Mastering: The DIY Guide

Bguzaldo

New member
"0 dBFS is not a limit, it's a goal."
"Standard black sounds the heaviest. None blacker."

Made my day. Man, I've missed these forums.
 

Waltz Mastering

New member
My question is rather broad...what is "mastering"? Without going into all the how-to, could someone please define what the action or process is? I understand it's near the end of a road that looks something like this:

Musician(s) perform > we record on one (or more) tracks > the tracks get augmented (adjusted levels, effects, basic EQ, whatever the situation calls for) > the tracks get mixed and combined (bounced) > the bounced tracks get mastered > the final mastered product gets formatted > the albums are printed > the band develops addictions > they somehow live forever (see McJagger and Steve Tyler)
Here's a long winded definition:
http://recording.org/content/381-waltz-mastering-studio-what-is-mastering.html
 

SafeandSound

New member
The original definition of mastering is simply ensuring best translation, quality control and sequencing, creation of final medium for duplication or replication. These days it has become a service which means different things to different people. It can be the above but many like some feedback on their mixing which is often inclusive to ensure the best result.

SafeandSound Mastering
online mastering studio
 

colonelcraze

New member
hey, I know this thread is a bit old but.... I'm actually in the process of getting someone to master my bands new album and I'm a little nervous. I don't know a whole lot about the process, have a basic understanding of what I would like it to do but, as apparent on this thread, there are pretty conflicting thoughts on what it is or what it should be, etc...

Essentially, I've heard horror stories from people who got the finished master back only to be completely unsatisfied, broke, and still having to put it out. I think compression is OVER USED to the MAXIMUM! Seriously, I really do.... it's just an opinion, but I just can't stand lack of dynamics. I need to hear change. The sound of the fuzz pedal coming on during the chorus in "satisfaction" by the rolling stones is a god damn moment of genius.

Forgive me If I'm responding to my made-up notion of what compression and mastering is and PLEASE inform me of my ignorance because I really am trying to figure this whole thing out.
 

colonelcraze

New member
For instance... when I inquire about mastering, they ask if it's for vinyl or cd. They don't ever explain the difference. Does anyone know? I've heard that most people mastering for vinyl will flatten the bass frequencies because they believe it comes through louder on vinyl. What if I've mixed it already with this in mind, or just simply am relying on this quality vinyl has to make it sound more bass heavy? How do they know what I want? What if I want it to be slightly distorted? Jesus, listen to the troggs or the sonics.... there's nothing wrong with any of those recordings. I get the impression from the sounds of it that clipping and compression weren't a big issue with either of those bands and they actually used it to their advantage.
 
Hey colonel.
There are two key things you need to do.
One is shop for a mastering engineer who suits your music.

There's no point picking someone who specialises in commercial house music to master your death metal record.
You can usually listen to previous works on MEs websites.

The other thing is to just tell them what you're looking for.
If there's some reason it can't be done, I don't imagine any decent mastering engineer would hold back from just telling you.

You're paying for their skill and expertise amongst other things, but that doesn't mean you have to blindly accept whatever they do.
 

colonelcraze

New member
thanks! My problem is I'm not entirely sure what to ask for as I'm not entirely sure what many of their questions mean.

I guess all I would be looking for is leveling out of the songs so there is no difference in volume song to song. Not really interested in it being super loud in comparison to other recordings. We're a loud band and we were recorded loud and I don't want to screw around with that. But it still confuses me when they ask about whether it's being mastered for vinyl or cd or digital.... shouldn't the mastering be the same and the format just be limited to what the format can do? I just don't understand why it would depend on that. For instance, if I was to put out cd's, vinyl, and digital download's, it's almost implied that 3 separate mastering jobs are needed? Maybe I'm misunderstanding.
 
I'm no expert on this kind of thing, but I think there's an eq curve that's applied to vinyl pressings.
The playback amp would counter this curve. IDK, I guess it's to do with limitations of the medium.


TBH, the ME who posed the question is the best person to ask.


The absolute best thing to do is provide the ME with a comparable commercial product.
Tell him you want to sound like this band or that band, in terms of mastering of course.

That, or just tell him what you told me. :)
 

Massive Master

www.massivemastering.com
But it still confuses me when they ask about whether it's being mastered for vinyl or cd or digital
Different mediums have different limitations -- Vinyl especially -- Excessive lows in the side component and your needle pops right out. Excessive sibilance in the mid component and you skip right across the surface. Excessive volume and -- and just forget it.

CD - unfortunately for audio IMO - doesn't have those limitations. Generally just a maximum ceiling which is pressurized past the point of what most people would consider "nice" (for lack of a better term).

Even digital though -- Broadcast levels, motion picture levels (both of which at least have some sort of reasonable "standard"), blah, blah, etc., etc.

In any case, it's (A) a valid question and (B) communication is key anyway.
 

rayc

retroreprobate
Yep, yep, yep, as alluded to by Massive, mastering for vinyl meant addressing certain frequencies for playback reasons - some of them physical and all related to the medium and playback devices.
It was a common problem so a standard EQ setting (RIAA?) was devised and agreed upon for that basic part of mastering and playback. Phono preamps almost universally contained the reverse, more or less, of the EQing for vinyl.
The phono EQing was forgotten by some companies when they rushed to put out CDs of their back catalogue - master tapes prepared for vinyl were used directly for CD. The results weren't very good as you'd imagine. Mind you a few of the 1st albums mastered for CD weren't much better - the learning curve still goes on.
Find MEs who's work you've heard.
Find MEs and find hear their work.
Talk to the people who've used the MEs' services.
Contact the MEs and ask if they're prepared to do a demonstration run on a track for you (lots will - thosew with longterm, stellar reputations don't really need to).
Do they stem master or just stereo master or both?
Balance what you've gleaned with your budget.
I had some mastering done. I did all of what I suggest & it certainly worked for me.
Comparing versions of a song mastered by 2 diff MEs was very instructive & demonstrated the creativity taht's available within the scope of their services.
 

colonelcraze

New member
Thanks very much guys! Appreciate the help.

one more quick question!

If I was to be putting out cd's and vinyl, would it be advisable to have two seperate masters done, or would it suffice to have it mastered for vinyl and use it for both vinyl and cd? I noticed rayc mentioned some of the first albums mastered for cd from the original masters meant for vinyl turned out pretty bad.

When we put out our first album we had our friend master it and it was his first time doing such a thing. We used the same master files for both vinyl and digital download with decent results, albeit, in retrospect not exactly the best.
 
Thanks very much guys! Appreciate the help.

one more quick question!

If I was to be putting out cd's and vinyl, would it be advisable to have two seperate masters done, or would it suffice to have it mastered for vinyl and use it for both vinyl and cd? I noticed rayc mentioned some of the first albums mastered for cd from the original masters meant for vinyl turned out pretty bad.

When we put out our first album we had our friend master it and it was his first time doing such a thing. We used the same master files for both vinyl and digital download with decent results, albeit, in retrospect not exactly the best.

I think I, Master, Rayc and you answered the question, in that order. ;)
 

Massive Master

www.massivemastering.com
Ultimately, the vinyl cutter is going to be responsible for the vinyl master -- That said, it's usually in your best interest to supply him with a recording that's as "flat transferable" as possible.

"Back in the day" this was the whole point of mastering - The creation of the master, while manipulating the audio as little as possible.

I (and I'm not trying to "sell myself" - I'm just sayin') wake up every morning thinking "everything's going to vinyl" -- Not because it is, but because IMO/E, vinyl-friendly technique is just better anyway.

If you intend to keep your overall volume "reasonable" there's no reason why an experienced mastering engineer couldn't create a "dual-purpose" output that the vinyl guy isn't going to need to mess with much.
 

Dicus

Enthusiastic Member
Thanks a lot for the usefull information. I'm setting up my home studio and experience that I have loads of friends who make music, but no one who is really into gear, mixing, studiostuff, mastering and so on. That's a bit of a pain, cause it means I have to learn everyting form the web.

Thanks a lot for the article, it helps me continue!
 

fetuslasvegas

Señor Member
Alright, here is my question... say I've mixed down a song as near perfect as possible, EQ'd each track not only to my ear but also instrumentally specific per the interactive frequency chart on Glen's website, compressed where and when necessary (I have 3 pages front and back of notes I took while reading 'compression uncompressed' another gem from independent recording network) and otherwise just have a clean mix (all digital, midi instruments, AU's, etc..)

1. aside from polishing up the sound a bit more using a professional set of ears, and track to track volume leveling, is there any more I could expect from having my work professionally mastered and or is it really necessary if I will primarily be digitally distributing my music?

2. how can I level the volume track to track for an album on my own?

By the way hello to everyone, I've been trolling around this forum for quite some time even before I registered as I'm sure you can tell. It is a very valuable resource for both the home hobbyist and the professional as well. Thanks for a great site!!
 

Massive Master

www.massivemastering.com
1) It's hard to say. I work on a lot (a LOT) of material where the mixing engineer is totally stoked when they get sent in and they're "that much more" stoked afterwards. And for the record (heh... I make a funny), most bands are chiefly distributing digitally these days. Translation is still translation, balance and consistency are still balance and consistency, etc. (is still etc.).

2) Listen and adjust. No secret there...
 

Massive Master

www.massivemastering.com
so you are inferring that there is no way to actually monitor for a precise output level say numerically track to track rather than just doing it by ear?
I wasn't even thinking of that route, but while we're on the subject, no - Numerical values mean little compared to perceived volume.

No doubt -- A properly calibrated monitoring chain (combined with just sheer listening experience) is going to be the #1 factor in setting relative volume from track to track. RMS numbers on a meter don't mean too much, peak numbers mean even less.
 
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