Classical music mastering

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Ellegaard, Jun 11, 2004.

  1. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member


    As a classically educated musician also fooling around with a home studio in rather different genres than the classical, I recently came to think where the mastering of classical music differs from mastering rock, popular and jazz music; or is there any difference at all? And in a home studio, if trying to make a "home studio" master, which approach would you take?


  2. mistals

    mistals Guest

    Mastering differs from each style, as it also differs from each project with-in a given style. Basically, mastering pertains solely to the project at hand & the artist's vision of final product. Mastering with any studio, home or world class, the approach is to make all material one complete CD or album. This includes getting the song order lined up that blends right into each song, the desired spacing between them, making any fade ins/outs. The more in-dept techniques are to have all the tracks have similar/consistant sonic characteristics, and loudness between all tracks unless you are wanting some of the material to be different.
    Taking this approach with any project is completely independant on the material you have & what you need it to become. You aren't going to get the same results with home set up as you will in world class facility, quality of equipment, acurate monitors, & skills of engineer will differ completely. There are amazing little tricks these pros develope that add life in various ways. Don't expect to get those kinds of results by yourself at home, but it's fun exploring what might help your project sound it's best.
    After your mixes are as good as you can get, throw the songs together and compile as a whole finished project & if it works for you go for it. If not send them away to a specialist.
  3. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Thanks for the reply mistrals. I was, however, more thinking about the general approach to recording classical music - where you might not hesitate to mic up an acoustic bass in a jazz ensemble with four microphones, capturing a full symphony orchestra with a pair of high quality omni condenser microphones isn't unusual either.

    Apart from, as you say, spacing the tracks correctly, fading in and out, etc, I've read about master compression, EQ, enchancing, etc. in the average mastering studio. All common ways of treating rhythmical music - but not well seen in classical music.

    Are any of the pros in here doing mastering of classical music?
  4. davidl

    davidl Guest

    Hello E

    For almost four decade I've been sending my projects to one mastering engineer and letting him worry about what's needed. When I started mucking around with a DAW (*much* easier than splicing tape) I asked him almost the same question. His answer: "Less is more."

    (I record traditional music around the world, either stereo or Mid-Side, so I have only two tracks to worry about.)

    This this sort of music, as well as Western classical, we want to retain the silky detail and subtleties. This takes experience, a very great deal of it, and really educated ears, as well as gear that won't interfere with the sound. This particular engineer spent, I believe, in excess of $100k for stereo speakers alone, and gobs of money for a surround configuration.

    So it boils down to experience, lots of it, and the knowledge and cash to create an accurate mastering studio.

    In the '50s and '60s mastering engineers developed their skills by cutting LP lacquers. Then with the introduction of CDs, they became comfortable handling combinations of analog and digital processing equipment.

    All this takes time and commitment.

    Good luck, David L
  5. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I too agree with the premise that less is more. I do a lot of classical mastering and people do trust my ears and my skills to do their mastering for them. I was the director of audio services at a famous conservatory of music for 26 years before starting my own mastering business so I know classical music from all the angles

    I don't use a lot of compression (if at all) and don't really do a lot of EQ unless there is a problem. Most times I make sure the fades are correct, the spacing is correct and the selections all are consistent in level (still keeping with the feeling of the music) Sometimes on compilation disks (all works from one composer done at different times and in different locations) I may add some reverb to one piece if all the other pieces are reverberant just to keep everything sounding similar.

    I also do a lot of live classical recording on location and have developed a reputation for capturing the music so that you feel as if you are attending the concert. My mastering philosophy is "keep it simple and less is more" and it has worked well for me over the years.

    I also do a lot of contemporary composition recording and have to say that sometimes this music is the most challenging to record and to master as sometimes the dynamic range is quite wide and one may go from a ppp to a fff in one three note phrase.

    I enjoy classical mastering and recording but find that in today's market it only makes up a very small part of what I do and I find that very sad. Non classically trained people seem to be listening to less and less classical music and since it is no longer taught in the vast majority of schools it seems to be dying a slow death which is too bad. Maybe someone will "rediscover" it and it will again be something that the masses will listen to but I kinda doubt it.

    If you have more specific questions I would be most happy to answer them.
  6. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Thanks for the reply Tom. I was just interested in hearing how people handle classical music versus pop/rock music in professional mastering studios - whether one would try to actually 'shape' the sound, to what extend effects like master compression, reverb, enchancers, etc, are used. I have access to some nice gear and effects, including some T.C. Finalizer and the Waves Platinum effects bundle, and as I acquire the gear I need for recording I would try to experiment a little bit with that stuff.

    About classical music, I can't see why it would have any kind of renaissance within the near future. It simply doesn't suit our age very well - by far the greatest market for music is young people accustomed to the MTV culture. Few songs last any longer than three to four minutes, and it seems like the stars are more important than the music, which tends to be in the background everywhere around, but not as something to be specifically noticed. As long as our culture is so fast-moving, there doesn't seem to be any general need for the incredible emotional values of the classical music that cannot just be consumed - it has to be EXPERIENCED, and it doesn't come automatically. I think it will remain underground, but likewise I can't imagine it will actually die.

    Here in Copenhagen we've found a nice use for our classical heritage: The constant playback of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven chamber and orchestra music in the central railway station scares all the drug addicts and homeless away, so it still DOES have a purpose!

    Do you happen to know the Czech violin professor Milan Vitek at Oberlin? He moved over there some years ago, he used to teach at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music in Copenhagen. He was my old teacher - a great capacity, can't understand why they let him go.
  7. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished Member

    I work on all kinds of music which I conceder myself lucky to do. Some engineers don't feel comfortable with certain kinds of music. I have been fortunate to have the variety come through the studio.
    The first big differences with classical I notice is in the client. There expectations and needs are often different. Classical is almost always recorded digitally since the advent of the DAT machine. Many people start coming to me because of the great analog gear. They want to get the color and overall sound it can provide.

    Many times classical producers, engineers are hesitant to use analog gear. They come from a mindset that digital is the best and want to work with the best digital has to offer. I don't mind working this way because I have great digital processing. But sometimes I suggest going through a Tube line amp or EQ because the material may need the color. I always ask if they want to hear the difference and we go from there.
    As far as my processing approach goes for classical, I usually do less compression and or limiting. I think more braud strokes eq wise. Unlike pop wereI may have to do very specific things to get a vocal to sit properly, I start with an overall balance eq wise.
    As always there are no rulse. The recording and mix determin what is necessary more so than the music style.
  8. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Yesterday I got a call from a musician that wanted me to do some mastering on some classical tracks he had just recorded. The recording is of a cello and piano. The recording was done at a local studio and the main problem with the recording is that it does not sound "classical" in nature since it was done in a dead room and reverb added to simulate a concert hall. The musican wants me to make it sound better. It will be an interesting mastering session. FWIW
  9. Alécio Costa - Brazil

    Alécio Costa - Brazil Well-Known Member

    Are you into PT or similar daw? Under OS 9.2 you can asign two sends and add Lexiverb and Tc megareverb for your session.
    It will smooth the performance alittle bit more. You may also try some hardare box, PCM91/300L or with IR stuff like the new Waves or the Altiverb nice IR´s.
    I´ve masterd a few classical and horn abnds albums. Even inside each category things may vary imensely. A Joe pointed out, it depends on the producer, conductor, the room where it was tracked and so.
    I myself had a little more luck with 2 of the four albums Because the master was not sent to those Finalizer CD Plant rooms.
  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I just want to add to the many excellent comments here about recording and mastering classical music.

    Little or no compression, if at all possible is a big rule of thumb. (Of course with DAW's capabilities and excellent recording gear these days, there are many ways to get around this, and still turn out some wonderful product.) I'm sure we could trade techniques and stories for pages and pages here....I hope to read more, actually!

    I don't agree at all with the statement that Classical Music is dead, but of course it IS on the ropes in some areas. But let me state right here and now that the more music becomes push-button, overly sampled and looped, dumbed-down to MP3 ipod players, the inverse will always be there for anyone with more than half a brain and the desire to find it: REAL, LIVE, MUSIC, played by flesh and blood people. Whether it's folk/bluegrass, Jazz or Classical, the human need to hear the real sound coming out of a living breathing body, accompanied by wood, catgut and tin in real time will never go away, and IMHO will only become more and more rare and wonderful. (Ie: Valuable.) For all people who make a living recording music: Ignore this at your peril. <G>

    Consider that one of the main difference between classical music and other genres is that (for the most part) most players get it right on their own, IN FRONT OF the mic. This is getting rarer all the time. The work and effort involved in a great classical recording lies less than in overdubbing (rare) and more in enemble performance. I often joke that my job as a classical recording engineer/producer is to NOT screw it up. (That's truer than you may think, if you've not yet worked with a professional classical ensemble.) It can be a lifetime discipline, in terms of the many genres, styles and instruments out there, from mastering a voice/piano recital, to a full blown symphony orchestra for broadcast.

    You're dealing with anywhere from 1 or 2 to 100 players, all at the same time, (often on a union contract) with paid hours, specified breaks and end-times, and you'd BETTER have your sh*t together long before the session or concert starts. A typical concert or session with a small chamber orchestra can run $10,000 for the day. Gear should be pro, noise-free, of the highest quality specs and reliability. You'll be recording longer pieces of music, for longer periods of time, and advance preparation is crucial.

    In my experience, no one wants 'PHAT', "Dope" or other trendy, dated or, unprovable gimmics that only muddy the true sonic image. Keep it all clean and basic (I always say: "I want a straight wire with gain.") Avoid the fad of the week, and stick to tried and true gear and concepts when tracking and mastering, no matter if it's digital or analog. Both have their advantages.

    EQ and compression are tools to handle problems, not toys to fool with; something that doesn't need making it "Better". (Trust me, the musicians are doing that on their own.) If it ain't broke....

    Very often, you're working with people handling instruments that cost in the six (and SEVEN!) figures, so it's important to be VERY careful in everything you do, including moving mics and stands around.

    The editing & Mastering process is like nothing most rock/pop people are used to as well. You're not building things track by track, but more likely assembling various sections of movements or works. In editing, very often, you're working with a conductor or composer (or both) with a score and/or timing markings present, not a guitar player who wants "more of me" in the mix. It also helps to be able to read music, including knowing your way around a big score. Patience and a love of that kind of music doens't hurt either.

    Of course you'll be using every modern convenience known, including digital storage and editing. (Even classical people now know how useful THIS is!) Digital reverb and surround mixing are part of the game now, and of course hi-def classical recordings are selling well, too. (SACD and DVD-A recordings are THE BEST way to hear some of the world masterpieces.)

    Classical music is only scary (or boring) to those who haven't delved into it, and learned the overall approach. If you think it's dead and gone, then I thank're only leaving more potential clients without a studio & engineer.....and that's fine with the rest of us. :)
  11. Ammitsboel

    Ammitsboel Member

    ...where did that came from?!?
    Some of it is true.
    But SACD and DVD-A is certainly not the best way to enjoy classical music.
  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    <But SACD and DVD-A is certainly not the best way to enjoy classical music.>

    yes of course, LIVE PERFORMANCE is indeed the best way to enjoy classical music, but as for the next best thing....

    After all the effort that goes into 24/96 recordings, it's nice to hear them without compromise, no SRC, no dithering, etc., via DVD-A or SACD.

    If you're happy with 16/44 on CD, that's certainly fine, too. There's plenty of well-done CDs out there, for sure.
  13. Ammitsboel

    Ammitsboel Member

    He he :lol:
    Welcome to the forum JoeH!

    To me the loss of quallity lies in imperfections in the equipment and not as much in the format used.
    DVD-A or SACD is just another way to put the numbers on a chip and then simulate a waveform at a so called higher bit and sample rate.
    + you can't really get the good converters for DSD and DVD-A yet(not to talk about processing), so why use it?!

    If i was an artist about to make a very high quallity classical album using the best engineers, I would use CD redbook for a number of reasons.
  14. Alécio Costa - Brazil

    Alécio Costa - Brazil Well-Known Member

    can you tell us the reasons? sorry, I might be missing the point here...
  15. Ammitsboel

    Ammitsboel Member

    The reasons are:
    SACD/DSD: I've heard bad things from end users right up to equipment makers and mastering engineers that have tried the format.
    This can be related to the format/processing... converters.... or who knows?!

    DVD-A uses PCM format in a higher bit and sample rate witch is ok...

    My experience is just that the biggest problem with CD Redbook is in the equipment and signal transfering, not in the bit- and samplerate.
    If you use the headroom and just consentrate on making a really good sounding CD(with optimised equipment), then this CD would kick the hell out of typical DVD-A and SACD productions today.
    If you then used the same methods and created one CD, DVD-A and SACD you would be surpriced by how close they would be in sound quallity.... unless there really is a problem with one of the formats.... SACD? I don't really know but I'm sure you can hear that it's a different format.

    Best Regards,
  16. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished Member

    I disagree.
    SACD and DVDA are superior audio formats to 16bit Redbook audio. Unfortunately there are bad sounding disc's that have come out on the format along with many stumbling blocks for both formats. I have heard plenty of lousy sounding CD's but that doesn't mean the format is bad. But when done correctly from beginning to end there is no denying they are both superior to the current CD standard.

    I don't know what will ultimately happen with either. But it's lack of success has everything to do with fighting each other and public confusion. If the consumer demand was there you would see software and converters, EQ, Comps coming out everywhere. The reason it's hard to get it now is because the company's are afraid to waste money.
  17. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I was just at Telarc Records and heard some of their new SACDs and they sounded AWESOME in surround! Michael Bishop is an amazing engineer. There are some bad SACDs out there but so are there bad CDs as well.

    I don't think you can generalize as to the quality of SACDs. It is also a very new medium so people are still learning and need to again "reinvent the wheel" if you will to decide what works in surround and what does not. I was involved in surround sound back in the late 70's early 80s and all that equipment was suppose to be the ultimate but of couse it was not and we had to wait for the technology to catch up.

    DVD-A is also a good format and now with Wavelab 5.0 supporting it there maybe a lot more people willing to try using it for recording and mastering. Only time and the market place will determine the ultimate winner (if there is one).

    Give it a while to mature and you may be very surprised as to what it will sound ultimately sound like.

  18. Ammitsboel

    Ammitsboel Member

    Maybe those formats will come one day.... or maybe not.

    This thing with SACD and DVD-A just reminds me about peoble that buys very expensive new equipment but never things as long as to what cables they use.
    I think the money would be better spent on optimising the rest of the chain. The recieve and transfer electronics are some of the things that could be improovet.

    But if I should stomple over something one day that sounds better than what i have today then I will switch over right away.

    It's just that right now I see no link between SACD/DVD-A and sound quallity. It's like when the first audio amp with transistors was invented... it was the work of a mad scientist not a listener.

    Well, I just had to say my view about all this...

    Best Regards,
  19. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I can think of only 2 people that i know of that aren't in the music industry that have a system where you would be able to hear a difference. A difference between MP3 and SACD. Now if they took that money and put it towards their system, they might even be able to enjoy the difference between 128 and 190 mp3's.
  20. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    And thanks for another great input. It continues to surprise me how great this group is!

    I know what you mean. However, I'm still worried: Only very rarely have I seen a sold out concert hall here in Copenhagen or around. Christian Zimmermann gave a concert in the Tivoli hall in Copenhagen recently - surprisingly, such a big-star artist couldn't sell it out. Lots of empty seats were also to be found at the final concert of the biggest national chamber music competition in the Danish Radio, in spite of all the media focus. If one takes a quick glance over a typical audience at a typical classical concert, at least 90% of the audience has gray hair. Not a good sign for the classical music, and it makes me wonder if there's still a need for classical violinists in twenty years.

    Yet, we DO need live music. But who's there to tell people about it? The radios are not going to do it, because classical music doesn't sell. The newspapers skip the classical music; I could hardly believe it that none of the major Danish newspapers did more than to write a brief note about the winner of the international Nielsen Violin Competition in Odense briefly. (South Korean boy virtuoso violin bulldozer, obviously; those Koreans will surely start the third world war, if not because of their atomic program, then because of their violin program!)

    The lack of media attention probably means that the musicians themselves carry the responsibility to promote the classical music. It's an interesting discussion - how to dust off the classical music without spoiling the fine tradition of the music; and how far can we go in order to get the music out?

    Oh yeah, electronic reverb is a hit among us! I've done rough demos in a dry room, on purpose, and gotten really satisfying results smacking on reverb afterwards.


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