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Mastering with customers?
Old 18th November 2007
  #1
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Mastering with customers?

I see a lot of threads that discuss Mastering a song with customers present. According to the threads they often say something like "make it brighter" (just an example), with the discussion about doing what the customer wants.
I'm confused. A Mastering Engineer has tuned the mastering area for his/her taste to create a well-known environment that produces repeatable and predictable results. That ME's taste might not be "brighter", so "normal" could be darker than a particular customer keeps their home system. If the ME gives-in to make it "brighter" then the customer will find it too bright when they try it on their own system, which makes the entire idea of mastering with a customer weird.
Old 18th November 2007
  #2
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I think that most Mastering Engineers try to make their rooms as accurate as possible. I haven't met any ME's that try to make their room on the dark or bright side. They are truth seekers.
Old 18th November 2007
  #3
jdg
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thats why i ask new clients to bring in some CDs of other artists that they know really well.. so they can "get used to" my system.

honestly, this was only an issue once, when the client thought he needed to "get used to" my room.
Old 18th November 2007
  #4
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Originally Posted by jdg View Post
thats why i ask new clients to bring in some CDs of other artists that they know really well.. so they can "get used to" my system.

honestly, this was only an issue once, when the client thought he needed to "get used to" my room.
I also encourage attending clients to bring in "reference" CDs.

And it also can help me, particularly if the album is going to be played in context with others of its "style".

Although I have worked in my current room for over 3 years, when I start in the morning, my ears are very sensitive to volume and brightness and if I mastered without "referring" to other good sounding (or not so good sounding!) CDs, I may find myself being too conservative with the mastering.

Most music is listened to in context with other music of its style these days and so I find refs helpful in deciding what direction the master should go in, and if the client is present, it is very helpful to them to also hear their master-in-progress in the context of other CDs. This usually takes care of any client requests for too much of any of the tonal spectrums.

I'll admit that once in a while comparing a less than stellar recording to great sounding masters can backfire (b/c it may not be possible to achieve the tone or volume to match), a great majority of the times it is a worthwhile exercise.

However, I only use refs on the first master of the album and almost never after that. I prefer to refer to the tracks I've mastered as I move on through the album so that there is a balance and continuity from the beginning to the end of the sequence.
Old 18th November 2007
  #5
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I never reference other CD's when I work. If a client needs to listen to a reference CD to "get used" to my room then I let 'em listen, but only to make them a little more comfortable. It took me about ten hours a day for two weeks to "get used" to my new room when I moved, and that's with speakers and amps I'd had for two or so years.

Most of the time the client brings CD's that sound like apples when their own projects only have the potential to sound like oranges, so more often then not it's a distraction and a waste of time.

Frequently it's a sign that they are not confident or comfortable with the sound of the record, or maybe more accurately their own monitoring situation. That's when it's more more useful for the client to be reassured that YOU know the sound of your room and having worked on records in their genre that you will have some reasonable idea of when to push and when to pull their project into shape.

In the end the client will need to evaluate their project in a place that they feel more comfortable in anyway, and you can always make changes from that point on if you didn't end up being on the same page.
Old 18th November 2007
  #6
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I agree, reference CD's are a waste of time (for me) - because people only bring CD's of music they like, irrespective of the sound.

I also don't use them to judge loudness.........otherwise you'll get into loudness envy, and ruin the record. Just max it out to it's own loudness potential.
Old 18th November 2007
  #7
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Hopefully, they have an idea of how it sounds before they come in. heh

What I see frequently when they come in is that they don't notice the low end as much. "Where's the low end?" when I'm hearing plenty of it. What they're not hearing is resonance. They're not used to *tight* low end. So, there's an occasional "learning curve" when they come in. It usually doesn't take much for them to get accustomed to.
Old 18th November 2007
  #8
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I also think reference CD's are a waste of time, though sometimes I listen to them if the client feels more comfortable that way. Not really that often..

The client's music IS the reference, they've heard a lot of it recently in various places and know its sound well enough, so I think it works as a "bridge" to have a good moment of listening to the mixes at my studio.

Of course the client might want it brighter or more bass, and it's his right to do so. I'm there to bring my own vision to it, but if the client has a vision, it's my job to make it true. It's up to me (who knows the monitoring best) to say when we're going over the top if the client doesn't understand the monitoring and wants more and more high end.
Old 18th November 2007
  #9
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always use your "client 2 engineer interpreter" heh

if a client wants you to add more treble, most of the time he just wants more overall clarity
the wish for more bass or warmth can in reality come from too much sibilance in the 6-10k area ......and so on....endless list
the technical process to achieve a goal is often very diffrent from what a client expects.
I remember client call me and ask what eq I had used to boost the topend, it sounds so sweeeet.
....what I did was a medium parallel compression with 2 1176 plus some light midrange eq tweaks.
steff
Old 18th November 2007
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenjkelly View Post
....which makes the entire idea of mastering with a customer weird.
I agree about the ME's responsibility to translate general eq but there's more to it than just that.

It is still useful (and inspiring!) to collaborate with clients in terms of edits, fades, pauses and eq changes within a song or to discuss the side effects of 'surgical eq-ing'. Like f.i., i may decide that a song needs a cut at 1kHz, but the producer may think that that would affect the singers voice too much. Things like that.

A seasoned ME can make most of these decisions by himself and be in the ballpark 90% or so. But with music (or any art) there's no 100% right or wrong. When it comes to taste, the artist/producer has the last word.

Peter
Old 19th November 2007
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MASSIVE Master View Post
Hopefully, they have an idea of how it sounds before they come in. heh

What I see frequently when they come in is that they don't notice the low end as much. "Where's the low end?" when I'm hearing plenty of it. What they're not hearing is resonance. They're not used to *tight* low end. So, there's an occasional "learning curve" when they come in. It usually doesn't take much for them to get accustomed to.

Yes I get the same problem with the ATCs, so I just flick it to the Sony boombox located in the back corner...there's your bass!
Old 19th November 2007
  #12
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I won't name names but I know many places here in NYC charge extra for attended mastering sessions, and otherwise try to discourage it.

I try to attend when my own **** gets mastered here but it's more out of a desire to learn because I'm about to open up my own joint, even though mastering most probably won't be in my own job description there. But the thought of telling some guy I'm paying $$$$$ to how *I* want it to sound just makes no sense to me. I'm paying him because I trust his ears more than mine at that point.
Old 19th November 2007
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rubito View Post
I won't name names but I know many places here in NYC charge extra for attended mastering sessions, and otherwise try to discourage it.
I've seen that quite a bit in LA as well.
Old 19th November 2007
  #14
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Originally Posted by Rubito View Post
I won't name names but I know many places here in NYC charge extra for attended mastering sessions, and otherwise try to discourage it.
So what? It's not a secret. Name whatever you want.

I can't speak for all mastering houses in NYC, but it's a common misconception that the attended rate vs. unattended rate is meant to be discouraging or punitive in some way. While there are occasional exceptions, the vast majority of attended sessions take MUCH longer than unattended ones and the results are pretty much the same in general [I have just as many revisions with attended sessions as I do with unattended sessions].

I won't prattle on about all the other pros and cons. You can take my word for it. I'll just say this:

Unattended sessions allow the mastering engineer MUCH more flexibility [and if you're lucky enough to be VERY busy you know just how valuable that flexibility can be].

My attended rate is not higher than my unattended rate. My unattended rate is LOWER than my attended rate. There is a big difference [the attended rate came first and was the ONLY rate for many years until unattended sessions became commonplace]. It was a conscious decision made to offer the client that couldn't or didn't need to attend another way to save a bit of their budget. They save me time, I save them money.

Simple and fair. No need for secrets.
Old 19th November 2007
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Masterer View Post
...My attended rate is not higher than my unattended rate. My unattended rate is LOWER than my attended rate....
Haha

seriously, i hear what you're saying.
Old 19th November 2007
  #16
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The gig is to see the myriad musical potentials of a record that fit in the technically acceptable framework, and to blend that set with the subset of the client's wishes.

Working 95% by FTP I ask for refs if they have something that's close to what they're going for in terms of either level or eq and most people have something useful to share. From a levels standpoint there's no need to go louder than they want.

No two records ever sound the same, but it's nice to be able to interpret/understand their general eq preferences from an eq ref, then go from there based on what the mix is and what they have to say about it. It doesn't confine me in any way to hear a ref, and even if it's wacky I can always learn something about their taste.
Old 19th November 2007
  #17
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Mastering with clients present is IMHO the best way to go because you get instant feedback.

I did a project a couple of years ago with a person in Boston. We had done similar projects when he lived here. I thought I knew what he wanted and we talked a lot about the project before I ever started on it. When I sent him the first reference he sent back a two page single spaced letter with all the changes. I did as he requested and he sent back a four page single spaced letter with all the changes and it got worse from there until we finally finished the project. Every time I did as he requested he found more and more things he wanted tweaked and if he had been here I could have done them and had instant feedback especially if he did not like what I had just done.

Collaboration is GREAT but over the Internet and by phone is simply NOT as good as having the person in the studio listening on the same speakers that you are. After a long and protracted series of changes I finally asked him what he was auditioning the material on since a lot of his comments made no sense. He said his BOSE (no highs no lows must be BOSE) combination CD player and radio and his 1997 car radio with a CD to cassette adapter. Wonderful full range monitoring system - NOT! and this person REALLY likes his BASS big, fat and in your face.

We finally finished the project after about 4 months of back and forth correspondence over the net and lots of refs send via USPS Priority Mail.

I suggested that in the future he either come here or find someone in Boston to do his mastering since this was not working well. I have not heard from him since so I assume he found someone locally where he could attend the sessions.
Old 19th November 2007
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas W. Bethe View Post
Mastering with clients present is IMHO the best way to go because you get instant feedback.

I did a project a couple of years ago with a person in Boston. We had done similar projects when he lived here. I thought I knew what he wanted and we talked a lot about the project before I ever started on it. When I sent him the first reference he sent back a two page single spaced letter with all the changes. I did as he requested and he sent back a four page single spaced letter with all the changes and it got worse from there until we finally finished the project. Every time I did as he requested he found more and more things he wanted tweaked and if he had been here I could have done them and had instant feedback especially if he did not like what I had just done.

Collaboration is GREAT but over the Internet and by phone is simply NOT as good as having the person in the studio listening on the same speakers that you are. After a long and protracted series of changes I finally asked him what he was auditioning the material on since a lot of his comments made no sense. He said his BOSE (no highs no lows must be BOSE) combination CD player and radio and his 1997 car radio with a CD to cassette adapter. Wonderful full range monitoring system - NOT! and this person REALLY likes his BASS big, fat and in your face.

We finally finished the project after about 4 months of back and forth correspondence over the net and lots of refs send via USPS Priority Mail.

I suggested that in the future he either come here or find someone in Boston to do his mastering since this was not working well. I have not heard from him since so I assume he found someone locally where he could attend the sessions.

Per hour basis I guess ... how BIG was that bill ....heh
Old 19th November 2007
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lucey View Post
The gig is to see the myriad musical potentials of a record that fit in the technically acceptable framework, and to blend that set with the subset of the client's wishes.
What?




Oh yeah, I forgot to add the ol' "FWIW", and "YMMV".


Bitches.
Old 19th November 2007
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas W. Bethe View Post
Mastering with clients present is IMHO the best way to go because you get instant feedback.

Collaboration is GREAT but over the Internet and by phone is simply NOT as good as having the person in the studio listening on the same speakers that you are.
Different strokes I guess, as I'm 100% in the opposite camp. If I work here and you listen where you're sure what I'm doing there is no loss to communication, and you're sure to get what you want. The major variable with attended sessions is the client's perspective on my room. The major variable with unattended is the communication. Communication by phone or email is just as good as in person, often better .... as people will be more honest without the pressure to get along in person and the distraction/excitement of a better monitoring room.

If you can't understand your clients without them being present, or if they're not as picky as to hear 1/2db as make or break, then attended would be better. Mine are often that picky and I understand them well at a distance. My best UK clients (2) I worked for for 3 years before ever meeting them in person. We were great friends by then. Actually all of my best clients are people I've never physically met.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Masterer View Post
What?
Full potential + client's wishes = result.
Old 19th November 2007
  #21
Mastering
 

I never understood why houses have to charge more for an attended rate since we inevitably earn more for an attended session because they ALWAYS take longer.

Though Chris has a valid point that unattended sessions can be much more flesible, we are quite happy to let the clients come, but we warn them that it's going to cost more, not because we charge more, but because it takes longer. Even the clients who promise that they will be a "fly on the wall" end up taking at least an hour longer than an unattended session. And since time is money, why charge more per hour if you're going to get more income anyway, and you warned the client?

That's my point of view. Houses that charge more for attended sessions are welcome to, but the hourly penalty is not necessary---they're going to end up paying more anyway.

Will they get a better product? That's another question!
Old 19th November 2007
  #22
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Originally Posted by bob katz View Post
I never understood why houses have to charge more for an attended rate since we inevitably earn more for an attended session because they ALWAYS take longer.

Though Chris has a valid point that unattended sessions can be much more flesible, we are quite happy to let the clients come, but we warn them that it's going to cost more, not because we charge more, but because it takes longer. Even the clients who promise that they will be a "fly on the wall" end up taking at least an hour longer than an unattended session. And since time is money, why charge more per hour if you're going to get more income anyway, and you warned the client?

That's my point of view. Houses that charge more for attended sessions are welcome to, but the hourly penalty is not necessary---they're going to end up paying more anyway.

Will they get a better product? That's another question!
I've noticed that there is little difference in the number of revisions done by for clients of attended sessions vs unattended so my conclusion is that generally it doesn't matter whether they come in or not. Like Lucey, I've never personally met a couple of my best clients.

Of course you want to have clear communication with clients of unattended sessions via email and perhaps references.

I think the only situation where it actually saves time is if the album has a lot of cross-fades and if the client has a clear idea of how they should go, and where the IDs should be, then it does save time in that case. Of course they can send you their version of how they should go but not everyone wants to or can do that.
Old 19th November 2007
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz View Post
I never understood why houses have to charge more for an attended rate since we inevitably earn more for an attended session because they ALWAYS take longer.

Though Chris has a valid point that unattended sessions can be much more flesible, we are quite happy to let the clients come, but we warn them that it's going to cost more, not because we charge more, but because it takes longer. Even the clients who promise that they will be a "fly on the wall" end up taking at least an hour longer than an unattended session. And since time is money, why charge more per hour if you're going to get more income anyway, and you warned the client?

That's my point of view. Houses that charge more for attended sessions are welcome to, but the hourly penalty is not necessary---they're going to end up paying more anyway.

Will they get a better product? That's another question!
You say potato and I say potato.

Like I said, my rate is a discount, not a penalty. Maybe SOME people are penalizing clients that want to attend, but I think it's just a widely held assumption that is mostly wrong.

I'm not interested in the "benefits" of a session that takes longer and allows me to make more money as a result. I'm far more interested in managing my workload efficiently so I can keep my turnaround time as short as possible. It's not unusual for me to do several records a day. That frequently includes singles, alternate passes, recalls, alternate album sequences for different territories, Bonus tracks, mastering revisions etc etc. Managing this as the projects overlap can be challenging, to say the least. Being able to switch gears to address client "emergencies" is not something you can do during an attended session.


There are positives and negatives about about either scenario. There are not a lot of drawbacks to unattended sessions, but the big advantage is efficiency [most of the time anyway]. Of course it's all relative I suppose. I probably do as many or more attended sessions as anyone involved in this conversation.

Gotta go. I have an attended session.
Old 19th November 2007
  #24
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when mastering when a client get's in its just a different kind of show you pull off, then when working on you're own ....

I don't know where I perform better, I like the feel at the end of a 16track attended-session at the end off the day, when all is done and you feel like you performed and did you're ultimate best. When a client sit's in, decision making is "different" more like a point off no return, then when working un-attended, where you can get back to it the next few days, have a second listen and adapt.

sometimes the feel from NOW its has to be OK, this is IT feels great, it's a bit more rock and roll, like pushing you're ducati to fast in that corner you know well, getting down to third gear and let those 50mm carbon Termignoni make some noise ...

While working un-attended is more a kind of philosophical thing were you wonder through a much wider gap of time ....tutt

Like it both ways ... clients still can surprise me .. tell me something different, something I don't know, how bad other ME's sucked , have a laugh, have some argue ...

unattended is great, they both mix very well

Still have to make the switch to per/hour rate when working attended, my live-show is way to cheap now .... but I,m a bit afraid to do so ...
per track did me well the last years to build up a client base ...
just made the first deal with a compagny to work for an per/hour rate ...

but I'm with masterer, my un-attended rate is WAY cheaper ...
Old 19th November 2007
  #25
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"50mm carbon Termignoni"

Cooool, where can I get 1, or do I need 2 for stereo? Will it make my masters SOOOPER LOUD, like green day?

Hehe.

Very true, nearly all my best work has been done seat of the pants with someone breathing down my neck while looking at their watch.

There is a sense of comradre when you crank it and just grin at one another.
Old 20th November 2007
  #26
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Just to clarify, I don't think it's some big industry secret or anything, I just don't know who might have told whom what and who's getting what deal from whom, basically I didn't want the discussion to get specific, so I avoided naming any names.

In general, as a client at a mastering studio I don't think I need to have much input beyond spending a few minutes describing what I want. What I perceive I am hiring as a client is the ME's well-developed sense of judgement, and I wouldn't want to interfere with that, and conceptually on both sides of the coin I think that a customer is much more likely to **** up a good mastering job than to bring the level of quality up.
Old 21st November 2007
  #27
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I forgot to comment on the real topic of this discussion.

I see things the same way Thomas W. Bethel does, mastering with customers in is a good way for instant feedback. Many times they can't say a **** to spectral balance (and why should they, it's my job and the mixes should be in a shape where the balance is already there and just needs to be lit up from the inside!) but for editing, the workflow is great.

There are times when customers in doesn't work and I know I could have done 2x better job in half the time, but what can you do. Then again, I've had unattended sessions where simple things could have been understood in both sides if we just were listening to them in the same space at the same time.

I charge no extra for attended sessions.

Right now the attended/unattended balance is maybe 40/60.
Old 22nd November 2007
  #28
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Lots of problems when you are listening on calibrated speakers and the client is listening on WHATEVER.

These are some of the things my clients have told me that the listened to the mastered tracks on.

1> Most often their car stereo with a smiley EQ and the bass boost switch turned on.

2> Their recording monitors.

3> Their home stereo system

4> A boom box

5> A friend's stereo

6> Take the CD to Best Buy or Circuit City and listen to it on as many different systems as you can before they catch you.

7> Convert the mastered tracks to MP3 and listen on their IPOD

8> Some one else's car stereo

9> A Walkman

10> Transfered it to cassette and listened to it while exercising.

My speakers and room translate VERY well to other systems but when you are making value judgment as to bass and treble levels your car stereo is NOT going to be a good reference. Nor is a bedside BOSE radio/CD Player or listening to the stuff on an IPOD.

It is hard enough to do the mastering with the person in the same room. It is almost impossible to do very "tweaky" mastering when you and your client are miles apart and listening to two totally different monitoring systems. IMHO and FWIW
Old 22nd November 2007
  #29
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I usually get better results when I dont attend sessions for my mixes.

I trust the people who master my stuff and when I'm there I just waste time and get in the way of the engineer. I dont master records for a living and I dont know their monitors/rooms the way they do. If someone does there job as a mix engineer and produces a good mix and you hire a good mastering engineer theres no reason to be there.

Send in good mixes to people you know and trust and let them do their thing. Check the reference they give you in your studio (on monitors and in a room you understand) and give them your opinions if something doesnt sound right.

Its the best, fastest, and cheapest way to do it.

*I still attend sessions from time to time for fun but I make a point to not say a word once we get started..
Old 22nd November 2007
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas W. Bethe View Post
It is hard enough to do the mastering with the person in the same room. It is almost impossible to do very "tweaky" mastering when you and your client are miles apart and listening to two totally different monitoring systems. IMHO and FWIW

You are speaking for yourself of course, right?

I've done it a few thousand times and I know lots of people that have as well....

...with the client THOUSANDS of miles away and in different time zones.

Yesterday I was attended, today my clients were in N.Y.C. Switzerland, Miami, and L.A. all unattended.

No problem.

Monday and Tuesday attended, Wed clients are from Germany, and U.K.

I'm not anticipating any problems.

Records get finished, clients get happy. Done.
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