The necessity of mastering

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by jdsdj98, Mar 25, 2003.

  1. jdsdj98

    jdsdj98 Active Member

    Check this out. I read this in the liner notes of a bluegrass spoof album today. This is a commercial release on an independent label. Just curious what you guys will have to say about this, especially mastering engineers here. While I do not agree in whole with what's being said here, I understand the angle from which it comes. It doesn't seem that this album suffers from not having been mastered. It sounds pretty damn good. The band's frontman owns the studio in which it was recorded, and he recorded and produced the album, so these aren't random comments made by an unknowledgeable artist.

    Here it is:

    In this age of digital recording, "mastering" is beyond unnecessary, and was therefore avoided in order to preserve the fidelity of the original performances as they were captured by the really expensive German microphones and hand built Great River & Buzz Audio preamplifiers with output transformers. No digital limiters of any kind were used. Enjoy the sonic purity.
  2. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    Their are times when mastering is simply rearranging the songs in the proper order, putting text on the CD so the higher end players can provide a readout of songs and artist, and credits on the display, and doing head and tail edits that are proper for spacing. Some small level adjustments to each song for cohesion and NONE of the music is touched in any way with a compressor or eq, because it is simply unnecessary.

    Mastering does envolve the things I mentioned above and many studio fail to realize its importance before pressing.

    Mastering also includes cutting vinyl. Hardly few studios ...even the ones that care are experienced in vinyl mastering...which by the way, the vinyl engineers here are totally booked solid.

    I have about 600 hours of vinyl cutting on hand experience and I never blew a cutter head and always, always, it is an art. I wish I did not sell my Scully...but divorce is divorce.

    Mastering even encompasses the area of consultant, to the pressing plant.

    Truly, a mastering engineers days are only numbered by the folks that do not realize how "in depth" our profession really is.

    Mastering engineers jobs, are to take product from the professional realm into the consumer realum. That is the MO.

    IF you were building a bridge, it is required to have a structural engineer on retainer.

    Their is not a law of requirement to have a mastering engineer, it just is using good judgement. It is not expensive unless you want to wait in line for Doug or Bob. They charge for their reputation...and rightfully so.

    No one can be killed by inferior sound. It seems to be going mainstream in a big way!

    I am sure the bluegrass recordings, if organic, sounds killer.

    When I was on the Arkansas /Oklahoma line, I recorded some of the finest sound I have ever heard /no mastering needed at all. Just the above.

    As the finest your work can be, someone with experience in the "WHOLE" experience of mastering should be retained or requested actually.

    It simply helps to have another set of ears that are unbiased.

    YMMV of course.

    Some projects need no mastering at all, Except to guarantee a smooth transistion, from the studio to the pressing house. It also helps to have a well established mastering engineer involved in the project for credibility sakes. It shows professionalism and get the attention of the industry. YMMV again.
  3. Doug Milton

    Doug Milton Active Member

    I once heard Glenn Meadows say that mastering a single for Lyle Lovett he had added .5 dB at 14 kHz, and that’s all it needed. Mastering isn’t about just doing stuff; it’s knowing what to do or not do as needed.

    Mastering Zen: let the song tell you what it needs….
  4. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished Member

    To go out of his way and say that tells you something. It's the attitude of the statement. Some engineers feel there mixes are perfect, that's the way I want it to sound. That is fine but it still needs to get from his media to the final format at the very least.
    The process of mastering is not to fix what you did wrong but to get the most out of it. And that can be a lot of work or not. But to say because of digital technology its no longer needed.. thats just ignorant.
  5. jdsdj98

    jdsdj98 Active Member

    That's how I see it, too, Joe. This guy didn't say "we're happy with only this album and it's only this album, these songs, that do not need mastering." His was a blanket statement that said in no uncertain terms that with today's technology, mastering is NEVER necessary. Not a very responsible statement, IMO.
  6. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I find this attitude once in awhile and it's usually because of a bad experience somewhere. He just needs to go to a good mastering engineer and he'll change his mind.
  7. Pez

    Pez Active Member

    It's hard to judge whether the CD would have sounded better with mastering because it wasn't tried. I have lots of mixes I let folks hear. They will make comments like "that sounds great, I'm very pleased with that" which tells me they would of been perfectly happy the way it was. When I then play them the mastered version they'll say "wow, now that's really great, what a difference". I'm not saying this to blow my own horn just to say that you should hear a definite improvement in the mixes especially when it translates to different systems. Of course every mix is different, a good recording engineer with a good room and monitors can come very close to a finished product. In that case the mix is only tweeked slightly to match the levels of the other tunes or is accepted as is with a tip of the hat to the engineer. It sounds as if the folks in that particular bluegrass band had a bad experience with a mastering engineer who used too much limiting or compression. I'm sure economics also played a part in their decision. Just because something sounds very good does not mean that it could not have sounded better. Some will argue that the public cares less. They may be right. The fact still remains that I care and 95% of the time the artist will care as well when he hears an A/B comparison.
  8. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    I think that statement is right in purely technical terms. You can knock out a CD in Toast that can be sent to the plant and replicated. You couldn't do that for vinyl. An engineer had to do the transfer to lacquer. I don't think it's a good idea to bypass the ME. If only to have someone to blame if the master is no good.
  9. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    The original statement indicates an unwillingness to even see if an improvement can be achieved. I think it's important to allow another set of ears to hear the product. The idea that any one person knows it all or has supreme taste is arrogant in my opinion. I would say, let 3 ME's hear it, if they all say "It's perfect" then by all means, leave it alone. I would venture a guess that there is room for improvement however good it sounds. Kurt
  10. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    Clients count on us to give them options & to have the good sense to do as much as necessary & as little as possible. That's why most of us will offer free samples.

    I recall that when digital came out, it was supposed to be "perfect sound forever". Without mastering engineers (and recording engineers) to push labels toward correcting sonic difficulties at the start, & keeping pressure on, digital would not sound as good as it does today. It will most likely sound better still in the future thanks to the efforts of mastering engineers. I wonder why he was so closed minded?

    Maybe his comment was a spoof in keeping with the mood of the program?
  11. mistals

    mistals Guest

    Was the band Hayseed Dixie? They are a goofy bunch of fellows. I think they also claimed to have found the recording in a crashed vehicle in Kentucky. I mixed for them when they came thru the midwest last summer, and they do record at their own studio but like someone else mentioned, they haven't had the privledge of meeting a good mastering engineer. When they do, they will be all for it, but then again, most old school bluegrass folks are against electricity, drums, digital recording/editing and running water for that matter. They like a more raw sound, and you know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if it was Hayseed Dixie, they were most likely goofing around or lookin to turn heads. Just my thoughts on the matter.
  12. jdsdj98

    jdsdj98 Active Member

    It was them.

    Kiss My Grass.
  13. Lynn Fuston

    Lynn Fuston Active Member

    John Wheeler is a card. He is the front man and instigator for Hayseed Dixie. And a very capable engineer. I have a lot of respect for his work.

    One of his favorite stories is to hear people talk about how great the Hayseed Dixie sounds since it was all vintage gear and analog. He just smiles and nods his head, knowing full well that it was recorded on blackface ADATs. (No urban myth. It's true.)

    FWIW: The first two Hayseed Dixie CDs were NOT mastered. The next CD in the Hayseed Dixie catalog is named "The Kerosene Brothers." It's very cool. It was mastered at 3D Audio by yours truly. That may tell you something about what he thinks mastering is worth. Though he has little regard for the damage that is being done by many in mastering these days. We've talked about it several times.
  14. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    This is an interesting thread I missed years back. You still feel this way Kurt? I'm on the fence in regards to this topic. I totally understand the "purity" . But I suppose the mastering could also just make sure the level was matched to any other tracks in a group. But then if this was a great capture of a performance from start to finish and the level was at its optimum, why would it need mastering, it is what it is in its purest form.

    The OP was 2003, A lot has changed. It will be interesting to read this again in another decade.
  15. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i get what he was saying. i still think it never hurts to let others take a crack at it. i love collaboration. i also know what they are saying about all analog but recorded to blackface ADATs .... i did a lot of stuff on that type of set up and it did sound pretty good to me.

    Chris likes this.
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I think those days are changing too. I did a bluegrass track for a band that was part dance. It was really cool too.

    I never met them in person so I can't confirm the water thing. :)
  17. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i just listened to some of Hayseed Dixie's stuff and all i can say is whatever they want to do is ok with me

    Chris likes this.
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Thats great! Thanks for posting this one Kurt. I love this stuff.
    Awesome. Great mix , so smooth and dynamic. And they can play.
  19. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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