All about producing and mastering audio for disc, the web and beyond

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Automated mastering

For the last couple of years we've been hearing about automated mastering coming into the marketplace.  It seems like a direct path from sophisticated meters, to software presets to 'smart software'.  As tools evolve there's the potential for good use, and abuse.


This in response:

We tried (insert name of online automated mastering service here) and had some clients do the same.  Based on the result thus far, no one I know is taking it seriously.  It's not the fault of the processing but rather the lack of good context within which to make mastering decisions.  Sadly this condition exists in many a basement 'mastering' environment too.  Bad acoustics and lack of practice can yield results as bad as automated mastering.  (In fact I would assert it may be worse when a person is involved)

Don't blame the tools.

We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Many companies are creating tools for analyzing audio that can help guide us to good solutions more quickly than we can on our own.  That's part of the same evolution that brings us automated mastering.  

In my view, it's a question of how the answers and decisions are arrived at.

I think the biggest problem we face is in marketing.  If a company makes great software tools (and they may well indeed) and then claims that the software can make you sound like Bob Clearmountain (and they never can), we have a problem.  Marketing departments are eager to help customers understand how they can help contribute to a meaningful difference in the work of all people involved in creative acts of music making.  The majority of customers out there don't have a good grasp on the process of mastering (or mixing or production) and so they don't understand nuance, subtlety and they way great records are made....and messages that include these ideas are often lost on the great unwashed masses. do we address the problem?  In my view, by educating the customer/artist/producer/etc....and by educating ourselves.  That seems like the best way to build a bridge to understanding that we are all collaborating toward the same goal.  Making great music and/or recordings to help us achieve our various goals.

It is for this reason that I have become involved with Berklee and most recently with iZotope.

My two cents -

M Works Mastering - Chief Engineer
iZotope - DIrector of Education
Berklee College of Music - Associate Professor

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Looks like we may, finally, at long last, be turning the corner

Ever since 1983 and the ascendance of the CD, we've all been waiting for the next big thing, the next format.  Something that was easier, used less plastic, sounded better, was more immersive.  Something that made us feel even more of the music.

There have been plenty of new characters appearing on the horizon.  SACD, DVD Audio, Audio on DVD discs, Pur Audio/Blu Ray.....but each of them was slain by one dragon or another.  Whether the misguided attempts to copy protect (SACD), or the reliance on an expensive and arcane authoring and manufacturing system, each has largely been relegated to a niche market.

All the while the 44.1k/16 bit leviathan kept lumbering on.

Well finally...>FINALLY we seem to be moving on.  It's not a single format that's doing the trick, but an amalgam of established and new formats that offer enough high and higher fidelity delivery to consumers that we are gradually surpassing the CD as the singular preferred delivery.

The modern paradigm includes:

Loudness normalized streaming (iTunes radio)
Blu Ray Audio
Surround Audio embedded in html5 web streams
Higher fidelity standard iTunes with Soundcheck enabled
HD Tracks
2L Records
Bandcamp allowing PCM downloads.....

and this is just the beginning.  The pipe gets ever wider into the consumer's ear and the reason to compress data gradually disappears.....

Now I deliver 24 bit files to clients as a matter of course....and more of them want the 88.2/96k versions.

I think we're turning the corner.  The end of the peak normalized era is around the corner.  Putting Youtube out of the music delivery business would be a HUGE step in the right direction.  At least getting them to buy into ATSC/85 - BSS 1770.3 ....That will take some time.

We're finally getting somewhere folks.  I'm looking forward to a future full of immersive music!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Alex Psaroudakis in the house!

We are thrilled to announce that after many successful years mastering in Barcelona Alex Psaroudakis has joined M Works in Boston.  His work is second to none and Alex has been winning mastering shootouts left and right. We look forward to having Alex make the world sound better right here at M Works for years to come - sorry about the weather Alex!!! :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Book is out, and landing page is ready so...

Audio Mastering: Essential Practices is now on the shelves of the internet near you.  I sincerely hope some find it interesting and informative.  I've attempted to give some perspective on what mastering is (at least as I see it).  In my mind it isn't mysterious, or magical, but it IS a discipline that requires practice and understanding.  This is my contribution to help point people in the direction towards all the above.

If you are willing, I would be pleased to have reviews posted on Amazon and elsewhere and happy to receive feedback.

Here's a short introduction

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dynamic Range Day 2013 - What is Loud?

Once again the folks from the Dynamic Range Day website are doing the good work to make people aware of the damage done by applying hyper-compression and limiting to audio mixes, and reminding everyone that they have a level control on their playback system! I applaud those efforts. To that end there are changes in playback tools and platforms that result in a ‘level playing field’ when it comes to matching level of various material. Those changes will require mix engineers to re-evaluate their work and reconsider what goes into making a track sound ‘good and loud’. Back in the day, before the advent of the digital limiter, it was awfully clear who was good at making loud records. Hypercompression was obvious and brickwall limiting sounded terrible. I suspect we’re heading back in that direction so to that end, here’s a video with a brief overview of the subject. There’s much more to be said of course….. What makes a mix good and loud?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thanks to iZotope

My good friends and allies at iZotope care about making great tools to make great music. To that end they keep working at improving the products they create. They also are committed to education. They educate themselves about what is important to the professional production community, they are keenly focused on understanding best practices and making sure that the tools they develop honor those. They also offer knowledge freely to their users and that's where we come in.

In the course of working for almost 30 years as a mastering engineer I have developed my own perspective on the practice and had the good fortune to be able to teach at Berklee College and and also write about it. When iZotope asked if I would help them refine some of the online resources on the topic I jumped at the chance and so, today iZotope is releaseing the new improved mastering guide. It's a free document that gives some tips on using their tools but more to the point, some good starting point information about how to think about using the tools to accomplish the task of mastering. These perspectives are generally applicable, not applying only to iZotope's Ozone.

I gratefully acknowledge a few of my mastering brethren who were gracious enough to offer some bits of wisdom that are included in the document: Scott Hull, Greg Calbi, Adam Ayan, Bob Ohlsson, Marc Dieter-Einstmann and Michael Romanowski.

You can find the guide and the announcement by following this link:

I hope you enjoy....and stay tuned for my book on mastering coming in May via Berklee Press/Hal Leonard.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

No news for so long

Well it has been busy beyond belief. I'm not usually one for hyperbole but in this case I really mean it. Fortunately all this business is starting to bear some fruit. Two upcoming items: I shot a video for iZotope offering some tips and perspective to the DIY crowd.  I got a little help from a few of my mastering brethren namely:

Scott Hull
Adam Ayan
Bob Ohlsson and
Marc Dieter Einstmann

I also helped iZotope re-write and reorganize their online mastering guide and

 lastly but not leastly,

my book is coming out in May, published by Hal Leonard via Berkleepress. More news as each of these moments goes by. Needless to say it's pretty exciting!