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Connecting the recording world together...

Hey, i'm Simon, i'm new to this forum.
im a musician and i have few years of expeprience in recording/mixing,
mainly its mixing. i got some questions about mastering but first of all..
my big question is: (i might put things incorrectly so please correct me)

when a Mastering Engineer gets a project, they (the client) send him thier final mixdown right ? from what i heard its usually a one track. (without the split to, for example: track1 - drums, track2 - bass, track3 - guitars ect..)
so now my question is WHY ? why to edit and master one track wave when its way more easier when you got the whole mix ??(when its split into tracks: drums, bass, guitar, vocals..ect)
well you got the MS(mid-side) Technique which is a great and powerful tool for editing a track, but once again, wouldnt it be more easier and better to edit the whole mix and master it this way ?

therefore is my next question...
well maybe i dont really know the difference between Mixing and Mastering so thats why im confused about the ME work procedure.
as i did my own research about mastering and mixing, (this involves books as well) i found that they got quite similar procedures like Balance level, Paning/Shifing Stereo Field, EQ, Compression, Dimension Effects (reverb, delay, re-amping)

so then whats really the difference between them ? if these all stages mentioned above IS the mastering, so what the hell is mixers job ?

maybe i confusing somthing or/and didnt understand so correct me please.

thanks in advance.


ghellquist Fri, 05/05/2006 - 10:59

In short, the mixer makes one track sound extremely good. Then he does another track. This might be a process going on for months.

Mastering is then about making these separate tracks into one CD, including the ordering and the space between them and finally the last details to make it into a CD (codings and such).

If the mixer has done a really good and consistent job, there is very little left to do soundwise for the ME. It is then more of a "last check" thing, four ears are better than two.

Otherwise a ME may tweak a bit here and diddle a bit there (some kind of magic) and everything simply sounds natural.


pappadelicious Fri, 05/05/2006 - 12:16

Is there three positions in the recording train? I thought a recording engineer does all the tracking and mixing. Then the mastering engineer takes the mix and brings out the proper elements and dampens others and balances the product for a market in which the music will be played.

Many ME's offer a number of ways to get the product to them to master. I am assuming a Mastering Engineer could do an amazing job with the tracks in your mixing environment (PTools, CU-, ...) but I believe they prefer an overall mix.

I am getting ready to send some mixes in for mastering and in preparation (after talking to a ME) I removed over half of the plug ins I was using and on my master fader all I am using is some good meters. Leaving as much dynamics as I can. On each track within the mixing environment I carefully watch the meters and level each track painstakenly for hours, days. I wouldn't expect an ME to do that for me, they should be incontrol of the dynamics, my equipment is no match for the equipment they are using, including my own ears.

RemyRAD Fri, 05/05/2006 - 21:15

Neomes and pappadelicious, I think you're both a little confused as to the process of tracking, mixing and then mastering?

But of course as an engineer, you put microphones on all the instruments, tweak the levels while tracking so as not to overload or under record the volume level of your tracks. Listening carefully to obtain the best sound possible while tracking.

When it's time to mix, you then take all of the tracks that you recorded, balance them carefully, add whatever equalization, dynamics processing and effects until it sounds just right to you.

That's your stereo master mix. Fine'!

Now you're ready to take that 2 Channel stereo master mix to the mastering engineer who will then take all of your songs and make sure that the level transition between songs is consistent. They may also add other equalization and dynamics processing to further optimize your "beautiful" 2 track master stereo mix. Mastering engineers do not want to mix your material, that's your job. They only want to optimize your already produced mix. So I would not choose to compromise my mix just because you think the mastering engineer will add "other stuff". They won't add "other stuff" unless you request it or they think it's absolutely necessary for consistency and clarity, or because you are a rotten engineer. You should mix your product to the best of your ability until it sounds just the way you think it should?

Really great engineers who are really incredible mixers do not need much of what the mastering engineer can provide since their product is already superior to begin with. The mastering engineer is only there to homogenize your stereo mix for replication purposes and/or your personal release on CD.

One of the best learning experiences you can treat yourself to is to book a recording session at a reputable recording studio, carefully observe and listen to what the engineer does. Once he/she has completed that task and mixed your product, you will then be ready to book a session with a reputable mastering engineer. You might have to pay a little extra and request that you be at the mastering session? You should then also carefully observe what your mastering engineer does to your stereo mix. Consider that low-cost education! A worthy investment to be sure.

Would you like that beer now?
Ms. Remy Ann David

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JoeH Mon, 05/08/2006 - 10:20

Honestly, Remy; you should be charging for this info, or at least writing a book! ;-)

I'm seeing bits and pieces (in EQ and EM Mags) about another way to do mastering; "reduction" mixes, for want of a better term. The mastering house gets "mixed" portions in stereo sub-groups - e.g. drums and bass, instruments, vocals, etc. and then (with a DAW) is able to combine these sub groups to taste (or to optimize what the ME can do for a track.)

In other words, the drums are "mixed" per se, but can still be brought up or down relative to the rest of the tracks. Ditto for the instruments, vocals, etc. (I've heard about situations where there are four or five separate "Stems" like this).

This way, there's no need to do four or five versions of the track like: "Vocals Up, Vocals down, No Vocals", etc. The ME can do it for the client, and it avoids work at the mixing level and puts it in the hands of the ME (where its going to be tweaked anyway). The mixing studio can of course provide a complete mix to suggest how they'd LIKE it to sound, but the ME can go further with more refined tools and a fresh ear. (And with Internet file sharing, it's getting easier all the time to hear temps before a final commitment.)

As a mixing engineer, I'm not sure I like the idea, but as an ME, I think it's extremely helpful. Anyone else hear about this process?

RemyRAD Mon, 05/08/2006 - 12:52

Thanks for the thumbs-up Joe! I am considering doing what you suggest. Right now I'm trying to find another home for my studio. Not having much luck right now with that.

Sending stems to the mastering engineer turns the mastering engineer into your mixing engineer. What am I not understanding about the recording process here? Or is that hear? Just like everything else that has been homogenized in our world lately, the entire recording process is also becoming quite a bit more homogenized. Unfortunately my remote truck is being put out to pasture!

The position of the tracking engineer, mixing engineer, mastering engineer are quickly becoming blurred. Which way did they go? Which way did they go? I think people here all need to learn how to massage their tracks (turds) into a lovely mix? What's the point of recording anything if you don't? Anybody can flush a toilet but it's what you need to learn how to do before you flush the toilet. Otherwise all of your work will stink.

I find recording truly Charmin
Ms. Remy Ann David

headchem Mon, 05/08/2006 - 14:06

I love your sign-off lines, remmyRAD.

Is it fair to say that a mastering engineer can be a good mixing engineer, but a mixing engineer cannot be a good mastering engineer?

Is a mastering engineer just a mixing engineer who uses a different set of tools (EQ instead of individual mixer faders)?

This 'ME' vs. 'MixE' line is suddenly a lot more blurry than it used to be...

RemyRAD Tue, 05/09/2006 - 09:21

Michael is correct! I go through the same thing in television! As an audio person, I guess I don't know how to do video? But all video people know how to audio. RIGHT SURE YOU BET I have been doing more video than audio over the past six years but still keep getting pigeonholed as an audio person. So I guess I'm one of the few video people now that can deliver good and competent audio? What a concept? I guess I don't know how to do mastering either, since I am a recording and mix engineer and don't have any concept as to what a recording should sound like when finished?

I want to be a brain surgeon like Jethro Bodine!
Ms. Remy Ann David

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JoeH Tue, 05/09/2006 - 11:41

Remy, I totally agree with your question(s) about when is a mastering engineer a mixing engineer, etc. etc.

I was highly sceptical when I read the article (and I can't remember it if was EQ or EM or PAR, but it was last month, I'm fairly certain.) Of course, this could be not much more than a couple of guys with a new gleam in their eyes for getting more work, but the 'spin' on the article that was that this was NOT remixing per se, but rather, with the "Stems" (although they didn't call it that), the mastering engineer could theoretically do a little bit more with the mastering - say, if they could fix a boomy drum/bass track independently of the vocals, instruments, etc. They would of course have a reference track of what the mix SHOULD sound like, but having these "Stems" would help them get in a little deeper for mastering.

I'm not saying it's a good idea, or the way it SHOULD be, but it's possibly a new and growing trend. I doubt I'd ever let anyone have that kind of lattitude with MY mixes, but still....depending on the project, it might be a good reality check or a second opinion.

Personally, I always wanted to be a "Double-Naught" Spy. 8-)

RemyRAD Tue, 05/09/2006 - 16:48

Well Joe, I basically agree with you in that we have had stem mixing for quite some time! They used to call it dialog/sound effects/music and it has been done throughout time in the film industry. I guess there's no reason for it not to happen in the audio business? But geez Daddy Warbucks I guess nobody has to know how to really do their jobs anymore?

Ms. Remy Ann David president of the IEC (infantile engineering children)

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Michael Fossenkemper Tue, 05/09/2006 - 19:58

I would personally rather spend that time with the engineer to get the mix right in the first place. When you split the tracks up and recombine them, It's no longer a mix. I want the mix engineer to deliver a mix that they want. If they can't do that, then i'll do what I can to help them. If that means mastering stems, then i'll reluctantly do that but would really try to get them to address the issues in the mix and learn why things work and don't work. It will make them better and as a result make me better.

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Thomas W. Bethel Wed, 05/10/2006 - 05:19

I think one reason that people want to send stems to the mastering engineer is that it delays even further the need to make a "final decision". Some people seem incapable of making the final decision and want to delay that decision ad infinitum. I think if you offered them to way to do it in the shrink wrap they would take you up on it.

With more and more mixes coming from basement or bedroom studios people are relying on someone father up the chain to make it all sound good. I know a lot of what I get is not really ready for mastering but people assume that since I have been in this business for a number of years I can take their stuff and make it sound "pro" Most times I can but sometimes I cannot and I see the disappointment in their faces and voices when I cannot.

Best to do an excellent job on recording and mixing and when you are ready take the two channel mixes to a good mastering engineer and enjoy the results.

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JoeH Wed, 05/10/2006 - 18:47

Well, I'm glad to see some resistance to this idea, actually. And I agree that the final decision keeps getting pushed back farther and farther - or the ability to make a decision gets delayed and delayed. Too many choices, too many cooks, etc.

I know that DAW's give us tremendous flexibility, but I'm still a bit old-school in that I like the idea of each part of the process having its place in the chain. I think it also forces the parties involved to do their job as best as they can: Good rooms and musical artistry create good tracks; good control rooms with good engineers create good mixes, and all things equal, this sets the stage for a good ME to continue the process, and do a great job with the final product.

Re-thinking stem-sell research. (ouch! Sorry about that.... :wink: )

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JoeH Wed, 05/10/2006 - 21:23

Don't worry Remy, you're corner of the market is safe. I can't begin to come up with that kind of stuff with EVERY post. That one just sorta wrote itself.

Your unofficial title of best punster is secure, believe me! :twisted: 8-)