Mastering electronic music

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by MANTIK, Dec 19, 2002.


    MANTIK Guest

    I have had some people ask me to master synth or midi generated music. When I do it for music that has real instruments or the human voice I intuitively know that I'm making it sound better. Electronic music however leaves me confused. Other than removing hiss noise, I don't naturally know what kind of feeling the music's creator is shooting for or what adjustments will make it sound better. Can anyone with experience provide guidance?
  2. Doug Milton

    Doug Milton Active Member

    Your goal is the same as with the more acoustic stuff you get, make it pleasing to the ear and have the sonic impact mirror the emotional impact. Having the artist describe their creation with terms like angry, powerful, moody, peaceful, etc may help you understand what they are hoping to convey. Without being too Zen-like, it's that understanding that helps me individualize my approach to their project and shape the direction of the finished product.

    As a generalization, I find that many of the electronic projects I see here tend to have over saturated mid range and lack a quality of openness or "air". Often the hats and snare are really bright while strings and piano are dark and muffled. There are no cookie cutter solutions…
  3. formant

    formant Guest

    honestly it depends on the genre and even then there are differences.

    electronic is very niched and each style has specific goals.

    what style is it?

    for progressive house you need plenty of pumping in the compression

    for trance you can max out your limiter and smush it all to death

    for drum n bass and electro you have to have full subs riding at 40-60hz for most of the track and a real crisp high end.

    even within each genre you have to know what you are going for. by studying tons of tracks from various labels and producers you will see each one is mastered completely different and most are mastered poorly.

    some stuff that comes out on say ministry of sound or whatever will be compressed to death and sounds yuck. other stuff (like chicane albums) will be hardly compressed at all and sound wonderful. the BT stuff sounds like it was protooled to death but i think that is the sound he was after.

    most stuff that comes out on vinyl is more rough sounding than cd release/radio type stuff so again that will make a difference.

    if you know the style i can find some labels for you to check out. also if you get a compilation cd make sure it is *unmixed* to see how they were mastered because if you get a 'dj mixed' cd that means the tracks were mastered individually and then mastered a second time for the mix cd which completely changes the character from the original mastering that was done.

  4. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Distinguished Member

    We found at Hearts of Space that it's critical to master electronic music using a full-range monitor system that does a superb job reproducing acoustic music. This capability is the common denominator of all audio gear and any monitor bandwidth restriction or coloration can really knock the translation of electronic music out of the ballpark.

    MANTIK Guest

    Thanks Formant,

    One of my problems with type of music is that I don't keep on top of it so I don't know the various styles of it and what each is trying to achieve. I'm not what they call a clubber. Can you give me a list of all the different styles and a small listing of who's work within each is mastered well?
  6. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Mantik, no one knows how a synth really sounds since it has to be produced through loudspeakers or other transducers. Unlike an acoustic instrument, the sound is up to the artist interpertation. I personally strive to see what the artist likes and duplicate the vibe with my forum of art to make it an overwheming vibe. Sometimes it takes a team to realize the full potential of the art in sound with synthetic instruments so this is where good communications and vibe come in.

    Early Synth work, I like the sound quality of Tomita.

    Stuart Wyatt has a fabulous sound as well

    Ck him out at
  7. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    like anything else, you have to understand the audience. electronic music does not have the same agenda as Kenny G. Go to a couple of clubs and listen and watch. Different styles have come about for different reasons. Just making it sound good doesn't mean that it's right for the application. This is an experience that is usually heard through exctasy which is kind of like LSD for the ears (so I've been told). trance, for instance, is designed to take you on a journey. It slowly mutates and morphs through the track with sounds designed to enhance this. For other styles A lot of the material is centered because of the venue it's being played in. you don't want to be at the bar and hear no hi hat... When I master for high profile dj's, i usually cut a ref and he tests it in a club, he calls me the next day and tells me what to change and why. I make the changes and another ref goes out and so on. Each style has different needs and a blanket approach doesn't get the point. Picking up a CD and listening to it is the first step, understanding the application and results is another step.
  8. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    one other thing,

    if your not interested in a certain style or don't want to take the time to really learn about it, then I wouldn't do it. This is something that I learned over the years. You only hurt yourself by doing something that you don't know or believe in. You end up delivering something that reflects on you and word of mouth can hurt if it's not good. I now turn down certain projects and refer them to others rather than have the client going around telling others that I didn't do a good job or that I didn't get it. I see this happen a lot around NYC especially from the bigger facilities. They take on a project that they don't get and the client comes to me and says so and so facility sucks and they screwed up my record and i'm never going back. In fact they just didn't get that particular clients needs and didn't understand the style, but that gets lost and it just comes out that the place sucks.
  9. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    I am in total agreement to what Michael said. Some folks are cut out for certain genres due to love of it and the inner experience, not to mention years of experience. When I did disco...almost everything that came to me sounded really good and hot. Imagine the hundreds if not thousands of hours Alan Parsons and the boys put into DSOM as it was a highly experimental thing then. Sold over 50 million copies and well.

    Lately I have been working the mixes of some metal bands. I am going to find the compromise between high quality and loudness. (Dynamic slam and pure volume)It is a challenge for me but since I am mixing it...I can do strange things in the mix to make my style of mastering work on the backend and have a fine metal final. I wonder really what kind of speakers metal lovers really own mostly. It has to pass the Bose/Boombox test I am sure. IF I run it through a large PA for that sounds great on other metal..I feel this may be the acid test..I want it to sound like a live band.

    Oh well...rambling again..

    Don't be afraid to break the mold.
  10. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    I master quite a bit of electronic for vinyl as does Don. Some clients are into all the genres and sub genres, some are not. Like with anything else they are guides to describing the music. Some music neatly fits in the categories and some does not. It's a good idea to get a handle on some of the basic categories but don't fret if you can't pidgen hole all tracks. The way I learn how to do it is by asking the client. Having some clients who know what they are doing and know what they want is very helpful. That way you can trust THEIR gut. If you think your being led down the primrose path go with YOUR gut. Or some combination of both. Asking for example from the client helps too. When I started mastering for vinyl all the electronic clients said "Can you make it sound like The Exchange in London"? I had people bring in stuff that was mastered there and figured out how to put insane levels on the disc without having it sound like crap.

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