Mastering FAQ

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by NineStar, Oct 13, 2005.

  1. NineStar

    NineStar Guest

    Hey guys,

    This is probs gonna be a stupid question but I can't seem to find a answer to the obvious.

    Right, so have recorded all the tracks that I need for the song. I have applied the appropriate EQ, Compression, Effects etc to the tracks and have Mixed them to my taste.

    Does mastering happen now? What does this entail (I know about getting the levels and eq right)? Do I need to mix the track down into a single music file and then listen to it? (I'm using Cubase) or does cubase have a mastering tool that lets you set the eq etc whilst playing the track back?

    Does it work this way that when you have listened to your track and you are entirely happy that you just export it to a wav file and then burn it to CD? Is matering something else where you send the whole mix to some other output and then burn it to CD?

    Sorry if this is a bit confusing. Basically I wanna know what the mastering process entails from start to how you get the song on your CD.

    Thanks! :wink:
  2. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    It sounds as though you are complete with your mixes so what is left to do is to:

    1. Get another system and set of ears involved to average out any frequency response issues (translation).

    2. Critique the level of each track.( You don't want a ballad to be as loud as an up tempo song.)

    3. Do precision head and tail edits. A few frames before the signal starts on each track is a good idea. Some consumer CD players are known to "cut off" a frame or two at the top of each track.

    4. Spacing between the songs. This is not a 'cut and dry' 3.5 seconds.

    Some songs can benefit from a longer space before they start...some can from a shorter one. This is artistic in nature and mastering engineers are quite good at helping you establish a good flow.

    How is your artwork? Do you have your templates, credits and liner notes in order?

    Do you plan on getting distribution? Have you effectively planned on what will happen once you are finished? A record release party perhaps?

    I., well as many others offer our services in mastering and until you get a glimpse of what proper mastering can do for your project, will be amazed..that is for certain.

    BTW, I will do one track pro bono (mastering) for you to see the benefits.
  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Are you running PC or Macintosh? I stumbled on this software a couple of years ago. It is a standalone piece of mastering program for the PC and a plug-in for the Macintosh. Made by an Italian company called IK multimedia. The software's name is T-Racks. I think it's quite a wonderful piece of software for mastering your mixes through. It's got a really cool GUI! Just make sure you do not overuse it. It's better than any combination of normalizer, compressor limiter, Clipper, equalizer. But that's just my opinion. It's about $399 last I remember.
  4. NineStar

    NineStar Guest

    Thanks guys for the responses!

    What I need to know is how do you get the songs onto CD. Do you mix them down in Cubase and then just write them? After they've been mastered? Do you master in Cubase with the plug ins and then Mix down to wav file and write to CD?

  5. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I don't want to burst your bubble but no "professional" mastering engineer would use T-Racks it is the software equivalant of the tc finalizer and can do more to WRECK a good recording than it can possibly help.

    We auditioned the current T-Racks and it does do some amazing things but nothing that I would want to use on a real mastering project. Even with nothing turned on it changes the sound of the music you are tyring to master and that is something you do not want to use.

  6. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    :cool: :cool: :cool:

    Just thought I'd indeed concur wholeheartedly with the previous statement.
  7. jase

    jase Guest

    ''I don't want to burst your bubble but no "professional" mastering engineer would use T-Racks it is the software equivalant of the tc finalizer and can do more to WRECK a good recording than it can possibly help"
    Whilst I agree with most of what you said, Have you ever used the TC Finalizer?,I do not like some of the sections on it but for vinyl mastering it is a life saver.And if used properly transparent. :x
  8. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Any piece of equipment or software can be used correctly or in correctly HOWEVER most people never get beyond the Presets whether it is in the tc finalizer or the software like T-Racks. I own two Finalizers and use them for a variety of uses but I don't use them for mastering especially by using the presets. I think there are better products out there including the dbx Quantum II which also can take a perfectly good recording and trash it in about as long as it has taken me to write this reply. Used correctly it is a great piece of gear. Gear or software don't mess up songs PEOPLE do <g>
  9. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    no, I can think of some gear that is crap no matter what knob isn't turned.
  10. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Yea well I can too.... but most equipment will do a fair job if use with some modicum of intelligence and the person using it has some understanding of when too much is really too much.

    Everyday on the web I see people asking about some new plug in that is suppose to be the be all end all plugin or some piece of equipment that will make them sound like the rock star (insert name) or the settings that will guarantee them a million seller.

    It AIN'T going to happen. It takes lots of hard work, experience, good ears and the musical knowledge/ability to know what to do and when. Programs like TRacks are for the person that doesn't know how to get what he or she wants and just wants to use the preset "rock and roll" so they don't have to think or learn about the craft of mastering a song.

  11. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    yeah, I agree that it takes time, experience, gear. But for the guy pumping out stuff from his bedroom and he just wants it louder than it is, t-racks is better than pushing the fader to 11.

    I think it's important to distinguish between making music as a living and making music as a hobby. I've re-learned this while shooting video ( my new money draining hobby). If you are making music to sell and be taken seriously, then you have to play hard ball. If you are just looking to improve your hobby, then there isn't a NEED for professional mastering. The people I work with make music as their job. they sell it and hopefully enough to live on. I spend 70 hours a week doing nothing but refining what I do to make it better. I make my living doing mastering, so when I need something that affects my living, I go to people that make their living doing what I need.

    but back to the video analogy, I shoot video as a hobby. I don't hire a camera man, sound man, director, gaffer. I don't hire a color corrector, editor, mixer. I do it all myself and hope for the best. I spend my free time cruising forums and try to learn technique rather than what camera will make me look like Spielberg. Certain things like shotgun mic instead of onboard mic, how to use a wide angle lens, tripods, white balancing, iris control, lighting, framing. All of this makes a much bigger difference than the specific camera i use.
    i just had the the camera man in my studio that shot "super size me". He uses a sony PD150 prosumer camera, basically the equivelent to a digi 002 in audio terms. He was filming "the making of" thing for a band I was mastering. He knows technique and how to get the most out of the gear he has. I'm babbling.

    My point is, stop thinking about GEAR. think, what do I need to do so GEAR isn't my make or break it. The best gear in the world won't help you with bad mic placement. the best gear in the world won't help you if your snare level is louder than the lead vocal. learn how to really use an EQ. Learn what to listen for in a compressor. What do I need to do better so that limiters can work to their full potential. The best sounding projects I get, need the least amount of work. Gear is not their secret.
  12. NineStar

    NineStar Guest

    uhhh guys how about looking at my questions that i posted?
  13. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    This question has been asked here LOTS of times. Maybe not in the way you asked it but it has been covered before. There is a very good SEARCH function on this web board and you could have used it and answered your own question. But since you asked.

    Mastering is basically taking a two track mix that is brought in to the mastering facility on CDR, Data CD( wav or aif files), 2 track 1/2 inch or 1 inch reel to reel tape, DAT or any other two track medium that is/was available. (best to ask the mastering folks what is the format they prefer) They take that two track mix, which should not have any overall effects or bus mastering or overall EQ and make it sound good. They will also top and tail the songs (so you should leave some space around the songs both at the beginning and end for them to work) Then they will sequence the songs to your speciifcation and desires and present back to you a well done, well presented two track (we could call it a stereo master but for some reason we don't) and then you can take that to the replication facility and have them replicated.

    Mastering can use any or all of the following, compression, limiting, equalization, reverb or other effects to get the songs to sound good and make it sound like what you have in your mind. Mastering cannot fix badly recorded or badly mixed songs nor can it improve pitch or timing problems. Almost anything that comes in can be improved by mastering if you have a good mastering engineer.

    So you need to mix down your mulitracks to stereo or 2 track mix, put them on a medium that is acceptable to the mastering facility you are going to use and go from there.

    If you have futher questions and you have done a search for the answers and still cannot find the answers someone here, I am sure, will be more than happy to help answer them.
  14. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Excellent summation, Tom. I've also heard it stated in one short (albiet vague) statement:

    Mastering is the final step between a "Mix" - a compilation of songs/music - to its ultimate destination/distribution medium:
    CD, Vinyl, SACD, DVD-A, etc. (Kinda reminds me of the definition of software "drivers" for outboard computer gear: These things are the "last piece of SOFTWARE between the computer's port and the device's input.)

    Exactly what that entails depends on your mastering engineer and what YOU (the mix engineer, producer, band, orchestra, etc.) have done to the pre-mastered final recording.

    You may need a little or a lot, depending on the work you've done up to that point.

    If you've mixed on bad (inaccurate) speakers, your mastering enginner is going to catch that with his/her system, and if repairable at that stage, they will give you a heads up on it; anywhere from some (hopefully) gentle EQ to radical fixes. If the fix is radical enough, and depending on your time and budget, you may be asked to submit a remix for your own good. That's a lot rarer these days (now that vinyl is all but a thing of the past in 99% of today's releases), but it used to happen a lot - too much bass, too radical phase shifts or pans, etc. etc. If you ARE doing a vinal companion release for example, you may have to do some things differently than the Digital media releases.

    Same with peaks and levels. If they're too wild or unusable - within the tracks themselves, or entire tracks vs. each other - your mastering engineer may suggest some compression or limiting to keep things consistent throughout the disc. If they're bad enough, and a good comp/limiter wont fix things, you may want to go back to the drawing board and remix according to the ME's suggestions. (You can see at this point why it's a good idea to have a good working relationship with your ME; sometimes a little chat/preview ahead of time about what you want to do will save you a lot of pain and aggro at the final step.)

    And of course, final track order gets decided here, ditto for fade ins and outs, pause times, and track by track levels for overall consistency (as already mentioned here in detail.)

    Granted, with good monitors, today's software and GUI tools, you can take care of a lot of this stuff on your own, ahead of time, IF you know what you're doing. (VERY BIG IF, indeed!)

    If you're going to make this your career, you can get some very good results with all of the major software tools out there. But don't for a second think you're going to outdo a good ME who's been doing this for decades, having learned their stuff as far back as the Analog days; when it REALLY took ears alone - no GUI shortcuts. I'd suggest getting the very best results you can as a smart and savvy MIX engineer/producer, and then consult an ME you can trust by repuation or referral.

    You may want to be hands-on with the mastering process (good ones will certainly clue you in on what's being done, perhaps even allow you to sit in and watch/listen/learn while you're at it. (They may charge you more as well, hehehe...but that's what they do! Not everyone wants to show you how to bypass their job. Some ME's even have a few "Secrets" they don't share with just anyone.)

    Whatever is done - a little or a lot, and by yourself or a real pro - a good mastering job is critical to giving your recording the best chance it can have to be heard properly in the hands, errrr, ears, of your audience.
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I have read with much interest everybody's responses to the original posting. I make the assumption, that most of these questions come from people not as experienced as most of the people replying to the question. Granted T-Racks is an all-in-one stop for people looking into what mastering can do to your music. Yes, it is a software version of the finalizer. To say that it is not good from Mr. acoustiked I believe, is a pretty uneducated comment. OK, you don't like to use it, don't use it. I have been in this business longer than most and find it a very interesting and useful piece of software. No, I don't use the presets. Less is more when it comes to anything, including sex. I find it a beautiful and worthy piece of software when used in moderation, in an educated sense. A great learning tool to use. It puts everything that you want in one place. Some of you guys are self-righteous bozos. This does not mean you are not professional at what you do, just bozos. Besides, everybody loves Bozo!
  16. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I guess there are two different people suggesting two different
    ways of doing things.

    I am a professional mastering engineer. I make my TOTAL income from mastering. I use tools that a professional mastering engineer uses. I have other hobbies that I do on the side for fun. Photography is one of those. I play around with Photoshop and use lots of plugins to distort my photographs to please my eye and sensibilities. I would not call myself a professional photographer.

    There are also those who have full time jobs outside of the music industry are doing mastering for the fun of it or because they do their own recording and want to make it sound better to their ears and use tools like an all-in-one "mastering" plugins or boxes like the finalizer.

    If you want to use WHATEVER to make your music sound good then simply do it. If however you want your music to sound the best it can then go to a professional mastering engineer who has the tools, the knowledge, the skills and the properly set up ROOM to properly audition your material and make educated choices as to how best to master your material.

    I personally know of no professional mastering engineer who would use TRacks to master someone's material. It is like a hobby paint by numbers artist saying that they can match the work of Monet or Pablo Picasso because the can put paint to canvas. IT IS NOT THE SAME THING!

    If you are happy using TRACKS then by all means use it. If you are saying it that you can do with it what a professional mastering engineer can do then you have never used the services of or heard the work of Bob Ludwig, Glenn Meadows or Bob Katz etc, etc. who would not use such a plug in under any circumstance.

    MTCW and FWIW
  17. mikehattem

    mikehattem Guest

    I don't think anybody is saying that they can get the same results with T-Racks that a professional mastering engineer would get in their room with their gear... the poor guy who had his thread hijacked by the elitists just wanted to know a simple way to "master" his self-recorded songs... obviously not for commercial release... you guys need to realize that when "hobbyists" or at least the people who do not do this for a living on this board say "mastering" they do not mean what a pro ME like you guys do... (the use of the term is regrettable and I can see why some MEs get upset and feel as though it cheapens their work but I mean come on already)... they basically mean a way to get a little polish a little volume on a final mix... all things they can get from programs like TRacks and Ozone... I use Ozone myself but don't consider myself "mastering" anything but that doensn't mean its not a good tool for non-pros to improve their final mixes (providing they learn some basics first)... anyone who would spend the money on a program like Ozone (which can be fairly involved) just to use presets is in a way wasting their money and time... these types of programs correctly used can help someone understand some of the "signal processing" parts of mastering but mainly it should give someone a better appreciation of the guys who do this professionally... Not trying to get anyone upset here...

    For the poor guy who started the thread:

    Export your final mix from Cubase and then import the wav into Wavelab or Soundforge (a wave editor) or if you don't have one back into Cubase... then apply EQ, compression, possibly a slight reverb, and a limiter to raise the volume... keeping in mind that you don't always need all of these depending on the song and the quality of the mix... most importantly, READ everything you can (as goes for learning anything new... the best way to learn is total immersion)

  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Another reasonable suggestion before you go to mastering. If your equipment accommodates something greater than 16 bit and/or 44.1kHz sample rate, mix it down at the better settings into your computer, i.e. 24-bit, 96kHz or, better. From there you can create a CD/DVD ROM, not an audio CD and send your higher-quality mix to your " professional" mastering engineer who could then, perhaps, give you a better product than you could create at audio CD resolution.

    Does that suggestion meet with everybody's experienced conclusions for this dying for knowledge person?

    Go get'em! Remember, it's not what you have but what you do with it.

    Remy Ann David

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