Please teach me about mastering basics

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by tochiro, Mar 3, 2012.

  1. tochiro

    tochiro Member

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    Hi,

    I know how to use Cubase and record audio or midi but I'm a total beginner as regards mastering.

    Why do I need to master a final mixdown? What are the basic processes involved? And what software is the most easy to use for that?

    From what I've read it seems to be a question of level but I don't understand that...

    Thank you for your time.
     
  2. Rex Anderson

    Rex Anderson Member

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    Go to Bob Katz's website http://www.digido.com/

    Lot's of articles there for free, or buy his book, "Mastering Audio".

    There is a lot more to mastering than level....

    Lot's of mastering plug ins-WAVES makes bundles, PSP has some cool stuff.

    You need compression, limiting, EQ and reverb at the very least.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2012
  3. shredtheater

    shredtheater Member

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    My grasp of mastering is still at the early stages but regarding software that will enable you master your mixes id recommend looking at iZotope Advanced. Its a great plugin that will really improve your mixed tracks. Theres a bunch of presets to help you in the early stages but as you get more knowledge there is plenty of room in the program to do your own thing. Checkout musicplayers.com for a review
     
  4. stevel

    stevel Member

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    You don't. But we have an industry that has used "extra" stuff (mastering) for various reasons over the years that have created "a sound". So what you're used to hearing on the radio/cd has been mastered. When you make music at home and mix it down you'll keep saying "why doesn't it sound like what I hear on the radio?". It's because you're not mastering it (the way they are - also of course you could be recording it not using the same tools as well, so it won't sound "like the radio").

    So, in simple terms, you don't have to master, nor do you have to following conventions of recording, but if you don't, you should be aware that your mixes aren't going to sound "like a CD" (i.e. like the commercially produced ones you're hearing on the radio).

    That said, I don't think that's a bad thing. I hear plenty of recordings that haven't been run through so-and-so's mastering plug ins that sound fine.

    What makes a good recording is a good ear and artistry, and knowing which tools to use when to achieve a desired result.

    But compressing everything just because that's what everyone else does, or because that's what the industry expects is, well, let's just say, not all that effective. Part of this is that some people out there have figured out that they can sell more plug-ins if they keep the "mystique" of mastering more mysterious. So be careful of the hype and the myths of "you need X to get X sound". Even with X, it takes knowing how to operate it to get X sound - and maybe some soul-searching is worth it to decide if X sound is really all that good to begin with, or if it's YOUR sound.

    Best,
    Steve
     
  5. Julia343

    Julia343 Member

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    I'm way in the beginning of this stuff. I've got Sony Soundforge 10 Pro. It's basically got Izotope Mastering Bundle plus a bunch of other stuff in it. I have a few reference recordings in various genres that I use and granted not all of them are "up to date". I've watched the Bob Katz stuff and taken from it what I need.

    Chances are it won't sound as good anyway. These guys have been doing it for decades. The top people are just plain artists at it. No matter what you hear you aren't going to get the full information. You're going to have to do a lot of trial and error work. Just get your album to sound even from start to finish. Play around with the song order to maintain the interest.

    If you're just starting at this, less processing is usually best. Just make it sound good for the genre. Use your reference recordings to your advantage.
     
  6. BONGKARMA

    BONGKARMA Member

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    What are you mastering it for? CD, vinyl, wav, mp3 ?
    Mastering audio can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. a basic mastering job for a CD with multible tracks would be to set all track levels to the same vol (compress/limit) you don't want one song lower or louder than the others. also EQ is used to help clean/clear up the over all mix.
     
  7. Britishampfan

    Britishampfan Member

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    I am working on learning recording mixing and mastering in logic pro 9 right now. I have a couple test tracks on my soundclound page if you want to hear the difference. Just click my signature, this is just a test track, a work in progress.

    My first mix and master test, I am not happy with but I will keep trying, the demo track is one shot and bounced.
    I look for you tube tube videos as I am new to the whole mastering science myself. This one is for logic but explains some good stuff, look for the recording program you use.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ch9n0uD8gg
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2012
  8. Shiny_Beast

    Shiny_Beast Member

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    I think in some cases it's just getting all the songs on the same page volume and sonic wise for an album. Then there's the recent trend to pump up the volume.

    In a perfect world the simple answer is you're passing it off to a bunch of music kung foo experts with golden ears and impossibly expensive equipment to get it ready to press and make sure it sounds right and maybe smooth over any little boo boos and other stuff that only matters on the final mix. This may have meant all kinds of things over the years depending on the trends and what was being used for distribution.

    It's also a second opinion, you're not supposed to master your own stuff so the saying goes.
     
  9. Clumsy Fingers

    Clumsy Fingers Member

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    Steve nailed it- a round of applause for Steve!


    I think we who take this seriously, or at least want our work to sound as exceptional as possible, have set an almost insurmountable task for ourselves. No single plug-in is the right tool, and I think our ears have slowly become conditioned to a specific type of sound being acceptable, or desired. Add to that, I'm as susceptible as anyone to gear marketed to me ( 'Wow! That looks so cool!'), that I often wonder if my ears are worth a damn.


    In other words; tinker. mess around, make it sound wrong, make mistakes, and you'll learn what's best for your own music.
     
  10. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

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    I have to master my stuff every day, because my deadlines for TV ad work are very short, and no one else will do it.

    Mastering started off because in the old days, the record needle would jump out of the groove if there was even a reasonable amount of bass.

    So the RIAA came up with the RIAA equalization curve, reducing the amount of bass and high frequencies in the pre-master, so that when the cutting lathe created the original master, the needle wouldn't jump the groove.

    Records were thus cut with not much bass or treble, and the bass and treble were added back in by the preamp. This is why your record player sounds sh*tty if you plug it into an unequalized line input.

    Nor could records handle much dynamic range for pop music. If you buy a classical record, the volume is usually a lot lower than a pop record. But the record labels and radio stations wanted pop music to be louder.

    So they'd compress the crap out of pop music, and this gave it a "sound." That process eventually became an art form, where the elements of the recording are EQ'd and compressed to sound good on, say, a car radio.

    It has taken me YEARS to learn how to master at all, and I still haven't reached the point where I'd master anyone else's but my own work.

    Caveat emptor. It's an art. You can't just buy it in a plugin. However, there are plugins that are quite useful, and can certainly make your music more like what you hear on the radio.
     
  11. Rex Anderson

    Rex Anderson Member

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    Mastering basics:

    The goal is always to take the original recording and make it sound better if possible and make it sound good on all playback systems; boom boxes, in everyone's car, small speakers, large ultra hi-fi systems etc. It requires compromises.

    The mastering credo is: first, do no harm. Make sure you are REALLY making it sound BETTER than the original recording. Roger Nichols (Steely Dan etc) said if he nailed the mix, the CD mastering guys did not touch it. Just do the necessary PQ code stuff etc do make it on to a CD.

    Mastering vinyl is entirely a different beast than mastering a CD. Vinyl has so many limitations and physics to deal with, that was the part of the vinyl mastering engineer's job. A good mastering engineer would often make a number of "moves" while cutting the master lacquer, including EQ changes, level changes , compression and limiting changes etc. It may change from track to track or even within the track. The engineer would learn the sound of the tape, make notes, and do his moves in real time while cutting the disc.

    Modern CD mastering has a lot to do with the evolution of recording-when artists started recording tracks at different studios, the was no coherence to the project as it got put together into a record (both vinyl and CD eras). Due to no standard in monitor systems or playback level calibration, the sound of a track done at one studio could be entirely different from another studio-spectral balance (low end to high end) could be all over the place. Too much bass, not enough bass, too much high end, not enough high end-you get the picture.

    One guy cut tape hot, the next guy cut it average or low, thus amounts of perceived level and tape compression came into play. There are at least 3 different reference flux levels people calibrated their tape machines to (185 nW/m, 250/261 nW/m and 320nW/m). Add in Dolby A, Dolby SR and dbx noise reduction and it starts to get hairy just to play back the tape. Even if there are reference tones to adjust playback calibration, you still have to use your ears to determine if record calibration was correct. I had a project that I had to calibrate the dbx playback calibration by ear. One channel was off by 9 db relative to the other channel when checked with test tones through the dbx unit. Whoever calibrated the record unit had a bad cable, a broken wire in the patch bay, or just screwed it up somehow. I also encountered a big name mastering engineer in a major facility in LA who didn't know his Dolby A had problems on playback-the reverb trail cut off on one channel much faster than it did on the other channel. The Dolby was mis-tracking.

    The bottom line is, a good mastering engineer has an awesome playback system in an "acoustically perfect" room and has all the tools to make your recording sound as good as possible everywhere it will be played back. He also has EARS to know what sounds good and when something is wrong. It is an art and a science.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
  12. tochiro

    tochiro Member

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    Thank you to all the posters. I am trying to learn mastering for CDs. Do you know where I could find some basic practical information to do mastering, ie what is the typical chain of processes involved (eq + ... + multi-compression + limiter)? What are the main reasons of each process? I think what could help me is to know the reason why behind each process so that I can use that understanding in any software and for any song.
     
  13. Rex Anderson

    Rex Anderson Member

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    Sorry for my last post #11, history of mastering...

    Go back to my first post, #2.

    Get the Bob Katz book. No one here has time to rewrite that book which answers all the questions you are asking.
     
  14. Britishampfan

    Britishampfan Member

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    Oh man, what I use on my mac is basic, I have been in a professional studio with mastering gear and it looked like a spaceship with racks and racks of old stuff interfaced with computers.

    I have burned a lot of drink coasters for the studio coffee table over the years mastering our old band demos. I`d get lucky eventually and still never come close to mastermix.

    If I had a potential hit on my hands, I would send it to the pros for mastering.
     
  15. Audioholic

    Audioholic Member

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    On a suggestion note. I like isotopes ozone for an affordable yet effective tool to put on a master and help finalize the master with whatever processing tool you need to use (limiting, compression, eq, etc)
     
  16. Julia343

    Julia343 Member

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    There are a set of free VST plugins (Roger Nichols) available on the web. Download them. Mostly frequency analyzers. Hey, they're free and as good as anything you'll pay for, but they're 32 bit only so if you're running 64 bit you'll need jbridge.

    These mastering engineers have the ultra treated rooms and monitors etc. Remember that. You don't. You won't. You don't have the budget unless you've gotten lucky either by birthright or by winning the lotto. So you'll just have to do the best you can.

    It's going to be trial and error. Get it to sound the best you can. Ozone is a good program. Get your mixes sounding the best they can. Then mixdown to stereo. RTFM. Use Ozone on the mixdown. Try different things before committing. Take frequent breaks. Make frequent SAVE AS (different file name). Check them in the morning with fresh ears.
     

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