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Managing your master
Old 11th June 2019
  #1
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IanBSC's Avatar
Managing your master

I've encountered this issue frequently: a mix gets sent out to a big name mastering engineer and the master ends up sounding reasonably good but often too loud/hot, hyped with EQ, and clipping at 0db. But every revision, requests for more headroom, less compression, less HF shelf, etc just makes it worse. Clearly the MEs heart is not in the revisions and the original alway sounds best, so there is no way to avoid the loudness problems. Micromanaging seems to be the worst strategy, and of course the engineers start to get really annoyed at the revisions.

Even sending demos to multiple mastering engineers the same issues with loudness or ear fatigue crop up, and the revisions invariably fail to improve on the masters. We often have to pick a master with the fewest tradeoffs rather than the one that gets it right.

Is there a strategy of getting what you want for a master in terms of loudness and hype, while still having a coherent vision and excellent, balanced sound from the ME?
Old 11th June 2019
  #2
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Justin P.'s Avatar
 

Verified Member
Communication. I think any competent mastering engineer can deliver what you want with the right communication.

But, if you're using an engineer/studio that is not keen on revisions or feedback, then you're probably fighting a losing battle.

I'm guessing they don't want to do another analog pass if they overcooked it on the first version, so then they are just turning down something that is already overcooked and trying to put some salt on it rather than a proper fix and new analog capture that is less hot or whatever the problem was.

Katie Tavini recently wrote a great article about communication:
https://www.psneurope.com/studio/com...tion-mastering

Basically, if this happens often, you and/or your clients are working with the wrong person or haven't arranged the correct communication method.

It certainly doesn't have to be that way.

Last edited by Justin P.; 11th June 2019 at 01:18 PM..
Old 11th June 2019
  #3
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Hippocratic Mastering's Avatar
If you’re picking mastering engineers based on a “shootout” of a single track you’re always a going to get very hot masters back. Most clients will simply pick the loudest master, so long as it doesn’t sound completely terrible, so you’ve almost zero chance of winning a shootout unless you take things as far as you’re willing to go.

That’s one of many reasons why “shootouts” are not a logical way to pick a mastering engineer. I try not to participate, these days: having that kind of competitive feeling while working, and waiting for the answer from the potential client, is terrible for my mental health.
Old 11th June 2019
  #4
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Solid Mastering's Avatar
 

Maybe you could set your expectations clearly with the MA before the job gets started. As said above without clear inputs loudness is what pays off most of the times.
Old 11th June 2019
  #5
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BOMI's Avatar
Often the customer would prefer the worst of the work on a track. Many ask only for the use of analogue machines without considering the limits that a job like this can entail. Many times he considers sound impact as the only important factor and often choose the track where all the dynamics are really killed. Unfortunately, communication between clients and studios is not easy. Perhaps my intervention is not very relevant ... good job to all.
Old 11th June 2019
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IanBSC View Post
I've encountered this issue frequently: a mix gets sent out to a big name mastering engineer and the master ends up sounding reasonably good but often too loud/hot, hyped with EQ, and clipping at 0db. But every revision, requests for more headroom, less compression, less HF shelf, etc just makes it worse.
Are you sure you trust your listening system? Are you sure your listening system isn't harsh, distorted, compressed, underpowered?

Your words sound a lot like my words, from ~8 years ago, when I was getting masters back and judging them through weak nearfields in a bad room.

The past few years, I've gotten masters back from a bunch of great MEs: Brian Lucey, Mike Bozzi, Chris Gehringer, Joe LaPorta, and several others.

Very often, the first pass is great. Occasionally we have some revisions and we talk it out, and the revisions always end up in a good spot. And once in a while I've asked for a hair less loudness, but none of these guys have ever defaulted to "dumb loud, at the expense of the sound." They aim for both loud *and* good.

Not saying your situation is my situation, but can't hurt to consider
Old 11th June 2019
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IanBSC View Post
But every revision, requests for more headroom, less compression, less HF shelf, etc just makes it worse.
It shouldn't be like that. At all. I agree with Justin P., it sounds like the ME overcooked the analog pass and is too lazy to redo the master from scratch.

You can be the best communicator in the world, but if the ME is gonna be lazy about their job, you're never going to be happy.

I'd try and find an ME who DOES give you what you want and then just stick with them.
Old 11th June 2019
  #8
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fccmt's Avatar
 

Communication (as Justin said) and as Jonathan Jetter said :" Are you sure you trust your listening system? Are you sure your listening system isn't harsh, distorted, compressed, underpowered?

Your words sound a lot like my words, from ~8 years ago, when I was getting masters back and judging them through weak nearfields in a bad room."

Also, you should pay attention to the style/genre of work developed by a certain mastering engineer.

Best of luck
Old 11th June 2019
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jonathan jetter View Post
Are you sure you trust your listening system? Are you sure your listening system isn't harsh, distorted, compressed, underpowered?

Your words sound a lot like my words, from ~8 years ago, when I was getting masters back and judging them through weak nearfields in a bad room.

The past few years, I've gotten masters back from a bunch of great MEs: Brian Lucey, Mike Bozzi, Chris Gehringer, Joe LaPorta, and several others.

Very often, the first pass is great. Occasionally we have some revisions and we talk it out, and the revisions always end up in a good spot. And once in a while I've asked for a hair less loudness, but none of these guys have ever defaulted to "dumb loud, at the expense of the sound." They aim for both loud *and* good.

Not saying your situation is my situation, but can't hurt to consider
I and others have been listening with multiple high end monitoring, consumer grade and audiophile systems and we have reference recordings. I'm positive it's not our systems.
Old 11th June 2019
  #10
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BOMI's Avatar
Is something possible to understand? simple audio sections compared maybe ...
Old 12th June 2019
  #11
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I find that this sort of thread comes up here often.

Not to be rude or dismissive in anyway but I don't think this is really a mastering question, as much as it is a professional practice question.

I've found myself in similar situations with builders working on my house for example; degrees of separation between the client and the practitioner which are not sustainable.

I think the answer lies more with the middle man than the people doing the work or the client.

If you're not able to criticise work done for you with a proper response then the work isn't actually being done for you. And that is the problem.
Old 12th June 2019
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness View Post
I find that this sort of thread comes up here often.

Not to be rude or dismissive in anyway but I don't think this is really a mastering question, as much as it is a professional practice question.

I've found myself in similar situations with builders working on my house for example; degrees of separation between the client and the practitioner which are not sustainable.

I think the answer lies more with the middle man than the people doing the work or the client.

If you're not able to criticise work done for you with a proper response then the work isn't actually being done for you. And that is the problem.
I'm not sure who the middle man is in this scenario? I send a mix to top tier mastering engineers and they do their thing with it, and attempts to have them modify or revise it to get more headroom or less hype invariably sound worse and worse, even though it defies logic that a big name ME can't make a good sounding master that isn't super loud or EQ-hyped. The revisions often cost money and end up being a waste of time.
Old 13th June 2019
  #13
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There's no shortage of non-big name ME's who can make a good sounding master and won't charge you for revisions.
Old 13th June 2019
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IanBSC View Post
I'm not sure who the middle man is in this scenario? I send a mix to top tier mastering engineers and they do their thing with it, and attempts to have them modify or revise it to get more headroom or less hype invariably sound worse and worse, even though it defies logic that a big name ME can't make a good sounding master that isn't super loud or EQ-hyped. The revisions often cost money and end up being a waste of time.
I read "mix gets sent out" as in by a label or third party
Old 13th June 2019
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scraggs View Post
There's no shortage of non-big name ME's who can make a good sounding master and won't charge you for revisions.
Blows my mind people charge for revisions when the client is genuinely unhappy.

There are mitigating circumstances of course, but if the client has supplied everything as requested and is unhappy it falls on the professional to sort this, in any industry.
Old 13th June 2019
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness View Post
Blows my mind people charge for revisions when the client is genuinely unhappy.

There are mitigating circumstances of course, but if the client has supplied everything as requested and is unhappy it falls on the professional to sort this, in any industry.
Right now I am working with a client who is super picky. His material is GREAT and so was the capture and the the mixing. I did one pass for the client and he was super happy, but then two days later wanted some revisions which I did for no charge. We are now on revision 4 and I still have not charged him. Not sure what is going on and whether he is getting some outside advice or is listening on different systems. Some of his original comments were about how he wanted more dynamic range and now he seem to want it to be "the loudest track on YouTube". Still trying to work through all the minutia. I hope this last revision is the "last".

I see a lot of threads on GS where someone is complaining about sending off masters to some "famous" mastering engineer and not getting back what they wanted. My suggestion is to find someone that is more attuned to your needs and is willing to listen to and communicate with you. Also, and I am sure the OP has thought about this. It maybe that the "famous mastering engineer" is so busy with "big - high profile clients" that he/she handed this off to his assistant engineer and never even listened to what the assistant had done to your tracks.

Last edited by Thomas W. Bethe; 13th June 2019 at 04:18 PM..
Old 13th June 2019
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness View Post
Blows my mind people charge for revisions when the client is genuinely unhappy.

There are mitigating circumstances of course, but if the client has supplied everything as requested and is unhappy it falls on the professional to sort this, in any industry.
Right. I have an unlimited free revisions policy which basically never gets abused and if it does, I have the right to cut my losses and say goodbye which has happened a time or two over the years, very rare.

I only charge a nominal fee if the revision requires a new mix or mixes be sent, because then usually a lot of backtracking needs to happen.

Even then, if it's just one song of an album, and the client has been otherwise easy to work worth with, I might let that charge slide.

But, if the new mix or mixes represent over 50% of the total project, it's hard to let a new mix slide without at least bringing this up.

Usually with my workflow, a revision request is very easily done in the digital domain and not a big deal. All part of the job.
Old 13th June 2019
  #18
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Exactly the same here.

The overwhelming majority of the time, people are happy with the first thing I send them (still amazes me, but I guess I'm ok at my job). When they do want revisions it's usually a small eq change that's easily and quickly done.

If they come back after the first pass with any feedback more significant than a small eq change, i.e. there's something about the overall vibe of the master they don't like, I'll start over from scratch. And usually do it ITB, I figure maybe there's something about the vibe of my analog chain they don't like on their material, lets eliminate that as a variable and see where we're at. Been awhile since that's happened, and it was awfully rare anyway (like maybe once or twice a year), but that second master always made them happy and problem solved.
Old 13th June 2019
  #19
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I can 100% see why folks who work from analogue, in analogue or to analogue could consider a nominal fee for each set up, but from my own perspective and I would presume most mastering engineers I work hybrid and increasingly ITB and it really doesn't take that long. As long as a courtesy call to an unsure client.
Old 13th June 2019
  #20
Gear Maniac
 

Do you like the work of the "top tier" engineers you're choosing before sending stuff to them? If yes, do you provide them with a couple reference tracks, or perhaps refer to one of their previous albums which you enjoyed the sound of? If no, why don't you hire an engineer with a proven track record *for your tastes* ... meaning someone who has done work that you like, regardless of their "tier" level.

It is not normal whatsoever to charge for revisions. My favorite "famous" ME's don't charge for revisions unless you make a new mix or are picking at minutiae after already having done a couple revisions. It is very easy to recall an analog chain, takes me about 30-60 seconds.

Also, do you tell them before the first revision something like "hey don't make a pancake, I don't need it that hot, just make it sound good"? Or just hand it off with zero communication and hope for the best?

Personally if an ME sent me back a master with clipping above 0.0 dbfs, I would immediately fire them and move on (and explain to them exactly why). I also would never hire an ME with a track record of including PCM clipping in their masters.
Old 13th June 2019
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dogoftears View Post
It is very easy to recall an analog chain, takes me about 30-60 seconds.
That's true, but there is a little more to it than that. Real-time recording/printing, potential instrumental and TV mixes as well, redoing any RX work to remove clicks, ticks, noise etc., re-rendering the EP or album master, QC, file uploads, emails.

Plus, considering any changes to your mastering settings due to the mix change.

I don't charge full-rate when new mixes are sent, usually about $20 per song.

I charge $0 for when the changes can be done using the same mix sent because it's often very little time involved and it's part of my job.

I make this policy clear before projects are submitted.
Old 16th June 2019
  #22
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Trakworx's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by IanBSC View Post
Is there a strategy of getting what you want for a master in terms of loudness and hype, while still having a coherent vision and excellent, balanced sound from the ME?
Yes. Communicate all of that up front.
Old 19th June 2019
  #23
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BOMI's Avatar
Here at BOMI Mastering Studio we don't charge anything for song reviews. But often we really need to engage in communication to find a meeting point between us and the customer.
Old 19th June 2019
  #24
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DBarbarulo's Avatar
recently i had some masters back from a known top studio, top engineer etc., that i had to include in a full album for a client. All tracks were around +1.7 dBFS...
Old 19th June 2019
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DBarbarulo View Post
recently i had some masters back from a known top studio, top engineer etc., that i had to include in a full album for a client. All tracks were around +1.7 dBFS...


I have had to "repair" some that read +2.8


In my mind the question is if those engineers are getting more customers by providing louder masters than others or if they can't be bothered to lower their output ceiling just a tad below zero after clipping.
Wait.... they might not have found about ISP meters buttons and TP on their meters yet!
Old 20th June 2019
  #26
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DBarbarulo's Avatar
+2.8... your ME is clearly the best.
Just for sake: since i was a bit disappointed but had the privilege to AB with the unmastered version, I can't say that the squashed/clipped master was a total bad choice. But i had probably 90% of null shoving 8 dB of gain with a maximizer, 0dB ceiling and no isp. From a professional point again i was a bit disappointed. From a philosophical point of view maybe the guy decided that turning up one knob was the most correct move for the case and asked over 200$ for that knowledge...
Old 20th June 2019
  #27
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FWIW I very, very rarely use inter-sample peak limiting - it just hardly ever sounds as good to me, no matter what the numbers say. That's not to say that I squash everything, but it's important to use your ears too.
Old 20th June 2019
  #28
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By ISP I meant a limiter with intersample peak meters.

Yes but even if you decide to clip in both domains for whatever reasons you migh find appropiate (or requested) it doesn't take much nor is rocket science to deliver a file that doesn't show three thousand clipping incidents over a three minutes song.
Old 20th June 2019
  #29
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mastermat's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by IanBSC View Post
I've encountered this issue frequently: a mix gets sent out to a big name mastering engineer and the master ends up sounding reasonably good but often too loud/hot, hyped with EQ, and clipping at 0db. But every revision, requests for more headroom, less compression, less HF shelf, etc just makes it worse. Clearly the MEs heart is not in the revisions and the original alway sounds best, so there is no way to avoid the loudness problems. Micromanaging seems to be the worst strategy, and of course the engineers start to get really annoyed at the revisions.

Even sending demos to multiple mastering engineers the same issues with loudness or ear fatigue crop up, and the revisions invariably fail to improve on the masters. We often have to pick a master with the fewest tradeoffs rather than the one that gets it right.

Is there a strategy of getting what you want for a master in terms of loudness and hype, while still having a coherent vision and excellent, balanced sound from the ME?
just send the premaster to a mastering engineer that is capable of doing what you want! it helps to communicate upfront, sending a reference master that is close to your goal of loudness, style etc might be helpful.

if you like pm me
Old 4 weeks ago
  #30
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I master to where it can survive 1-2 db more and send. If they want more I add 1-2 db and all is well. Err on the side of quiet.
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