Being Honest - Defining Mastering in a Commercial Environment

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Jeemy, Mar 10, 2011.

  1. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    Thought you guys might be interested in reading this. We've had a little disagreement based on between how we advertise to prospective clients, and how we advise genuine clients who we have an interest in ensuring their product is the best it can be.

    The former are faced with a multitude of misleading advertising, and the latter deserve honesty.

    This is the first draft of a document where I outline amongst all our staff how we advertise and advise on mastering.

    I'd be grateful if anybody could point out anywhere they think I am misinformed or misleading as I don't have any intention of creating an unfair ethos, simply need to deal effectively with competitors yelling 'we can master' at my clients where me stating honestly 'we can't' isn't a fair representation of the truth.


    There is a lot of confusion about mastering in general and XX thinks that XX & XX disagree with me - in fact we are all on the same page, and this is that page.

    This is our policy on mastering.


    Every other man & his dog advertises themselves as a mastering studio. Therefore I feel so do we (this is the place where I think XX thinks we disagree).

    I've mastered albums for a band to a perfectly acceptable level just using Waves. We've bought and paid for L1 and associated bits, so I think we are entitled to use it for commercial gain especially as people are using T-Racks and claiming the same benefits. Since the last time I was asked to master audio (and I made it perfectly clear what I could and couldn't do) we've invested in the Buzz SOC1.1, the Manley Massive Passive, the Sebatron preamps (useful for adding tube warmth across a tube bus) and better clocking, amongst others. Our 2-channel system is therefore rising in relevance.

    While I am always limited on space, I like to use the words world-class in reference to our equipment, because it is as good as anything else in the World.

    However we do not offer world-class mastering. What we actually offer is (my terminology and one that is increasingly used in the recording community) FINALIZING.

    So for advertising, we can use the words MASTERING STUDIO and if they end up on the same line as WORLD CLASS then that doesn't hurt us.

    However the distinction is that although we can Master audio to a generally acceptable level, your Mix studio should not be the same as your Mastering Studio.


    I define in simple terms, the difference between a mix and a mastering studio as this - a mixing studio spends its £100,000 equipment budget on 16-32 channels or thereabouts. A mastering studio spends £100k on 2 channels.

    Therefore a dedicated and true mastering studio can offer a far higher level of experience and equipment to be brought to bear on finalizing a 2-channel stereo mix.

    The finalizing part is what most bands consider mastering to be - evaluating 4-10 stereo tracks in a good listening room, ensuring they fit in terms of coherence*, and bringing them up, musically, to a comparable listening level and power/strength/punch as other comparable tracks.

    Overlooked in mastering is the format and conversion aspect together with any reparative EQ or FX which can be performed to a general rule at higher sample rates and bit depths, from more widely varying audio formats.

    *coherence is especially relevant where tracks have been worked on in two or more mix studios before the final album is brought to bear. This practice is related mainly to internationally collaborating artists and therefore outwith our ken.

    If coherence is overlooked by virtue of the fact audio has been produced in our studio or is coming as lossless digital media (by far the most prevalent) then we are equipped to perform the finalizing part of the work.


    This is text that should be sent, spoken or reworked and published, for the attention of any client contemplating using us to take them from instrumental performance to recorded media.

    Although we advertise as a mastering facility as part of our overall abilities, it should be noted that the ability to do this comes from a full understanding of the term. If you wish us to both record, mix and master for you we would respectfully point out that the 'mastering' part of the process should by its nature be performed by a secondary facility, one that has committed the bulk of its investment to dealing with 2-channel stereo final mixes rather than 16-32 channel multitrack audio.

    The statement above should make it clear that such a facility would obviously have greater power to manipulate audio with an upper limit of 2 tracks.

    However there is a great prevalence of freelance amateurs or semi-professionals professing to offer full mastering service without having actually built a dedicated mastering studio.

    Therefore in deference to those studios who have actually invested in a proper mastering facility we prefer to term our service 'finalizing'.

    We offer a treated and acoustically neutral listening space with a quality monitoring chain to enable excellent evaluation of final tracks. Using extremely high quality 2-bus outboard effects including the Manley Massive Passive Equalizer, the Buzz SOC1.1 optical compressor, hte Lexicon PCM70, and combining these with high-level digital audio processing including the Waves suite, we are able to take your final mixed tracks and polish them to a commercial level.

    This process includes an overall EQ evaluation to ensure coherence across the album or single, compression without artifacts where necessary to raise overall perceived volume, hard limiting to bring audio to a -0.3dB cap, and UV22 dither to produce digital media which will output to CD with the best possible transversion from multitrack to 2-track audio. All of this processing can be done at 96kHz 32-bit floating point in the digital domain with analog interconnects using the very highest quality Canare cable and RME A/D/A conversion. We also offer digital-to-tape-to-digital if tape authenticity is considered part of your ethos but final product will be digital.

    In the real world this equates to the best service an artist on a limited budget could hope for. However if budget permits we would always suggest engaging a seperate house to master your audio. If you wish to use Verden for both mixing and mastering we would recommend engaging a seperate engineer to offer a fresh pair of ears, and for band members to participate in the evaluation by means of a comparitive analysis of audio on as many different mediums as possible - i.e. taking detailed notes while comparing tracks in car stereos, mono radios, cheap transistor and high-level surround systems. We obviously own all these systems and will provide informed opinion.
  2. SASman

    SASman Active Member

    Jan 16, 2008
    London UK
    Home Page:
    Hi there, your gear list has lots of mics, etc, being honest what are you specializing in?

    Recording, Mixing or Mastering, 3 different fields which you could spend a lifetime working on to become expert at. By "finalizing" you have largely cretaed a file which is no longer possible to "master" so it's nonsense, just call it mastering.

    Out of interest what do you plan to charge for your services?

    Good luck nonetheless.

    SafeandSound Mastering
    audio mastering
    mastering services
  3. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    Finalizing is done by a plug in or a piece of equipment. It is also done in programs like Wavelab. It is NOT mastering by any stretch of the imagination. It is a function not a creative process. If you are going to call your process something I would say call it "trial mastering" as that is what you are offering a client. It is not "real" mastering nor is it finalizing.

    These two sentences are hard for me to accept...

    While I am always limited on space, I like to use the words world-class in reference to our equipment, because it is as good as anything else in the World.

    However we do not offer world-class mastering. What we actually offer is (my terminology and one that is increasingly used in the recording community) FINALIZIN

    "World class" equipment does not in and of itself mean it is a World Class Studio. It means you have excellent equipment. The World Class part comes from your experience level and your clientele who also have to be "world class".

    I really think you need to come up with a better word than "Finalizing".

    MTCW and YMMV

    Best of luck in your endeavors.
  4. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    @SASMan: what we specialize in is doing what our clients want - this is from walking into the studio to walking out, for us to hand-hold them along that path so they can walk out with a CD of their music that they consider 'finished'. This includes in many cases providing decent guitar amps, and a drumkit for them to play on, my clients have an extremely limited budget. Recording and mixing would therefore be two completely inseperable processes (as it is in most studios). While mastering would be something we would advise upon, and advise to go out of house, they would never be able to afford it.

    I don't have the luxury of choosing to specialise only in recording only, or mixing only, I would go out of business and my staff would lose their jobs.

    As regards charging, we've been in business 8 years and sadly prices haven't changed much in those 8. I employ 6 staff - 2 engineers, an office manager and 3 staff who do admin, running, customer care and deal with my rehearsal rooms (I have 8 of those). I charge £34 GBP p/h for all audio work - recording and mixing, voiceover and editing, etc. We offer a single-day demo at £150 which gets you approx 6 hours and you walk out with a finished CD you can go and get gigs with, a 2-day offer at £250 which allows a bit more time for recording additional tracks/songs/spending more time on mixing, and a full weekend session at £500.

    You say: just call it mastering; I say, well I have to in adverts or I am putting myself at a disadvantage because others are advertising equally misleadingly. I don't feel good about that however.

    WRT the file being unable to be mastered - its not a destructive process! You still have the original mix files and as I hope is clear above clients are always advised to take these to a mastering house.

    However I have a real difficulty - if I tell clients to take this to a mastering house, I'm often met with "So youse arenae a real recording studio, likes?". I need to be able to maintain honesty but not have uneducated clients wandering around going "Verden couldnae even master oor project" when they have no clue what mastering involves.

    @Thomas: firstly, do remember this is an internal document only. Its to ensure my staff are all on the same page with what we tell clients when they ring to ask.

    Nonetheless your advice is always excellent.

    Trial Mastering is a good term. I am aware finalizing shares a name with a plugin but wasn't aware it was a known term for a process. I will speak to my head engineer today and see what he thinks. For the record, I would hope you know that I am under no illusions that this is not real mastering, but I have to be able to come to some position where my studio, which has been established 8 years and has enough equipment to perform 'trial mastering' is not losing business to some guy in his bedroom with T-Racks who is telling my clients that he is an experienced marketing studio.

    With regard to the use of the words 'world class' it would normally appear in our adverts as something like 'world class preamps, mics and recording equipment'

    Space in advertising is extremely limited and costly and sometimes compromises have to be made to things, and although the document above is a first draft and perhaps unclear in parts, I think it is clear that I am using the words in reference to the equipment itself and not the client base, the studio itself or the 'mastering' work that can be done.

    Please remember that I have to have a way of indicating to prospective clients in local & national music publications that I am not the same as a guy in a bedroom - this is a 4,000 square foot facility. World Class equipment may be stretching it a little but its a comfortable stretch for me, and an uncomfortable stretch for a guy in a bedroom or a converted shopfront, and so is the best 2-word differentiator I've got.

    I'd be glad to hear your further thoughts on that or an alternative suggestion.

    With respect to the terminology, I had felt using the word finalizing when specifying to clients the services we would provide was a good one as it was a completely different word. But I think 'trial mastering' sums it up - we would provide a trial master which would give an indication of a final mastered track without being one. I am less comfortable about using a phrase which contains the word 'mastering' but am pleased to hear that you think this is a more accurate term as overall it works better for me.


  5. Herbeck

    Herbeck Active Member

    Jul 24, 2009
    Often a brand or an importer of a brand will be willing to pay some of the costs of the advertising if their logo is included.
    And they will probably like the term "world class".


  6. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Distinguished Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    NYC New York
    Home Page:
    why not just word it like it is. "we will take your project from start to finish" or something along those lines. Terminology is kind of subjective at this point in the industry. One persons world class is anothers hobby. And someone doing world class projects in their bedroom on a mac is somehow not world class? Lines are very blurry these days. I find it's best to let happy clients advertise what you do, putting an ad or website up trying to sell people on a service through an ad is a tough sell. I look at advertising as nothing more than giving someone who is looking for me a way to find me. That includes someone looking for who did xyz's project that they liked. Important things are credits, pics of your facility, a list of gear, rates, and how to contact you. This will answer most of their questions, the happy client who sold you to that person is how you will get the job. So make sure everyone leaves happy, and that they and everyone they know, knows how to get ahold of you. All the other stuff is just wasted space.
  7. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    Very different over here. The local and semi-local music press is very well organised. We have lots of fanzines (especially with the recurring semi-"explosions" of popular music from Glasgow) and its cheap to advertise, although not cheap to do so multiple times. Basically the only reason I advertise is because everybody else does - clever price-pointing from the mag-owners, but it just appears that if I don't, another facility is better.

    I don't have enough space (unless I wish to flush dollar bills down the drain) to advertise the kind of things you mention. I've usually got a 6x3cm space or something similar to communicate the business.

    So for me, advertising is nothing more than maintaining a competing presence against other business, who often have far lesser overheads - it costs me £73k per year to run Verden, and I don't take a wage.

    Glad to have your comments and advice.
  8. SASman

    SASman Active Member

    Jan 16, 2008
    London UK
    Home Page:
    Well we all know the demands of running small businesses, it's tough that but rewarding.

    Work smarter is a phrase that rings in my head.

    All the best man.

    SafeandSound Mastering
    audio mastering
    online mastering

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