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Getting started with mastering
Old 24th September 2018
  #1
Gear Head
 
ChewyJetpack's Avatar
Getting started with mastering

Hi guys,

First post! I apologise in advance if this post gets a bit long-winded, and I'd really appreciate any advice!

I've been an electronic music (mostly drum & bass) producer for the best part of the last 15 years, with the last handful of those years spent aggressively trying to improve my engineering skills. Earlier this year I launched my own small label and have been mastering the releases myself. Through this, I have developed a strong interest in mastering, and it's further fuelled my desire to attempt to move away from my day job in web development in future.

I produce and mix almost exclusively on headphones (Shure SRH1540, SRH840, Focal Spirit Professional), using Sonarworks Reference 4 and Goodhertz CanOpener. While I realise this is far from ideal for a mastering engineer, I will add that I know my headphones extremely well, and I am familiar enough with them to pick up on small resonances and issues with spectral balance etc very easily. I own a pair of Genelec 8010As (yes, the tiny little ones) and a Subpac (amazing for monitoring sub-range frequencies).

I used to have a lightly acoustically treated room which now belongs to my 6-month-old daughter, and so my set up has temporarily moved to the space under the stairs. With that, I also have an insane daily schedule and so I work in a very portable way. I wake up at 6am every day, do 1h of music under the stairs, disconnect my laptop from its dock and take it on the train so I can do music on my commute with a Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS and my Focal headphones, then I spend my hour lunch break every day doing music at my desk at work with my SRH1540s.

My plan, as it currently stands, is to spend as much time as I can learning mastering techniques and further training my ears, to equip myself with the skills to begin taking on paid clients in the next couple of years. Until I have the means to set up a studio again, I plan on picking up an Audeze LCD-X to improve my home monitoring situation enough that I don't have to second guess my masters too much.

For now, I am offering free mastering to friends in order to hone my technique and receive feedback. I've been very active in the drum & bass scene for a while, so I know a good few artists who are happy to send me pre-masters, and obviously I will get some extra practice through mastering releases on my label.

What I'm after at the moment is:
  • Advice/tips on anything I've not thought of that mihgt help me along in my journey
  • Reading materials to help with my technique. Specifically anything that comes in ebook format, so I can read it when I'm travelling as my schedule is mad. (I plan on picking up Bob Katz' book anyway, but it'll be slower reading)
  • Tips on how I might make the most of the gear that is at my disposal right now, if there's anything I've missed, or alternatives to my current planned route of grabbing the LCD-X
  • Podcasts, tutorials, video series or anything else that might prove useful - I'm currently listening through The Mastering Show with Ian Shepherd

Thank you all in advance
Old 24th September 2018
  #2
Lives for gear
Good luck, but...
First, you won’t really be doing anything approaching competitive mastering. You don’t have the tools and experience to do that. If you are a capable engineer with good judgement and musical taste, you can probably improve the sound and loudness of a lot of amateur mixes (and maybe some that are not so amateur), hopefully without screwing up the product in a way that will embarrass you later (if in the meantime disgruntled clients don’t disrupt your learning curve by trying to kill you).

Look at where you are and where you want to go. All real mastering studios (even the crappiest) have speakers, but you don’t. Their speakers are full range, flat, and relatively distortion free. When you first get speakers, they probably won’t be at the level needed for quality mastering. Real mastering houses have those speakers in really refined and tamed acoustic spaces, so they can hear a completely honest playback of client work and accurately hear the results of whatever changes they make, including the teenie tiny changes that add a little something without being obvious. You don’t have such a room, even if you had the speakers. I don’t know what hardware or software you have, or the quality of your interface and conversion, but is it good enough to master really good audio without compromise?
All that said, nothing prevents you from being or becoming a mastering engineer. You don’t need certification or an ME license, and you don’t need anyone’s approval. If you have a gift for it you will realize what you need to get there and perhaps you will get there.
I’d send my mixes to you tomorrow if the only choice was you or the automated mastering services.
Old 24th September 2018
  #3
Gear Head
 
ChewyJetpack's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
Good luck, but...
First, you won’t really be doing anything approaching competitive mastering. You don’t have the tools and experience to do that. If you are a capable engineer with good judgement and musical taste, you can probably improve the sound and loudness of a lot of amateur mixes (and maybe some that are not so amateur), hopefully without screwing up the product in a way that will embarrass you later (if in the meantime disgruntled clients don’t disrupt your learning curve by trying to kill you).

Look at where you are and where you want to go. All real mastering studios (even the crappiest) have speakers, but you don’t. Their speakers are full range, flat, and relatively distortion free. When you first get speakers, they probably won’t be at the level needed for quality mastering. Real mastering houses have those speakers in really refined and tamed acoustic spaces, so they can hear a completely honest playback of client work and accurately hear the results of whatever changes they make, including the teenie tiny changes that add a little something without being obvious. You don’t have such a room, even if you had the speakers. I don’t know what hardware or software you have, or the quality of your interface and conversion, but is it good enough to master really good audio without compromise?
All that said, nothing prevents you from being or becoming a mastering engineer. You don’t need certification or an ME license, and you don’t need anyone’s approval. If you have a gift for it you will realize what you need to get there and perhaps you will get there.
I’d send my mixes to you tomorrow if the only choice was you or the automated mastering services.

I understand all of that. As I said, I am not calling myself a mastering engineer, and I'm not charging for mastering services. I'm learning.

My partner and I are buying a place in a few years and that will include a dedicated studio room. At that point, I will be investing in proper acoustic treatment and proper monitoring, and setting up shop, so to speak.

Proper monitoring will make it easier/possible for me to produce high quality masters. Until then I am working on the other, more important factor: experience. I've been engineering for years and I have used mastering engineers myself so I know the difference between where I am and where I am going. Right now, I am more looking for resources to help me get there.
Old 24th September 2018
  #4
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChewyJetpack View Post
I understand all of that. As I said, I am not calling myself a mastering engineer, and I'm not charging for mastering services. I'm learning.

My partner and I are buying a place in a few years and that will include a dedicated studio room. At that point, I will be investing in proper acoustic treatment and proper monitoring, and setting up shop, so to speak.

Proper monitoring will make it easier/possible for me to produce high quality masters. Until then I am working on the other, more important factor: experience. I've been engineering for years and I have used mastering engineers myself so I know the difference between where I am and where I am going. Right now, I am more looking for resources to help me get there.
My apologies! After rereading your post I realize that I skimmed over some important details the first time. You have had more than decent monitors that you can’t use currently, and I did not recognize the Audeze item you mentioned. I thought it was one of the software programs that corrected headphone deficiencies. It isn’t that, it IS a set of headphones. If you haven’t already purchased the Audeze headphones you might consider hanging on to that $1,000 for other needs. You already have very good phones, and even better headphones don’t seem to advance you towards mastering specifically.
Old 24th September 2018
  #5
Lives for gear
 
SmoothTone's Avatar
 

It sounds to me like you've got your head screwed on and going about this in a measured way. I think it IS possible to work on anything if you are very familiar with it and how it translates. It's just a bit HARDER to do it on headphones and you might be developing habits of listening that you will have to break when you get into a decent room. Given your current situation, it sounds like the best you can do and certainly no reason to stop developing your skills.

The best thing you can do is listen on multiple systems to develop your sense of how your current monitoring translates.

A few resources with good general info off the top of my head:
youtube:
- search Joe Lambert mastering
- search Mark Wilder mastering Here is the Big Sky
I think some of the Jonathon Winer videos are reasonable; he did a lengthy tutorial for Izotope that might be worth watching.

The interview transcripts in Bobby Owsinski's Mastering Engineer's Handbook are gold.

There's some similar little tips by top MEs at the back of the Ozone manual (free to download).

Check out some of the mastering engineer interviews at the Working Class Audio podcast, especially the Dave Collins one.

Have a browse through the PRW Mastering Room forum. That place is a goldmine of high quality information.

[apologies, I'm writing this quickly and don't have time to post links, will update as time permits]

You haven't mentioned your gear. But a good mastering DAW that allows you to create the necessary deliverables with ease is a must for good workflow. Check out some of Justin P's posts in this forum for excellent, rich information on this.

Hope that helps.
Old 25th September 2018
  #6
Gear Head
 
ChewyJetpack's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SmoothTone View Post
It sounds to me like you've got your head screwed on and going about this in a measured way. I think it IS possible to work on anything if you are very familiar with it and how it translates. It's just a bit HARDER to do it on headphones and you might be developing habits of listening that you will have to break when you get into a decent room. Given your current situation, it sounds like the best you can do and certainly no reason to stop developing your skills.

The best thing you can do is listen on multiple systems to develop your sense of how your current monitoring translates.

A few resources with good general info off the top of my head:
youtube:
- search Joe Lambert mastering
- search Mark Wilder mastering Here is the Big Sky
I think some of the Jonathon Winer videos are reasonable; he did a lengthy tutorial for Izotope that might be worth watching.

The interview transcripts in Bobby Owsinski's Mastering Engineer's Handbook are gold.

There's some similar little tips by top MEs at the back of the Ozone manual (free to download).

Check out some of the mastering engineer interviews at the Working Class Audio podcast, especially the Dave Collins one.

Have a browse through the PRW Mastering Room forum. That place is a goldmine of high quality information.

[apologies, I'm writing this quickly and don't have time to post links, will update as time permits]

You haven't mentioned your gear. But a good mastering DAW that allows you to create the necessary deliverables with ease is a must for good workflow. Check out some of Justin P's posts in this forum for excellent, rich information on this.

Hope that helps.
That's great info, thank you very much! Plenty for me to get on with.

I am trying to approach this sensibly with the resources at my disposal, and I have some long term goals which I think are reasonable as long as I put the work in now. It's a craft like any other and I believe it should be as possible to learn as anything else, without all the smoke and mirrors that seems to accompany mastering, specifically.

I've been using Studio One for the last few years to produce music with, and I've recently been using the 'Project mode' which is essentially designed for mastering - has some great metering options, as well as export features for CD, digital, image etc.

Cheers again for your help
Old 1st October 2018
  #7
Gear Head
 
poole's Avatar
Cool

@ ChewyJetpack I'm actually in a similar situation, though I'm separated from my monitors by a few hundred miles so I picked up the Audeze iSINE LX as the LCD-X is way out of budget for the time being (I mix on Eve Audio SC207 at home). I've been interested in getting more ears on my tracks and possibly pursuing outside mastering as I've not been able to achieve the kind of transparent loudness as on, say, the latest Phace record. I'd love to chat some time and I will also be watching this thread for any sage advice. Power to you on your mastering and label! I've heard a couple of your tunes on DOA and I have to say I think you're extremely capable.
Old 5th October 2018
  #8
Gear Nut
 
JR Mastering's Avatar
 

Hi ChewyJetpack!

I'm the author of the best selling audio mastering book on Amazon for 2018 (get the ebook for only $6.95) and my 5 hour video series will quickly teach you everything you need to know about audio mastering.

This too me over a year and a half to create! There's a lot of info here!

Good luck with your audio mastering career. Let me quickly help you become GREAT!!

Check me out at - Best Audio Mastering Courses, Books, School, Tutorials And Classes
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