siteID=Pw2LQAj_zJk-.3XSsTSu5.DHIgnKmK732A

    even if U are not gonna master it Urself, there is a wealth of information in that book regarding much more than mastering. he starts at the beginning of the process of recording and talks about gain staging and headroom.
    wonderful book that every recordist should read and absorb everything in it.
    if it's a project that has the budget, a good mastering engineer should be able to make the album sound as a 'whole', rather than individual tracks that have been cobbled together. they also make the album ready for a glass master w/ all of the appropriate codes and all that stuff that i find very tedious.
    there is also something to be said for having someone else master the album if U have mixed it, or vice versa. that's assuming U have a good mix in the first place.
    i'm all for making dynamic recordings that i know are gonna push the limits of 16/44.1. don't let 'em destroy it.

    all too often these days and sad.
    remember that U are paying to have it mastered and if U don't want it done this way, U have a right to reject the work. the other thought is, if U can't find someone to do a 'proper' mastering job, U probably won't do any worse by attempting it Urself. bothersome codes and error free glass master aside.
     
  16. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Just to put it in perspective, it was meant as "sort of" a joke. This facility is very meticulous (because it has to be done right), but they also have to keep the work moving.
     
  17. regotheamigo

    regotheamigo Member

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    Have any of you guys ever worked with "Disk Makers"? For those of you that don't know about them, they make the C.D's and manufacture them including the artwork etc,. They also have a mastering department that will master your work for a real good price. I am thinking about using them when I get my C.D done, so know a few things about them. Check it out
    www.diskmakers.com
     
  18. elambo

    elambo Member

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    I think of Disk Makers as a duplication house, definitely NOT a mastering facility.

    What's your budget for mastering?
     
  19. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    ditto.
    i can only think that they do assembly line mastering. squash to contemporary standards and attach codes.
     
  20. elambo

    elambo Member

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    When budget isn't an issue, nearly 100% of all directors will NOT edit their own films for the reasons I mentioned earlier. It's discussed in documentaries about editing AND cinematography. "Visions Of Light," for instance, mentions that directors need another opinion to disect and choose the important scenes and the best takes from the available film. Watch any of "The Directors" shows, which interviews all the great directors of our time, and they almost always refer to their editors as one of the most important and necessary people on the project. It's pretty damn close to a rule-of-thumb. For every 1 director who cuts his own film there are at least 500 who don't. Take a random look around IMDb if this doesn't seem right.

    About the perfect mastering - nope, can't be done. For starters, everyone's idea of "perfect" will not be the same. AND, as you said, it would be very difficult for the M.E. to repeat his performance each time.
     

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