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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Should I (the Artist) Attend The Mastering Session

Should I Attend The Mastering Session

Having the artist attend the session can often be useful for both parties, and make for effective and fast communication. However, it is not absolutely essential that the artist attends the session and it is commonplace that mastering sessions and communications are dealt with via FTP (file transfer protocol) and email/telephone respectively.

What If I Can’t Attend?

As mentioned, it is not essential that artist attends the mastering session. There are certain things that should be provided to the mastering engineer, however:

· The sequence – This is the song order of your album. There are many possible orders and this should be decided and given to the mastering engineer before the session.

· Notes – any questions and concerns you may have. For example, perhaps you feel one song is too quiet, or the vocal is not quite bright enough, or you want a warm and darker master. Let the mastering engineer know this, as he will otherwise take lead from what he is hearing and assume that it is the creative intention of the artist and producer.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Learning From The Artist

Learning From The Artist

When working on a science experiment, conducting a poll or doing anything creative there is always a danger in beginning the process with the conclusion already decided. Not only will initial prejudice skew the results but it will often get in the way of discovering something more meaningful than you could have imagined or anticipated.

Where art is concerned, we usually look for a strong sense of identity and conviction in the creators or participants, and there lies a paradox. My clients want me to have a strong idea of how I think their recording could sound (or in some cases should sound), yet there have been instances where my clients have a strong idea and I learn from them. Just last week a client instructed me to NOT add any high frequency equalisation. He didn't want his project to be articulated, or 'opened up'. The texture he was after was murky and purposely distant. This is certainly not a choice I would have made, however the result was rather stunning. It evoked a feeling of warmth and melancholy, and allowed for a sort of intrigue that wouldn't have been achieved without his instruction.

It behooves us to always keep our ears and minds open, and to listen for those little nuggets that might indicate meaning or serve as a catalyst for new ideas. It allows the producer or engineer to do something different and out of the ordinary... and when has creating really been a place for the ordinary?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cost and Value of Mastering

The Cost and Value of Mastering

What can one realistically expect to pay for mastering?

The range is huge and one tends to get what one pays for. Here is a good guide (for a 10-12 track record):

· $200-$300 - Cheaper options /mainly online

· $700-$2000 - An engineer with a fair amount of experience, and this usually allows for a full day in the mastering studio and a couple revisions.

· $2000 + - usually multiple days in the mastering studio, or one of the top mastering engineers around (Bob Ludwig, Doug Sax)

Fitting Mastering Into The Budget

Mastering is the final stage of the recording-making process, and it is by no means the least important. If one considers all the time that one spends making the record, the money for the recording, the mixing, hiring musicians, and the amount of CDs/downloads to be sold (etc), paying a little more for quality mastering amounts to not much extra cost per unit. One should try and budget for this at the beginning stages of the recording process, even though mastering is the final step!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Compression in Mastering (Part 3)

Welcome to Part 3: 'Compression' of the new video-blog series in which Jonathan Wyner of M-WORKS Mastering will be discussing various aspects of the mastering process. Let us know your thoughts, questions and opinions! Stay tuned for a new video and post next week.

Part 3 – Compression

How much compression to use?

Mastering engineers generally don’t use a lot of compression. If any compression is applied during the mastering process, it is usually very subtle. Low ratios (1.2:1 to 2:1) with high thresholds that yield around 2-3 dBs of gain reduction – at most – is common.

Compression and audio fidelity.

In an absolute audiophile sense: compression never sounds good! When compressing one loses depth, gains noise and loses dynamic range, all of which make a recording sound worse. To learn to use compression effectively, one should focus on whether it makes the music sound better. One needs to be able to differentiate between the music and the recording.

The idea of using compression – usually – is to reduce the dynamic range so as to make the different elements in an arrangement sound more clearly to the listener.

Should the mix engineer send a compressed or uncompressed 2-Mix?

If you are a more experienced mix engineer and/or you feel like you’ve got the compression sounding just how you want it, then print the mix with the compression and send it to the mastering engineer (M.E). Every compressor behaves and reacts differently, and those characteristic nuances that you (the artist and/or mixing engineer) have learned to love in the mix may not be so easily replicated by the M.E.

However, if you’re nervous that your compressor is ‘misbehaving’ or you are unsure whether you are using too much compression, it is a good idea to send two versions of the mix. Send the M.E the uncompressed mix and the compressed mix so that the he has it for reference. This way, the M.E will be able to decide if he can improve the uncompressed mix or work with your compressed mix and take it a step further!

Hope you enjoyed this. Please let me know your thoughts, and what you may like to see in future here on the blog.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Equalisation in Mastering (Part 2)

This is Part 2: 'Equalization' of the new video-blog series in which Jonathan Wyner of M-WORKS Mastering will be discussing various aspects of the mastering process. Let us know your thoughts, questions and opinions! Next week, compression.

Part 2: Equalization

Why were equalizers created?

Equalizers were invented to compensate for deficiencies in recording mediums (for example, to increase intelligibility over phone-lines). This idea of a corrective equalizer is very much at play in mastering.

An example is if a mixing engineer is perhaps mixing in an overly dull environment. In this case, he will produce overly bright mixes (to compensate). It is then the mastering engineer’s job to try and figure out the inverse EQ to get the mixes sounding more like the mix engineer thought they sounded.

To Cut? Or to Boost?

I think mastering engineers in general find themselves cutting more than boosting.

Listen for areas that sound cloudy, or that contain unpleasant harmonic content and don’t contain much of the fundamental frequency of the instrument. These areas can be gently and carefully carved out.

Older-style equalizers tend to have narrow-bandwidth cuts and broader-bandwidth boosts. This tends to sound better and is a safe, general rule to follow when EQ’ing.

Are there common areas you (the Mastering Engineer) find yourself working on?

There are no set-rules. However, if you find yourself doing the same thing for each master you work on – you may be compensating for a deficiency in your room/listening environment. So try be aware of this.

There are a few common areas that one can focus on, though:

· Usually some clearing out (cutting) can be done in the low-midrange (focus on the relationship with the bass and the vocal, or try to reveal the bass more clearly for example).

· Low-frequency information also tends to be a common area that requires attention at mastering (focus on the relationship between the kick drum and the bass, for example).

· Use small adjustments, and constantly check back with the original. The goal is simply to make the recording sound better! If you improve it, even slightly, then you are doing well!

Small EQ moves to make Big changes.

Most of the boosts and cuts that I am doing are no more than 0.5-1dB. The reasons for that are:

· You are working with a complex waveform that is a balanced recording. Thus, big changes are likely to alter the balance in a way that may not reflect the artist’s intention.

· An EQ filter sounds better – that is, it has less distortion and less ringing – if you use broad bandwidths (‘Q’s) and are making small moves (in dBs) with it.

So sometimes in mastering you will use up to 12 different EQ filters, but each one will be doing just a little bit. That is pretty typical of a mastering engineer’s use of an equalizer.

Join us next week for Compression!