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lapasoa

Mastering

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I also find it interesting that we all have different hearing. And pick up different frequencies to each other. How then can we be trusted to mix and master when its our hearing that it is created for and not the masses? ūüôā¬†

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a) commercial release (top 10 hit, major motion picture sound track, album, etc) - hire a professional and take their input on incremental mix adjustments or stems usage. ask some professionals to critique it.  ignore negativity.

b) personal stuff - mix it well and test on several speaker/headphone/earbud sets, then export into Ozone 9 Advanced and run through several speaker/headphone/earbud sets to test. ask some folks to critique it. ignore negativity.

ūüôā¬†

Edited by Glenn Stanton
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Mine was more of a rhetorical question. No matter how many sets of speakers, buds, headphones or how many times you run your own mixed song through it will always be personal to you.  And if you have hearing deficiencies (which you are unaware of ) and dont hear certain frequencies then the mix is going to sound different to someone with 100% hearing. 

I agree that for commercial releases you need someone who has form/a pedigree in that sort of thing.  But for personal/semi-pro stuff then you rely on the advice of others. But they cant mix it for you so it can only be as good as what they tell you. Now if there was a piece of software that can 'balance' a mix (so to speak) i.e. make it so that someone with say 80/85% hearing perfection is going to hear every frequency at the appropriate levels then  we might be on to something. I have no doubt such software exists but it doesnt get over the fact that when you do mix a song you want it to be as personal as possible. And no software knows what you (personally) want. 

Am sure we have all  heard many successful songs and still find the vocals a bit muddy, or the snare non-existent or just a mish mash of instruments yet that same song could be flying high in the charts...simply because someone mixed it the way they wanted it.  

Interesting stuff¬†ūüôāūüĎć

 

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Yes a very interesting topic and important on forums like this one where the majority are new to using recording equipment and needing a lot of help along the way. In the old days we bought books and read them cover to cover a few times until we "got it".  Now people want to jump in with both feet and figure because it's a computer you don't need to have any knowledge of the craft of recording, the computer will look after you, right? Sorry, it still helps to study the craft and the internet has made this easier in some ways and harder in others. This forum is a good example of a place you can learn about recording using a DAW. But that has it's pitfalls as we all know on forums the quality of advice can be all over the map. 

Back when, to publish a book on any topic, that book had to be "approved" So for the most part only knowledgeable people wrote the books and if it was a terrible book nobody bought it and it faded from existence. Well written books became popular and were recommended by other professionals.  So you could mostly trust a book on any given topic. 

Now the internet has made it easy to find those books but then also offers for free a lot of bad information which is hard to wade through it all. If you want to make your head spin ask a question like " what is the best way to Master my songs" on Gearslutz. At least here we are polite and most of us are the first to admit that we are not professionals.  

 

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35 minutes ago, brandon said:

Am sure we have all  heard many successful songs and still find the vocals a bit muddy, or the snare non-existent or just a mish mash of instruments yet that same song could be flying high in the charts...simply because someone mixed it the way they wanted it. 

agreed. perfection can be the enemy of good (or great). of course none of this statement applies to Aja. ūüôā¬†

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I can think of 2 great related examples from the hard rock / heavy metal world: Dance of Death by Iron Maiden and St. Anger by Metallica.

With Dance of Death, they mixed it (with Kevin Shirley, so not exactly a green engineer by any means) and sent it off to mastering. They got it back and the band basically said they liked the mix from the desk better and put that out as the actual audio release. Now the mix is... fine? But it doesn't have the polish that their other releases have, and on some speakers it's pretty uneven. This is a great example of the band being too close to the product and ignoring the best sonic interests in the end. They've since come around and mastered everything since, mind you.

I think everyone even slightly acquainted with Metallica will know what a debacle St. Anger was. In defence of the band. it was exactly what they were going for: raw, ugly, unprocessed... and they got it. No amount of high end gear or mastering was going to save this recording from being anything more than sounding like a very expensive demo. If any unknown band put something like this out, they would be crucified for it and told to go re-record it properly.

Regardless of that, both of those albums were massive.

On exactly the flip side, you can go massively OVER-produced and overblown too. Spending a year on your snare sound or getting rid of every little drum ring, or correcting timing for every part so it sounds perfect is probably the antithesis of what rock is.

Unless you're experienced enough to tell yourself when to shut up and just get on with it, you can dig yourself into a massive sonic hole pretty easily, both with mix AND master. I know I've done this in the past, and I know how easy it was to get myself into that mess.

Having an outside perspective is sometimes crucial for a sanity check, and having the ego to be able to accept that check is just as important. We all have the tools to do a pro job ourselves these days, and some of us are lucky enough to have a great sounding studio space to make informed decisions, but it's that last sanity check that's usually the big decider as to who should mix or master your stuff.

Edited by Lord Tim
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I expected some partecipations with more technical comments. Instead I've found much musical philosophy.

Edited by lapasoa

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mastering is just as much an art form as it is technical. hopefully someone working as a mastering engineer will come along and provide some technical insights as well as the thinking behind it...

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3 hours ago, lapasoa said:

I expected some partecipations with more technical comments. Instead I've found much musical philosophy.

There is certainly plenty to talk about regarding the technical side of mastering. You probably don't want to get me started.

However, the direction this thread has taken is appropriate, given that at the end of the day the goal of mastering is making sure your record sounds as good as possible wherever and however it's heard.

You just know somebody's going to listen to it on Apple earbuds or laptop speakers, and it's going to sound like cr... er...sh...,er garbage. Somebody's going to listen to it on a train or in the car. The one thing you know for sure is that hardly anybody is going to ever hear it on your speakers in your studio. Mastering tries to make it sound the best it can, regardless of the circumstances. The single best way to assure that is to have somebody else do the mastering, preferably someone who's using a combination of technical standards, full-range neutral speakers in a neutral acoustical environment, trained ears and experience.

Unfortunately, those people charge for their services. If paying for such a service is not an option, it's up to you to get as close as possible. It's actually do-able.

A couple years ago, a fellow came onto the mastering forum at Gearslutz and made waves there by declaring that he could master his own stuff just as well as a professional ME. Needless to say, his comments were met with pushback ranging from skepticism to derision. It is, after all, a forum frequented by some of the best MEs in the business.

Being a fair-minded person, I decided to listen to his material and see for myself. I did not know who he was, but a google search informed me that he'd had a successful band in the past, was now a solo artist and I could get his latest record from Amazon. So I did. And I was absolutely gobsmacked.

Turned out, he was right. The record was brilliantly mixed and mastered, with an impressive dynamic range and clarity that's rare nowadays. And he does it all himself, from composing to tracking to mixing to mastering. Maybe he even has a shrinkwrap machine in his house, I don't know. But the final product isn't just as good as anything out there, it puts many contemporary releases to shame. So good that he's been hired to remix and remaster many classic albums such as In the Court of the Crimson King, Aqualung, and Tales from Topographic Oceans. He's done, or is working on the entire catalogs of Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant.

If you want some technical details, Sound on Sound did a writeup that should satisfy your curiosity. 

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It's hard to give any kind of technical contributions without A: hearing the material, and B: knowing the goal.

I could easily say "You want to strap a Linear Phase EQ over the master buss and boost 60Hz, and apply 2:1 ratio compression, correct the stereo image, and then add 6dB of limiting and dithering to 16 bit at the end of the chain" but what does that mean? How does that apply to anything?

Even knowing half of the picture isn't useful. If someone gave me a really open sounding jazz piece and I mastered it like a death metal release, it would be slammed to hell and sound awful. Understanding the goal is just as important as understanding the steps to get it there.

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That's my point- There are 1,000 of technical ways to get there and not one of them is to be agreed upon by all.

Mastering for me has been a life longquest and learning curve. I'm just faster at getting my mixes as close to correct than I used to be before  finding the right plug ins. 

I could listen to my very first albums ( clients) and go, that still sounds great.  For those as far as mastering goes all I had was the meters on the 2 track deck.  Turns out tape is forgiving.  The tapes were made in real time directly from a mixing console and I only owned 1 stereo compressor. There was no true mastering step other than splicing and adding bits of special leader tape. You had to organize the songs to fit evenly on the 2 sides of a cassette.  

In the mid 90's I had had my Yamaha 01v so now I had lots of compressors, eq, effects and best of all automation. This was driven by an Atari which also handled midi. I mastered to Sony DAT's, Mini Disk and later had a Philips CD recorder. These and the 01v has SPDIF  so analog ended at the input of the mixer. I'm almost INB. 

It took me until 2004 to finally by a PC and start using Cakewalk to record audio, up until then it was Yamaha MD8. I also had Wave lab 4 and that immediately became my mastering ( and re mastering ) tool. I still use it. 

Over the last 16 years I've had to experiment with different mastering chains but for the most part I would manually edit out all the spikes in the track and didn't really have a grasp on limiting and master bus compression. That's only been the last 4 years that I found the right limiter ( BT Brickwall) and multiband Compressor ( LP Multiband)  to give we the transparent results I was looking for. .

Another huge improvement and time saver I just started to use. Youlean meter.  I have always used Wave Lab to master using the  Analyzer to set my RMS levels and the peak  tool to look for overs and the spectral analyzer too . Now I'm loving the Youlean meter so I can now analyze a song in real time or with drag and drop. So I get there quicker. 

I record my originals strictly for my own enjoyment. I want them to sound great in my Truck and in my living room.  Beyond that I'm not that concerned. I master for CD not MP3. I batch convert to Mp3 and post stuff on soundcloud, etc and they seem to be ok  But because I am not planning on selling them I'm not mastering for that format.  I'm hoping to have all my songs done to video and thats even another mastering challenge. 

 

Edited by John Vere
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20 hours ago, bitflipper said:

If you want some technical details, Sound on Sound did a writeup that should satisfy your curiosity.

Thanks bitflipper. But unfortunately this article is about mix and remix. Not mastering,  that it is a completely different affair.

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OK, let's try a different approach then and make it relevant: Upload some unmastered music, and someone who does mastering could do an example master and explain their reasoning and method to get there. :)

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On 12/9/2020 at 7:54 AM, lapasoa said:

I expected some partecipations with more technical comments. Instead I've found much musical philosophy.

Every song is mastered differently with different effects and different effect settings.

The basic effects used for mastering are EQ, (stereo, left, right mid and side), compression and limiting. how they are used depends on what the song sounds like and how it was mixed and what deficiencies are in that mix.

Its an art just like paintings. Every painting uses different brushes, brush strokes, and colors. same goes for every single song.

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The meaning of mastering has changed over time. Mastering today is actually a way to tweak a mix for distribution or having a song fit the sonic average of other songs on a CD. In the past it was about being able to overcome the limitations of vinyl records. Its very possible that the need for "mastering" in the digital world is over emphasized and no longer needed. I think one needs to think long and hard about this question.  What is touted as mastering plugins for example are really a bunch of common plugins bundled together. Slapping the term mastering on a plugin is to me more about marketing than the real need to master.  

Its also interesting that a mix can be improved by "mastering" it. Though I still believe that the term is way overused and a really good mix is not really going to need mastering. 

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1 hour ago, John said:

The meaning of mastering has changed over time. Mastering today is actually a way to tweak a mix for distribution or having a song fit the sonic average of other songs on a CD. In the past it was about being able to overcome the limitations of vinyl records. Its very possible that the need for "mastering" in the digital world is over emphasized and no longer needed. I think one needs to think long and hard about this question.  What is touted as mastering plugins for example are really a bunch of common plugins bundled together. Slapping the term mastering on a plugin is to me more about marketing than the real need to master.  

Its also interesting that a mix can be improved by "mastering" it. Though I still believe that the term is way overused and a really good mix is not really going to need mastering. 

Am with you there John.

25 years ago  I recorded a few tracks in CPA9. In those days the FX that were available were basic midi stuff and some fairly decent (mainly 3rd party) reverb, chorus, compressors, flange, EQ (the usual suspects).  There wasnt any mastering stuff 'freely' available to my knowledge. And when I first started recording, to me, the mixing was the actual 'mastering'.

Now am not wishing to beat my own drum but the tracks I recorded back in those days,  I simply couldnt (or wouldnt ) want to hear them in any other way. They hold their own  (production-wise) with was available on CD at the time and as far as I am concerned as good as I want them to sound.

And I put this down to the fact that, as there were much fewer resources available at the time compared to now, I worked with a handful of processors and got to know them really well. I didnt have the plethora of plugins available today, didnt have any choices to make with the occasional resultant wrong choice, and just got stuck in mixing the songs to exactly how I wanted them.  And  I used a set of headphones that cost no more than £4. And they sound  absolutely fine on car stereos, CD players, MP3 players, active monitors, even smartphones. An additional problem is that having so many effects available can be tempting to use something unnecessarily and end up ruining what could have been a good recording.

A lot of commercial stuff that has been available over the last 3 decades has fallen foul of over-processing/mastering. To the extent that the vocals can be lost in it (this could be a sign of my failing hearing however).  Just an aside - I remember listening to songs on an old battery pocket radio with one very 'tinny' sounding  speaker.  And I will never forget when I bought the single Schools Out (Alice Cooper) and playing it on my stereo system at home. I couldnt believe there was an actual backbeat having only heard the cymbals and never having heard the bass guitar. Thankfully we arent recording for that era anymore and glad that the mono days are long gone!

Just out of interest does anyone know if mono recordings and early stereo recordings  mastered or simply just 'prepared' for radio/home systems?

 

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19 minutes ago, brandon said:

 

Just out of interest does anyone know if mono recordings and early stereo recordings  mastered or simply just 'prepared' for radio/home systems?

 

I'm not sure what you are asking.  If you mean what did DJs play it was often a record that you or I could buy. Other times it was a 12 inch record that was not easy to get for the home.  Nor could we play it.  later cassettes were used.  "Made for radio" has been thrown around for a while. It would depend on whether it was  AM or FM.  Both use compression but they can easily do that at the station.  Some FM stations in the past prided themselves on being HiFi and using only a very little compression. 

I can't say what if anything was done to records for radio play in the mastering process. I really doubt anything special was done. Also each station had its own way of broadcasting with often custom equipment.  

 

Comments from others would be very useful.  

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pretty sure most US radio stations used extensive amounts of compression, exaggerated EQ'ing, and limiting to maximize their impact on home listeners.  this was to overcome some of the limitations on the RIAA curves, and perhaps a few scaled it back for "audiophiles" (e.g. QXR NY classical music radio) but with the cost of the broadcast licensing, commercial competition, and lease rights on tall buildings, massive power consumption bills, etc radio stations definitely wanted to be the boldest, loudest, crankin'ist station. there are exceptions - some of the early FM stereo stations went as far as no commercials for several years with breaks only to announce their ID as required by the FCC. 

on topic -

some definitions and history of mastering:

https://www.izotope.com/en/learn/what-is-mastering.html

https://www.sonarworks.com/blog/learn/the-history-of-mastering/

some differences for vinyl vs. streaming:

https://www.sageaudio.com/blog/mastering/what-is-mastering-for-vinyl.php

https://www.sageaudio.com/blog/mastering/mastering-for-streaming-platform-loudness-and-normalization-explained.php

 

Edited by Glenn Stanton
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Mastering has always been the same, putting on any polish that's necessary to make things sound as good as they can. Which with a very good mix means almost  no polish at all.  Bit like photoshop - you pull the contrast a little, increase or decrease the saturation and so on, so your printed photo looks as great as it can be (which with a poor photo, will still be not so much). If the photo is truly great out of the box, you're just Instagramming it :D 

The specific ways have of course changed over time - just like once it was to choose the most appropriate paper for prints and now it's reduction of color space..
In audio,  back in the time for example part of that was to make sure it could fit in vinyl's dynamic range, which nowadays that 's no longer an issue  with digital releases.

Still, you need another pair of ears.

That's because what you can ear, you would fix in the mix. If you didn't fix it , it's because you couldn't hear it, for whatever reason. Mastering in the same room and by the same person who's done the mix is pretty pointless (well, you can always splat a limiter of course or these days calculate LUFS and move the master fader..)

As a mixing engineer, you don't need to find someone with special ears: just  competent, and different ears. Their monitoring (room included) must be at least as good as yours.

Personally, I send my mixes to a good mastering engineer, and invariably I can't really hear much difference when they come back, which is as it should be. Exactly because if I could hear the difference, I would have fixed it in the mix. By definition, what the mastering engineer fixes  is something I cannot hear, or don't know how to.

But I do occasionally master for other musicians (not as a job, but as a favor, as my interests lie elsewhere) and the process is nothing complex - mastering is far more "mechanical" in many ways than mixing, even if does require more accurate playback, fresh ears and sometimes a vision for the final product (but only if the mix is "vague", so to say). Just like photoshop!

Sometimes we have exchanged mixes among friends, mastering each other's - just to have fresh ears on someone else's unknown material. It can work very well, with people who know what they're doing.

In these cases my chain is always the same - obviously what links I use and how much. depends from the material.

A couple EQs with a minimum/linear phase option;  meters, scopes and other analysis tools, a multiband compressor with similar low phase shifts at crossovers; an exciter or an harmonics generator; a stereo toolbox, mostly  to mono-ize the low end; occasionally a tape machine emulation. It used to be a limiter, but these days is more often about an integrated LUFS tool  and an attenuator.  And of course for multiple tracks or CDs all the sequencing, breaks and metadata stuff.

Of course desperate mixes may need more, but desperate mixes are best sent back with a list of things to fix.  :)

Edited by Cristiano Sadun
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