10 real mastering questions...

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Thomas W. Bethel, Jan 11, 2006.

  1. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    1. Do you compress before or after you EQ a song? and why?

    2. What is a good definition of a Mastering Engineer? in today's world.

    3. Is it better to have an all analog chain or an all digital chain or a combination of both when mastering and why. (obviously you have to have an A to D and D to A converter somewhere in the chain so I do not consider these as "digital" equipment) Why?

    4. What is a good definition of Mastering?

    5. Who are considered the 10 best mastering engineers in the US today? and why?

    6. What is your preferred way of working? Process on input or process on output? Why?

    7. What is the best over all DAW for mastering used by the most people for mastering? Is there anyone who is NOT using a DAW for mastering?

    8. When do you get involved in a project? only after the project is done or as the project is being done?

    9. What is your "normal" ratio of RMS to Peak and why?

    10. When doing mastering do you like to have the client in attendance or not and your reasons.

    Just some food for thought. I would be interested in hearing your views on these topics. Thanks in advance.
     
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Instead of answering these 10 questions sequentially (for now), I want to add a thought or two about the entire process and what it used to involve, what's expected of the ME nowadays.

    I remember when Mastering was primarily the art of getting a tape (regardless of the content - good or bad, technically speaking) onto vinyl. Back in the stone ages, the ME was regarded as the final link in the chain, working somewhere behind a lathe, with a lot of gear and equipment that we'd never see in a studio, and he/she had the final word on whether or not a recording was acceptable (usable) for making a record.

    Many times during a mix, someone at the recording studio would say: "Oh sure, it sounds great HERE, on such and such speakers, but what's going to happen to it when we give it to the record label? They're going to kill us about the (Fill in your favorite deal-breaker here: Too much bass, levels too hot for the running time, too much sibilance, etc. etc.)

    And lets not forget what happened sometimes when there would be no response at all, and the temp pressing would arrive sounding like someone sucked the very life out of it, with all kinds of mysterious changes that no one asked for. Even the genre itself could determine what kind of effort one got back from the mastering facility. (Classical vs. Jazz vs. pop vs rock.) One of the reasons why early rock pressings sounded so bad was that the ME's just didn't take it as seriously, didn't work with the studios (as they do now) and figured no one would care. (Just music for kids, right? ;-) )

    I remember reading articles and interviews with major players in the biz who'd talk about the moment of truth: The day the test pressings would arrive from the label. Sometimes it was great, many other times, it was WWIII between the band, the studio and the label to get it to sound right, before it went out the door to replication. Many times, mixes had to be redone in toto before it could be pressed properly. Lots of mixing engineers learned hard and embarassing lessons in those days, all because it had to be done with an eye/ear towards fitting it into the constraints of a vinyl master.

    Granted, there's much more interaction nowadays (as it should be) between mixing engineers and ME's, but it was almost a "black art" back then. Not everyone knew what would work and what wouldn't for getting it out onto vinyl. Look ahead limiters (via tape heads earlier in the path) were something we'd heard about, and no one was quite sure how the whole process worked. Right up until the dawn of the CD, there was always some new approach or technique to keep making the vinyl interface work better for those in the tape mixing world. The never-ending challenge of good gain and hot levels vs. playing time was rendered moot when the CD came out.

    Then the level wars started, and you can hear the results all over the place. To oversimplify things: Mastering went from fitting analog tape recordings onto vinyl to getting the hottest, loudest sounds onto a disc for insecure clients. (Ok, that's a bit harsh, but you get my drift. ;-)

    But really, Mastering has entered an entirely new era since DAW's and CDs in general. No longer do we have to keep the bass freq's in the middle to keep the needle in the groove (but it's still a good idea sonically anyway), and no longer does anyone really worry about excessive panning or motion within the sound field. (Taste notwithstanding!)

    I'm very interested in reading replies to your list, Tom. There's a new Mix magazine resource guide with pages and pages of ME's and facilities listed all around the country and the world. I wonder what separates the tinkerers from the pro's nowadays, and I wonder what their mission statement is, beyond "hotter, louder, bigger and badder". I'm sure there are many out there that want to do the absolute best for their clients and their material.

    As for having clients present, I like to have a couple of choices done already, should they want to be there for the final versions, and play them the various options. Even better, I like to send them something ahead of time as proofs/temps, and let them live with them for a while, before we have to do any drastic re-do's.

    As for which software I use for Mastering: It's Sequioa all the way here, most of my clients are Jazz, Classical, Vocal, orchestral, choral, opera, etc.

    Sorry if I hijacked your thread, I'm looking forward to reading all the responses coming in.... :cool:
     
  3. I am pretty sure you know the answers to this Tom, but here is another perspective for you.

    1. Do you compress before or after you EQ a song? and why?

    Depends on the song and artists wishes whether they need the eq on the dynamics or to iron out trouble spots. No rules..but if the tracks are far from level, eq before the fact works better. Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good.

    2. What is a good definition of a Mastering Engineer? in today's world.


    Anyone in the engineering stage, after the mixdown who helps the artist make their product consumer ready. Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good.



    3. Is it better to have an all analog chain or an all digital chain or a combination of both when mastering and why. (obviously you have to have an A to D and D to A converter somewhere in the chain so I do not consider these as "digital" equipment) Why?

    Depends on the budget of the client. All 3 methods can yield high quality. I usually use a combination of both. Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good.


    4. What is a good definition of Mastering?

    ..To take a professional format and convert it to a consumer format To have a second set of unbiased ears and more precision equipment involved with your project. Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good.


    5. Who are considered the 10 best mastering engineers in the US today? and why?

    I have no clue. Depends on what the artists think of the translation(s). All have done things differently than I would have and some have done things better than I could..at the time. Depends on who is easiest to work with for you. Whoever it takes to please the client, they are good.


    6. What is your preferred way of working? Process on input or process on output? Why?

    Process both. I don't want to limit my techniques. Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good.


    7. What is the best over all DAW for mastering used by the most people for mastering? Is there anyone who is NOT using a DAW for mastering?

    Samplitude/Sequoia would be my first choice for DAW. 1/2" and Console for analog with outboard processing. I use both..however I do not have sequoia, and use samplitude. I have used Wavelab, it is a decent player/editor. I usem whatever tools from experience to please the client.

    8. When do you get involved in a project? only after the project is done or as the project is being done?

    I get involved as soon as the client wishes. If they have mix questions, they are asking for my involvement. Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good.


    9. What is your "normal" ratio of RMS to Peak and why?

    Song dependant. Classical opera -26/-17. Metal -16/-13 Pop -18/-15 Jazz -21/-17

    Song and 'artist intentions' dependant.

    Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good. I will not give them crappy sound. I will pass it off to another engineer first.


    10. When doing mastering do you like to have the client in attendance or not and your reasons.

    If they can show up, I love them being in attendance. If not, I am on my own using experience, email information, phone and critique as a guide.
    Whatever it takes to please the client, I am good.


    Just some food for thought. I would be interested in hearing your views on these topics. Thanks in advance.

    Well..my views are CERTAINLY not mainstream..so I have nothing to add to this thread.

    It is ALL about pleasing the client. It is not about US..it is about Them.
     
  4. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Well-Known Member

    Often times the Client is not the artist but the label. And many labels want something different from what the artist wants and sometimes that's NOT the best possible quality.

    So, will do what it takes to please the client even if it means producing a "bad" final product?
     
  5. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    Unfortunetely, for several ME's it is the way to go cause ART is relative (bad for someone might be good for someone else) and the SCIENCE part of it takes the 2nd row. In the other hand, it is hard to compose with ART and the business side at the same time imo.
     
  6. Hardtailed

    Hardtailed Guest

    Not to hi-jack the thread, but I find this very interesting (especially JoeH's and Balanced Mastering's posts) and I'd like to add one little question:

    11- EQ-wise, do you find a trend in the kind of "corrections" you need to make? Like mix engineers/artists putting too much low-end, or high-end or something like it. Are there common "mistakes" that you need to fix?

    I've noticed that ever since the loudness war started, more and more it seems that we have to mix differently to get to those levels. I mean, I'm not a ME, I just use Waves' L2 to get higher levels so the guys in my band don't complain it's too quiet :roll: , but I've noticed I have to put the drums lower in the mix, and make the kick much more "clicky" and less deep, else it dominates the limiter and makes the whole mix "pump" a lot. I've noticed the same trend in professionnal recordings, they sound brighter and brighter and guitars are turned up (a distorted guitar doesn't have much dynamic range so it's easy to make it loud) and drums down (too dynamic...).

    Anyway, great info so far.
     
  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Tom!

    I'll answer your questions chronologically. Since you took the time to write them, I'll answer them. My hopes are that some of the big dudes on the forum can critique my answers and maybe I'll learn something...

    1. Depends on the mix. Generally, I tend to EQ after compression since I use EQ to effect frequencies more than I do to alter the effects of the compressor. However, when necessary, I will EQ pre compressor and monitor carefully from there.

    2. One who has mastered the balance between POP culture's needs/desires and that which is "technically correct" by our standards.

    3. Whatever it takes. I don't mind converting from D to A then back to D. However, I try to do it in a manner which makes sense. I'm not going to come out into analog to compress, go back to digital to EQ and then back to analog to limit then finally back to D. (Though, if I had to, it wouldn't kill me. I'd just prefer not to.) Personally, I like rackmount gear. Whether it's analog or digital, I really don't care (err, I do, but I'm not a snob on one side or the other of that fence.) I simply like the tactile feel of twisting a knob and getting a result. It feels more organic and thus, to me, more real.

    4. That's a tough one. I guess the answer must start with, "First, do no harm." From there, I guess good mastering would be the art of elevating an already good work to the status of great. Not painting the Mona Lisa, but framing it properly.

    5. Beats the hell out of me. I wish I knew more of them than I do, but I think it's obvious in this business who is on top.

    6. Hell, that's an essay question there. Okay, here goes:
    *Load in - whatever it takes to load in (DAT/CDR/HD whatever)
    *Listen - get a feel for the disc, the flow, the style, the vibe
    *Check the meters - make sure everything is correct - bit rate/sample rate/clocking info/levels/etc
    * Find the anchor song - the one song that seems to drive the album (Ants Marching for DMB)
    * Make judgement call on what I need to do to enhance the work. Listen for bass, percussion, vox,etc. Make sure it all sits right. If not (and usually not quite), that's where I start.
    * Set up my DAW patchbay
    * Set up my Hardware patchbay
    * Monitor adjustments in real time
    * Test basic settings on all tracks and make notes as to what is different sounding on each track (more bass on #4, too much cymbal on #5, etc)
    * If the client is available, I have them listen and audition changes
    * Print the track
    * Do all of the above for each track
    * Load out
    * Print TOC for client
    * Print bill for client

    7. Well, I dig Sequoia. I like the workflow, I like the object based editing, I like the 4 point cuts and I like the virtual mixer (works like a real mixer heaven forbid!)

    8. Whenever the client hires me. I prefer to do a whole project, but it doesn't always happen that way.

    9. No such thing. I've given up looking at meters - they bother me. I mix at a constant level. If something sounds out of kilter, I adjust it. Too loud, or too squished, I back down the gain or the limiter (whichever is offending most) If it's too quiet or peaks are too much, I reach for the limiter.

    10. It depends. Some clients are great. They understand the process and it's a joy to complete the project with them there. Other clients are real pains in the ass. They don't see why you need to do anything but make it loud as hell (square wave form...) and then send them packing, when in reality, the vox is buried, the bass is booming and the drums are all over the place.

    Now, please all you giants of mastering, tear me apart. I'm in this forum to learn. I am your clay; mold me.

    J.
     
  8. iq

    iq Guest

    Hi Tom,

    A little voice from me... ;)

    1. Do you compress before or after you EQ a song? and why?

    EQ -> comp -> EQ, I feel some bands would be more open sounding just after or before comp.


    2. What is a good definition of a Mastering Engineer? in today's world.

    Man that responsible of the final album quality...


    3. Is it better to have an all analog chain or an all digital chain or a combination of both when mastering and why. (obviously you have to have an A to D and D to A converter somewhere in the chain so I do not consider these as "digital" equipment) Why?

    Both IMO, analog processor good in dynamic domain, digital processor is good in freq domain ( FYI, I'm a subtract EQ guy)


    4. What is a good definition of Mastering?

    Good in sense of dynamics, freq response, and freq range


    5. Who are considered the 10 best mastering engineers in the US today? and why?

    I'm pretty sure there are sooooo many good ME around the world. Including you, Michael, and the rest of forumer here.. But so far I only heard from these 3 bees : Bob Ludwig, Bernie Grundman, Brian Gardner.


    6. What is your preferred way of working? Process on input or process on output? Why?

    Both, I captured my analog process, and then retouch inside daw.
    Why? because it's easier to revise later...


    7. What is the best over all DAW for mastering used by the most people for mastering? Is there anyone who is NOT using a DAW for mastering?

    For me, WL is superb and easy... I know there's a lot of daw prog ie: sequoia, sonic solution etc2.
    But I think, the sonic gears are the main thing. Daw just a record/playback device... IMVHO


    8. When do you get involved in a project? only after the project is done or as the project is being done?

    Depends, sometimes I mix 'em before I master. Or record and mix and master, but the last one is very rare... Sometimes I just mastering something new and fresh...


    9. What is your "normal" ratio of RMS to Peak and why?

    -9 to -8dBrms (wavelab).
    Why? Most of my clients feel comfortable and confident with this level... Me too,..


    10. When doing mastering do you like to have the client in attendance or not and your reasons.

    Depends, sometimes I feel it's good to work alone... but sometimes I feel it's great to have the client attending the session...

    Cheers,

    Indra Q
     
  9. oakman

    oakman Guest

    Compression and limiting on mixdown seems to be very common. I find that when I EQ first, it puts some dynamics back in the mix. Then I cut the nasty peaks off with limiting.

    Am I way off?
     
  10. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member


    Are you an engineer at The Box by chance? I know a guy up there. :)
     
  11. oakman

    oakman Guest

    No. Not in radio, except for the concert ads I make. I have a studio in brentwood.
     
  12. jdsdj98

    jdsdj98 Active Member

    How's the bus coming along, oakman?
     
  13. oakman

    oakman Guest

    I hurt my back real bad, so I haven't done a single thing on the bus all winter. Also, the studio business has been extremely busy, so I just haven't had any free time on my hands. After a year's worth of treatments, I'm feeling a lot better now. Gonna' get busy on her again in the next month.

    Poor old girl. She wants to roll. 8)
     
  14. DeeDrive

    DeeDrive Active Member

    1. Do you compress before or after you EQ a song? and why?

    Always EQ before compression, removing unwanted frequencies (especially bass) before compression gives you tons more headroom for compressing. This is of course assuming your client wants his material squashed all to hell, which is usually the case for rock music.
     
  15. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    A little late but... here we go:

    1. Do you compress before or after you EQ a song? and why?

    A: Most of the time EQ (digi and/or analog) first and for minor touch up, I could use some after in digtal.

    2. What is a good definition of a Mastering Engineer? in today's world.

    A: Experienced, music first and able to understand what the clients want or need.

    3. Is it better to have an all analog chain or an all digital chain or a combination of both when mastering and why. (obviously you have to have an A to D and D to A converter somewhere in the chain so I do not consider these as "digital" equipment) Why?

    A: I do not believe that you need an all analog or digital but just using what the mix/music needs.

    4. What is a good definition of Mastering?

    A: Music that has been approved by a audio professional before mass replication.

    5. Who are considered the 10 best mastering engineers in the US today? and why?

    A: Too many.

    6. What is your preferred way of working? Process on input or process on output? Why?

    A: Most of the time, on the input. Output for touch-up or revisions if possible.

    7. What is the best over all DAW for mastering used by the most people for mastering? Is there anyone who is NOT using a DAW for mastering?

    A: The best? I don't know. I like Samplitude (80%) and Wavelab (20%).

    8. When do you get involved in a project? only after the project is done or as the project is being done?

    A: When the project is being done at 95% of the time.

    9. What is your "normal" ratio of RMS to Peak and why?

    A: Depends the style but in general it is between -12dB and -10dB RMS. Sometimes -8 dB if I could'nt convinced the client ;-)

    10. When doing mastering do you like to have the client in attendance or not and your reasons.

    A: Atttended preffered for practical reasons.

    Cheers.
     
  16. bblackwood

    bblackwood Active Member

    Compression post EQ. Rarely find that EQ post compression achieves what I can achieve otherwise.
    Someone who has the experience, room, and gear to help you achieve the goals for your art.
    Analog does some things better, digital does some things better. The best chains have some of both.
    Whatever helps the artist achieve their goals for their art.
    Ludwig, Sax, Gardner, Jensen, Marino, Weinberg, Marc*ssen. Grundman, Coyne and Schreyer. Not my 'top 10', but rather what I perceive to be the 'public's' top 10.

    Because they bill the most and the perception is that that equates best.
    Process on load in. I'm old-school and I find load-out to be a non-committal way of working. Loud-out makes you work more towards homogeny than for each track to sound its best, imo.
    Sequoia, ime. I've used the big three at one time or another (as well as some of the lesser known ones) and it has all the options I need and helps me work efficiently.
    I don't like to hear it until it's mixed and ready for mastering.

    "You only hear it the first time once."
    I have no idea, I only use VU meters (and a Mytek DDD603).
    No real preference, though i am more efficient when alone.
     
  17. JerryTubb

    JerryTubb Guest

    Why hello Thomas, fancy meeting you over here.... MTCW:

    1. I've got an EQ on both sides of the compressor. Pre for corrective work (and contour), and Post for extra shaping and color. Sometimes I'll use two EQ's on the Pre side and one on the Post compression side... I just like fiddlin' with lots of EQ knobs... although a Real Man oughta be able to get the job done with one EQ, pre-compression.

    2. Someone who specializes in Mastering, with LOTS of Experience.

    3. The "best of both worlds" is my approach. 99% of the time, nothing sounds as good as a great Analog EQ and Compressor... maybe even some Tubes, or Tape... something about Physical Reality as opposed to Mathematical Simulation... but Digital is so precise and convenient, and it's the delivery medium we use.

    4. The final creative step in audio, applied with technical expertise and musical sensitivity, to best benefit the project.

    5. Doug Sax, Bob Ludwig, Bernie Grundman, Glenn Meadows, Ted Jensen, Dave Collins, Howie Weinberg, George Marino, Greg Calbi, Stephen Marcussen, Brian Gardner, and honorable mention Bob Katz on the strength of his book. I'm sure I've probably left someone off the list by accident.

    6. Process on Input, rather than Output, if those conventions still hold true... is Both a valid answer?

    7. Geeze, tough question... ten years ago I would have said Sonic or Sadie... but the shape of the bubble has changed with the newer technology. I'm using Pro Tools HD7 to print, and WaveBurner 1.2 to burn Masters. But that just suits my peculiar idiosyncratic way of working. I know you PC guys like Wavelab, Samplitude, and Sequoia.

    8. Once in a blue moon I'll swing by a studio and preview a project while it's being mixed, but not too often. It's nice to see other people work, and reminds me of just how much work goes into cutting and mixing a record. .. a good reality check.

    Sometimes folks send me a mix disc to check a few days before to make sure it's "OK".

    Most of the time I hear the music for the first time at the beginning of the mastering session... something about the spontaneity of that approach, I like.

    Occasionally you can get into a real mess by waiting to the last minute to preview the music. Something might sound really bad, and if there's no time for a remix, you just gotta hammer it out the best you can... or refuse the gig and lose a client.

    9. I never thought about that until I started reading the forums about a year ago, just did it by ear. But since then, I've noticed I generally keep the RMS level between 10dB and 14dB depending on the music.

    IMO this stuff that's printed at 6-8dB is too squashed... just stupid. Yes it makes quite an impact on first impression, but tires the ear very quickly. ...a visual analogy, it's like sittin' at the front row at the movie theater.

    10. I usually enjoy attended sessions, unless people get really obsessive, manic, or wasted. Attended sessions help you to get to know people and build client relationships... and maybe even make friends.

    Unattended sessions can go much more quickly, since it's more casual and there's no conversation to distract you. But if there's a question that comes up, or a unforeseen decision that needs to be made by the producer, you have to rely on telephone, e-mail, sending mp3's, or reference discs overnight... unless they've got FTP access. Revisions can delay a project a few days... when deadlines and budgets are running out.

    And working alone most of the time, could drive someone a little mad I think... unless they take a lot of time for social contact otherwise.

    Cheers
     
  18. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Jerry and Brad- Good to see you here!
     
  19. Cminus

    Cminus Guest

    there are really no defined rules, i usually use a great room crappy and killer speakers to a/b and my most important peace of gear i own. my ears.
    8)
     

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