Compilation of other Mastered Tracks


Well-Known Member
Jun 22, 2004
Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
I've got an interesting and somewhat unexpected situation to deal with, regarding a project I'm just wrapping up.

The project is a collection of various solo & group artist's tracks - a promotional package, if you will - for an upcoming festival. There are roughly 10 artists contributing (all acoustic/folk/celtic) material. They are all talented and wondeful people, and have graciously granted permission to my client to assemble this one-of-a-kind CD.

So, we have 20 tracks (two from each artist) of some really wonderful material to assemble into one full length CD. My plan was (and still is) MINIMAL Mastering; a touch of level adjustment, some timing & sequencing, and off we go. Ten, even five years ago, this would probably have been a no-brainer. Although I expected some diversity in the tracks, I am still quite surprised (not always in a good way) at what I've gotten from the artists.

Some are entirely self-produced, including tracking, mixing & "mastering". (Notice the word is in quotes!) Some were done entirely at professional studios, and the others are a blend of every other variation. (One was even tracked mainly in Ireland, while mixed here in the States; interestingly, it's one of the best.)

As you can imagine, the "Sound" is all over the road. To my everlasting amazement, it's hard to believe how many different ways one can record just acoustic guitar and voice. (one or two REALLY mucked things up as well, but we won't name any names here! Hahaha) Some things are lovely stereo with the vocal sitting dead in the middle, while others are mysterious "Mono" but with odds and ends poking out of each side. (It makes me wonder what some of these folks are mixing on!!!)

The biggest problem I have to deal with is that roughly 1/3 of the submitted tracks have been finalized/maximized as if they were metal rock songs. I'm talking LOUD, man! (Shocking for ACOUSTIC/FOLK material, I have to say.) I just didn't expect this from this genre, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised nowadays.

My goal is minimally invasive mastering, if such a term exists, and I think the only way I'm going to be able to deal with the wide range of dynamics is to get the quiet stuff UP just a tad, and (reluctantly) lower the overall level of the finalized/crunched-up stuff. I'd like to avoid the scenario where the end-user is constantly tweaking the volume control up and down throughout the CD.

It's too late to get anyone to do a remix without all the crunching; it's not that kind of project anyway - these are all tracks from existing, commercially-available CDs that we're promoting along with the festival. We're lucky enough to have what we have.

Sooooooo, I'm working with some great material, but it's literally all over the road, and this is turning into quite a learning experience. (Interestingly, one of the "Weakest" mastered tracks is also the most interesting; the guy sounds like a cross between Johnny Cash and Garrison Kellier, and his material is simply good, basic stuff, with no frills. To my ears, it's among the best, and what we were hoping for in the first place.)

Anyone ever face a situation like this? I've got four or five more days before it has to go to print, so I'm stillllll working on it. :roll:

Michael Fossenkemper

Distinguished past mastering moderator
Well-Known Member
Sep 12, 2002
NYC New York
I do a lot of compilations and soundtracks and face this on a weekly basis. The way I approach it most of the time is agressive. I listen to all of the tracks and imagine in my mind where everything must sit. I will then dig and pull and push until I can listen to it as a whole. Some tracks will get nothing, others will change drastically, in a good way. The trick is to know which is lofi on purpose and which is to not knowing how to make it sound good. If I have a couple of screamer tracks, I have no problem bringing them down to fit. These artists might complain, but I have a discussion with the client before hand and let them know why i'm doing it. they usually say "do what's best for the cd", sometimes they say "no, we have to make these couple of artists happy".

The client hires you to solve their problems. So do what you think is right for them.