How much improvement can be expected after mastering?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by lunar, Nov 9, 2007.

  1. lunar

    lunar Guest


    I recorded and mixed my own album. I tried my best to do a good mix, but I know it still sounds like a home job. This is why I was expecting a fairly dramatic change after I got the reference tracks back from supposedly one of the premiere mastering facilities in Canada.

    The mastered file is the studio's second crack at it, so I can't just say that I'm not impressed. I'm wondering if my expectations were too high, or if not, what I should say to the studio. I'm perfectly open to the idea that I might be crazy as well.

    I would be so thankful if some of you would list to these tracks and give me your thoughts.

    Thank you.
  2. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    I'll listen but I am not so certain that having them in a compressed format like mp3 rather then wav is going to give me all the detail I , as a listener, might require to have an accurate listen.
  3. lunar

    lunar Guest

    Thanks... I compressed to 192 kbps. I was hoping it would be enough detail. Please let me know if I'm wrong.
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Did you compress to give to the Mastering Engineer? here's a couple points...

    A good mix sent to a good mastering engineer will likely yield a great sounding final product.

    A mediocre mix sent to a good mastering engineer will yield a noticable improvement, but not a vast improvement.

    A poor mix sent to a good mastering engineer will yield a small improvement, but you'll still have a poor sounding final product.

    A mastering engineer cannot work magic!

    A good analogy would be cooking...

    A good cut of meat in the hands of a professional chef would need nothing more than a proper amount of salt and pepper and a skillet to get an amazing final product.

    A two week old cut of steak in the hands of a professional chef will still taste like a partially rancid piece of meat, no matter what is done.

    A lump of poop in the hands of a professional chef would taste like a cooked lump of poop.
  5. bent

    bent No Bad Vibes! Well-Known Member

    Jeremy hits another home run!

    Is the first file your original mix, and the second one from the mastering facility; or are they master one and master two?
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    From your two examples, it would appear that your first example is your original mix. The second sample is obviously the mastered version which one, who knows? But I think it's the one were you told the mastering engineer you wanted it to be as loud as possible. Which they did. And so with the big boost in density for loudness sake, your song has lost a bit of its sweet ethereal quality in favor of brute force loudness. Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for. Loudness is not the be all end-all. This is much too lovely a song you have beautifully engineered to brutally kick the crap out of it just to make loud.

    Why not just ask the mastering engineer to give you a nice job? You might get more of what you'd like to hear. Instead of telling them what you want. They know what they're doing and you don't.

    Over loud over and out
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  7. DrGonz

    DrGonz Active Member

    Man gave the stereo this lil feature simply named the volume knob. So often we want to create the loudest tracks? and why really?? so u compare to the general public or the idiots making overly loud masters. There are ways to make a mix seem loud w/ out losing too much dynamic range.
    The original mix had a great frequency range and by analyzing your work, it appears u might have slapped a compressor on the master bus? Or maybe send them one copy w/ compressor on master bus and another w/ out the compression. Maybe learn somethings about mastering, that helps me to make better mixes.
    The vox part at the very first 20-30 seconds sound like it could be louder? The mix sounds really well done, but maybe contemplate more reverbs? or other noise shapers... The mastering was not done especially welll. I could probably make that master sound better than.... no, I know I could.... and I am merely novice hobbit. So go shop around and find a better M.E. You'll know when u meet them cuz you'll hear this great composition come to life.

    edit.... Lunar do u mean that these are two tracks one your mix and then a master? Or are they the two mastered versions??...
  8. lunar

    lunar Guest

    I'm not sure if you mean compression as in dynamics control on the master channel or compression as in MP3. Both answers are no. I supplied the studio with 24bit/48kHz WAV files. And, my mixes did not have compression on the master channel, just on individual tracks or groups of tracks.

    Thank you very much for your helpful comments though, Cucco.

    The first file is an mp3 version of my original mix that was submitted to the studio. The second file is an mp3 of the studio's second crack at mastering it.

    Fascinating and disappointing to hear this comment. One of my notes that I sent to the studio before they started was that "I don't care very much about loudness; that's what the volume knob on my stereo is for... I am not interested in losing the impact of the audio in exchange for a few extra Db's".

    I struggled a lot with vocal level... it's hard! Thanks for your mix comments though.

    I really appreciate all of these opinions! Thanks.
  9. bent

    bent No Bad Vibes! Well-Known Member


    Just so you know, I was able to exactly duplicate the job the mastering house did with one simple plugin.

    I hate to say, but I think the studio did exactly the same thing.
    Sometimes, though, that's all you need.

    They didn't have to spend a lot of time on it, because it sounds pretty darn good.

    I like it, it reminds me of The Decemberists, or The Pixies - I hope that comparison doesn't offend you!
  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Yeah...sorry to say - it seems that the ME simply put it through a limiter and boosted it a few dB.

    Personally, I would like to have heard more present vocals in the mastered version...perhaps a bump between 240-320 Hz and maybe a bit more presence above 4 kHz.

    The low end sounds fine (I'm not on my good speakers, so the stuff below 60 Hz can't be verified here...)

    BTW - I like your snare sound. It's not overpowering like is popular nowadays. Thanks!


  11. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Huh? He used more than just a limiter I have to say, and i'm listening on a pair of little m-audio's hooked up to my laptop.

    IMO he corrected a lot of things and some things were compromised in the process. There are a few approaches one can take with a mix like this and he took one of them. I don't think he botched it at all. Without being privy to your talk with him or how you communicated with him, I can't say he followed or didn't follow your recommendations. 9/10's when something doesn't go as expected, it's because you either didn't communicate properly to him or you have issues that can't be corrected without other issues popping up.

    But with the little info you gave, you communicated that you were looking for some kind of drastic change etc... you got that and it's not a bad that at that.

    You're not even sure what you are looking for so how can the ME? He took a crack at guessing. Sooooo basically you need to figure out what you want, and your mix needs a little more attention. It's a process and not hitting a home run on the first swing shouldn't be considered a failure.
  12. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I think the initial mix is a good one. I would have put the vocals a little more forward and put the pad a little back, and I would not increase the reverb. But that's just a matter of taste. You can't call anything like that a "correction" of your mix.

    The mastering job seems pretty minimalist, but again I don't see anything wrong with that. They didn't squash the heck out of the thing, and the limiting gave the bass and drums more punch. They didn't try to fix things that were not broken.

    Going beck to your original question and Jeremy's analogy, a chef's talent is most often apparent on the finest and most humble ingredients. Prime steak and beef shanks and oxtails. If you give him a nice hunk of sirloin you usually won't get an ethereal dish from a minimalist approach and the meat is too good to tear it apart and try to transform it as you would a lesser cut.
  13. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Too many times clients come in looking for the mastering engineer to wave their magic wand and "fix" all the problems that were created since the project was first conceived. They want balances changed, they want wrong notes or bad edits fixed and they want musical instrument tunings changed. They also want all the hum from the guitars amplifiers and the noise from the traffic and air conditioner (that they never head before because the did the whole project on their computer using the computer speakers for monitors) taken out.

    Many times an ME can do wonders with fixing up minor problems but they are really not magicians and cannot make a ballad done with one guitar and a vocalist into a "hard driving knock your socks off rock tune" (although I have been asked to do this more than once.)

    Lots of times clients don't know what can or cannot be done in a mastering session. When they ask for something and the mastering engineer is unable to do what they want they immediately think they are being "cheated" or "this mastering engineer does not know what he or she is doing" and post "I am upset messages" on every audio forum they can find.

    The other problem with many clients is that they fail to communicate to the mastering engineer what they really want out of the mastering and when it is all done they are not happy. Most mastering engineers are professionals and want to do the best possible job for the client but are not, in most cases, mind readers.

    I would much rather have a client that has a vision and uses my skills to achieve that vision than to have someone who comes to the mastering session with some "pie in the sky" ideas and then is upset when I fail to do what they never communicated to me. Many clients just assume that I know what they are thinking and at the end they say "gee this is not what I wanted at all and I am upset". The time to communicate is at the beginning of the session and not after it is all done.

    Mastering is both a art and a science and you have to wear two hats most of the time when you are doing mastering. You have to know how to do what is asked of you and you also have to help the artist realize their artistic vision. You have to be a good communicator and be able to translate musician speak, "It ain't got no vibe" into something that will be what the client wants and will be happy with.

    It is not an easy job as almost any mastering engineer will tell you. But it is the best job in the world and certainly one of the most fun jobs around.
  14. lunar

    lunar Guest

    You're right, I didn't give him much to go on as far as a vision. I guess I still don't have a vision. My job is custom web design and right now I feel like one of my more difficult clients who don't know what they want, but know when they don't like what they're seeing. I understand now that I am the problem here.

    Michael, my question to you and others is that if I were to describe this approach to the mastering the mix, how would I describe it? And, what are some descriptions of other approaches that I might be able to relay back to the engineer. Because I know the mastering engineer knows what he's doing and I don't, I'm nervous about telling him to do something that's going to have a negative impact.

    From my own work, I understand that often things have to go back and forth especially when the client doesn't really know what he/she wants but is picky never-the-less. I also understand that sometimes that means that the client has to pay a little more, and I'm fine with that.
  15. lunar

    lunar Guest

    By-the-way... I really appreciate all of the input!
  16. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Well the first thing you should do is, in a nice respectful way, just bring it up to the ME. Tell them that you are having a problem communicating to them what it is you are looking for. Then go through your record collection and put together something that resembles what you are looking for and send it to them. Make sure it's in the same ballpark as what your mix song arrangement is. Ask the ME what things might be a problem for them to achieve this in your mix. Correct those things. Offer to pay for it, Remember he did the job twice already. This is a learning experience for you, after this first one, the others will come a little easier.

    I think if you communicate this to the ME, he won't be defensive and will probably welcome the dialog. Remember that they ultimately want a happy person to walk away.
  17. Nexus555

    Nexus555 Guest

    "I would much rather have a client that has a vision and uses my skills to achieve that vision than to have someone who comes to the mastering session with some "pie in the sky"

    Throughout your rambling, if you don't mind me saying so, it seems you wish that clients knew everything that you did and know what they're talking about. In reality, most musicians (especially ones who go to studios for recordings, not mastering,) know nothing of the recording process. If they know anything about recording, they have the slightess clue about mastering.

    Now I can see that they should have some input and preferences. You just seem like your taking your frustration out on the message board. My oberservation only of course. Come work in insurance for a week and give me a call! LOL :)
  18. Appleseed

    Appleseed Guest

    "You're right, I didn't give him much to go on as far as a vision. I guess I still don't have a vision. My job is custom web design and right now I feel like one of my more difficult clients who don't know what they want, but know when they don't like what they're seeing. I understand now that I am the problem here."

    I wish my last client would read this. I would say if you were to refer the M.E. to what current artist you would like it to sound like would be a good start. Never underestimate the power of reference material. You might not know how your favorite album got the sound it did but the M.E. might.

    In the meantime, start reading up on mastering and mixing. It is a long journey that never ends but is worth it when you start creating pro sounding stuff.

    What I find is that clients know what they want but because of their lack of education, they have a difficult time expressing it. This creates a disconnect and worse yet, if they have any kind of ego, they tend not to think that the engineer knows what to do or that they have some alterior motive.

    A good mix is everything. I'm very pleased to see that you weren't overly concerned about loudness. Too many artists have no concept of what that really means and that boosting your overall volume actually brings the volume of other parts down.

    i.e. my client insisted on having a snare the loudest part in the mix and had it pegged to the top in the mix. Then he wanted me to crank the whole song as loud as it possibly could go, not understanding that this would seriously clip the loudest waveform on the track, (snare). This meant that the snare clipped while the rest of the song came up. Result: the snare sounded quieter relative to the rest of the song! Guess what, he was mad at me. I've heard instruments almost completely disappear because of this. We need a standard but that will probably never happen.

    I think you're on the right track. Keep it up.
  19. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

  20. Appleseed

    Appleseed Guest


    K14? All in agreement? Got my vote. It's settled then. :D

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