help me help you help me...

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by teleharmonic, Nov 14, 2003.

  1. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    hello mastering folk,

    i am but a mere mortal musician hoping to get the most out of the professionals(demi-gods) i, and my band, will be working with in the coming months. We, my band, are just coming to the end of tracking on a new project and before we begin mixing i'd like to get a sense of what, when mixing is finished, is going to help the mastering engineer make our recording sound great.

    I am assuming that the more 'track maintenance' (removal of clicks,pops, noises) we can perform before we pass off the recording will enable the mastering engineer to concentrate on the 'sonic space' of the recording... which i am imagining is more fun to do as well.

    What else can we do, or NOT do, to help the mastering engineer concentrate on helping us realize artistic goals rather than spending time fixing stuff.

    An additional question would be, assuming a recording has no major flaws to fix up, how much time would be required to master 45min of material (9-10 songs). I realize that this is going to vary recording to recording but lets say we are talking semi-limited budget here... not quick and dirty but not major label sonic gymnastics.

    any suggestions are welcomed!
  2. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    OK here's what you need to do:

    Yes, do clean up your mixes. No sense spending mastering time doing what is better done in the mix enviornment. Also, while you're at it, do all the vocal de-essing on the individual vocal tracks. That way global de-essing will not affect the HF during mastering.

    Listen to your mixes on LOTS of different systems. Don't develop mix tunnelvision by depending totally on what you hear in the studio. Listen in cars, at friends houses, at an electronics store on small stereos and boomboxes, at a high end stereo shop on a deluxe system. The more listening you do the more confidence you will have that your mix translates well to the real world & the less drastic the changes will be in mastering.

    Leave the long fades & dirty intros on the final master. We have more control to do those properly in mastering.

    Bring a couple of varying mixes ( vocal up & down, guitar up & down, etc) to the mastering session.

    Bring some CD's of very familiar music to the session so as to better learn the sound of the mastering room. Bring some CD's of similar bands also, so you can make sure you're in the ballpark on style & sound.

    Attend the session. Try however to make group decisions without each member of the band wanting to be loudest, etc. Be reasonable.

    Realize that technical issues aside that there is no right or wrong in mastering. The M.E. can tailor your sound how you want it to some degree. You have to provide some input. But also take the advice of your M.E. who knows his/her room & has probably worked on similar projects before. Respect their opinions, please.

    I could add "don't make the M.E. make the master absurdly compressed or normalized" because of all the discussion of that in this forum....leave some dynamics in.

    That will get you going.

    I can probably do the mastering in 3 to 4 studio hours (more or less) if things move along efficiently.
  3. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    good to know.

    this is something that we do, but it is good to have that re-inforced. we will leave ourselves lot of time for this sort of critical and varied listening.

    Also good to know, i would not have done this had you not suggested it.

    THIS is extremely useful as i would never have thought of it... i do tend to think of the final mix as THE FINAL MIX (cue clouds opening up and sun beaming through). To be prepared for multiple possibilities once we sit down with the ME is great advice. "Wow... that guitar sounded louder on MY speakers..." Multiple final mixes... got it.

    Makes sense.

    :) We're pretty reasonable guys... we have also been playing together long enough to be long over the "more me" phenomenon... i think we are pretty good at making decisions that benefit the song rather than massage our egos... but it is always good to keep oneself in check!

    Absolutely! We are paying for their opinion! we want lots of it!

    Yup... sign 'o' the times... we have no interest in a squashed recording.

    Thanks VERY much for your insights Don. You've given me some good stuff to work with.

    One more quick question regarding levels... how much headroom do you advise leaving for the ME to work with?

    Thanks again,
  4. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    You're welcome Greg!

    About 2 or 3 dB is enough headroom for me. Have fun!!

    Good Luck,
  5. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished Member

    I'm just reading this so I will add a couple things to Don's good notes.

    Format. I noticed if I don't speak to the artist or engineer prior to the mastering session I don't always get the best source/copy of the material.

    Talk to the ME about the format you plan to mix to then make sure your getting the highest resolution to master from. Example: if you are mixing in Pro Tools and it's 24bit 48k. Bring that file. Don't truncate it to a 16 bit dat. Don't sample rate convert just to bring an audio CD. Create data files or bring the hard drive to the session. These decisions before you even start mastering can make a very big difference. If the ME can't work with these I suggest using someone else. Your music will thank you.

    Listen to the mix as a band and make sure you like it. It sounds stupid but if you don't like the mix before you master you probably still won't after. The more records you do the more you realize what to expect from each process along the way. I notice people who are doing there first record let things go that they are told will get "fixed" in the mastering. A bad vocal is a bad vocal. Mastering will only make that even more apparent.
  6. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    Thanks Joe... When we decide on an ME we will confirm that he/she will take our format of choice. We are tracking in 24bit 48kHz and were going to mixdown to that same format. I will leave it up to the ME and their gear to bring that down to 16/41.

    OH! but this brings up another question! do any of you work with 'stems' or do you focus primarily on a stereo mixdown? or is this something that we would simply have to bring up with the ME we choose?

    Good advice for any stage in the recording process!!

    Though we are amatuers we have done a fair amount of DIY recording along the way. We are really taking our time with the tracking (as we all have recording setups)as much as is possible without stifling ourselves. Our goal is that by the time we mix we have no 'fixing' left to do... we would like the mixing to be more creative and less maintenance work... by the time we hand it off to the ME i would hope that their role would be to 'take it to the next level'... not just bring it up to an acceptable level (of quality).

    Thanks for your insights Joe!
  7. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished Member

    Yes I have worked with stems before. It can be very helpful but it can also open a whole can of worms. I have found it to be work best when the artist is only concerned with one thing per song.
    If the lead vocal is loud enough. Or if the GTR solo sitting right.
    It can be a disaster if we have drum stems, gtr stems, vocal, bgnd vocal.. because then you question everything losing all perspective and it takes a week to master the thing! Remember - like your mix before you master.
  8. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest

    sounds good joe. i didn't know if there was a major sonic reason for bringing in stems vs stereo.

    i really don't have any interest in mixing the thing in the mastering suite! Your comments clarify why someone might bring in stems to begin with though.

    We will most likely stick to stereo mixdowns unless some particular element is really troubling us... i think, for the most part, we'd rather retrack until something fit rather than try to fix it in mixing or mastering.


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