Engineering vs. Mastering vs. Engineering/Mastering

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by Cucco, Feb 8, 2005.

  1. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Based on a simple internet search and what I know of the industry, it has come as no surprise that there are very few mastering houses that are dedicated to, or extremely knowledgeable of classical type music. (When I use the term classical, I am referring of course to all music orchestral and chamber) There are very few who I personally would trust my higher end mixes with. Of those are the venerable Gateway and Airshow Mastering. (Both of which are justifiably pricey.)

    So, I guess that raises a problem for a lot of classical recordists. For a rock band, it seems as though you can go down to the local shopping center and find a mastering engineer to "punch up the mix," or tweak your mix. For classical, we're kind of on our own. I don't think this is necessarily a problem though. Often times, fantastic classical mixes are made with little more than the engineer, conductor and/or producer.

    But, I'm curious. Are there many people out there that use seperate mastering houses? And, if so, how many of your projects are mastered externally and what do you find to be the advantages/disadvantages.

    My thoughts on the subject are simple:
    *Most classical engineers are classically trained musicians. This gives us a "leg up" over the dime-store mastering engineer.
    *Most of us have invested a great deal in a playback/monitoring system - something only the true "mastering engineers" can claim.
    *Many of us are intimately familiar with the music being recorded and find mixing/mastering it a labor of love, not "labor."
    *Many of us have true mastering capable software (Sequoia, Pyramix, WaveLab, etc.)

    Though, occassionally, it is helpful to have another warm body listen to the music and debunk my work - I don't find, in most cases, that this has to be a Mastering Engineer.

  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    In always pays to have an extra set of ears listening to your material.

    I guess our name, Acoustik Musik, Ltd. says a lot about us. We specialize in the mastering of Acoustic Music but can do almost any type of music from Bach to Rock. I have a background in recording and mastering classical music and know how important mastering has become in the classical world. Lots of times it is the mastering that makes the album work. Most times I have to do very little but when needed I can fix a multitude of problems and usually provide the client with a better sounding master.

    As a classical recording engineer I know that it always is better to get a second opinion or in many cases someone else to to the mastering on anything I have recorded since I tend to know where all the problems are and as someone else pointed out "fill in the notes" even when they are not there.

    I also think having an other set of ears is GREAT and I am always learning from hearing someone else's take on problems and or kudos for the things I record. I also think that listening to the material I record on a different system is a very good idea. As I tell people who say they don't need my services "If you want to record, mixdown and master your own material and feel comfortable doing it then DO IT" There is nothing that says you have to master your own material just like there is nothing that says you don't.

    I am not sure what your reference to "dime store mastering engineers" is all about but most mastering engineers that I have the honor of knowing have very good ears, very good hands and can master almost anything that comes along including classical material. Most mastering engineers, if they were not doing what they are doing for a living, would probably be high end audiophiles anyway in their spare time.

    Hope this helps.
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    By no means did I intend to offend. As a matter of fact, it was a shear act of innocent omission that I forgot to put your specific company on the list.

    Those that I'm referring to as "dime store" mastering engineers are the ones that are popping up everywhere nowadays that think just because they have the Waves Mastering Bundle and PT, they think they are masters. There is a substantial difference between real mastering engineers and these "dime store" engineers. The fact is, there are very few high-end mastering engineers that have both the equipment and the know-how to do what they do.

    Also, the vast majority of mastering engineers do specialize in the type of work they do. There's nothing wrong with this and a lot right with it. However, there are only a few that specialize in acoustic/symphonic work.

    Of course, I mean no disrespect to any of the mastering pros on the mastering board on this sight either. But let's face it, the majority of those guys are "mainstream music" ME's and do well at what they do.

    I hope this clarifies.


  4. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    No offense taken...
  5. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    My personal list (for clients that really want to spend $$) is Soundmirror, Delaware Audio (George Blood), Bob Katz, and Ben Turner at Finesplice, London.

  6. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Here in LA- Patricia Sullivan (and Scott Sedillo) at Bernie Grundman Mastering do excellent classical work, Fred Vogler (the engineer for the LA Phil) does excellent work... You can't forget also folks like Airshow in Boulder and of course Bob Ludwig at Gateway (who has done all the stuff recently for the Eastman School)...

    In the comparitive scheme of things, there aren't that many first-rate classical ME's, they certainly do exist. Most of my clients can't afford to go to a seperate mastering house. Some of them I encourage to do so, but often the money isn't there. I will also do mastering jobs for some of my other clients that record and mix on their own as well, but I wouldn't pretend to be able to work at anywhere near the level of the folks listed above.

  7. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I'm going to tread somewhat lightly here, and keep my (mostly postive) comments generic and not aimed at anyone here or elsewhere on the RO board, etc.

    I wholly agree that it's a good idea to get somoene else's opinion on your work, at least up to a point. I also think the profession of mastering is a noble & necessary one for 90% of whats out there heading to final production, and there are those who indeed can wave a magic wand on some very special projects.

    I also feel that the guys at the very top are there because of tenacity, good people skills (usually), good working skills, VERY good equipment, and a clear idea of what the business is all about. The honest ones will admit that much, and the rest (like the rest of us here in our own areas of expertise) are simply looking to keep their turf, and keep working (through some very tough times in the industry).

    WIth the proliferation of do-it-yourself DAWs everywhere, there has never been a more important time for good mastering engineers, if for no other reason than to send some of these people back to the drawing board, or to suggest they go hire a PRO to record it in the first place. (I'm sure there are MANY mastering engineers out there who get tapes that are so bad, they wonder if they can pull it off at ALL....)

    Like proofreaders in publishing, or quality control in food processing or manufacturing, Mastering Engineers are very often the only real assurance that something is going to go to the replication plant the best way it can; the last link in the chain. (And if I was spending millions on a hot new act, I'd make damn sure it passed through the hands of a competant, well-known engineer who's got a proven track record. It just doesn't make sense NOT to.)

    And since recording can still be a "young persons" industry (at least for rock and pop day know: roadies, studio techs, 2nd engineers, interns, go-fers, etc.) there's always something new to be learned, and things that cannot be absorbed by even a few years early in a recording career. Best to check with an authority on it with more experience overall. That's ANOTHER good reason to have a mastering engineer weigh-in on a "finished" tape about to go to the rep facility.

    I am forever perversely fascinated (yet have less and less time) to read all the subjective and emotional back and forth between the young'in's posting on RO and elsewhere about which mic, which pre, which effect, which distort-o-magix box is going to give the best quitar sound, which "color" is going to have the most effect at final mastering, and how much "Finalizing" is necessary to make it hot. Yada yada yada. Frankly, it wears me out, and makes me (almost) feel sorry for people trapped in that subjective, "Make it louder, bigger, better" side of the business. How much CRUNCH is going to help your next speed-metal, emo or ska band achieve success, anyway? Wouldn't a good SONG & arrangement win out regardless?

    Everyone seems to forget about TALENT in the first place, and thinks that the final master can fix it all. THAT kind of mastering work is way beyond my patience and ability to tolerate, and I wont fall for it. Good luck and God Bless those making a living at that no-win scenario. (One of many reasons why I work in the genres that I do.)

    There's a new project going on here on the RO board among the mastering guys who want to try their hand at mastering a finished track, and they sure seem happy and excited about giving it their shot in what seems to be a fun contest of sorts. IMVHO, this seems a bit of a wasted effort - they're working on a 2-bus (16/44, I think) and while I know this is a naive thing to say, I'll say it anyway: How DIFFERENT should a good mastering job make a track anyway, and (aside from compression, level set, minor EQ and ins/outs for the track) at what point shouldn't the track just go BACK to the band/original engineer for fixes that shouldn't have to happen at the mastering stage? (No offense to any mastering engineer, but I'm not sure I'd WANT that kind of work being done on my finished tracks by a third party. When it gets THAT far, I think Mastering Engineers are overstepping. (Just IMHO, of course)

    Having said all that, I feel that "I" (and many of my colleages here) are of the OTHER ten percent and are fully able and competant to make our own decisions on the mix, the levels, the (pre) master, and the final results going to the replicator.

    If there's a label involved, I'm happy to let them run it past a final mastering stage for accuracy, track timings, etc., but I always demand a final proof before it goes to rep., and my name stays on there as "mastered by".

    Otherwise, I've never used an outside mastering engineer for anything I do here, because (I say this with all humility and practicality): There's really no one else at my level of expertise and ability, with the tools I have, to make a call on something any better than "I" can. I will (humbly) put my ears & skills up against anyone else in the business, and after all my years at this, I either know what I'm doing, or I don't. I don't say this to brag or put myself above anyone else, but it's just where I am career-wise. I'm sure there are others working their way up through the usual methods, and they may or may not find a need for a third-party mastering source. It probably depends more on the genre and involvement in the project from start to completion, and what your role is in it.

    For better or worse, my role here is to do it all, based on my experience at it and my clients needs. It's not for everyone, of course, nor should it be, but it would seem that's how most of our little corner of the biz works.

    Frankly, ANYONE (Tracking to mastering) making a living at this biz in this DAW era should be commended.
  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Thanks Joe. You eloquently state what my intentions generally were when creating this post.
  9. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member


    Joe H

    Very well said as usual.

    As a person in the trenches I can relate to your comments about what a lot of people expect a mastering engineer to do today. They want to bring to the table a poorly recorded, off pitch, off beat, poorly written, poorly played lists of songs and have the mastering engineer pass his or her magic wand over the whole mess and make it into a hit CD.

    When I first started into this business most of what I did was to touch up and make sure everything was technically ok before the master went to the replication facility. I did some minor tweaks and maybe added some eq and very subtle compression. Now most of my time is spent doing "sonic surgery" to get the material ready for mastering.

    It seems the days of people really knowing what they are doing when it comes to recording are long since passed and that most people today go to GC in the afternoon and by 12:00 midnight the next day have their first album ready for "mastering" I applaud their efforts to get it done quickly but abhor the results. People think that by reading MIX or EQ or some other mag they can pickup all the "secrets" and thereby forgo the training and experience that a lot of us have spent our lives accumulating. They go to sites such as this looking for the perfect EQ setting or distortion pedal that will make the difference in their recordings. They don't want to have to learn to stay within the excepted technical standards and if they are constantly clipping their Digital DAW so much the better. They say it is the "sound" they are looking for. Or they read that so and so says "I always record my stuff pedal to the metal" so if it is good for him it must be good for me. They do things like boost the bass and treble +10 dB at 100 and 10,000 Hz because their friend that works at GC ( who MUST be an expert) told them this is the way to get their stuff to sound REALLY GREAT.

    When they have created their masterpieces they bring it to the hapless mastering engineer to MASTER. But what they present is nothing short of a disaster. When the mastering engineer balks at doing anything to it and suggests they take the whole thing back and remix it they simply find someone who will not ask questions and will do the work for them or they get huffy and say this is the way we want to sound or they decide to "do it ourselves" which only compounds the problems. I have seen too many musicians of late with a car full of CDs they cannot sell or even give away because no one wants their stuff once they hear it.

    Everyone is caught up in the loudness wars. I have seen it in pop, rock and hip hop for some time now and it is starting to show up in Jazz and Folk and to some degree in Classical. Everyone wants to be louder than everyone else. I attribute this to the 5 CD changer and radio airplay more than anything else. What a lot of bands are told by their management or even by local bar owners is that they are completing, sound level wise, against a random sampling of other bands and their CD better sound as loud or bye bye. So the bar owner slaps their CD into the 5 disk changer and selects one of their songs and then another by a different group and if in his estimation the first does not sound as loud as the second they are told "we don't need you"

    I have clients that want to see all the LEDs lit on my compressor so "I know I am getting my money's worth" Their music sounds edgy, distant, cloudy, muddy, strident and distorted and they want me to "fix it all so we can get a recording contract and have a crib like the ones on MTV" Their stuff is poorly written, poorly played and has a lot of problems that they are not even aware of since it was all mixed on "my dad's computer speakers" or on the bands PA speakers and was recorded and mixed at 110 dBSPL "you know so it sounds REAL" If you make suggestions or try and show them the problems they are either NOT INTERESTED or go back to their "WELL IT IS THE WAY WE WANT IT DONE" which is really a cop out since they do not know what it is they want nor do they know how to obtain it since they lack the experience and knowledge to get the job done right.

    Lots of people today bring in trash and expect to walk out with GOLD. I guess we need to stop calling ourselves Mastering Engineers and start calling our selves ALCHEMIST.

  10. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    Mastering Alchemists, excellent! A magic wand over your tracks that turns it into gold...

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