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How do you prepare your mix for mastering? Digital Converters
Old 6th November 2002
  #1
Here for the gear
 

How do you prepare your mix for mastering?

Hey Charles,

Talk to us about preparing your mix for mastering.
I have several questions . . .

1. Mastering engineers are always pounding the pulpit telling us
to never use compression nor eq on the over-all mix . . . but to
let the mastering engineers handle stuff like that.
But you mentioned you like to use Analog Channel 1 and maybe
DUY Wide on your Master Fader. Do you ever compress your
final mix prior to the mastering house? How about EQ?
Or do you let the mastering engineer do all of that?

2. How hot do you set your Master Fader level when your ready
to send the mix off for mastering? Do you leave them plenty of room
below 0dbfs and let them make it "hot"? Do you crank it as much
as possible? Do you use any brickwall limiter plugins? L1 or L2 ?
If so how hard do you hit them? Do the mastering engineers give you flack for this?

3. Do you dither the mix down to 16 bits or do you let the mastering engineer handle all dithering?

4. Do you send the mastering house a hard drive with a Pro Tools
session on it containing the mixed song at 24 bits? OR do you mix
to analog tape?

5. At this point in your career do you exclusively deal with major label artists and high profile sessions, or do you also have independant artists or local sessions sometimes as well?
Do you handle the mastering / dithering issues differently for
major label artists compared to unknown or local artists?

Hows that for getting a thread going ?!

Pete Weaver

Like Incubus or No Doubt?
www.halftheworld.cc
Old 7th November 2002
  #2
Lives for gear
 
Mike Jasper's Avatar
Excellent questions, Pete. Can't wait to see the answers to this one.
Old 7th November 2002
  #3
Gear Head
 

I think the engineering public has to keep something in mind. There is a lot of diffrent situations Mixdowns occur in. As ass backwards as this is many of the Major Label releases mixed by "The Big Guys" they have no idea if Joe Basemant DAW Guy who is freinds with the A&R guy is going to master it or Stephen Marcussen(A total f*cking pro). Unfortunatly in the major label arena Who masters it is often based on who will cut a good deal to the A&R man for doing his small projects for cheap in exchange for doing a big project. I hate anonymous internet stories but probably the best record I ever did was mastered by a vetran mastering engineer who murdered it. The A&R man who the Producer and I both know well back in the day used to blow lines together constantly.

My point is a lot of people who are mixing have no say nor have any idea where their finished product will be going. So they often advise processing the mix with plug ins.

There is another group of people who cant listen to the finished product unless it is as good as possible. I have to monitor t the end of my mixes with an L1 or Maxim in the path to just hear what the compressions gonna do. I can't even mix with a part that I hate in the song cause it will annoy me. The song I mixed today had a horible back up so I put it in during the last few passes. I digress.

There is lots of scenarios but what I would argue the best thing you can do is build a relationship with a Mastering engineer. If a Mastering Engineer can understand what your going for and discuss with you the shortcoming s of your mixes he can then learn how to process it to a way you will both be happy with. 9 times out of 10 if that mastering Engineeer is worth a dime he will have a better enviorment to asses your mix in and as well better Tools.

There are lots of Inexpensive Mastering Engineers who can do just as good a job as the big guys for a lot less money. If your doing mostly small budget stuff build a relationship with one rather then pretending your a genius who has great tools and can do it yourself. Your product will thank you.

If you ask any good Mastering Engineer they will be more then happy to tell you what you can do to better your product for them. Trust me the first time I followed instructions the results were much better and I have showed this to many engineers before and not one of them has regretted it.

I think some of this was discussed in my Tape Op interview with Alan Douches this month... If not an unedited version I believe is here: www.westwestsidemusic.com.

Aside from Alan other great Mastering Engineers who are inexpensive are Roger Seibel @ SAE and John Golden. All of these guys can do an amasing job on a 30 minute record for around $300.
Old 7th November 2002
  #4
I've started to record mixes at 96k 24 bit.

All I feel you should do is add buss compression to taste (if you need it)
Old 7th November 2002
  #5
I've mixed for the last few years to Masterlink at 24bit 88.2k/96k and to Ampex ATR 102 1/2" if its a major project(I give my clients the option). With the independent artist I am never sure where they will master, so its usually 24 bit 88.2k and 44.1k(once in a while its 48k if during the project they've gotten on my nerves).


I always compress and EQ my mixes!!!

I've heard enough projects come back butchered because the inexperienced mastering engineer(who probably had some wack ass speakers) thought it could be better if they did X(where they are trying to mix it in mastering).

I agree with Cannon above, a great relationship with certain mastering guys is crucial. I have a catalog of guys that I try to send my clients to, who understand what I am trying to do and will work with the mixes to take them to the next level. They are at different price ranges for clients who are independent or a major label release. I do tend to premaster sometimes if the client wants something to take back to their people and get them excited.
Old 7th November 2002
  #6
Re: How do you prepare your mix for mastering?

I'll take a swing at these, if you guys don't mind...

Quote:
Originally posted by Pete Weaver
1. Mastering engineers are always pounding the pulpit telling us
to never use compression nor eq on the over-all mix . . . but to
let the mastering engineers handle stuff like that.
But you mentioned you like to use Analog Channel 1 and maybe
DUY Wide on your Master Fader. Do you ever compress your
final mix prior to the mastering house? How about EQ?
Or do you let the mastering engineer do all of that?
This whole concept of leaving buss compression off the mix was started by a few 'over-the-top' mastering engineers who think they should have more creative control over your mix than you do. They should be mix engineers. Mix buss compression can and almost always does radically change the inter-song relationships of the instrumentation and vox. It needs to be done at the mix stage if you want it. We can add more later if desired, but if there is none (and it is needed) - your track will sound really different as soon as you step into mastering...

Our job in mastering is to take your prioject and make it translate well from system to system and to insure cohesiveness from track to track...

Now that's not to say that mastering engineers aren't called on to add to the project (or even radically change it sometimes). We're hired by you the client to do your bidding. But relying on mastering to do things that really ought to be addressed in mixing isn't generally a good idea.

Quote:
2. How hot do you set your Master Fader level when your ready
to send the mix off for mastering? Do you leave them plenty of room
below 0dbfs and let them make it "hot"? Do you crank it as much
as possible? Do you use any brickwall limiter plugins? L1 or L2 ?
If so how hard do you hit them? Do the mastering engineers give you flack for this?
Set your levels so there is no clipping and you'll be fine. If you're working in a 24 bit environment, you must realize that your program can peak at -24dbfs and you'll still be utilizing 20 bits of data! Don't worry about getting it loud.

Leave limiters (L1 and L2) off the mix buss. They are different from compression, and post dig limiting EQ is usually pretty nasty sounding (especailly up top).

Quote:
3. Do you dither the mix down to 16 bits or do you let the mastering engineer handle all dithering?
Might as well leave it to mastering. We'll typically have more 'flavors' of dither to choose from, and although noise floors aren't typically problematic in modern recordings, there's no point in cutting down your wordlength until necessary...

Quote:
4. Do you send the mastering house a hard drive with a Pro Tools
session on it containing the mixed song at 24 bits? OR do you mix
to analog tape?
From my perspective, it's your choice. The simplest answer is send the highest resolution format you can.
Old 8th November 2002
  #7
FX smörgåsbord user
 
Charles Dye's Avatar
 

Pete,

We seem to have a consensus so far, I guess it's my turn to come in and muck it up. Kidding. No, actually I pretty much agree with everything that's been said. Brad, thanks so much for giving us the perspective from the other side of the FedEx envelope. It's excellent advice, and I'm glad to see that I print my mixes essentialy the way you recommend.

As far as adding anything, my first rule is to not do anything to the mix bus that would be considered mastering. I believe very much in giving the mastering engineer headroom to do their gig. I essentially emulate with plug-ins what many engineers do when mixing on analog consoles. I use an "analog" mix bus -> light compression (not limiting) -> some slight EQ -> a stereo widener -> print to 1/2" 2-track. Though in a slightly different order.

My current mix bus inserts are:
  • AC1: To see why + how I use it, check out my first post in The Art of Pro Tools and the 11th post in "Spaciousness" in a PT mix (using the mix bus).
  • Ren Comp: I use Waves Master Opto Soft preset as a starting point, and then adjust the threshold by ear, usually compressing a dB or two.
  • Focusrite d2: I don't always use it, but it serves two purposes. One is to generally tweak the top end and contour the low end after the mix is done, the other is to compensate for any brightness that may be lost from the tape saturation effect.
  • DaD Tape: I normally set it to Ideal Tape / 30ips / Noiseless and then adjust the input level to achieve the desired saturation. Often in the –2.6 dB area. Tape can really glue a mix together in a very nice way. I may not use it if the mix already sounds warm enough.
  • DUY Wide: Check out the DUY Wide thread.
At this point some of the plug-ins have smoothed over the peaks and I now have more headroom on the mix bus than I did before. So, to optimize the mix output level I turn up the Input on DUY Wide until the mix peaks @ about -0.5 dB using the output meters on Wide. It has numerical peak indicators like the Waves plugs.

I do not use L1 or L2 on my final mixes. As I said above, that's limiting + I leave that to the pros. (OTOH, I do use L1 on individual tracks—very cool aggressive sound.)

Dither + 16 vs. 24 Bit?

I prefer POWr Dither. But I use it only when printing reference CD's exclusively for the client or label. I never print the final mix to anything but 24-bit. The fewer 16-bit copies of the mix around, the less chance the 16-bit will ever get used intentionally or un-intentionally @ mastering.

Printing Digital or Analog?

As you can tell from above, my preference is to print my mixes digitally + 24 bit. I then burn two CD-ROM's (Master + Safety) of the mixes. Usaully: Vocal +0, Vocal +0.5, Vocal +1, TV Mix (No Lead Vocal), + Instrumental. And there is the question of file type. This is probably different for every mastering engineer, but Ted Jensen @ Sterling Sound has told me that his preference is to get the files as AIFF. He can of course read any type, but I believe the AIFF's took one less step for him. Brad do you have a file type preference?

I do both major label work and some local/independent projects. Re: mastering for the local projects, I really don't like to go there no matter the budget, there are mastering engineers out there who would definitely do a better job than I who can meet their budget.

As an overall comment about mastering, I have great faith in mastering engineers. I've been fortunate enough to have many good experiences, where their work has made mine sound better. And whenever this happens I always make sure to let the client know that I thought the mastering engineer did a great job.

Great questions. Thanks.
Old 8th November 2002
  #8
Quote:
Originally posted by Charles Dye
Ted Jensen @ Sterling Sound has told me that his preference is to get the files as AIFF. He can of course read any type, but I believe the AIFF's took one less step for him. Brad do you have a file type preference?
IIRC, Ted's using Sequoia as his mastering software of choice and it probably utilizes .wav or .aif. I have no preference as Sadie (my platform of choice) can read them all as easily as native.

I just want the highest res possible.
Old 8th November 2002
  #9
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Curve Dominant's Avatar
Quote:
posted by Brad Blackwood:
Leave limiters (L1 and L2) off the mix buss. They are different from compression, and post dig limiting EQ is usually pretty nasty sounding (especailly up top).
IRT the mix buss:
Compression = OK; Limiting = bad. Copy that.

Now, IRT this Maxim plug by Digi...OK? Bad?

It claims to "intelligently" reduce peaks, but it's a "limiting" plugin. Seems like a bit of contradiction there.

Any thoughts?
Old 8th November 2002
  #10
FX smörgåsbord user
 
Charles Dye's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by Curve Dominant
It claims to "intelligently" reduce peaks, but it's a "limiting" plugin. Seems like a bit of contradiction there.

Any thoughts?
It may intelligently limit your peaks, but it's still a limiter.

And I don't recommend using it on the stereo bus when printing a final mix to send to mastering.
Old 8th November 2002
  #11
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Curve Dominant's Avatar
Quote:
posted by Charles:
quote:
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Originally posted by Curve Dominant
It (Maxim) claims to "intelligently" reduce peaks, but it's a "limiting" plugin. Seems like a bit of contradiction there.

Any thoughts?
------------------------------------------------------------------------
It may intelligently limit your peaks, but it's still a limiter.

And I don't recommend using it on the stereo bus when printing a final mix to send to mastering.
Charles,

Thanks for clearing that up.

Which leaves the question: Just what the hell IS the Maxim good for?

Besides making $$$ for Digi?

Or did I just answer my own question?
Old 8th November 2002
  #12
FX smörgåsbord user
 
Charles Dye's Avatar
 

Nobody said don't use limiters. We just don't recommend you use it on the stereo bus of your final mix. You can use limiters on the stereo bus for client reference mixes if you want, and you can use them on submixes or individual tracks.
Old 8th November 2002
  #13
s2n
Gear Nut
 

We mix to Ampex 1/4" with slight bus compression from Distressors, C2 or MDX2100 (modified). The mix is then transferred to Pro Tools via PSX100 where a reference CD-DA is made for the client to listen to and a ISO9660 data CD is made of the 24-bit .WAV file(s).
Old 8th November 2002
  #14
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally posted by Curve Dominant
Which leaves the question: Just what the hell IS the Maxim good for?
Maxim has a great 'backbuss' feature ie. you can mix between the uncompressed and the squashed audio from within the plugin .... works well on drums, some vocals etc ...

Best,
Old 11th November 2002
  #15
jon
Capitol Studios Paris
 
jon's Avatar
 

To second Cannon Fo So....frequently the producer or label A&R has not decided on the mastering engineer/studio at mixtime.

I usually go down to a Masterlink via a PSX100SE at 88/24, 44/24, and 44/16 for a listening CD. If the budget allows, 1/2" as well.

As far as mixing no-no's, I'll do anything to the 2-bus to make the mix sound finished, except the following:

- (digital) limiting
- plug-ins
- dithering
- SRC
- M/S separation/re-combination
- spatial 'widening' treatments

In practice, I tend to use an analog stereo compressor, a 3-band analog stereo valve compressor in place of an EQ unit, and -- more rarely -- an analog stereo EQ.
Old 11th November 2002
  #16
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Steve Smith's Avatar
 

Maxim is actually pretty cool on individual tracks.. I use it alot on spoken parts, or wisperd parts to make them "pop" out.

I will generally drop an eq and comp on the mix buss to hear what can happen at mastering ( ie: how will the top of the vocal sound post mastering?) but only to ref.. I dont really have anything in the rack here that I would want to commit to on the 2 buss..
Old 16th November 2002
  #17
Here for the gear
 

Post

Charles, you mentioned using POW-R for dithering--what box, or plug are you using in particular? I only know of the WEISS hardware box, but as POWR is an open algorithm I assume there a number of flavors available.
Old 16th November 2002
  #18
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groundcontrol's Avatar
 

Digi's better dithering plug offer PoWR in several flavors of noise shaping. A lot of people (me included) seem to prefer type 3 shaping.
Old 16th November 2002
  #19
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John Sayers's Avatar
 

I know it's a PC format but I'm really impressed with Soundforge's Wavehammer. It's not a limiter as such but it does what a L2 does without the severe squareing of the peaks. Anyone else tried it??

cheers
John
Old 17th November 2002
  #20
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alphajerk's Avatar
 

i use multiband compression and limiting on the mix buss. i shoot to make the mix sound ultimately finished. best scenario for me with mastering is the mastering guy to say... "yep." and not do a damn thing to it. if i even begin to think something needs to be fixed in mastering, i just find the culprit and fix it in the mix.

the only thing i dont do preferrably is SRC and bit reduction.
Old 17th November 2002
  #21
"Wavehammer"

What an unfortunate name for a mastering software tool!

Old 17th November 2002
  #22
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John Sayers's Avatar
 

Quote:
best scenario for me with mastering is the mastering guy to say... "yep." and not do a damn thing to it. if i even begin to think something needs to be fixed in mastering, i just find the culprit and fix it in the mix.
Ditto

Hey Jules don't be distracted by the name Wavehammer It really is a cool pluggin and is available as a DirectX.

From Sonic Foundary's site


Quote:
Wave Hammer is a new mastering tool for Sound Forge 5.0. It includes a compressor and volume maximizer. The compressor allows you to limit the dynamic range of your audio. It can also be used to add punch or create analog-like distortion. The volume maximizer allows you to boost an overall signal level without clipping or distorting your sound. It also allows you to limit the peak amplitude of a signal.
cheers
John
Old 18th November 2002
  #23
Old 18th November 2002
  #24
FX smörgåsbord user
 
Charles Dye's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally posted by schnauser
Charles, you mentioned using POW-R for dithering--what box, or plug are you using in particular? I only know of the WEISS hardware box, but as POWR is an open algorithm I assume there a number of flavors available.
As groundcontrol said, Digi has a POWr Dither plug-in. That's where I get my dither from when I use dither.
Old 18th November 2002
  #25
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

There are a couple reasons why it's a good idea not to go too crazy with 2-buss processing.

First, and probably most important, the final level that a track needs to be at will vary for different applications and contexts. A compilation with other artists could dictate something very different as would a video track or even a single or different location in the final sequence. Turning something up only to have to turn it back down again adds unnecessary distortion that almost always makes the final product sound smaller and more "digital" in the bad sense.

Second, I've found that every time you process an audio signal, it becomes more fragile. Processing is an important part of our work however the secret to great sound is often doing the processing right the first time. I totally agree that important creative decisions should never be left for mastering, or for that matter for mixing, however subtile adjustments that you know are going to require touching up in mastering should probably be left alone so that they only need to be done one time within the context of the whole album or any future compilation. At some point, the sound quality is always going to break. It's best if that doesn't happen in a broadcast processor before people get to hear it and decide whether or not they want to buy the album.

The real issue is not doing anything to the 2-buss that might legitimately require undoing in the future. A mix is always a major investment in time and/or money. A client deserves to be able to earn money from their mixes in as many different ways as possible in the future. Exactly where to draw the line between mixing and mastering can also be expected to be different for every recording. The important thing is leaving your mix with some legs.
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Old 19th November 2002
  #26
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groundcontrol's Avatar
 

Nicely said Bob!
Old 19th November 2002
  #27
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Charles Dye's Avatar
 

Excellent advice Bob. Thanks.
Old 19th November 2002
  #28
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Curve Dominant's Avatar
I'll "third" that, Mr. Olhsson.

That was one of your classic posts. It's just a perfectly distilled manifesto on how to approach our craft, on so many levels, transcending the mastering topic.

Quote:
posted by Bob Olhsson:
I've found that every time you process an audio signal, it becomes more fragile. Processing is an important part of our work however the secret to great sound is often doing the processing right the first time.
I'm gonna print that out in bold type and post it to the wall behind the mixer.
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