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What formats do Mastering Engineers expect/accept?
Old 27th October 2005
  #1
Gear Maniac
 
Bolt Thrower's Avatar
 

What formats do Mastering Engineers expect/accept?

Hi,

I'm working on an album in my personal studio. Music style can be likened to aggressive rock. I really enjoy being able to spend as much time as I like, and since it's under my control, if it sucks there's nobody else to blame. I know very little about mastering, beyond the fact that I shouldn't do it myself.

My primary question is this: do Mastering Engineers only accept a 2-track mix? Or would they accept, say, 4 stereo stems for them to do with as they please?

I was thinking it might be cool to prepare one stem each for guitars, drums, vocals, and bass/synth/earcandy. That way I can control the basic mix for each of these components, but still leave options open for mastering.

The way I had it in mind was this: if all 4 of my stems are summed equally, that would be the mix as I had it in my studio. And, while the Mastering process would not necessarily have to change each stem, it would have that option as a means to better resolve any extant problem.

Which leads me to a secondary question: if Mastering Engineers did accept stems instead of a single stereo mixdown, which would they prefer?

What I'm trying to get across here is that I'm not asking them to mix for me as well -- it's more like I would have decided on my final mix, and set the levels of my stems accordingly, but am attempting to leave maximum options open for the mastering process.

Thanks in advance for any opinions!

- BT
Old 27th October 2005
  #2
Lives for gear
 
gsharp's Avatar
 

Some ME's will master from stems, some won't. It does leave your options open, but also leaves lots of possibly endless tweaking open too. Double edged sword. I had one recent client that was so unable to let go of the project that stems would have been a nightmare.

For me, having great monitors, a fairly well treated room, and allowing enough time to check the mixes on a couple playback systems have been sufficient to avoid any serious uh-oh's in mastering.

g
Old 27th October 2005
  #3
Gear Maniac
 
Bolt Thrower's Avatar
 

Hmm. Interesting. My feeling is that I'll either like the ME's job or I won't. But by hiring him/her, I'll be letting go of that version of the project and letting the ME run with it.

I will trust the ME. I want to benefit from their equipment, room, and signal path -- and I think it would be great to give them stems so that they can do what they think is best.

For the record, I don't have an accurate room, nice speakers, or a nice amp. This is another reason why I'd like to give them stems, so that they can more room to work with if necessary.
Old 27th October 2005
  #4
Gear Maniac
 
Bolt Thrower's Avatar
 

Just in case anyone else is willing to reply, I wanted to add that I absolutely will take as much time as I need to test out different mixes on my own in various environments. (A benefit of not being a pro, though I am definitely willing to spend $$ for a nice mastering job.)

My questions really pertain to what happens after I'm 100% done mixing, when I'm finally ready to let go and let the ME take it.
Old 27th October 2005
  #5
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Verified Member
Mastering is all about the presentation of the mix.

I suggest mixing until you are really satisfied with the musical balance on lots of different speakers. This is too time consuming of a process to be practical in a mastering session. The only time I would use stems is for surround or for a situation where some key piece of information is missing about where part of the mix needs to sit relative to what precedes it or follows it. In most cases this will just be the vocal however this can often be handled better by simply running "vocal up" and "vocal down" versions. (I suggest plus and minus a half dB. and I'll often wind up editing between all three in creating the final master.)

The biggest risk of using stems is that you can lose the cohesiveness of a mix. A mastering engineer is often compensating for your monitors more than fixing the balance in your mix. When the mastering eq. gets dialed in properly, a really good mix will often sound like it has popped into focus much like a visual image.
Old 27th October 2005
  #6
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Darius van H's Avatar
 

Verified Member
Mastering from stems can often get a very good result - better then normal mastering......obviously it requires self control, and shouldn't be used as an excuse to start mixing - unless that is what you want and what is needed.

A recent trend over here has been for people to bring their computer to the studio (many people seem to be entirely ITB these days).....i've had some pretty amazing results doing this (compared to how the 2-track sounded).
Old 28th October 2005
  #7
Gear Maniac
 
Bolt Thrower's Avatar
 

Excellent! Thank you gents for posting on both sides of the issue. I really appreciate your taking the time.
Old 28th October 2005
  #8
Gear Head
 
MicLust42's Avatar
 

I personally would never think to bring stems to a mastering session, but if I were going to go that way I think I would also bring a 2-track mix I was happy with to use as a reference.

Reuben
Studio STATS, NYC
Old 28th October 2005
  #9
Lives for Jesus
 
stevep's Avatar
Quote:
I was thinking it might be cool to prepare one stem each for guitars, drums, vocals, and bass/synth/earcandy. That way I can control the basic mix for each of these components, but still leave options open for mastering.
Thats not mastering thats mixing.

If you are going to hire a ME the Question is how good do you want it?

Is it world class or just something you will give to your friends on a cassette?

You will get what you pay for .

If you want a world class product you should go to a ME that is mastering for the top artists.

You can get a decent product from most studios that offer mastering.

I have always taken 2tk. at least 2 mixes of each song,
maybe one with hot vocals or hot bass ect......

And then use his ears and gear to pick the best final product, its not just making each song sound good.. its making the whole album flow together.

I remember in the "old days" we actually packed our digital 2.tk on the plane to Nashville to get one of the best MEs and we cut the very first digitally mastered record at what was then RCA records.

Now you can just Email them the mix.. wow

Whatever you do Trust the ME thats what you are paying him for

Steve
Old 28th October 2005
  #10
Lives for gear
 
Jamz's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bolt Thrower
My questions really pertain to what happens after I'm 100% done mixing, when I'm finally ready to let go and let the ME take it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bolt Thrower
as thinking it might be cool to prepare one stem each for guitars, drums, vocals, and bass/synth/earcandy. That way I can control the basic mix for each of these components, but still leave options open for mastering.
Do you believe that bringing that many stems qualifies as 100% mixed?
Commit your mix and present that to the ME. Bring your stems in the event there are issues.
Old 28th October 2005
  #11
Here for the gear
 

Stem mastering can be great for inexperienced mixers.
Old 28th October 2005
  #12
Jai guru deva om
 
warhead's Avatar
 

What about a 2+2 mix (2 track mix of music, 2 track mix of vocals, to be mixed and mastered by the ME)? Maybe another option.

War
Old 29th October 2005
  #13
Gear Maniac
 
Bolt Thrower's Avatar
 

Hmm.... good points and food for thought. And I'm definitely an inexperienced mixer. I suppose stems can't be 100% mixed can they??



I was also kinda thinking that the ME's hardware might provide better summing than my setup. Maybe that doesn't really matter either. Or perhaps more accurately, that would be me unfairly trying to get mixing benefits from the ME.

War, I like your idea though! Since vocals are the center of it all, maybe that's the key separation. To take it further, I suppose each L/R channel could be a different version of the vocal sound. But that could be overdoing it.

Feeling lame now... but worth it to know what y'all think. Thanks again.
Old 29th October 2005
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bolt Thrower
Hmm.... good points and food for thought. And I'm definitely an inexperienced mixer. I suppose stems can't be 100% mixed can they??

I was also kinda thinking that the ME's hardware might provide better summing than my setup. Maybe that doesn't really matter either.
This is done at Sterling Mastering all the time.

Its kinda the way this whole summing box thing got started.

Chris Muth(Dangerous designer) built a summing box for the ME's at Sterling so they could sum stems from home studios that were being brought it(PT systems).

People loved what they heard these boxes could do and next thing you know the whole summing box craziness you see now was born.
Old 29th October 2005
  #15
Lives for gear
 
Darius van H's Avatar
 

Verified Member
There's two seperate aspects to this.....

...there's the summing issue (which is overated in my view),

and there's the fact that with stems you can make subtle tweaks to the individual tracks which can vastly improve the final result.....

These are really two different things.

As i mentioned before, i believe bringing the comp' to the studio is the best possible thing to do....it's also better then stems because often people mess up the solo/muteing while bouncing stems, resulting in missing audio and hence useless stems.

Obviously it's not something you'd expect Andy Wallace or Dextor Simmons to do, but for many people it can be very valuable.
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