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Sterling Sound Mastering - Worth The Money?
Old 3 weeks ago
  #1
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Sterling Sound Mastering - Worth The Money?

About to have a project mastered. I've been thinking I'll have Sterling Sound do it. However, an engineer at a recording studio I did a session at mentioned that they stay away from Sterling because, "Unless you pay extra for the attended session, you don't actually know who will be doing it." Implying that they might be palming off tracks to trainees/interns or something without telling the client, even if you're paying a premium for one of their extremely respected, award-winning engineers.
Is there any truth to this? I really want to use them because their engineers have mastered some of my favorite records, but that would be a pretty shady business practice. Obviously I hope it's not true, and I don't want to spread bad rumors if it isn't, but it makes me a little reluctant to trust them. Can anyone put my mind at ease?
Old 3 weeks ago
  #2
Not only Sterling.

Here in my country there are a couple of “top notch” mastering engineers that have two different rates. The expensive one is the one where you get to be in the room with the ME and your song is mastered using the highest end hardware. If you pay the non-attended, cheaper rate you get your song mastered by an aprentice with plugins (I’m not against ITB mastering FWIW). Of course you are not told so, you still think the real ME is putting his hands on your songs, using the hi end hardware stuff he advertise in his website).

For me, when I’m not doing the mastering myself, I just go with the master, Dave McNare. He is The GUY.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #3
Quote:
Originally Posted by CaptainGear View Post
About to have a project mastered. I've been thinking I'll have Sterling Sound do it. However, an engineer at a recording studio I did a session at mentioned that they stay away from Sterling because, "Unless you pay extra for the attended session, you don't actually know who will be doing it." Implying that they might be palming off tracks to trainees/interns or something without telling the client, even if you're paying a premium for one of their extremely respected, award-winning engineers.
Is there any truth to this? I really want to use them because their engineers have mastered some of my favorite records, but that would be a pretty shady business practice. Obviously I hope it's not true, and I don't want to spread bad rumors if it isn't, but it makes me a little reluctant to trust them. Can anyone put my mind at ease?
Not in my experience I'm afraid. The Masters we received from a so called top ME that were as flat as pancakes. Unattended, they could have only been done in a hurry or by an intern.
What a waste of money that was, I did better ITB on the roughs.
We then used a guy in London who nailed it.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #4
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vernier's Avatar
Ah Sterling, the memories. Took my first album to George Marino because he did Zeppelin and Queen, lol.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #5
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decocco's Avatar
 

Where are you located? I would suggest you attend the mastering session so you can at least meet the engineer.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #6
I recommend Jeff and Maria at Peerless. Very honest and easy to work with.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #7
Book the engineer, not the studio

If you can’t have a dialogue with your engineer of choice, go somewhere else.

If they’re not willing to revise or revisit if it’s not to your taste, go somewhere else.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #8
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

It was quite a while ago, but I was very familiar at one point with how Sterling did business. If you booked an unattended session with a specific engineer, you got that engineer. No monkey business.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #9
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I can't speak for Sterling since I haven't used them. I do know about some of their former engs. Have heard that some masters sound like they were simply ran thru the process. When you call them on it then the next one you get is dialed. I think that there are many clients that just don't know so it's become a default process for many masters. Make it loud is not what I need from a ME. Don't trash it. Others I'm not sure.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #10
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proxy's Avatar
 

Had a similarly disappointing experience.

The masters were meh, and so was the communication.

I was kind of shocked really as they have a huge reputation.

The mix was done by one of the very top mixers, and I don’t believe it was a quality or professionalism issue on my side.

The master was so disappointing, I went to another mastering engineer to do it again.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_G View Post
Not in my experience I'm afraid. The Masters we received from a so called top ME that were as flat as pancakes. Unattended, they could have only been done in a hurry or by an intern.
What a waste of money that was, I did better ITB on the roughs.
We then used a guy in London who nailed it.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #11
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Sigma's Avatar
I diverted from my .1 man one mix/master..I got digital distortion on first try ..like WTF basics ..I sent my mastered mix as a ref...still sucked.I felt bad my client payed money on MY OK because I fell into the "other ear" BS..it ain't electric to mechanical anymore and anyone who can mix can take a ear break and can reference and master themselves..it's bottom, first harmonic bottom /+ low mid, mid, upper mid and top at mastering point..a no brainier if you can take even paltry 20+ plus raw tracks and create a soundscape for a song

Last edited by Sigma; 3 weeks ago at 07:50 PM..
Old 3 weeks ago
  #12
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I learned something great from a wise mentor early in my career... look for people who are still hungry but are doing great work. Catch talent early in the curve, before it's burned out and jaded, or just too expensive.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #13
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigma View Post
I diverted from my .1 man one mix/master..I got distortion on first try ..like WTF basics ..I sent my mastered mix as a ref...still sucked.I felt bad my client payed money on my OK because I fell into the "other ear" BS...
Not being you, I feel like it's actually beneficial to direct clients to a "known quantity" ME so they can get a Seal of Approval. But I do make a point of saying "don't feel like you have to make it sound obviously different just to justify the money they're spending on you." Because I know ME's feel like that sometimes. Like lawyers who don't feel like they're earning their keep if they don't regularly tell you not to do things.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #14
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I work mostly in rock but Joe LaPorta over there is one of the best mastering guys I’ve worked with.

Some places just go “louder”, but Sterling masters seem to have a little more width and color that I really like.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #15
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Sigma's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Not being you, I feel like it's actually beneficial to direct clients to a "known quantity" ME so they can get a Seal of Approval. But I do make a point of saying "don't feel like you have to make it sound obviously different just to justify the money they're spending on you." Because I know ME's feel like that sometimes. Like lawyers who don't feel like they're earning their keep if they don't regularly tell you not to do things.
my father was a silent backer in Frankford Wayne Mastering..they opened a room in our bld with Scully and Neumann lathes in the late 60's early 70's

my pop always was pissed that they used Soundcraftsman home stereo octave graphics in the mastering chain that were hard to repeat on set ups let alone left right ****..remember there were 2 sets..1 eq for song 1 ..then flip to second unit for song 2 and reset 1 for song 3 etc etc
by the 80's i was sitting at the desk eq'ing the raw masters with my pop ..we did that ..the mix eng and maybe another person like me ..the eq's weren't the same but we got damn skippy close after inner band compensation was accounted for by them..Tom was so good that he did, i don't know if it was firesign theater or some other comic album with "start on groove one it played one program..drop on 2 whole 'nuther program" that's some fine mastering skills

tom was so good that when they fawked up my mastering of an x86 in NY.doug king..he confirmed empirically by matching my x86 to the "finished " product what i heard.. that the clocking was off so the master had a hollowed center and swimming sides ..was he listening or JerkingOff???..levert album "coolin'" it already went into duplication and shows what idiots are behind the board and paying the bill..i wanna own my stuff right thru to duplication stage

personall the best mastering i got [no input required] was from bernie grundman..i like bob ludwig but he's a fiend for 3k which is an irritating freq to me and harkens to the AM radio loudness wars of the 60's /70's

Last edited by Sigma; 3 weeks ago at 11:03 PM..
Old 3 weeks ago
  #16
Paying anyone more than $1000 for a mastering job is a fraud anyway
Old 3 weeks ago
  #17
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Sigma's Avatar
lol the mastering JOKE is that it takes about 15 minutes to master a song..hence client present or not rate..client present was up to 4x's the cost because the mastering eng actually had to make believe he was doing something in front of the client

lol i charge 75 a song ..did 70 songs in october..and i mainly mix so it's a secondary thing..never took more than 15 minutes a song including the real time bounce..had 1 send back for correction [other than one 6 song thing where the client was facillating on the mixes themselves] ..no clients present..people make things too complicated

ya got bottom..err the bass gtr and kick sit there ..then the first harmonics of the bass and beginning of low end fundamentals of many things 120-200 range which flips into masking area 200-400 ..then mids 400-1.8 [generally masking or hole]..upper mids and high end..what's hard about that?

i bet anyone here can master their stuff better than an outside person if they have a vision, a modicum of knowledge and an anchor

i get bounced from mastering websites all the time LOLZ!..after it left the art/voodoo of transcribing to disc it isn't anything special anymore..it's like setting your eq on your car stereo

Last edited by Sigma; 3 weeks ago at 11:14 PM..
Old 3 weeks ago
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigma View Post
... i like bob ludwig but he's a fiend for 3k which is an irritating freq to me and harkens to the AM radio loudness wars of the 60's /70's
Sterling had one guy who tended in that direction as well.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigma View Post
I diverted from my .1 man one mix/master..I got digital distortion on first try ..like WTF basics ..I sent my mastered mix as a ref...still sucked.I felt bad my client payed money on MY OK because I fell into the "other ear" BS..it ain't electric to mechanical anymore and anyone who can mix can take a ear break and can reference and master themselves..it's bottom, first harmonic bottom /+ low mid, mid, upper mid and top at mastering point..a no brainier if you can take even paltry 20+ plus raw tracks and create a soundscape for a song
Personally speaking, I HATE mastering anything I’ve mixed - I just want to go back and fix the micro details I think I’ve mixed, I can’t step back and look at the bigger picture.

I guess I’d have more success mastering for others, but I don’t really have any interest in that.

It does make sense to get someone else to master if your in this mindset! It’s more to do with a person’s thinking process than actual ability.

That said recently I had a master done by someone outside my control - added a fizzy layer of distortion to the whole thing and sucked the tone out of the big sections. Unfortunately the client loved it...
Old 3 weeks ago
  #20
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There are many reasons to have a real ME master your project. Assuming the ME has his **** together. You may miss some low end or mid range issues that the room you mixed in didn't give up. Their room is supposed to be flat and tried and true. This is the one last chance to fix anything you might have missed before the music goes out for mass consumption. Then of course MEs have the chops that many engs don't possess. They are usually better and have developed skills and work arounds that a typical eng may not have acquired for mastering. Throwing your record into Ozone is not the same thing as having a talented ME treat your music. I'm amazed how many people think mastering is a simple process and that with mastering software they can do it and it will be as good. Usually that is far from the case. Finding a good ME is an important part of the final process and many top mix engs will tell you that xxxxx saved my ass. I'm fortunate enough to get to use Bernie Grundman for many records and he is one musical cat. Very respectful. He gets it. Paul Blakemore is another respectful ME. Always comes back better.

With that said, I am shocked on how many MEs mangle music. They are completely oblivious to the big picture and retaining the musical quality of the mix. The agenda is make it stupid loud even when you ask them not to. The amount of intermodulation distortion, lack of dynamics and overall midrange assault is inexcusable. I've had to scratch my head sometimes getting the record back from guys with reputations wondering what they were thinking and how they could think this sounds good.

Don't give up on MEs. Just try to find a good one. As hard as that might be.

Last edited by kellyd; 3 weeks ago at 12:57 AM..
Old 3 weeks ago
  #21
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Mixing .... and then Mastering in the same Room with the same monitors .... is not Mastering.

Call it 'Post Production' if you want.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #22
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XAXAU's Avatar
If the ME has churned out lots of stuff that makes you go bananas, go for it

Simple as that
Old 3 weeks ago
  #23
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Sigma's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by RJHollins View Post
Mixing .... and then Mastering in the same Room with the same monitors .... is not Mastering.

Call it 'Post Production' if you want.
Basically my mix is my master ..if you think about it in vinyl days your goal was to have it mastered flat except for any inner band compensation..you didn't go Into a mix hoping for another stage of eq and compression..for extents and purposes mastering was getting the hue of different mixes, many times by different people, to work together in a givin order..and to compensate for the medium

My father, although he didn't perform the mechanical function , did all the eq suggestions and reviews of all the Sound of Philly stuff so I learned to do the same thing..hence today in a DAW and digital delivery of product I do it all ITB
Old 3 weeks ago
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigma View Post
Basically my mix is my master ..if you think about it in vinyl days your goal was to have it mastered flat except for any inner band compensation..you didn't go Into a mix hoping for another stage of eq and compression..for extents and purposes mastering was getting the hue of different mixes, many times by different people, to work together in a givin order..and to compensate for the medium

My father, although he didn't perform the mechanical function , did all the eq suggestions and reviews of all the Sound of Philly stuff so I learned to do the same thing..hence today in a DAW and digital delivery of product I do it all ITB
Lets take an example.

Take your 'mastered' mix out to, say, someplace like Bernie Grundman's room, and listen to it.

After that, tell us there is not a single thing you'd correct.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #25
I love Joe LaPorta’s work there. Was recommended to me by Michael Brauer, and Joe has done two of my projects. Just made them sound taller, wider without disrupting or destroying the mixes. Very tasteful.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #26
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___GLM___'s Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by RJHollins View Post
Lets take an example.

Take your 'mastered' mix out to, say, someplace like Bernie Grundman's room, and listen to it.

After that, tell us there is not a single thing you'd correct.
And if you wouldn’t change anything? Strange assumption
Old 3 weeks ago
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by RJHollins View Post
Mixing .... and then Mastering in the same Room with the same monitors .... is not Mastering.

Call it 'Post Production' if you want.
If I create the finished product and I’m happy then I considered it mastered, regardless if someone elsewhere could do a different job.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #28
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigma View Post
Basically my mix is my master ..if you think about it in vinyl days your goal was to have it mastered flat except for any inner band compensation..you didn't go Into a mix hoping for another stage of eq and compression..for extents and purposes mastering was getting the hue of different mixes, many times by different people, to work together in a givin order..and to compensate for the medium

My father, although he didn't perform the mechanical function , did all the eq suggestions and reviews of all the Sound of Philly stuff so I learned to do the same thing..hence today in a DAW and digital delivery of product I do it all ITB
Me too - but I rarely find a good ME can’t improve it!

The compilation stuff is significant - I’ll generally load a completed project into a fresh session, review in context and then make some adjustments based on how the mixes work together. In a way, I guess that’s pre emoting the mastering engineer (but at mix level). Hopefully if I had to I could throw a limiter on and level the program, and call it done.

But I still think it turns out better if I let a specialist have a go.

And of course - sometimes you might only be mixing one song or two or whatever on a whole album.
Old 3 weeks ago
  #29
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Sigma's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_G View Post
If I create the finished product and I’m happy then I considered it mastered, regardless if someone elsewhere could do a different job.
I agree because I have sat thru the prodution and know the Intent intimately..sending it out for "repair" is another step removed..i mean what is mastering today?.. it's no longer transduction ...so what is its purpose when dealing with a single mix? To make it louder? For the ALBUM projects I just did I asked the clients for what they believed was the best tonally balanced mix..then tweaked the others to be as close as possible..hue shifting and relative level matching...with repairs I usually tell the client it would be better to correct the issue..90% of the time the issue is the kick and bass levels and their internal balance in the mix which is much better fixed while they remain separated on their own tracks
Old 3 weeks ago
  #30
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Thanks for all the great advice so far.

Quote:
Originally Posted by decocco View Post
Where are you located? I would suggest you attend the mastering session so you can at least meet the engineer.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
It was quite a while ago, but I was very familiar at one point with how Sterling did business. If you booked an unattended session with a specific engineer, you got that engineer. No monkey business.
Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Book the engineer, not the studio

If you can’t have a dialogue with your engineer of choice, go somewhere else.

If they’re not willing to revise or revisit if it’s not to your taste, go somewhere else.
I'm within driving distance of Sterling. I just discovered that the attended rate actually isn't that much worse than the unattended rate. They quote it hourly (obviously a much higher number), versus per track, which initially had me confused. I think I assumed that the hourly rate was per song, which led me to believe that being there to see the magic would cost over twice as much in total. Not the case at all! It's a little more, but nowhere near what I thought.

So I might just do the attended session and quit worrying.

Obviously, the question of whether or not paying a few grand for mastering is worth it or not is a whole other debate. But I've worked for so long on this project that I think that 'Seal of Approval' is worth something.

Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Personally speaking, I HATE mastering anything I’ve mixed - I just want to go back and fix the micro details I think I’ve mixed, I can’t step back and look at the bigger picture.

I guess I’d have more success mastering for others, but I don’t really have any interest in that.

It does make sense to get someone else to master if your in this mindset! It’s more to do with a person’s thinking process than actual ability.

That said recently I had a master done by someone outside my control - added a fizzy layer of distortion to the whole thing and sucked the tone out of the big sections. Unfortunately the client loved it...
Without getting too far into it, I've done everything else on this project including writing, performing, arranging, producing and mixing. So while I have knowledge of how mastering works, I'm aware that I just don't have the perspective or experience to do it effectively. I could do it, but that doesn't mean I should. More than everything else, it's a job that requires objectivity.
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