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Pre Mastering Dynamics

Member for

21 years 2 months

I'm just wrapping up a four song demo for some young rockers who play a very similar style to Tool, Poison the Well, Deftones, Primus, etc.

They need a CD to take to clubs to solicit live gigs.

I have basically insisted that instead of paying me (this time, at least) they pay a professional mastering house (Airshow Mastering in Boulder, CO) every nickel they can scrounge up to make our very best efforts in tracking and and mixing the very best and most professional sounding final product possible.

My main question regards the fact that I have been very pickey with instrument selection, tuning, song structure and overall performance quality at the source, and the resulting tracks reflect that very well, with little additional corrective EQ required. But, these mixes only sound their best when played back at volumes that come close to capturing the dynamic range of the original sources, and, especially for the drum tracks, that is really loud (100db SPL, or so).

This leaves the kick and snare taking up a huge amount of transient headroom, but sounding absolutley suberb when played back in the mix at high volumes. The bass also sounds much tighter at this level.

Can I leave this relative balance as is and expect the mastering engineer to bring the overall dynamic range of the mix down to mainstream standards, while preserving and/or enhancing the low end punch at low volume playback?

Or do I need to use compression and EQ on individual tracks to make the mix sound as good as possible at low volumes/deficient playback systems before I bring it to the mastering studio?

I've noted that Metallica's album 'Load' has a very loud and yet dynamic quality at 70db SPL that reminds me of my mixes played at 100db SPL. How did they do that? I'd walk over fire (100 yards) to get a final mix sounding like that!

A little info on my setup:

I have a serious basement studio using a Mac G4 and MOTU 2408 MKII running 24bit, 44.1kHz.

I use Mackie HR824 monitors.

My control room and performance room acoustic treatment was designed by Richard Oliver Productions in New York.

My control room is only about 150 square feet with a 7'3" ceiling.

I am using a PreSonus Digimax LT as well as tube mic preamps of my own design and construction.

Microphones include Neumann KM184's, AKG 414TLII, Sure SM57's, AKG D112, Sennhiser 421, etc.

I also just finished building a two channel UREI 1176LN clone from Jakob Erland's Gyraf DIY web page. I'm chomping at the bit to render every track back through it, but I will try to wait and make a more informed decision.



Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Mon, 12/29/2003 - 03:21
Anything will sound good at a LOUD volume.don't decieve yourself.
IMHO , you're best remixing the tracks at a much lower volume and occasionally turning up the monitors to :rock out:.
The mastering engineers job should be to make the mix sit well on all speakers big and small > and to make it sit well LOUD and SOFT rather than corrective procedures that could be solved by a perceptive and well thought out mix.
Use what you need to use , remember it's a gig demo not a world production so it should be honest as well. don't use the comp if you don't need to but i tell you peak limiting on snare and kick may help.
If the mastering engineer needs to peak limit it usually is because of kick , snare and maybe vox and this may change the whole impact of the mix.and of course the classic phrase "the mastering engineer fucked it up" is the excuse for the lost gig.
get it right from the start :p:

Member for

20 years 9 months

realdynamix Mon, 12/29/2003 - 03:57
Originally posted by deanp920:
But, these mixes only sound their best when played back at volumes that come close to capturing the dynamic range of the original sources, and, especially for the drum tracks, that is really loud (100db SPL, or so).

:) I love this forum! Your first choice to go to a mastering studio is the right one. Preparing and understanding your mix is the right one, NOTE: I am NOT a mastering engineer.

I will give a situation, you say you have a mix that has captured this group, but only sounds correct at high SPL's. If you take this mix, as is, and play it over a house system, one set up for background music, you will notice a large drop in average audio level, a lack of bass and a dip in the range from 2k to 5k. This will make you or someone want to grab the volume and crank it more, with respect to the common set and forget level.

Go for the sound you want, but monitor at conservative SPL's, around 80 to 85 dbspl. Also check at lower levels for balance and high too, but high only to hear things that may be present up there, something you might not like. Once you have your ideal mix, let your mastering pro do his magic for loudness and EQ, and other wonderful things.


Member for

19 years 2 months

Michael Fossenkemper Tue, 12/30/2003 - 08:19
Yes, they should be able to give you what you need. There could be a couple of reasons your mix is sounding the way you like it at high volumes, one being the fletcher munson curve, the other is that rooms have a saturation point where they sound big. the other is the compression effects of your monitor chain at high volumes. A mastering engineer will correct for these things and your mixes will sound much more complete at lower volumes.

Member for

21 years 2 months

Pro Audio Guest Tue, 12/30/2003 - 13:26
These replies have all been very helpful.

Thank you.

Thomas, I read the other thread as you suggested, and it just reinforces my attitude that even if the project is done in my home studio, there is no excuse not to craft a product of the highest possible quality from the beginning.

I just finished a very frustrating vocal session on the same project, and none of us involved are beyond scrapping some tracks that involved much time and effort for a song structure built back up from scratch that works better with the lyrics.

Live and learn and start with a whole song that rocks, regardless of the production highlights, I suppose.

I spend too many hours of my life in my studio to produce anything less than my very best work.

I look forward to having this professionally mastered. But first, everything must have our faces smiling and heads bobbing.

I'll then consider mastering a treat for hard work, since the the pay here just isn't much these days. :)