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How much improvement can be expected after mastering?

Member for

6 years 11 months
Hi,

I recorded and mixed my own album. I tried my best to do a good mix, but I know it still sounds like a home job. This is why I was expecting a fairly dramatic change after I got the reference tracks back from supposedly one of the premiere mastering facilities in Canada.

The mastered file is the studio's second crack at it, so I can't just say that I'm not impressed. I'm wondering if my expectations were too high, or if not, what I should say to the studio. I'm perfectly open to the idea that I might be crazy as well.

http://springstein.googlepages.com/Since-mix.mp3
http://springstein.googlepages.com/Since-mastered.mp3

I would be so thankful if some of you would list to these tracks and give me your thoughts.

Thank you.

Comments

Member for

21 years

Member Thu, 11/15/2007 - 13:40
"I would much rather have a client that has a vision and uses my skills to achieve that vision than to have someone who comes to the mastering session with some "pie in the sky"

Throughout your rambling, if you don't mind me saying so, it seems you wish that clients knew everything that you did and know what they're talking about. In reality, most musicians (especially ones who go to studios for recordings, not mastering,) know nothing of the recording process. If they know anything about recording, they have the slightess clue about mastering.

Now I can see that they should have some input and preferences. You just seem like your taking your frustration out on the message board. My oberservation only of course. Come work in insurance for a week and give me a call! LOL :)

Member for

17 years 6 months

Cucco Fri, 11/09/2007 - 19:01
Did you compress to give to the Mastering Engineer?

Okay...so here's a couple points...

A good mix sent to a good mastering engineer will likely yield a great sounding final product.

A mediocre mix sent to a good mastering engineer will yield a noticable improvement, but not a vast improvement.

A poor mix sent to a good mastering engineer will yield a small improvement, but you'll still have a poor sounding final product.

A mastering engineer cannot work magic!

A good analogy would be cooking...

A good cut of meat in the hands of a professional chef would need nothing more than a proper amount of salt and pepper and a skillet to get an amazing final product.

A two week old cut of steak in the hands of a professional chef will still taste like a partially rancid piece of meat, no matter what is done.

A lump of poop in the hands of a professional chef would taste like a cooked lump of poop.

Member for

21 years

Member Wed, 11/21/2007 - 09:05
"You're right, I didn't give him much to go on as far as a vision. I guess I still don't have a vision. My job is custom web design and right now I feel like one of my more difficult clients who don't know what they want, but know when they don't like what they're seeing. I understand now that I am the problem here."

I wish my last client would read this. I would say if you were to refer the M.E. to what current artist you would like it to sound like would be a good start. Never underestimate the power of reference material. You might not know how your favorite album got the sound it did but the M.E. might.

In the meantime, start reading up on mastering and mixing. It is a long journey that never ends but is worth it when you start creating pro sounding stuff.

What I find is that clients know what they want but because of their lack of education, they have a difficult time expressing it. This creates a disconnect and worse yet, if they have any kind of ego, they tend not to think that the engineer knows what to do or that they have some alterior motive.

A good mix is everything. I'm very pleased to see that you weren't overly concerned about loudness. Too many artists have no concept of what that really means and that boosting your overall volume actually brings the volume of other parts down.

i.e. my client insisted on having a snare the loudest part in the mix and had it pegged to the top in the mix. Then he wanted me to crank the whole song as loud as it possibly could go, not understanding that this would seriously clip the loudest waveform on the track, (snare). This meant that the snare clipped while the rest of the song came up. Result: the snare sounded quieter relative to the rest of the song! Guess what, he was mad at me. I've heard instruments almost completely disappear because of this. We need a standard but that will probably never happen.

I think you're on the right track. Keep it up.

Member for

16 years

RemyRAD Fri, 11/09/2007 - 23:44
From your two examples, it would appear that your first example is your original mix. The second sample is obviously the mastered version which one, who knows? But I think it's the one were you told the mastering engineer you wanted it to be as loud as possible. Which they did. And so with the big boost in density for loudness sake, your song has lost a bit of its sweet ethereal quality in favor of brute force loudness. Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for. Loudness is not the be all end-all. This is much too lovely a song you have beautifully engineered to brutally kick the crap out of it just to make loud.

Why not just ask the mastering engineer to give you a nice job? You might get more of what you'd like to hear. Instead of telling them what you want. They know what they're doing and you don't.

Over loud over and out
Ms. Remy Ann David

Member for

14 years 3 months

DrGonz Sat, 11/10/2007 - 01:04
Man gave the stereo this lil feature simply named the volume knob. So often we want to create the loudest tracks? and why really?? so u compare to the general public or the idiots making overly loud masters. There are ways to make a mix seem loud w/ out losing too much dynamic range.
The original mix had a great frequency range and by analyzing your work, it appears u might have slapped a compressor on the master bus? Or maybe send them one copy w/ compressor on master bus and another w/ out the compression. Maybe learn somethings about mastering, that helps me to make better mixes.
The vox part at the very first 20-30 seconds sound like it could be louder? The mix sounds really well done, but maybe contemplate more reverbs? or other noise shapers... The mastering was not done especially welll. I could probably make that master sound better than.... no, I know I could.... and I am merely novice hobbit. So go shop around and find a better M.E. You'll know when u meet them cuz you'll hear this great composition come to life.

edit.... Lunar do u mean that these are two tracks one your mix and then a master? Or are they the two mastered versions??...

Member for

13 years 1 month

soapfloats Mon, 05/25/2009 - 22:37
Great thread.
Good information for someone like me, who often works as an intermediary between the band and an ME.
Found it while trying to find an answer to this question:

"As an ME, what is your argument for having your(musicians') mixes professionally mastered?"

I've got a good idea of the answer, and had a decent one before my search, but still have a hard time winning the argument. In lieu, I will offer to do my best job, b/c I fear they'll take it elsewhere and have a hack do the work.
I'm not much better than a hack when it comes to mastering, but I know enough to be lighthanded and just do enough to get up to a reasonable level while making sure the best aspects of each track shine through.

It's just hard for me to convince my clients of the need use a reputable ME, especially with the lower-cost/LOUDER-IS-BETTER options out there.
Can you help me? :wink:

Member for

6 years 11 months

lunar Sat, 11/10/2007 - 10:35
Cucco wrote: Did you compress to give to the Mastering Engineer?

I'm not sure if you mean compression as in dynamics control on the master channel or compression as in MP3. Both answers are no. I supplied the studio with 24bit/48kHz WAV files. And, my mixes did not have compression on the master channel, just on individual tracks or groups of tracks.

Thank you very much for your helpful comments though, Cucco.

bent wrote: Is the first file your original mix, and the second one from the mastering facility; or are they master one and master two?

The first file is an mp3 version of my original mix that was submitted to the studio. The second file is an mp3 of the studio's second crack at mastering it.

RemyRAD wrote: But I think it's the one were you told the mastering engineer you wanted it to be as loud as possible. Which they did.

Fascinating and disappointing to hear this comment. One of my notes that I sent to the studio before they started was that "I don't care very much about loudness; that's what the volume knob on my stereo is for... I am not interested in losing the impact of the audio in exchange for a few extra Db's".

DrGonz wrote: The vox part at the very first 20-30 seconds sound like it could be louder?

I struggled a lot with vocal level... it's hard! Thanks for your mix comments though.

I really appreciate all of these opinions! Thanks.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Thomas W. Bethel Tue, 05/26/2009 - 04:34
Nexus555 wrote: "I would much rather have a client that has a vision and uses my skills to achieve that vision than to have someone who comes to the mastering session with some "pie in the sky"

Throughout your rambling, if you don't mind me saying so, it seems you wish that clients knew everything that you did and know what they're talking about. In reality, most musicians (especially ones who go to studios for recordings, not mastering,) know nothing of the recording process. If they know anything about recording, they have the slightess clue about mastering.

Now I can see that they should have some input and preferences. You just seem like your taking your frustration out on the message board. My oberservation only of course. Come work in insurance for a week and give me a call! LOL :)

To quote an oft quoted phrase. An educated consumer is the best consumer. Some clients spend months or even years getting their material to sound the way they want it to sound. Then they turn it over to a mastering engineer with no clear instructions and no references and expect the mastering engineer to share their vision and know what it is that they want. Or worse the only thing they tell the mastering engineer is to "make it louder" and when he or she does what they have been told to do the client doesn't like the results.

Communications is the name of the game and the more communication that takes place between a client and his or her mastering engineer the better it is for both of them.

FWIW and YMMV

Member for

13 years 11 months

bent Sat, 11/10/2007 - 22:02
Lunar,

Just so you know, I was able to exactly duplicate the job the mastering house did with one simple plugin.

I hate to say, but I think the studio did exactly the same thing.
Sometimes, though, that's all you need.

They didn't have to spend a lot of time on it, because it sounds pretty darn good.

I like it, it reminds me of The Decemberists, or The Pixies - I hope that comparison doesn't offend you!

Member for

17 years 6 months

Cucco Sat, 11/10/2007 - 22:08
Yeah...sorry to say - it seems that the ME simply put it through a limiter and boosted it a few dB.

Personally, I would like to have heard more present vocals in the mastered version...perhaps a bump between 240-320 Hz and maybe a bit more presence above 4 kHz.

The low end sounds fine (I'm not on my good speakers, so the stuff below 60 Hz can't be verified here...)

BTW - I like your snare sound. It's not overpowering like is popular nowadays. Thanks!

Cheers,

J.

Member for

19 years

Michael Fossenkemper Sun, 11/11/2007 - 04:14
Huh? He used more than just a limiter I have to say, and i'm listening on a pair of little m-audio's hooked up to my laptop.

IMO he corrected a lot of things and some things were compromised in the process. There are a few approaches one can take with a mix like this and he took one of them. I don't think he botched it at all. Without being privy to your talk with him or how you communicated with him, I can't say he followed or didn't follow your recommendations. 9/10's when something doesn't go as expected, it's because you either didn't communicate properly to him or you have issues that can't be corrected without other issues popping up.

But with the little info you gave, you communicated that you were looking for some kind of drastic change etc... you got that and it's not a bad that at that.

You're not even sure what you are looking for so how can the ME? He took a crack at guessing. Sooooo basically you need to figure out what you want, and your mix needs a little more attention. It's a process and not hitting a home run on the first swing shouldn't be considered a failure.

Member for

15 years 5 months

BobRogers Sun, 11/11/2007 - 06:03
I think the initial mix is a good one. I would have put the vocals a little more forward and put the pad a little back, and I would not increase the reverb. But that's just a matter of taste. You can't call anything like that a "correction" of your mix.

The mastering job seems pretty minimalist, but again I don't see anything wrong with that. They didn't squash the heck out of the thing, and the limiting gave the bass and drums more punch. They didn't try to fix things that were not broken.

Going beck to your original question and Jeremy's analogy, a chef's talent is most often apparent on the finest and most humble ingredients. Prime steak and beef shanks and oxtails. If you give him a nice hunk of sirloin you usually won't get an ethereal dish from a minimalist approach and the meat is too good to tear it apart and try to transform it as you would a lesser cut.

Member for

19 years 9 months

Thomas W. Bethel Sun, 11/11/2007 - 07:02
Too many times clients come in looking for the mastering engineer to wave their magic wand and "fix" all the problems that were created since the project was first conceived. They want balances changed, they want wrong notes or bad edits fixed and they want musical instrument tunings changed. They also want all the hum from the guitars amplifiers and the noise from the traffic and air conditioner (that they never head before because the did the whole project on their computer using the computer speakers for monitors) taken out.

Many times an ME can do wonders with fixing up minor problems but they are really not magicians and cannot make a ballad done with one guitar and a vocalist into a "hard driving knock your socks off rock tune" (although I have been asked to do this more than once.)

Lots of times clients don't know what can or cannot be done in a mastering session. When they ask for something and the mastering engineer is unable to do what they want they immediately think they are being "cheated" or "this mastering engineer does not know what he or she is doing" and post "I am upset messages" on every audio forum they can find.

The other problem with many clients is that they fail to communicate to the mastering engineer what they really want out of the mastering and when it is all done they are not happy. Most mastering engineers are professionals and want to do the best possible job for the client but are not, in most cases, mind readers.

I would much rather have a client that has a vision and uses my skills to achieve that vision than to have someone who comes to the mastering session with some "pie in the sky" ideas and then is upset when I fail to do what they never communicated to me. Many clients just assume that I know what they are thinking and at the end they say "gee this is not what I wanted at all and I am upset". The time to communicate is at the beginning of the session and not after it is all done.

Mastering is both a art and a science and you have to wear two hats most of the time when you are doing mastering. You have to know how to do what is asked of you and you also have to help the artist realize their artistic vision. You have to be a good communicator and be able to translate musician speak, "It ain't got no vibe" into something that will be what the client wants and will be happy with.

It is not an easy job as almost any mastering engineer will tell you. But it is the best job in the world and certainly one of the most fun jobs around.

Member for

6 years 11 months

lunar Sun, 11/11/2007 - 10:03
Michael Fossenkemper wrote: IMO he corrected a lot of things and some things were compromised in the process. There are a few approaches one can take with a mix like this and he took one of them.

You're right, I didn't give him much to go on as far as a vision. I guess I still don't have a vision. My job is custom web design and right now I feel like one of my more difficult clients who don't know what they want, but know when they don't like what they're seeing. I understand now that I am the problem here.

Michael, my question to you and others is that if I were to describe this approach to the mastering the mix, how would I describe it? And, what are some descriptions of other approaches that I might be able to relay back to the engineer. Because I know the mastering engineer knows what he's doing and I don't, I'm nervous about telling him to do something that's going to have a negative impact.

From my own work, I understand that often things have to go back and forth especially when the client doesn't really know what he/she wants but is picky never-the-less. I also understand that sometimes that means that the client has to pay a little more, and I'm fine with that.

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