Mastering philosophy...

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by mixandmaster, Sep 9, 2005.

  1. mixandmaster

    mixandmaster Active Member

    So you get a bunch of songs that actually sound really bad - especially if it's a compilation and there's no one producer for each there's really no one to "look over your shoulder" much do you try to be a hero and how much do you just try to stay true to the original, warts and all?

    It's probably the single thing I struggle the most with. I'm really curious to the different opinions.
  2. Instead of trying to make different songs sound similar, i would try to make those songs sound GREAT.
  3. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    I'm right down the middle on that... Anything corrective I can do is probably going to get done. After that, it's hard to say. The better sounding songs will probably remain the better sounding songs. But I might pull some punches in the enhancement stage.

    I hate those projects... I've got two of them in right now. One sounds nasty - Typical basement recording (I'm surprised it even came in). I'd even go to say less than typical... One band, but every track seems to have one or two things that sounds pretty good and the rest just sounds nasty. The vocals are great on one or two, but the guitars are crap. The guitars are better on one or two, but the drums are crap. There's NOISE and "interesting" mixing decisions throughout.

    Anyway, I impressed myself on the results and racked up a set of high-res MP3's for him to audition - He seems genuinely upset that his tracks don't have the clarity and volume of several quarter-million dollar + productions. He just doesn't understand what mastering is evidently...

    So, I shot him my typical "Clarity is something that happens before the "record" button is ever pressed - It's something that can be tweaked and enhanced, but not invented later" type letter.

    God, I hate sending out that type of letter... Even after 6 hours of work, I'm probably just going to refund his deposit - I've been in this position too many times. Once someone tosses up the "It's not as clear as (insert huge budget recording with a team of seasoned professionals at the helm here)" routine... I can either spend huge amounts of time trying in futility to make them happy or just cut my losses and go onto better sounding projects.

    Sorry - Didn't mean to go off in another direction there... :-?
  4. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    Oh John... I understand and sympathise. I have about 3 to 4 projects like this every year. Those are very challenging in all senses aren't they? :shock: The last I have done, I took the approach of making them sound the less irritating as possible and by consequent sweeter while trying to keep the band's identity (in this case, there was not a lot :? ). To answer papa's question at the same time, I decided the "make it sound better" and it did pretty much but... as you know, there is always compromises to do and sacrifices but well assumed.

    That said, to make a long story short, one of the members wasn't thrill, another could hear a difference, and the 3 others did not seem to really care. I worked for about 8 to 10 hours on this 6 tracks CD. Finally, they took it but I was told that they though that Mastering would have made their CD sound like the Big time Production (well, some basement prod are pretty darn good) and they felt that they have spent their money for nothing but they didn't seem to hear and know that by making them sound less irritating, it was a very big improvement. They did not have any idea of how much work it was eqwise and some noises removing, dealing with noisy ending and fades etc...

    Well, it was challenging and I was pretty happy about what I did and I think I have maid the best decision and direction ... and that is what they have paid for also. Judgement and decisions which is also called "experience".

    Without a producer or any artistic direction, I say that you should go with your experience and not the "hero" attitude. If you don't have any insides from anyone in this project, to me it means, do a "clean" job and you will be the hero...or just the guy who did a boring job and made money out of it. :?
  5. The loudness issue can be solved straight away. If you wish, you can send me a track and i can push the level to the commercial standard. (obviously the track must have no compression and limiting in the master channel, in order to let me do the better job)
  6. TrilliumSound

    TrilliumSound Active Member

    :-? To who you are asking that? You think if its loud it sounds better?
  7. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    No Pimping allowed Giovanni.

    depends on the project. some projects you shoot for consistency, others you go for what the song is.

    I personally like these kind of projects, I do a ton of film soundtracks that are all over the place, especially if they involve score. It's a challenge but I like it.
  8. No, it could probably sound slightly worse for the dynamics, but better in an A/B test with other commercial CD's.
    The client is (almost) always right, and if he wants it louder, just do a louder version that he will be able to evaluate.
    Maybe he will chose the quieter one, but the key for success with clients is to offer them what they want, and to be able to let them choose what YOU want.
  9. alexaudio

    alexaudio Active Member

    Giovanni -

    I am curious to know what you consider commercial standard. Could you please elaborate. Peak to average level is, etc? Also, when the A/B test is being offered, do you ever match the playback level of both to eliminate the level differences between them? It is customary that when someone hears something louder, they think it is better. But I am curious to know is you match the playback level of the two cuts what your responses are? Are you using any ITU standards for such comparisons for consistency? Just curious - this always fascinates me.
  10. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member

    Haven't you heard the sample on his website? :roll:
  11. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    I got nothing to say, I just couldn't find a 'watch this topic' and I wanna see what happens :)
  12. mixandmaster

    mixandmaster Active Member

    That's exactly the feeling I'm talking about. And since I charge by the project and not by the hour, I have THAT added dilemma. Where it's like I can spend FOREVER trying to get the boxy room reflections out of the vocals that were mixed too loud only to make more clear the distortion from not putting a freaking pad on the mic when the singer was shouting in it.

    When all the while the client is going to listen to it in the same mixing environment that they made all the bad decisions in in the first place. Which is made ten times worse when the clients are good people, and I don't want to disappoint or talk down to them.

  13. Alexaudio,
    I will tell you things that every sound engineer know, nothing special.
    There are many standards, or said better, trends, because nobody is setting rules in this field. There are different peak to average ratios trends depending on the music style. Pop, jazz, classical.... and on the target (CD, movie, TV,...)
    My core business is audio for TV advertising, where the peak/RMS ratio is 6dB.
    In the example above, the AB test would be between our master and a reference track. I let the client compare the loudness of our master with the reference track. The client would be satisfied by the A/B test for what concerns the loudness.
    Instead, the sound "quality" of the master is dependent on the sound quality of the mix. The mastering process can do really great things, but not miracles, it can solve some issues, but there are problems that must be fixed during the mixing or even the tracking process.. A good mix can be a good to crap master, depending on the mastering facility, but a crap mix will not be much better than a crap master.
  14. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    If you get in a CD to master and there is no "producer" or "artistic talent" telling you what they want then who is going to make the final decision as to the quality of the mastering? I would go with the money. If the person that is paying you is happy with the results then he or she will hopefully give you more business in the future. We work on quite a few compilation discs and there is always someone who makes the final decisions even if it is the record company A&R guy who says YEA or NAY.

    As to just making something "louder" for the simple act of making it louder I don't think that is a very good idea. There is too much of that in the record industry right now and it makes everything too loud and so nothing can be "louder" as there is no roof to raise on the decibel level. We are already at 0dbFS with mucho clipping going on as well. Any fool can get something to sound louder the trick is to get it to sound louder and better than the original incoming track now that takes talent, experience and know how.

    If you compress the he!! out of something and recompress it and recompress it and throw in some limiting you can make even a classical solo violin piece sound a lot louder but will it sound better? That is the million dollar question.

    As to the difference between mastering for music and mastering for RTV. Most RTV stuff use to be over compressed so it would bring attention to the commercials and make them louder than the program material around them. Now everything is LOUDER so commercials don't stand out from the program material as much as they use to. Also any RTV studio today has very sophisticated limiters and compressor on its signal to make the signal carry further and be the "brightest spot on the dial" but since everyone is doing it they are all loud and then they play loud records so basically people are getting accustomed to LOUD material and maybe its better to go softly to make your statement.

    What ever floats your boat!

  15. alexaudio

    alexaudio Active Member

    Thank you for the information. I was just looking for some information/reasoning between how you developed your AB tests for clients. When I provide AB refs - it is usually two sets. The first set is similar to yours. The second is with the B (being the mastered cut) lowered to match playback level (when I have risen it from the original that is) so they can hear the differences without loudness differences becoming a variable. This has helped quite a bit with educating clients in the problems that the loudness wars have produced. It has been very effective.

    I totally agree that the average ratios depend on music genre (using large amounts of limiting in classical for example is a big no no for the most part and thus the peak to average level is much much greater that that of pop - duh). Though, since I do a lot of mastering for broadcast, I find the peak to average level of 6db for TV and radio is a bit excessive and if limiting/clipping is utilized, it degrades the audio quality once it hits the airwaves. My post on broadcast levels explains how this happens to a certain extent. If the peak to average level is 6db without the use of limiting/clipping, it will sound much better over TV/Radio than if is did employ such tools/techniques. This is now especially true with HD TV and IBOC (HD Radio). It has been often discussed producing different masters for TV/Radio and those for general consumer consumption.
  16. Yes, 6 dB Peak to RMS ratio IS too much, but i have clients who request exactly that (i.e. Swiss Television ).
    I find that the idea of comparing the unmastered program with the mastered one, at the same level, is great to educate the clients and to let them understand that this loudness war is just as crazy as all other wars. But at the end the client will always compare their CD with their favorites ones...

    I think that this non sense can only be solved in 2 ways:
    Either by designing consumer playback systems that, before playing, analyze the peak and the RMS levels of each song in the media being inserted or connected to them and set the relative volume for each one separately, subtractively (no compression or other crappy "enhancing algorithm". (iTunes does it, but i should examine it to understand if it's only a gain process or if there is some crap happening)
    The other trick would be embedding a peak and an RMS tag that would instruct the amplifier to set a specific volume for each song.
    The problem with the second trick is that we are in a corrupted world and somebody would for sure write the wrong tags in order to let their crap play louder than the others... again.... :lol:
  17. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Dolby has this in their AC3 spec, it defaults to a lower level but you can set it to a higher level. itunes and such use a volume boost into a compressor, it's really ugly on loud stuff.
  18. Rider

    Rider Guest

    i dont know what itunes does, but if you need to use the preamp to bump volume up, y oure probably like me and want loud over quality (which with mp3s, youre not going to have great quality to begin with).
  19. eddies880

    eddies880 Guest

    Im learning that lesson as we speak John.
    Ive been taking stuff on,that I know for a fact sounds like sh**,and doing everthing I can to take the sh**,and making sound "a little" less than sh**.
    Seeing as how Im a rookie,Ill take it on,and learn as much as I possible can----but even with that said------Im quickly finding out,its not worth it.

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