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Does mastering bring out the vocals?
Old 19th May 2006
  #1
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Does mastering bring out the vocals?

I have noticed that the last couple projects I have done. The vocals have been a little too loud to my taste. I dont notice it pre master but when I get the cd back the vocals seem to move out of their space. I am afraid that I will get a cd back and the vox will be too loud for my clients taste one day.

Should I, or do you, compensate for this while mixing?
Old 19th May 2006
  #2
Gear Maniac
 
NOCCA's Avatar
 

I think this has been discussed before, but IMHO if you are not liking something that has been mastered by a certain mastering engineer, then stop using him or communicate to the mastering engineer what you want out of his work.
Old 19th May 2006
  #3
Lives for gear
 

Thats where I am going with this then. I know the ME has a lot of flexibility but I really didnt want to push the blame off to anyone else. I was assuming that it was my mixes due to my monitors. This is why I ask, any help on the thread this was talked about?
Old 19th May 2006
  #4
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On the other hand, you use a mastering engineer because you can't trust your own ears/monitors/acoustics. So if you mix to your own taste, and then the mastering engineer works his magic, it's going to sound different - no longer to your own taste.

The important thing is how does your mastered CD compare against the competition within the same genre? Maybe the ME is matching the current trends within that genre?

Have you asked him directly why he is doing that?

Generally you would expect the mastered mix to have a good spectral balance, relative to similar works in that genre. If the vocal is prominant, it's more likely that you mixed it prominent - and perhaps wasn't aware of it.

What are your studio acoustics like?
Old 19th May 2006
  #5
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compared to other mixes it comes out fine. I like that someone else puts their touches on the mix. I just dont know if I am mixing the vox a little hot or what, when I a/b to cd's its hard because they are mastered. I may have to build a new room!!! your right, too bad that doesnt happen overnight!
Old 19th May 2006
  #6
Mastering
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217
I have noticed that the last couple projects I have done. The vocals have been a little too loud to my taste. I dont notice it pre master but when I get the cd back the vocals seem to move out of their space. I am afraid that I will get a cd back and the vox will be too loud for my clients taste one day.

Should I, or do you, compensate for this while mixing?
Neither. Maybe you should go to a mastering engineer who doesn't alter the mix so much :-).

But seriously, my best recommendation would be to always cut a vocal up and a vocal down (usually 1/2 dB is the best choice). And/or a vocal stem and an "everything else" stem. If you expect the mastering for your album to be "aggressive" (and why should it be?) then you may expect a (hopefully subtle) change in the vocal to instrumental balance, and it could go either way, depending on your mix itself. If your mix is bass-light and percussion heavy, the vocal could go down after mastering... In most cases, the change in the mix balance should be very subtle, otherwise, a remix should have been in order. But if you cut those vocal up/down or stems, then you may get the best of all possible worlds.

I also note that if I have to boost the high end significantly when mastering, the vocal can go down in the mix as well, relative to the other instruments. "Have to" meaning that the mix was dull and it sounds better brighter. But if I receive a well-balanced mix that needs high end, but the vocal level suffers from that EQ, and a remix is not possible, I will back off the high boost because the vocal is king.

BK
Old 19th May 2006
  #7
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I usually submit the vox up and down tracks. Is it hard for a ME to master both and let the client decide? Or is this a hard process? I mean, the same chain would be used to do this assuming the mix is equal, correct?
Old 19th May 2006
  #8
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GYMusic's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz
... because the vocal is king.

BK
And that... is the bottom line.
Old 19th May 2006
  #9
Gear Guru
 
u b k's Avatar
 

when have you *ever* heard a normal, everyday listener complain that the vocals are too loud on any given recording?

bet you've heard the opposite complaint, though, plenty of times.

my experience is that only engineers and/or insecure singers complain about vocal levels being too high. and the presence of a vocal is generally less about level and more about eq'ing to fit into the mix and effecting it to tie it back to the music. there are recordings with seriously tucked vox that are perfectly audible, and ridiculously forward vocals that nevertheless feel like an integrated part of the music.

just get a pair of ns10's, spend some time mixing quietly, and end your misery.


gregoire
del ubik
Old 19th May 2006
  #10
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theblotted's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by u b i k
when have you *ever* heard a normal, everyday listener complain that the vocals are too loud on any given recording?

bet you've heard the opposite complaint, though, plenty of times.
very good point.
Old 19th May 2006
  #11
Mastering
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217
I usually submit the vox up and down tracks. Is it hard for a ME to master both and let the client decide? Or is this a hard process? I mean, the same chain would be used to do this assuming the mix is equal, correct?

It's not difficult, but it's a pain in the butt and certainly more costly, from an album standpoint to make "alternative version masters". Suddenly you're presenting alternatives at a stage when the decisions should already have been intelligently made. I would recommend you go with the mastering engineer's best recommendation if he is working alone or the mastering engineer and producer's recommendation if it's an attended session. Then, listen to the ref. If you hear a problem (which is unlikely if the mastering engineer has good ears), it's much easier (and cost effective) at that point to suggest switching to vocal up or vocal down for the master.
Old 20th May 2006
  #12
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RCM - Ronan's Avatar
A good mastering engineer will be able to bring the vocals up or push them back into the mix. Since I mix in studios all over the world, I work in a lot of situations where I am not familair with the room and monitors and often I will depend on my mastering guys to help me dial things in. I am not a big fan of the concept that a mastering engineer is only supposed to make subtle changes. A mastering engineers job is to to what ever it takes to serve the music and make me and my clients look good. (sometimes that is nothing, sometimes its radical).

In your case Cap217, I would recomend that you send your mastering engineer a commercial CD that you think has the vocal level you are going for and ask them if they could try and mastering in a way that keeps that in mind. Also having vox up and vox down versions available at mastering can make this a lot easier for the ME
Old 20th May 2006
  #13
It can bring them out or tuck them in depending on what's needed or desired. Often the objective is to just keep the balance right where it is. Not infrequently one will bring them out a touch since vocals are indeed king in most cases.
Old 20th May 2006
  #14
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Maybe my issue is this,

I have a tendency to make my mixes dark and flat with a boost in the low end. What I noticed is that ME's 99% of the time brighten up the highs and mid/highs. This obvisouly brings out the vox, most of the time in a good way but sometimes too much. Now is this a result of a bad mix? I dont get complaints but I dont realy ever eq the mix. Should I, or better yet.... mix brighter? I like to keep everything consistant, find room, little eq, and compress. Maybe I should brighten it up, pre master!
Old 20th May 2006
  #15
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

It's a good idea to always check mixes for how the voice sits at a variety of different listening levels.
Old 20th May 2006
  #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217
Maybe my issue is this,

I have a tendency to make my mixes dark and flat with a boost in the low end. What I noticed is that ME's 99% of the time brighten up the highs and mid/highs. This obvisouly brings out the vox, most of the time in a good way but sometimes too much. Now is this a result of a bad mix? I dont get complaints but I dont realy ever eq the mix. Should I, or better yet.... mix brighter? I like to keep everything consistant, find room, little eq, and compress. Maybe I should brighten it up, pre master!
the better the mix the better the master can be ... go for what you hear at mixing, be assertive with eq as needed. dogmatic rules and habits such as, "i like to ..." are nice for you, but not for music

get the mixes as close as possible while mixing, communicate what you want from mastering (with Cds or words) and get a rappore with the ME about your preferences.

communication is everything ...




(well, mixing too ... and tracking performances are huge ... arrangements too ... artists help alot ... damn, this is hard work. )
Old 20th May 2006
  #17
Gear Maniac
 

My recent experience makes me want to ask you where you listened to your mastered mixes.

I recently had an album I made (in my low-end apartment studio) mastered and was disappointed with the mastering work at the first listening. It was mastered at a good place. What I learned is that it is not a good idea to listen to a mastered mix in the room in which it was mixed, as the mastered result only further emphasizes the shortcomings/tendencies of the mixing environment. As it happens, I now like the mastering job after listening in a few different rooms.

Just a thought.

PC
Old 20th May 2006
  #18
Mastering
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by rcm
A good mastering engineer will be able to bring the vocals up or push them back into the mix.
Not intentionally. Usually only if painted into a corner by having received a mix for mastering that has vocals much too low or much too high. For example, I would not RELY on the mastering engineer to tweak the vocals if all you give him is a full mix. Only if you give him a vocal stem or vocal up/down mixes can you RELY on his being able to tweak the vocals.

The methods that we have to tweak the vocals on a full mix almost always result in a compromise in some other element of the mix, e.g. stereo separation can suffer, or it can get too bright (if we try it with EQ). Bottom line: don't rely on mastering to fix problems in a mix but rather to help bring out the best of any good mix, in combination with the other tunes in the album.

Sure, it's nice that a mastering engineer can make radical changes, and sometimes a radical change can make a master sound great. But chances are that if a radical change is needed to bring out vocals that should have been remixed, chances are the resulting mastering could sound frequency-skewed, or overcompressed, or narrow, or bright, or thin, or any of a bunch of undesirable things!
Old 20th May 2006
  #19
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A dream scenario as a mastering engineer is when the client can do a remix, but that model is not very effective in practise (for several reasons). The nightmare scenario is to not have well isolated stems at hands, basically then it's to start compromising and that's the best thing you can do. This is why it's so good to have the whole mix at hands. You are not limited when you need to dig deeply into the mix to correct things. The mixing engineer might have such a monitoring environment that it's hard for him to notice when the vocals sit right and sometimes it's also a matter of definition, which is always subjective to some degree.
Old 20th May 2006
  #20
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u b k's Avatar
 

i do my best to not be an @sshole, so i'll put this forward as respectfully as i can: if you have to send a mix and a vocal stem to your mastering engineer because you can't get the mix right, then something is seriously wrong.

the good news is, the problem can only be your monitors, your room, and/or you. the bad news is, it's probably you. but that's also good news, isn't it?

i know there are situations where you're in an alien environment with fubar acoustics, but c'mon... you can lock me in a refrigerator with an auratone and i can give you a good vocal mix. bass and treble might be anybody's guess, but the vocal will be solid.

if you're not sure, push it. if you're still not sure, push it. you will at some point know beyond a doubt you've gone too far. then, simply back it off a hair and call it a day.

or, just bring in a normal everyday person, turn the music down to casual conversation level, and ask them if they can understand the singer. watch and be amazed as they tell you immediately, without any struggle, whether they can hear the words or not. heed their observations, they speak the truth.

do NOT hedge the vocal, no one will thank you.


gregoire
del ubik
Old 20th May 2006
  #21
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I have never sent vox stems and I hope I dont have to. Everyone is right here... The only people that say anything about the vox is myself! Everyone else is happy. We all know how we as engineers or musicians are never satisfied, so I will just keep it how it is until I lose clients. Maybe do a vox, vox up, and vox down mix and call it a day.

Thank you to everyone.
Old 20th May 2006
  #22
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by u b i k

just bring in a normal everyday person, turn the music down to casual conversation level, and ask them if they can understand the singer. watch and be amazed as they tell you immediately, without any struggle, whether they can hear the words or not. heed their observations, they speak the truth.

gregoire
del ubik
That's great advice, not just for mixing but almost any musical decision you might be having trouble with. It's amazing how right the average person's instincts can be sometimes over someone who is so experienced they can't help but over-analyze.
Old 20th May 2006
  #23
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I have people listen to it and they hear and understand the words. I think its a little low but it works.
Old 21st May 2006
  #24
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Voice and mastering

In my little world of Wavelab 5.0 and Ozone Isotope abuse I find that mastering ITB in most cases does seem to bring the voice forward in the mix.
Old 21st May 2006
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by u b i k
i do my best to not be an @sshole, so i'll put this forward as respectfully as i can: if you have to send a mix and a vocal stem to your mastering engineer because you can't get the mix right, then something is seriously wrong.

gregoire
del ubik
I can understand your point of view and this is as far as I know the view that most mastering engineers have. But my view is that a process should not be dependent on the process above/before it. Because based on this model a mastering engineer could indirectly send the whole mix all the way back to the tracking process and THAT's very inefficient. Another problem is with having several mastering engineers working on the same mix for different mediums that set different demands. With this model the mixing engineer would receive X amounts of complaints about the mix where some complaints could conflict with each other. Last but not least, a mastering engineer should be able to do whatever he needs to do VERY TRANSPARENTLY on the material. It's not really transparent to work on a mix isolation level, especially not ITB.

Besides this it's not very effective if you turn it the other way around and tell the mixing engineer that he should always check with mastering engineer X if he finds it "good enough" in HIS monitoring environment. There are many problems with this. What if for some reason there's a change in who will master the mix in the middle of the mixing process and the other mastering engineer has a different view, a different monitoring environment and a different goal in mind. It won't work. I simply can't find this model effective enough. But I CAN understand that this is a safe haven opinion for mastering engineers that have little time available for each project and want to make a decent profit: You can always send it back to mixing if the material needs a little deeper processing or is a little "hard" to work on. That's the real problem and that's why so many mastering engineers think it's a good model to say no thanks to projects or send them back for mixing, because it solves many problems.
Old 22nd May 2006
  #26
Gear Guru
 
u b k's Avatar
 

rainbowstorm, you're thinking way too much. ease up on the coffee!

my point was not about the larger process, what's most efficient, etc... it was simply about the mix engineer's ability to deliver. if he can't deliver, i'd recommend he have a good honest look at that.

i still find it terribly amusing how hard engineers struggle with vocal levels, and how much casual listeners don't. sometimes we hear so well we can't hear for sh¡t.


gregoire
del ubik
Old 22nd May 2006
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by u b i k
i do my best to not be an @sshole, so i'll put this forward as respectfully as i can: if you have to send a mix and a vocal stem to your mastering engineer because you can't get the mix right, then something is seriously wrong.
I think that's a little simplistic. My philosophy is, that seeing as mastering is usually the most expensive (per hour) process involved with an album, I'll turn up with TV mixes, instrumentals, vocal only, vocal dry, whatever. The reason? I'm confident my mixes are fine but I'll tell the ME that there are alternatives available - after all he or she is getting paid for their opinions and ears. I'm spending my client's money and the day that a ME asks for or needs something to make the record better and I haven't got it is the day I cost the client and myself money and time.

As of yet, I've only needed a vocal stem once because of saliva clicks that became too apparent when mastered.
Old 22nd May 2006
  #28
There is no one best process. High pressure commercial gigs with automation, auto tune, drum replacer et. al. might call for stems to "cover all the bases" at mastering. 'Vision' mixes are all about hitting the whole thing in one pass, through the 2 mix processing, not stemmed ... where the organic and the live elements of the mixing are as important as the live elements of the performances. It's a different world.
Old 22nd May 2006
  #29
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SparkyCanada's Avatar
Hey there.

Not sure if I understand what a vocal stem is...

I've seen the term used before - and think it's just a pass with the vocal...?

Is this accurate?

Also - do many mastering engineers prefer separate track & vocal passes - leaving them to mix?

Thanks,

SparkyCanada
Old 22nd May 2006
  #30
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by u b i k
rainbowstorm, you're thinking way too much. ease up on the coffee!

gregoire
del ubik
Or maybe it's you who don't think much enough... Think about it.
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