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32 minutes ago, Cristiano Sadun said:

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 

 

That is simply not true. It is truer in the digital world to a very limited degree but not at all true in the time of vinyl records where the term was first used. 

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Towards the final stages of mixing I usually place a basic Ozone preset to the master out bus so I can hear what compression/limiter will do to the mix. I also play with that Ozone a little bit  to discover anything that needs to be improved in the mix. Jumping between presets can reveal issues as well. A good mix will sound great with almost any preset (like when playing through different speakers in different environments). I often find myself adjusting the low end tracks after hearing what Ozone is doing. Vocal tracks levels usually needs checking too.

Surely this all depends on genre. I make mostly (loud) pop and rock. With smoother music a good mix is propably closer to the desired end product if done carefully and loudness is less an issue.

Edited by lmu2002

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In the modern day and age in the digital world, there's a saying amongst those (myself included) that does everything themselves. It goes something like . . . 

MASTER AS YOU MIX So when it comes to the final product - you literally just have to glue everything together and crank that limiter.  There are guys so good at this, they hardly go through an EQ and Compressor at the end - only a limiter. 

This is all purely on personal taste, by what your control room/bedroom, environment, choices and monitors throw at you. 

Edited by Will_Kaydo

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As some of you may know, I've mastered hundreds of tracks over the years in a variety of musical genres, and even won an award for one of the classical recordings. I believe there are at least 20 viable ways to master any given piece of music, but the only one that's valid is the one that the artist likes because it furthers that person's particular artistic vision.

I had a project where a pianist had recorded an orchestral double-CD, and paid beaucoup bucks to have a top-level mastering engineer (whose name you would all recognize) master his music. He wasn't happy with the results and asked if I'd give it a shot.

I didn't know who had mastered it, and he wasn't aware of this person's stature...it was someone who was recommended to him. Long story short, he liked my mastering job much better. When I was asked him who mastered it originally, I was floored. But that doesn't mean I'm a better mastering engineer than the guy with a zillion platinum records on the wall. It means that I understood the music and the artist better, and was able to create a result that when it came out of the speakers, sounded like what he heard in his head.

Lately I've been doing "reconstructive" mastering on some Martha Davis's songs from the early 90s (mostly post-Motels solo projects). The songs are great, but they all had flaws that prevented their release, and the multitracks are long gone. Here's an example of what mastering can do.

One song had a drum machine where the producer had fallen in love with the sound, so the record sounded like an electronic kick drum piece with vocal accompaniment :). There was nothing I could do with EQ to fix the incredibly overbearing kick. However, I was fortunate to find an isolated instance of the kick in the intro. I created a track parallel to the stereo mix, dragged a kick into every place there was a kick on the stereo mix, flipped the kick track's phase, and adjusted the level to cancel enough of the kick to where it fell into place with the track.

On a jazz project, on one song the acoustic bass overwhelmed the stereo mix, and again, it was a situation where the original tracks were no longer available. I ended up doing frequency splitting, mid-side processing, and multiband compression to bring the bass into alignment with the rest of the track...and oh yes, it also had to be vinyl-friendly :). But ultimately, it sounded like I had just pulled the fader down on the bass track to where it sounded balanced with the rest of the music.

Mastering can involve a lot more than slapping dynamics on a mix and brightening it. FWIW I have retained one old school habit: to me, mixing and mastering are separate processes. Mixing is about creating the best balance of all the tracks. Mastering is about polishing that balance, and I do so long after the mixing is done, so I can bring a fresh perspective. But also, I still do albums. The songs have to work individually but also be a cohesive unit when played sequentially, and that's almost impossible to do unless you leave the mixing aside, and concentrate solely on mastering the songs. Also, a lot of my time spent mastering is sequencing tempos, key changes, and doing crossfades for transitions. That type of thing was a common responsibility of mastering engineers back in the days of vinyl.

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On 12/10/2020 at 11:42 PM, John said:

That is simply not true. It is truer in the digital world to a very limited degree but not at all true in the time of vinyl records where the term was first used. 

There's nothing I can think of about mastering vinyl that doesn't fit in that category - from how many songs you could fit to choosing the sequence to fit the changing FR of the medium the more you go towards the center (or, of course, realize a compromise with the artist's conceptual vision), to obviously adapting the song to the small dynamic range. All in the name of making stuff sound as good as it could in the medium.  It's not the same of course from a tooling point of view, but that was exactly my point..

Edited by Cristiano Sadun

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On 12/11/2020 at 9:49 PM, Will_Kaydo said:

In the modern day and age in the digital world, there's a saying amongst those (myself included) that does everything themselves. It goes something like . . . 

MASTER AS YOU MIX So when it comes to the final product - you literally just have to glue everything together and crank that limiter.  There are guys so good at this, they hardly go through an EQ and Compressor at the end - only a limiter. 

This is all purely on personal taste, by what your control room/bedroom, environment, choices and monitors throw at you. 

As Craig, I also think of the two stages as separate, and having as little as possible to do at mastering stage is always my objective, with both my own stuff and client's... but not opening an argument here: in the end of the day, what matters is what comes out of the speakers, not how you get there.

There's also to say that there are (very roughly, of course :) ) two classes of mastering engineers - people who  want to/like to/are paid for leave a sonic signature on a mix or an album, and people who don't.  If you give your mix to one of the former type, you will get back something that has, well, his/her sonic signature. If you give one to the  latter, you will get back your mix, as good as it can be without altering the sonics too much. I have the impression that many "names" in mastering (for how much such a thing exists) may be of the first type, but don't know as a fact ..

Edited by Cristiano Sadun

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On 12/11/2020 at 2:49 PM, Will_Kaydo said:

In the modern day and age in the digital world, there's a saying amongst those (myself included) that does everything themselves. It goes something like . . . 

MASTER AS YOU MIX So when it comes to the final product - you literally just have to glue everything together and crank that limiter.  There are guys so good at this, they hardly go through an EQ and Compressor at the end - only a limiter. 

This is all purely on personal taste, by what your control room/bedroom, environment, choices and monitors throw at you. 

I'm a member of this school of thought because I'm a do-it--yourselfer, and, for me, mastering begins with tracking.  It starts with choosing the right mic, preset, amp, plugin, drums, samples, instruments, arrangement, etc.  Get it as close as possible, but don't worry too much until the tracking is complete.  Then I do as much as I can in the mix to make it sound polished and balanced by treating the individual tracks and busses.  I then create a 24/48kz  mix without compression, but with  an image widener and EQ (to reduce mud) added in the master bus as needed.  After that, I run that mix through a limiter to get the volume at a commercial level and dither down to 16/44.1kz.  I don't disagree with any other method, it's just that this works for me and saves time, and it may work for other do-it-yourself artists.  It would be a different set of rules if working on someone else's material recorded in a different studio as mine. 

Edited by Lynn Wilson
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6 hours ago, Cristiano Sadun said:

There's also to say that there are (very roughly, of course :) ) two classes of mastering engineers - people who  want to/like to/are paid for leave a sonic signature on a mix or an album, and people who don't.

I pride myself on being the latter. An album isn't about me, it's about the artist.

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And I might add...mastering is a hopeless task. Tonight when doing a final reality check on a master, I listened over four different sets of "pro" headphones, two sets of speakers, and bluetooth in-ears. 

The mixes sounded similar in terms of balance, but the "mastering" sound very different on each one. Yes, I know that a good mastering job is supposed to translate over any system...but it probably won't translate the way you intended. If you can preserve the mix's balance over a zillion different systems committing sonic violence to your music, that's about all you can do.

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7 hours ago, Craig Anderton said:

And I might add...mastering is a hopeless task. Tonight when doing a final reality check on a master, I listened over four different sets of "pro" headphones, two sets of speakers, and bluetooth in-ears. 

The mixes sounded similar in terms of balance, but the "mastering" sound very different on each one. Yes, I know that a good mastering job is supposed to translate over any system...but it probably won't translate the way you intended. If you can preserve the mix's balance over a zillion different systems committing sonic violence to your music, that's about all you can do.

This makes so much sense. Every playback system has its own EQ curve. I guess when we hear that mastering needs to make it sound good on all systems, it actually means good on systems that are as flat as the monitoring system used to master and acceptable on all others. I see two main areas in mastering: sound level and EQ. It seems that sound level will translate well over any system and is pretty independent of the playback system, but EQ isn't.

Unfortunatly,  it may then mean that how we EQ in mastering, if it does not translate well on some system, may need to be changed for lesser/different systems. Which means that someone with a high quality/flat system close to ours may never hear how we first intended the song to sound. It's like we are going for the lowest common denominator here...

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7 hours ago, Jacques Boileau said:

I see two main areas in mastering: sound level and EQ. It seems that sound level will translate well over any system and is pretty independent of the playback system, but EQ isn't.

Remember, though, that EQ is an amplitude change - just in a specific frequency range. So for example, a bright sound's level won't translate over a system with sketchy high-frequency response.

A lot of people consider listening to music on a phone or tablet's speakers to be acceptable. But then you won't get any bass, and the average phone is optimized for speech frequencies. I guess that's good in one way, though, you'll hear the vocals properly :)

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On 12/11/2020 at 3:38 PM, Craig Anderton said:

One song had a drum machine where the producer had fallen in love with the sound, so the record sounded like an electronic kick drum piece with vocal accompaniment :). There was nothing I could do with EQ to fix the incredibly overbearing kick. However, I was fortunate to find an isolated instance of the kick in the intro. I created a track parallel to the stereo mix, dragged a kick into every place there was a kick on the stereo mix, flipped the kick track's phase, and adjusted the level to cancel enough of the kick to where it fell into place with the track.

On a jazz project, on one song the acoustic bass overwhelmed the stereo mix, and again, it was a situation where the original tracks were no longer available. I ended up doing frequency splitting, mid-side processing, and multiband compression to bring the bass into alignment with the rest of the track...and oh yes, it also had to be vinyl-friendly :). But ultimately, it sounded like I had just pulled the fader down on the bass track to where it sounded balanced with the rest of the music.

 

Izotope RX7 is perfect for these situations where the original stems or mixes aren’t available using their “Music Rebalance” plugin. It allows separate sliders for Vox, Bass, Percussion and Other on a Stereo mix.   I highly recommend it! 

Edited by Blogospherianman

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59 minutes ago, Blogospherianman said:

Izotope RX7 is perfect for these situations where the original stems or mixes aren’t available using their “Music Rebalance” plugin. It allows separate sliders for Vox, Bass, Percussion and Other on a Stereo mix.   I highly recommend it! 

i've used it to re-mix a very reverby video of a live band in a gym during a stationary bike exercise session - using de-reverb, then using the rebalance to essential extract each instrument (as much as possible) into separate audio files, then imported and mixed in CbB. each track sounds like it has some bleed through, and the de-reverb has to be used carefully to keep some high end. but overall was very successful. so whenever i have stuff that needs to be mixed, from a single source. it's possible to extract most of the instruments and then mix. also the re-balance itself is handy for small changes in the existing audio. cool stuff.

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On 12/13/2020 at 6:49 AM, Craig Anderton said:

And I might add...mastering is a hopeless task. Tonight when doing a final reality check on a master, I listened over four different sets of "pro" headphones, two sets of speakers, and bluetooth in-ears. 

The mixes sounded similar in terms of balance, but the "mastering" sound very different on each one. Yes, I know that a good mastering job is supposed to translate over any system...but it probably won't translate the way you intended. If you can preserve the mix's balance over a zillion different systems committing sonic violence to your music, that's about all you can do.

Yeah.. as I see it, the whole point of a mix is to delivery what  I call an "emotional payload"... the artist wants to convey a certain emotion (and possibly have the listener feel/react in a certain way) and you and the mixing/mastering engineer team wants to make sure that keeps happening over as many different playback situations as possible, from  a  large disco PA to a phone.  And yeah the balance is the most important thing... Say if the way you make the mix has the drums high to get a lot of excitement and energy, you don't want the drums to disappear or be overwhelmed on a mono phone speaker! 

But the sound itself is never gonna be the same , of course :)

Edited by Cristiano Sadun

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19 hours ago, Jacques Boileau said:

This makes so much sense. Every playback system has its own EQ curve. I guess when we hear that mastering needs to make it sound good on all systems, it actually means good on systems that are as flat as the monitoring system used to master and acceptable on all others. I see two main areas in mastering: sound level and EQ. It seems that sound level will translate well over any system and is pretty independent of the playback system, but EQ isn't.

Unfortunatly,  it may then mean that how we EQ in mastering, if it does not translate well on some system, may need to be changed for lesser/different systems. Which means that someone with a high quality/flat system close to ours may never hear how we first intended the song to sound. It's like we are going for the lowest common denominator here...

You really want to preserve the essence of the mix. A way I approach this is that since almost all playback devices worth being called that reproduce the midrange, you really want to make sure that your midrange has a mini-balance that works and keeps the essential elements of the mix intact.. all the rest, is a bonus. I just made a mix where the backing vocals and the tambourines/eggshaker get much less prominent in mono,  but the bass and kick keep being clearly heard even on an old Nokia phone speaker :) .. and that's alright because some elements are nice to have but aren't essential to the feeling of the song - whereas vox, snare, bass and kick can't be done without. 

So when in mono and on a heavily band-passed speaker, the song folds down nicely to its essence, and still delivers - while if you put it on a great playback system it blossoms with all the bells and whistles.

There's to say that lots of it is really in the arrangement, and it's a progressively harder task to pull off (for me at least) the more complex and dense the arrangement is. Most songs that translate best are - at any given moment - stripped down to a few basic sounds (which change over time of course). 





 

Edited by Cristiano Sadun
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