Why are mixing and mastering considered separate steps?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by sserendipity, Oct 24, 2002.

  1. sserendipity

    sserendipity Member

    Something has perplexed me for a while:

    Why are mixing and mastering considered separate steps? It seems to me that a better job could be done if the separate levels and frequencies of the original source material could be adjusted during the final process to compensate for changes and correct for mistakes, as mix dynamics are being adjusted.

    I understand it's a different skill set entirely, but why does 'mixtering' so often get such a bad rap when the topic comes up around professional engineers?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Well I may get some grief for this but mastering is a hangover from the days of vinyl. This was a transfer that had to be made from the analog tape 2 track to the record. There were limitations in the records ability to handle heavy bass and if you cut it too hot the needle would jump out of the groove. Bad news, record companies don't like it when people return their records! So a few trusted and talented individuals and mastering houses were entrusted with making sure the record companies didn't lose their collective butts on returns. Now days this has evolved to a different but still necessary function. That is to correct for the inexperience of most of the producers that are submitting product while insuring there are no errors or anomalies in the final master. There are some engineers who do exactly what you are suggesting, when they submit their masters to the mastering facility they request them to "cut it flat". Chances are however that you don't have that kind of experience or the room acoustics or the equipment that can do for you what they can. If you do more power to you but it doesn't seem likely you would be asking this question if you did. Let the pros help you out, you'll be glad you did…..Fats
     
  3. audiowkstation

    audiowkstation Active Member

    The only things I can add to what fats said, really just a repeat..Another set of ears and circumstances.

    Always remember this, fine editing concerning the way your tracks will be be spaced and faded properly also is a mastering function.

    Pretty often, I receive "unmasterable" work. It was over compressed in mixdown and squashed to 0.00dB...a flat line. Their are ways to resurrect this but it is tedious...and quite secret...because what works for one will not work for another and it takes well over a decade of experience to decompress a mix. The secrecy is "it may take 300 edits to decompress" and it is a waiste of time to document all of them when it works only for one tune..hence the secrets...(I don't even know all the steps..how I got there) It is hard work...especially if you have 20 or more tracks with different levels of compression and the whole album must be uniform to each track, and to other tracks.

    Very often, I request an instrumental 2 track and a complete vocal 2 track. I feel this is a new funtion of mastering engineers as well, to receive a 2+2 mix. This is a fact especially from Indie works. It gives the advantage of separate edits for the vox mistakes without messing up the track. More and more of this should be commonplace with Mastering/sweetning/editing/compiling engineers.

    Having to crop some prepunch laughter in the middle of a 2 mix without affecting the track is an obvious impossibility..and some folks may never hear or see the punch-in errors.

    Mastering engineers are like finely tuned microscopes looking for life in the mist of the dust specks and weeding out the death. Microscopic surgery....if you will.

    That is the scope of what a mastering engineer does. Also the familiarity of many different systems helps.

    It gets much deeper than that. Attention to detail is key.
     
  4. sserendipity

    sserendipity Member

    Thanks Fats, Bill!

    >Chances are however that you don't have that >kind of experience or the room acoustics or the >equipment that can do for you what they can. If >you do more power to you but it doesn't seem >likely you would be asking this question if you >did. Let the pros help you out, you'll be glad >you did…..Fats

    Yes, it was more of an academic question, rather than 'what's the use of a mastering engineer?"

    When mastering demos, I usually stay within the DAW environment that song the was built in, add the mastering tools to the two track output. I end up going back frequently to fix stuff in the mix, as timbres get pulled in and out by compression.

    I can hear the difference between stuff that has been sent out to mastering houses at places I have worked, and when I've had the time, I've tried my hand at 'doing my own version' to compare to the one that gets returned, but it seemed like the mastering houses were hamstrung by not having all the tracks split out - so they could fix elements that sounded out of place once two track compression/sweetening/voodoo had been applied.

    >because what works for one will not work for >another and it takes well over a decade of >experience to decompress a mix. The secrecy >is "it may take 300 edits to decompress" and it >is a waiste of time to document all of them when >it works only for one tune..hence the secrets...
    >(I don't even know all the steps..how I got >there) It is hard work...especially if you have >20 or more tracks with different levels of >compression and the whole album must be uniform >to each track, and to other tracks.

    Ouch. I bet that would be easier if they gave you all the tracks separately :>

    >Very often, I request an instrumental 2 track >and a complete vocal 2 track. I feel this is a >new funtion of mastering engineers as well, to >receive a 2+2 mix.

    So what I suspected is about to occuring - mastering is taking on more of the mixing process, or rather mixing options are being keep open until the final step.

    Cool!

    Jonathan
     

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