Humble ways to think about mastering

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by pcrecord, Aug 28, 2015.

  1. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I came accross this video that made me discover this very nice fellow.
    Serving the customer's needs is not the modo of everyone but this guy has it !!

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  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Nice interview with a legend in mastering. I think you will find that, if asked, most professional mastering engineers would say basically the same thing.

    Thanks for sharing!!!
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  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Calbi has been around for quite some time. I used him on a few singles back in the 90's - which is to say that I coordinated a couple songs for a few clients who could afford him and were looking for professional level mastering. I never personally knew him, nor was I ever able to afford him for any of my own projects.

    Best guess is, that his would have been around '97 (maybe?) I can't remember now if he was still at Sterling at that time, or if he had moved on to Masterdisc by then.

    He did a great job on both, although one of those projects I sent him wasn't all that great to begin with (I'm being quite courteous here with this description) - this particular client had a lot more money than he did talent - and he also fancied himself an "engineer" and "producer" - so I basically just did what the client told me to do ... and cashed his check.

    Calbi did the best job he could have on that one; what any pro level mastering engineer could have done, considering what he had to work with. I do recall being a bit surprised at that time, because I was sure that the client's mix was going to get kicked back... and if I recall, I even explained - I think I may have even apologized, LOL - for the mix in advance, in a letter that was sent with the DAT master, but, the mix was never sent back. He did the mastering... and cashed his check. ;)
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  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    What a humble man and good example for us all. Loved that interview. Thanks for sharing it.

    @Thomas W. Bethel , have you tried the Weiss DS1 MK3? I've been thinking about buying one for years but I can't get past the small LCD screen. It has outstanding reviews though. I see Greg uses one too.
    pcrecord likes this.
  5. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I have the Weiss EQ-1MKII but I just don't have the money to afford the Weiss DS1MK3, I use the plugins FAB Pro-L and the Voxengo Elephant 4 limiters and like them both very much, The cost of the Weiss is currently $8,920.00 which puts it in the "gee if I win the lottery I will buy it" category. It is a GREAT piece of equipment but not something I can afford right now. If you get it let me know how you like it,
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Further thoughts from Greg Calbi. Some excerpts I found interesting:

    @ 0:33, he talks about how the time to master a project has diminished, citing digital files as the reason:
    " When you are working with tape, in an eight hour session, you can end up spending 1-2 hours just rewinding ..."

    @ 2:34 he discusses familiarity: "It takes an understanding of the genre and what things are supposed to sound like..."

    @2:42, he connects that familiarity to the room/environment, and his experience in that room:
    "I've been in the exact same environment for over 12 years, I know what things are supposed to sound like, I know a vocal is supposed to sound a certain way..."

    @2:55, he discusses Stem Mastering and how it has changed the process - specifically @5:48, he mentions that " the last 6 years or so, mastering and mixing have become much more intertwined, in that they spill over into each other far more frequently than they used to; ya know, we all really do the same thing..."

    @7:11; he talks about one of his OB favorite pieces, The Dangerous BAX EQ - "The BAX - EQ is my go-to for everything in the low end, it's also the first go-to when I hear harshness. It's used in about 80% of everything I do..."

    Here's something I found particularly interesting, something I hadn't thought about before - @8:40, he talks about the differences between European and American styles of production:
    "In places like Italy, Spain, France, usually the production has all been done in one room, whereas in the U.S., you can have 12 songs done in 6 different studios..."

    I'm curious if what he is saying is that in the U.S. and Canada, there seems to be a higher concentration of studios per capita than there are in those other countries ... He doesn't really specify, but I think that what he is saying, is that with mixes from European countries, the sonics tend to sound less different from song to song, because there is more being done at just one facility, as opposed to in the U.S. and Canada, where there are more opportunities for artists to work on their projects at several different facilities - which of course also means different gear, different engineers and producers from song to song. Now, he doesn't mention that either of these ways is bad or good - he's just making the observation, based on what he has experienced.

    I would imagine he's pretty much heard it all, as he mentions early in the video that he typically does 150 albums per year. ;)

  7. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Mastering has changed a lot over the years. More and more mastering is being done remotely with the clients not present. The use of the computer for processing is becoming more wide spread and more and more people are doing mastering ITB. When I started learning mastering in Nashville we did not even have a computer in the mastering room. Now almost all mastering rooms have at least one computer and many have two for pitch and catch processing. Most mixes when I started doing mastering were well done and from professional studios like yours and my job was to make them sound better. Now a lot of the material I get in has problems and needs some TLC before it can get mastered. The need for louder and louder masters I think has peaked and with the resurgence of vinyl we are returning to more sane levels. People's expectation of what can be accomplished in mastering has changed and, even though I don't get many to do, stem mastering is catching on so the mastering engineer becomes both the final mixer and mastering engineer. Mastering engineers are also being asked to participate in the final decision of what sounds good and what does not. It is interesting to note where mastering is today and where it came from and where it is going. I think Greg did a nice job addressing all of this in his interview. I have passed on this interview to many of my interns for them to learn from.
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Thomas -

    What would you say are the most common issues/problems that you face on a day to day basis as an M.E. with the projects that you receive?

    Beyond just being genuinely curious, I'm also looking for confirmation on something in particular that I suspect is tied in, a line that I think has become blurred in recent years, and that is the distinction between "home" studios and home "studios"...

    One is a bedroom, with maybe a couple hundred invested into mics and a pre/i-o, along with a "common" DAW running on a PC or Mac, ( let's assume that PT "lite" is likely still the most popular choice) and an "engineer" who probably knows more about gaming than he/she does about audio. The majority of these "studios" are owned by musicians/writers, who are more interested in doing those things than they are in the engineering side of recording their own songs.

    The other studio is perhaps the same room - yet, which has been acoustically treated ( to some degree) based on facts - math and physics - and using proven methods and materials to tame the room's sound and (hopefully) to make it as accurate as possible, at least within the given confines of the original construction. The audio chain is generally far more professional, with much more money invested: higher caliber preamps, converters, microphones, cabling, etc., all of which are implemented by someone with an advanced knowledge of audio, recording, and mixing, who also has experience in mic technique, a basic knowledge with electronics, gain structure, and with the experience and know-how to not only know exactly what processors actually do, (both ITB and OB) but who also knows how to use them.
    These rooms seem to be more popular with veterans in the business, who have either worked at different pro studios over the years, or who have, at some point, owned and operated their own facility as a business. This doesn't mean that these rooms aren't run by musicians as well. Some are accomplished, and have probably made a large portion of their living as pro musicians, either currently or at some point.
    Obviously, I'm referring to someone like Chris, (@audiokid) for example, or Marco, Kyle, Dave, or any of our other RO members who do this craft for more than just a low-budget, time killing hobby... I'm speaking of course, about someone who takes what they do seriously.
    These days, is money the only thing that separates those studios with the pro-level of gear from the low-level budget stuff? Or, is it also the experience and knowledge? Experience is a far different beast to tackle. If you want, You can have the pro gear right away - if you have the funds. But you can't buy the experience, skill and knowledge without putting in the time, and either being taught by another professional, or teaching yourself through years of study and application of what you've learned.

    So, knowing that there are now more than just a few professional home studios, some with gear that may even rival some of the truly pro rooms; and probably at least thrice that amount of distinctly unprofessional home studios; in your experience Tom, what would you say are the key issues/problems are that you face on a day to day operational basis?

    Are these problems sourced with the cheap equipment that your "average" client is using, or is it more a lack of knowledge and experience in the craft? Or, is it maybe because of propagated internet-based myth, and the all too mistaken assumption that anyone who owns a DAW must know what they are talking about? Finally... where does the current state of the Loudness Wars come into play? Is this still a dominating factor, or have you witnessed some relief from this recently, as more and more professionals are now speaking out against the trend of intentional over-limiting, and the destruction of dynamics and audio in general?

    Or, is it perhaps a combination of all of these things that you have to deal with?

    I'm curious to hear what someone like yourself - who works in the trenches daily as an M.E. - thinks about this... :)

  9. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    It would be nice that an ME confirm this :
    I think what can save semi pro and hobbist is consistancy.
    If all your tracks were recorded/mixed with the same erronous EQ curve. Let's say they are all hot in the 2k area. It would be easy for the ME to correct this.
    But if all the tracks has this defect except let's say the vocal. This is complicating the job greatly.
    Also the ME can't invent what's not there. Like dynamics if they were crushed or if a HiPass has been put on every tracks and it cuts too much.
    All the same he/she can't remove embedded artifacts, like distortion or unflaterring room reverbs/echo. Those defects can be hidden but not removed..
    So my idea is that the best we can do to help the ME is to be consistant and do less.
    Less compression, less drastic EQ curves and avoid phasing issues (while tracking and by using stereo enhancement)

    Please correct me if I'm way off ;)
  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    One of my favourite interviews with him as well and I too found those points the most interesting.

    indeed, times have changed.

    Without a doubt. Think about how our ability has improved from being more open to all sorts of genres. He's also a musician, which I personally think is really helpful. Also, when you are a road musician, the first think you should learn is how important the singer is. Good bands learn its not all about them. Its about the sound and not competing with all the members etc. Imho, I think that has helped me mix better today.

    Some freelancers are able to work in a lot of rooms because they have a closer relationship with their monitoring and room to ear coordination (similar to hand eye coordination).
    An exercise I've done for years, trying to guess what freq are hot in a feed back or 31 band eq. Being a road musician, I loved ringing rooms out, picking out the hot spots, feedback and standing waves. I think some people, (I know I am one of them), can hear what a room does to music easier than others. This can be helpful or really distracting. In my case, I can keep a mental note that some of the bad is there, then try and mix knowing I need to compensate. Obviously not ideal working in bad rooms but maybe this is what the great ones have going on , better than others. Maybe they get "less" distracted.

    So true. Hybrid has opened mastering level mix imho. Stem mastering would be my main gig.

    I used to own the Dangerous BAX and sold it once I added Sequoia to my 2 DAW setup. I've done very detailed tests with the BAX and the best part of it are the filters and their relationship between your capture AD. If you don't go OTB, the BAX is completely useless and actually not nearly proficient as your best plug-in EQ. Its a beautiful EQ for those still mixing otb. Its an essential piece as the last tool in an otb chain.
    imho of course.

    Maybe we are more conditioned to travel around in this wide country. A 200 mile drive is more acceptable for us where it may be unthinkable to do that in Europe.
    Just a thought anyway.
  11. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I took Donny's comment the other way - Europeans may be more prepared to travel to a single studio to get a consistent sound over a whole CD than performers in the US who might record a track at their nearest studio and then send the recording to the producer.
  12. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Well I guess the biggest thing I face is inconsistencies in songs that people send me. Some are really well done and sound professional and then I get another track from the same engineer/artist and ask myself "what was this person thinking of or what was he listening on that made this so different from all the other songs?"

    It does seem to make a difference if the studio has good monitoring equipment and the engineer works to professional standards. Just buying a pair of speakers, no matter how much they cost, does not mean a good monitoring setup. It is the room and the acoustics that make it good for monitoring.

    The rise of the "home" studio has led to a lot of inconsistencies. As you pointed out some are merely someone's bedroom while others are professional in every way except that they are in someone's home. I was in a home studio in Kentucky that would have made a lot of people on this forum envious with the size of the space and the amount of equipment it contained. The one problem was that none of it was hooked up. The person had created the perfect studio but then did not carry the plan through to the end. I was in another studio in Ohio where the person had made himself an amazing home studio with sound locks and very nicely done acoustics. The one thing that kinda made it bad was that the control room was 20 feet wide and 8 feet deep so the engineer had real problems listening to the mixes since he could not get away from the speakers. To make matters worse there was a large analog console in the room and a couch so there was barely room for the engineer to sit. The other problem was that the control room had no acoustic treatment. All those things added together made it tough for the engineer to listen to what he was recording and mixing.

    Just having equipment is not going to make you a good recording or mixing engineer. Having good equipment, a good listening environment and lots and lots of experience are probably what are most important.

    I am working on a mastering project right now for a professional engineer from this area. The mixes were all well done and it is a very collaborative project. I am having fun doing the mastering and the client seems well pleased. There is lots of good communication going on and I feel that the engineer, the client and I are all on the same page.

    A couple of weeks ago I had another project that was done in a home studio. I am not sure how the group recorded the album but it had a very live feel to it. I almost sounded like they had set up a pair of microphones in the middle of their studio and stood around it playing their instruments. It could have been a very nice album with a somewhat different spin on it. The problem was that who ever did the recording decided to pre-master it and did not do a very good job. He over saturated everything in the failed attempt to get it to sound "LOUD". Then, as an afterthought, they brought it here to see if I could "fix it" . Unfortunately I could do nothing for them since it was already pre-ruined.

    Most of the stuff I get in is really well done and is a joy to work on. Sometimes it needs a bit of TLC but the outcome is still GREAT. Then there are the times that I really wish we could have listened to the songs before they were finalized and I could have made some suggestions as to ways to fix certain things before the mix was done and was brought to me. Caveat emptor to those situations.

    I love mastering and I especially love it when a project comes together and everyone is happy. It happens a lot of the time but in some cases the person or the group is expecting things that just are impossible and those are the times that I wish I could do something to make it all come out great. I have learned over the years that just like in computers the old "garbage in - garbage out" adage still applies.

    Donny, I hope I have answered your questions but if not please let me know what other information I can provide you.
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  13. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    PreMastered = Pre-Ruined ! I'm gonna remember this one !! ;)
    I read your posts with great interests Thomas, thanks for being here and taking the time.
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Well, kinda... LOL.. keeping in mind that it was Greg Calbi who mentioned it, and I was just attempting to translate what he was saying, my assumption being that, because there are more studios in a given metro (or even suburban) area in The States or Canada than there is in, well, say Italy or Spain, that it's more common to have collaborations between players on a project where multiple studios are being used, where as in a country where the condensed populations may not be as high, and where the number of studios isn't as high, it's likely more common that the bulk of the work is done at one room - because there aren't a large number of rooms to choose from to begin with. In some of these countries, you may not have a choice - you may have to travel 200 miles to find the closest studio that is worthy enough.

    ( that's not to say that there aren't certain areas of The U.S. or Canada that aren't a bit remote as well, but not really in the same way as some of those European/Asian countries. I think it's safe to assume that there are more studios in Toronto or Calgary than there are in say, places like Moosejaw, or Wiarton, .... and that Ohio probably has a much greater number of production facilities than somewhere like Montana, if for no other reason than the population(s) are higher and more condensed, but in general, I'd wager that there are far more rooms to choose from - and in much closer proximity to artists - here in The States, Canada and The U.K. than there are in countries like Spain, or Italy. )

    I think that this is what Greg was saying as well - ( with the exception of the U.K.) that here in The States and Canada, it's likely more common to have multiple rooms involved, simply because there are more rooms, and, more people have their own recording rigs as well, some of which may even rival "pro" rooms ....

    But when it comes to location or availability, for example, on this last project I did, while the majority of it was done at my place, there was one song where we had guest vocalists singing alternating lead vocal vamps at the end of the song; and it was easier to have these guest artists record their vocal parts at their own home studios, and then DB me the .wav files, as opposed to trying to coordinate and schedule all of them to come in to my place. Every one of these artists used high caliber mics and preamps.

    The rub there, of course, and what I believe Calbi was pointing out, is that when it came time for me to mix, even though they all used good gear, I still had to deal with these vocals all being done on different mics, different pre's, in different rooms.... and I think that this was what Calbi was getting at, that in many of today's projects coming from The States and Canada, you may have several different studios involved for one project, and that this is a factor that can come into play when it comes time to master.


  15. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Personally, I think that this is - to quote NASA - "mission critical" LOL.

    An artists and studio need to form a partnership with an M.E.

    The M.E. needs to be someone who "gets" what the artist is doing. I could have access to the best Hip Hop or Metal mastering engineer on the planet, but that doesn't mean that he's the guy who should be mastering my project, which sounds musically similar to Steely Dan or Michael McDonald.

    Speaking only for myself here, I also want an M.E. to understand what I mean when I say that "I want the dynamic range to be preserved". This may be a generational thing as well - I'm not 100% sure about that yet, but my spidey-senses hint to me that I'd have far more luck finding an M.E. from my own generation that would understand that, than I would with an M.E. who is 24, and who thinks that the last Metallica album should be the benchmark for all mastering.

    That's not to say that there aren't some incredible younger M.E.'s out there. I have no reason to believe that there aren't; but I need to feel comfortable with the M.E. I have chosen, and know that they are familiar with the style, and are hip to what I want the album to ultimately sound like.

    I also want an M.E. who will make suggestions, who will hear certain things, and let me know if there is something that might not be working. Part of why you should use a skilled M.E. is having that second pair of fresh and objective ears to listen and to comment... IMO, that's a big part of what you are paying them for - their objectivity, and their ability to hear things that you may not have heard, either due to less than stellar monitoring and acoustics, or, simply because you've heard the song half a million times, and your own objectivity has travelled south of the suck line. LOL

  16. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I was being tongue-in-cheek, but also making a serious (non-geographical) point that it's very easy to lose the cohesion of an album when different tracks are recorded in different acoustics using different equipment.
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  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think that this is Calbi's point. And, I can't disagree, really, especially not from the POV of an M.E., where part of their responsibility is to give a sense of continuity and consistency, and it would seem that this would be more difficult to do on a project where the songs were all done at different facilities, as opposed to recording and mixing everything at the same facility, where I think you'd find that there would naturally be more consistency, as you stated - in the room, the gear, the engineer(s), etc.

    I think it's fair to say that certain studios have their own kind of "signature" sound, (some great, some good, and these days, probably more than a few that are not so good, LOL) and I would think it would be more difficult to add that sense of cohesion to a project, when it's not naturally there to begin with, especially when you're dealing with a slew of different studio signatures.

    Technology has made it possible for a bass player from Minnesota to never leave his house and still play on a project that is being produced and mixed in Arizona... and I LOVE that we can do that now. I've gained access to some truly bad ass musicians from all over the world, and have had the awesome opportunity to have them play on my tracks; something I could have never been able to do, even just 20 years ago ( at least not without a very pricey satellite link-up... on both ends) and I think it's wonderful that technology now allows us that for what amounts to a few dollars a day.

    But, it also means that you have to deal with the "not-always-so-positive" parameters that come with that convenience... and mainly, it's the differences in the sonics that is the most obvious thing.
    And I'm not saying that these sonics are even necessarily bad - very often, they are great...but, they are still different, and it can make obtaining a cohesiveness to be somewhat more difficult.

    There is certainly something to be said for a project being recorded and mixed at the same facility. If we look back at classic albums of the past, the majority of them were all done at one studio. Occasionally you'd read liner notes on an album that would mention two studios being involved, but for the most part, artists and producers would pick one studio, one engineer, and then do that album at that same location, from start to finish - and in doing so, there was an obvious sonic cohesion - and that cohesion doesn't seem to be as prevalent today as it once was; where now, it's not at all uncommon for a midi programmer to put together the foundation of a song on Pro Tools in his home studio in Cleveland, where that track is then sent to a guitar player in L.A. where he records his parts, where it's then sent to the bass player in Minnesota, where she records her tracks while listening to drum tracks that were recorded (or programmed) in NYC... all of which are then sent as a 2 mix, and listened to by a vocalist, who is tracking their part at a studio in Nashville... where then all the tracks are sent to a mix engineer in London, or L.A., or NYC, or Toronto or Montreal... or, maybe it stays in Nashville, but still goes to another studio... and because all the parts were done at different locations, using different gear and in different rooms with different acoustics and monitors - and this all makes for a hodge-podge soup that can be not only more difficult to mix, but difficult to master, too, if cohesion and continuity is desired.

    Adding into that equation, the fact that all these parts were done in an overdub fashion, and this also detracts from the natural musical cohesion that you get when everyone is playing at one time and in the same space through the same studio gear.

    IMHO of course. ;)


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