Sitting in on mastering session - Possible?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Gary Gidak, Dec 2, 2002.

  1. Gary Gidak

    Gary Gidak Member

    Hello All,

    I believe this is my first post on this forum, and I'm taking a bold step - having not established any credibility.

    I've been in the recording business for about 20 years. All of my experience is limited to tracking, performing, and mixdown. I've never seen a mastering house, let alone experienced a session. I'm now tracking a personal project of my own using pro tools. I would like to do everything myself, from beginning to end. This is just a personal preference - you know, one of those "I did it all by myself, and if it's great it's because of me, and if it sucks it's because of me" kind of challenges. Having never been involved with the mastering process, I'm understandably ignorant concerning this.

    Does anyone know of, or have connections in a mastering house in, or near Phoenix, AZ? Would these contacts be willing to let me sit in on a project, and ask a few questions? I would gladly do menial tasks in payment for the opportunity. Help me out folks - am I asking for a golden fleece? Am I out of my mind? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    The only thing wrong with your idea is that most good mastering jobs don't happen in just a day, rather over a period of time. It can take days or even weeks to properly master a record, listening on different systems to see if it "travels" well. Often times an engineer will revisit selections after mastering the whole project. I have heard of engineers who will go back to make cuts at the top of the album match the ones at the end and then redo the middle cuts, etc., etc. This can go on endlessly..... A Lot of time and patience is required to do a top notch mastering job. Perhaps you could enlist the services of a Mastering Engineer to assist you with your project. I know that Bill Roberts is glad to do this type of thing (for a fee of course).
    ..... Fats
  3. Gary Gidak

    Gary Gidak Member

    Fats, I thoroughly appreciate your reply. I have actually thought about taking my project to a mastering house, but it's not in my budget right now. Maybe that's the price I will have to pay for the knowledge gained, huh? Thanks for info. If anyone else has some advice, please don't let it end here.
  4. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    My recipe for a top notch mastering job is...

    1. Sit down with the client for a few hrs. and explain mastering in detail, what it is for, how it will be done and use a spreadsheet to catalog the steps. Even though many jobs I do are done without the client present, I always enjoy client participation...after the 2 to 5 hr orientation process is complete.

    What goes into the orientation?

    Pretty detailed.

    First, you start by playing a number of selections through the main mastering system that the client is familiar with..but not that of the work they are working on. IF the client digs Huey Lewis and the News, (or their favorite CD they like) you play some for them (he or she) and let them get a feel for the system that will be doing a majority of the work. After a good 45 mins of listening is is the paperwork phase. I will always cut one track at no charge to show the work is WORTH IT. Paperwork phase is kind of a sales close. Like many songs, what format is your original mix, what order do you want the songs. Can we go to an instrumental 2 track and vocal 2 track if I need to mix them properly(?), how about head and tail edits, fades, spacings, level desired (why or why not to do the final at a certain level) which tracks are cut for lower level (i/e) and acoustic piece with a vocal should not be as loud as a full orchestra or 5 piece Rock band. the perspective of loudness of each track depending on vibe. The we discuss project pricing depending on the complexity of the project. Example, I had one client that sent me a snippit of one song and I mastered that snippit. The client was delighted..but the other 13 songs had to be remixed..they were awful..and I figured it would be for one rate and when I quoted that rate...well I ended up making 3 dollars an hour and that does not even pay the light bill around here..not to mention leases and rent. The project would not go out of here until it was right and I was not about to nickle and dime the client after I agreed on price. Part of the orientation is also choosing pressing plant and entertaining the idea of what will happen to the project after it leaves here. Like a football game, the q back cannot throw the ball unless pass reveivers are down field to accept it. No need busting your chops for a client for little or no coin and no chance for it to do anything but sit on a shelf..unless it is a large label and then I could care less about the backend..unless I am working for points and credits and most mastering engineers I know may accept a couple of points but all of them want to get one reason I have not many credits in my book is that I spent 90% of my time doing projects that were repairs from other houses for cash rather than to go for an album credit. Besides...if I am fixing another mastering houses would not be too pretty to see my name on a projects also mastered by another house. I feel entire albums should be mastered by the same house or at least the credit for them be that way. It is not cool to have 5 pretty good sounding tracks on your record and 7 killers.

    On projects I get without client intervention, these come out good too but I do send a proof for approval and make adjustments if need be.

    Anyway that is a glimps in the baby first steps of how it goes down with me. Each house has their own set of rules. It would be interesting for Michael or Don, to share their first hours with a client for comparison!
  5. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    I'll have to disagree with that. If it takes more than a day or maybe two there is something seriously wrong. If there is a tremendous amount of editing, like a live album I could see it. Or if the tracks are in terrible shape or if it's a restoration project. If the album is in good shape and the client is basically happy with the mixes 6 to 8 hours is about right. Any ME worth his salt knows how it will translate. You as the client might not like it which is a different problem.

    Yes I do this. I process on load into the DAW. If something doesn't work I'll go back and redo it.

    I find I do better work when I work quickly. I try to work fast enough so that I can hear the album as a whole. Like the listener. Since you can only do general sound shaping tasks for the most part I keep my ears on the forrest-not the trees.
  6. Gary Gidak

    Gary Gidak Member


    You are an absolute Wild Man! I can't believe how many posts you have contributed. You get way in depth on your explanations, and you always seem to honestly want to help. God, why can't there be more people like yourself? I truly appreciate the info. Believe me, I'll do my best to "pay it forward."

    By the way, know of anyone in Phoenix who might want to help out. I'd love to come to Florida, but it looks like I'm going to rob Peter to pay Paul just by going to a mastering house. I couldn't afford the trip also.
  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    It's an honor to exchange ideas with you. Your reputation precedes you. I understand and agree your philosophy, it is much like I like to work when I track. If something takes too much time to do it is easy to become mired in the details. That being said, I know of lots of mastering engineers who take the process as I described it. That, IMO, is one of the things that makes a mastering engineer,... ability to focus on details. I would agree that many jobs are done in a day or less, especially where budget is a concern but on the other hand some jobs can take days or even weeks! There are situations where what works for one cut won't work for another. Many times processing going in to the DAW in analog isn't the ticket. As I am sure you know, there are all kinds of variables that may be introduced such as different DAT or CDR players, converters or as Bill pointed out a 2 + 2 mix, etc. I am simply trying to point out that the services of an experienced Mastering Engineer are invaluable and is money well spent. I am sure there are other mastering engineers out there that would agree with this. ......... Fats
  8. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Give you an example of Hell...and I am glad for it.

    Take a masterwork. This work has 50 songs from 50 different artist from 50 different facilities.

    It is a 3 CD set.

    It is non for profit.

    Look at the above sentence, read again and repeat 3 times to understand what is going on.

    All tracks are downloaded wave files some 24 bit, others 16 bit..some are cassette masters converted to wav and downloaded.

    You have 35 of the tracks to do coming in 4 and 5 per day.

    Read the above 3 times. Repete.

    Got it..ok.

    Put the total compliation together where all tracks (edits and mixing some too..not to mention having to find some of the artist (thanks Johnny Geib ;) ) and do it all in 7 weeks when you only have 4 to do it in.

    Also produce a track ands get 15 more in line.

    Well I did..and it was a major challenge.

    The album is now released.


    Difficult but satisfying.

    It took a total of 610 hrs in 7 weeks 5 days and I have a day job plus regular studio duties.

    Imagine Day Job 6AM-6PM, eat, Studio 7PM tpo 4AM. 2 hrs sleep (M/F) Sat..20 hrs. Sun 20hrs.


    Warts, big ones. Get 10 tracks consistant and the next 10 are off work them and track 31 is a you water it down or try to bring the others to that level?? is it possible?? how much can you go??

    Think of is expontial.

    Hard folks.

    If ANYONE has an idea of how to do it better..well I am proud of the sound..but 4 cuts did not get mastered by me and they stick out. Head cut by 2 frames, fade bad, noise in tracks, eq not fat..but anyway..I did 46 correct to album. We ran out of time. That is how it is and the project was overdue by 3 weeks on mastering, and another month for pressing the first 400 or so.

    Now my producer discovered Prince. Really. You got to knock your balls for a gig like that even if it is a non for profit. It about killed me but damn the experience I gained. Imagine adding 600 hrs to your work in 7 weeks.

    No one can keep up with that around the clock and keep a day job. I will admit I slept during the d loads because I was actually 24/7 for 7 weeks here. Gigs and gigs of d loads. And tweaks, and going back to mix on a few as well.

    I do not recommend anyone try this.

    This is the maximum expression of the love of music and Country.
  9. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I know that there is a mastering studio in phoenix, but I can't remember the name, sorry. Most mastering houses aren't too interested in taking someone under their wings if they aren't going to stick around. The best bet would be to pay for time and absorb as much as you can in one day.
    I usually spend to days on a record, that is load in, tweek, then go home. come back in the morning and give it a listen down, make ajustment if needed and then cut parts. I also find 6-8 hours is more than enough if everything is in order. Once in awhile i'll run across something that takes much longer but that usually involves different mix formats and the time it takes listening to them to pick which sounds better.
  10. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Distinguished Member

    I really have to question the idea of not being able to afford mastering assuming that the CD is going to be replicated, packaged and a serious attempt is being be made to sell copies of it. An extremely well mixed, consistent, straight-ahead pop project can be mastered in just a few hours for considerably less than $1000. Some of the better replication plants such as Sony and Europa Disk offer excellent in-house facilities that do major label quality work for a very reasonable price as part of a replication job. (This should not be confused with brokers who throw everything into their PC and L-1 it for $100.)

    If a person can't afford even this minimal level of mastering, they need to be seriously examining if they can actually afford to release a recording in the first place. While there is a very creative side of mastering, it is ALSO an important part of an industrial process where a mistake can become very expensive.

    I don't think a person having a limited budget can afford to gamble on NOT using a mastering facility.
  11. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    Try this.
    They are in Phoenix.

    As to mastering time. The project will take as long as it takes depending on the circumstances. No argument there. Program time and number of discrete elements are the two most important factors. A jazz trio recorded well in one session could easily be completed in under four hours, maybe even 2.5. You muck around with it at your peril.
  12. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    Try this.
    They are in Phoenix.

    As to mastering time. The project will take as long as it takes depending on the circumstances. No argument there. Program time and number of discrete elements are the two most important factors. A jazz trio recorded well in one session could easily be completed in under four hours, maybe even 2.5. You muck around with it at your peril.
  13. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    I find myself in agreement with Bob on so many things. I constantly come acros prospective clients who come in with a CD-R and want to go directly to replication without mastering . I too find that a curious attitude.

    The CD you put out reflects the end of a production process. Without the perspective that a mastering engineer provides you are sort of "crap-shooting" with your project.

    I deal with LOTS of self produced/ /engineered projects. They are the ones that need the most help often.

    We at Europadisk have a special rate (for unattended sessions) which includes 2 hrs of time + a PMCD and a Reference disk for $500.00. Any additional time is then billed as required. This is the cheapest insurance possible. I am always conscious of cost, realizing that everyone is on a budget. My clients usually can not spend days mastering due to either cost or release date considerations. This is at least a start.

    As for the time I usually spend, a typical 12" vinyl project can be touched up in about an hour (sometimes less). A full CD project can range from a minimum of 3.5 hrs to a number of days, depending on the amont of work required or desired by the client.

    Like Michael and Paul, I like to hear the project at one time to keep continuity & flow. Consistancy between tracks is very important. Then we can go back and fine tune as desired.

    As Bill reccommends it is very useful for the client to bring in a selection of favorite / relevant CDs to "audition my playback system" & to refer to during the EQ process.
  14. stoneinapond

    stoneinapond Guest


    Let me provide a slightly different perspective. I too did what you are doing some six years ago. Luckily for me the project turned out pretty well, although I still have some 300 CDs sitting in my closet. But that's another story. Here are some tips to help you on the way.

    1) Visit every music magazine website and search for anything remotely concerning mastering. I mean read EVERYTHING. I started researching from the beginning of the project, which took close to two years to finish. I understand you may not have the luxury of such a time frame, but none the less EDUCATE yourself. There is a wealth of material out there.

    2) You need to be lucky with your monitoring. I was, in that the space I was working in (my living room) was relatively kind to me. I have been in spaces where I would not master on the pain of death (well not quite.) Yes, it would be wonderful to have pristine electronics, a tuned room and speaker systems that cost more than a luxury car. But if you are lucky, then go for it. How do you know you are lucky? Play your premastered tracks on as many systems and places that you can, and listen.

    3) Acquire some basic tools that you will need, be it software or hardware. I don't like the L1 plug-in anymore, but with judicious use it works. An analog compressor on the two bus with very, very gentle processing unless you want to kill the material (hey, I don't know what you are recording.)

    4) Call duplication houses and ask what format they want the material presented to them in. These days we have many more options. Learn about PQ coding (more research) and be educated on what kind of overs are acceptable, and which aren't. (Some will say none.)

    5) And then listen, listen and listen again VERY carefully. Try to imagine you are someone NOT involved with the product. How does it flow? Will this track sit better here, or will it be better after xyz. DAWs come in handy for this, but it can also be done using CD burning software. Listen to transitions. How long? Crossfade? Do all the tracks have similar volumes? Is the EQ consistent? Again all these factors depend on the material and what it is you are trying to say.

    6) Finally remember, it takes almost more effort to sell the product than it takes to create it. Some people are born salespeople with elephant hides for skin. I am not. Hence the remaining CDs. But I would do it all again for the joy I have seen on the 600+ people’s faces when they tell me how much my music means to them. And virtually all have commented in this vein.

    Having said all that, a good mastering engineer in a decent environment is worth their weight in gold if you can afford it (don't quote me on the pricing!) I use them now, and will continue to use them were budget allows.

    Hope this helps and the best of luck with your project.


  15. stoneinapond

    stoneinapond Guest

    Don, hi.

    A question for you. Europadisk did my duplication on the above mentioned CD. This was back when you were on Canal Street. I never did pick up my artwork. What are the chances it still exists? Anyway, your company did a great job, and I heartily recommend your services. (I hope you are all still as good.) ;) The only thing I would have done differently if I'd had a little extra money would be to have gone for a slightly more expensive printing job. But as always, you get what you pay for.


  16. Gary Gidak

    Gary Gidak Member

    Wow! I'm overwhelmed with the information. You have all been very helpful, and I appreciate it. Let me try and clear the waters for those of you who may not understand, or "question" my "being able to afford mastering" as Olhsson quite eloquently put it.

    I could afford mastering if the end result warranted such an expense. I'm not vain enough to think that I'm going to cut a CD and successfully sell it. I really don't want to take that gamble. This project is going to be a good quality demo of my work. I'm putting the time and effort into it for two reasons. 1st, I've never seen a project through from beginning to end. 2nd, I'm distributing copies to family members and friends who I haven't spent time with in years. A bunch of good folks who know of my talents, but haven't been present to hear the evolution of them. That's why I stated that this is a personal project. I doubt I will duplicate more than 100 copies, if that. So maybe that answers some questions.

    Let me close by saying that my intended end result may sound as though it doesn't warrant the attention that some of you have given it. To me it's no less important than any other project, but the end result is not geared toward the same audience one would normally try to sell to. Thanks to you all for your help, and advice. I truly am greatful.
  17. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    If you only want 100 copies you will probably end up with CDR copies. Most plants will only do a 500 minimum. You'll have to price everything out to see what makes sense because CDR copies are more expensive than replicated discs.
  18. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Paul is right..these days most mastering facilities (mine does) can knock out a 100 pack in 2 days using care (not 32X). Once it is ripped to a error proof system then doing 20 an hr is no problem with the multiple burners. I feel that burned CD's can sound better than a glass ...except for those who do it all in house and use extreme care in x fer.

    I feel every project gets the same level of importance..after all, art is art.
  19. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    Yorik: Please E-mail me at:
    We can talk about artwork. My work is better than ever now, of course! We learn every day.

    Paul: For bulk CDs (no packaging/jewel cases)
    we will replicate 300, or maybe fewer, minimum, pricing gets better the more pcs you replicate.

    Bill: Art is indeed Art!! If the CD is going out there you should want to represent yourself at your best. You don't want Aunt Hilda to be turned off by a lack of bass or muddy cymbals, now do you?
  20. Alécio Costa - Brazil

    Alécio Costa - Brazil Well-Known Member

    If Bill were a girl I would already be married to him!!

    Yes, Bill is one of my biggest friends in the virtual web world and soon also in the real world...

    Yes, this guy rules and know what he talks about.

    On some other forums, guys just present the stuff and go away when it gets time to share a piece of cake. That is hy I gave up from several forums and the ones who know me deeper, are aware that I really bother my bigger brothers a lot!

    So here it goes....

    I spend around One hour with the new potential client...
    I make notes, present gear, make a sketch mastering of one song of his for free. I generally spend around 5 to 8 hours mastering a 12 song album orinally done at 44k/24 bits, no matter of it comes from a CD-R DATA or Audio.

    Dat tape Masters genreally arrive with some minor tracking / alignment problems so where my 2 DAT machines start their self talk.

    Very complex jobs I end up spending two days or 2 periods of 6 hours, but that is rare, generally when I get albums were the songs were mixed by sevreal different studios/ skill level engineers.

    I have also rejected to do some stuff, have appeared lots of very bad project gospel CDs on here, generally done with DIGI 001, Vs, Fostex machines. Many unlabelled/not indexed DAt tapes, horrible fadeouts, that I always urge clients to let me myself do them .

    One problem is hwen the guy comes with 14 songs and the 14 BGs of them, wanting to put all them on the same master!!

    I try to explain the client the overview of an RTa like PAz, show some audio artifacts, deficiencies and up to where we can arrive. I am very realistic and try to be very ethical.

    There is a saying here in Brazil: nowadays, there is almost nothing that someone :w: else can not do worser and cheaper for you...

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