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How do you approach mastering?
Old 10th November 2009
  #1
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How do you approach mastering?

Mastering is one of those things that I think is quite possibly the most ignored aspect of the recording process. I know that I've always ignored it. But I'm beginning to get a greater appreciation of the process, but I'm still not very knowledgeable about the field.

I know the basics. Fades. Create the beginning and end of a track. Make things louder. That's about it. Any insights you guys could give me? How do you approach EQ and compression/limiting. Verb? How do you approach using outboard gear and routing that back to the DAW? Do you prefer to keep it in the DAW? (And I know this is a loaded question), but what pieces of outboard gear do you prefer? If you keep it in the DAW what plugs do you like to use? I'm thinking of getting a few toys from UA for mastering, and would like some input from you guys. I'm mostly recording rock.
Old 10th November 2009
  #2
Mastering
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alvagoldbook View Post
Mastering is one of those things that I think is quite possibly the most ignored aspect of the recording process. I know that I've always ignored it. But I'm beginning to get a greater appreciation of the process, but I'm still not very knowledgeable about the field.

I know the basics. Fades. Create the beginning and end of a track. Make things louder. That's about it. Any insights you guys could give me? How do you approach EQ and compression/limiting. Verb? How do you approach using outboard gear and routing that back to the DAW? Do you prefer to keep it in the DAW? (And I know this is a loaded question), but what pieces of outboard gear do you prefer? If you keep it in the DAW what plugs do you like to use? I'm thinking of getting a few toys from UA for mastering, and would like some input from you guys. I'm mostly recording rock.
First of all, mastering should not be about processing. Mastering is the process of critical and experienced listening to the product and helping it to translate to the widest variety of reproduction systems. The most important technical part of mastering for compact disc is to confirm the technical and sonic integrity of the master you are making. The most important sonic or subjective part of mastering is to get the levels right from song to song and the transitions between songs to sound good.

You asked, "How do you approach mastering"? My response would be first to know which of the following three approaches represents MASTERING for the product that you are working with. Which one is appropriate for the product; and to confer with the producer/artist (if he did not already communicate it to you) that one of the following three approaches is the one he is looking for. First you have to decide if your mastering is going to fall into one of three categories:

1) The original producer/mix engineer is experienced and very comfortable with the mix he has produced. So your job as a mastering engineer is to translate his mix to the final medium with perhaps minor corrections or tweaks to help the songs work together as a whole. This can involve some creative work, but mostly it is entirely respectful of the original producer's intent.

or

2) The original producer/mix engineer did a pretty good job but needs some help in dealing with the more difficult mixes, but regardless your job is to figure out the original intent, and preserve and/or enhance the original intent to the final master. This can involve more creative work, but always trying to get the producer's original intent out to the end listener.

or

3) The original producer/mix engineer may or may not have been experienced, but for whatever reason, he is not entirely happy with the mix that he produced, it seems to be lacking some "magic" or he is expecting that the mastering will transform his mix into something that he was hoping it would become but did not. This of course can involve considerable creative work, but to be done with confidence that what you are producing is going to please the artist/producer in the end. To do this well requires consideralbe experience and knowledge of the music and musical styles that are being produced. And this choice does not mean to impose your own view on the artist's creation, but still to collaborate with the artist on his dream, first express your view of what you think the recording is lacking and what you think you can do to take it to a new sound, and make sure the artist/producer likes your idea. Obviously, the more that the artist has worked with you or knows your work, the more confident he will be in giving you carte blanche, "that thing you do."

-----

Some of us are more adept at #1 or #2 above, some of us are good at doing any of the three. But regardless, we should know our limitations and talents, our styles and and always be respectful of what the client is looking for. That in a nutshell is how I believe mastering engineers should approach mastering. Now that we have discussed that context, I guess we could answer your original question about processing and processes. And my answer would be: There are as many different approaches to processing as there are mastering engineers. Most of us keep a wide-enough variety of equipment and methods on hand so that anything from an all-digital to an all-analog approach is available, depending on what the project is looking for!
Old 10th November 2009
  #3
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From the shadows....with a baseball bat.

Thor
Old 10th November 2009
  #4
Gear Nut
 

The way to approach mastering is to make the best recording you can so as to avoid paying 'em to do it!
Old 10th November 2009
  #5
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alvagoldbook's Avatar
 

thanks for your input. I'm not the most experienced guy out there when it comes to mxing, but I'm really just winging it when it comes to mastering. I'm thinking it might be better to send my work to a mastering house.

What do you guys think the going rate for mastering would be for about a 45 minute album if you're using some pretty decent outboard gear to put it through and the mix is reasonably well done?
Old 10th November 2009
  #6
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Pretty variable... I'd start by clicking some signature files in this very forum for starters.
Old 10th November 2009
  #7
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Riccardo's Avatar
 

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2 Reviews written
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz View Post
Most of us keep a wide-enough variety of equipment and methods on hand so that anything from an all-digital to an all-analog approach is available, depending on what the project is looking for!
I am quoting Bob's sentence to stress this often forgotten aspect of our job.

Doing "what the project is looking for" should enlighten those trying to understand what mastering is about.

This is why questions like "do you use plugs or hardware" "do you work ITB/OTB" , "what is the best compressor/eq/limiter etc, are sometimes impossible ones if placed out of context.

Even though there will be exceptions , most mastering engineers will use what is needed, be it plugs, hardware, tape or nothing at all. Falling into habits is a no go, same as using this or that piece of equipment just because you have it in your room or not using plugs because you have hardware available is pure nonsense.
Using what works on a given project without prejudice or preconceptions is or should be an aquired skill.

Knowing what not to do is always harder than deciding what to do.
Old 11th November 2009
  #8
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Edward_Vinatea's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz View Post
3) The original producer/mix engineer may or may not have been experienced, but for whatever reason, he is not entirely happy with the mix that he produced, it seems to be lacking some "magic" or he is expecting that the mastering will transform his mix into something that he was hoping it would become but did not.
I am quoting Bob's comments as well. The large majority of the online requests for mastering service seem to be comprised by individuals who have these expectations on the mastering work. There is no "secret" to great mastering but if there is one, then the secret is in the mix.

Therefore my approach is in recommending changes or adjustments to the mix, that is, if the mix is obviously flawed.

Regards,
Old 11th November 2009
  #9
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masterizer's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by alvagoldbook View Post
thanks for your input. I'm not the most experienced guy out there when it comes to mxing, but I'm really just winging it when it comes to mastering. I'm thinking it might be better to send my work to a mastering house.

What do you guys think the going rate for mastering would be for about a 45 minute album if you're using some pretty decent outboard gear to put it through and the mix is reasonably well done?
Anything you are going to release you should have mastered by a pro, this will give you an opportunity to learn. Practice your own mastering and keep learning!

The going rate depends on many things, but mostly time.

I wouldn't worry so much about decent outboard gear, the goal of mastering grade equipment is to be transparent and precise unlike the dream walls full of vintage neve's and massive SSL consoles for recording and mixing.

Make sure you are going to a dedicated mastering house and not a recording studio claiming to "master".
Old 12th November 2009
  #10
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Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 

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1 Review written
This topic has been discussed numerous times before. Maybe do a search here on this forum? YMMV
Old 12th November 2009
  #11
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Jerry Tubb's Avatar
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by alvagoldbook View Post
I'm thinking it might be better to send my work to a mastering house.
POST OF THE YEAR!

99% of the participants in the audio forums should follow your lead.

Best Regards - JT
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