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Pretend Mastering With A One Man Army

Brandon Drury —  February 5, 2012 — 1 Comment

Mastering-Audio

It seems to me that every old school recording myth on how you are SUPPOSED to work assumes that your recording gig/hobby is made up of an army of dedicated soldiers.  That’s simply not how the home recording world works.

In the old days, mixes were done on an analog console that took an hour to mostly recall and even then it was never 100% perfect.  There was a certain finite nature to a mix and once the day was over or the budget was gone, the mix was done.  We’d record these mixes onto 1/2” tape or something and from there we’d figure out how to turn these reels of tape into something resembling a full record.  The format conversion was even an issue.  You had to turn tape into  vinyl or cassette.    In this system, a studio usually had multiple control rooms, multiple live rooms, house engineers, interns, freelance producers, full-time tech guys, drum techs, guitar techs, someone to pick up the muffins, etc..  Further down the line you had the mastering guy.

Back then a big time recording required an army.

Flash forward to the reality of 2012 and we have thousands of One Man Armies.  The guy making the coffee is the guy making estimated tax payments is the guy fixing a bad soldier joint on a patchbay is the guy using mind tricks on a nervous singer is the guy setting the brickwall limiter.  One guys does it all for better and worse, like it or not.

When you don’t have a secretary to answer the phone and delete the penis enlargement emails, you invent ways of dealing with this crap yourself.  (I, for example, answer the phone about 3 times per year…if I can help it.)

Another thing I do as part of my one man army  is PRETEND mastering.  It’s not real mastering.  It should never be mistaken for real mastering.  It is, however, the most efficient way for my business to succeed most of the time.

What’s Real Mastering

Let’s define “real” mastering first.

  • The final stage of a recording.
  • Absolutely requires a 2nd set of highly skilled ears from a guy who’s used to hearing a whole bunch of different stuff every day on a set of monitors he knows better than [insert jerk off joke here].
  • Is mostly there to minimize the distractions that occur from mix to mix so that album becomes a bit more cohesive with a similar sonic character, give or take, and similar loudness. Since the late 1990s it’s the mastering engineer’s job is to get the final loudness right (although this relies heavily on the source material).
  • From a mixing engineer’s perspective, the mastering engineer provides a checks n balances to make sure that the mixes sound their best. That mastering engineer should require a remix when necessary and give you feedback that makes you a better mixer.

What Is PRETEND Mastering?

Pretend mastering is my definition for when I do all the “mastering” myself.  This already kills the whole prerequisite of having a second set of ears on it, different room, different monitors, and different perspective.   It’s bit hard to define what impact these will have, but we all know there is a huge difference when two people do the Ultra Nasty Thing verse when just one person does it even if the final result is identical. SMILEY [Yes, another jerk off joke.]

Why PRETEND Master?

That’s easy.  Money.  When a band has a budget of $3,000, I don’t want to get 25% of that up.  In my head it doesn’t make good business sense to spend 25% of a recording budget on mastering. That is up for debate, but I’ve got future kids to put through college and the times I’ve had clients shell out big bucks for mastering, they’ve rarely jumped for joy at the results (sometimes).  It’s frequently too damn subtle.

Many guys at home get inspired and write a song on Monday.  They track it Tuesday and Wednesday and and have it mixed by Sunday.  They aren’t going to “launch” the song.  They just want to toss it on their website.  Paying big bucks for that doesn’t make much sense just as it doesn’t make sense to hire a lawyer to comb over a tiny little business contract although Trump surely does.

I had one client PISSED at me for recommending mastering as he thought I had cheated him based on the results.  (He had a kid on the way and had to answer to his wife.)   How do you apologize for that?  “Sorry, I drank all the kool aide in internet recording land, dude.  It was supposed to add ‘polish’.”  That’s a tricky situation they don’t warn you about in Tape Op.

That’s the biggest risk.  Some mastering catapults a record two or three notches higher on the intensity scale.  Some of it doesn’t do a damn thing.  That was something Eric Conn taught me.  He said sometimes a mix is finished and doesn’t need him ruining it.  He’ll do nothing but give it a stamp of approval if that’s what the audio demands.

That’s part of the value of a mastering engineer and it shouldn’t EVER be looked down upon.  You are hiring a mastering engineer for his time and expertise and you have to be willing to accept the fact that mastering may not do anything but give a stamp of approval.  Not everyone can get their head around paying $1k for a process that may not make a recording substantially better.

Problems With  Real Mastering

In a former life I was rather new to this.  I hired a big mastering guy to tackle a prog metal album.    The mix didn’t sound good.   I was new to this.  We wanted the album to sound as “modern” and “mega” as possible (of course we refused to use modern/vintage tools like sample layering and such, but that’s a different argument).  Anyway, we wanted the mixes loud.  When the master came back the drums had disappeared.  I mean GONE.  Nada.

[I]Note:  This is what happens when you have drums that are peak-level dependent.  Shave off the peaks and the drums go bye bye.[/I]

The bigger issue here is the shape of the box before you run it through the mastering machine is highly influential on what comes out.  This was a big problem when all you could afford was a single mastering session with no revisions.  We were stuck with a big hunk of crap and that ME (mastering engineer) didn’t bother to write a 30 second email to help me in the future.  (Low-life is the correct word for that in my view.)

Problems With Pretend Mastering

Most guys mimic that enormous army method made popular in the 1960s or so when they pretend master.  They’ll do a mix.  Then they’ll render that mix down and import it into something that was marketed with the “mastering” label on it.  (Good thinking by that company because I can’t figure out the purpose of products like Wavelab and Sound Forge when I already have Cubase.)   They’ll mess with the mix in their “mastering” software and somewhere in there they’ll wish they had just dealt with a problem in the mix.

Rule #6464346:  Always solve a problem as far up on the chain as possible when you have the most control over a track with the least amount of collateral damage.

When I did it the way I was “supposed to” I found myself constantly going back to the mix to make changes.  This isn’t a big deal if your loudness requirements are -10dB RMS (TT Loudness meter).  However, getting a mix up to -4dB RMS (TT) is NOT easy and it makes tolerances TIGHT.  Problems and conflicts arise that you may not notice before you’ve clamped down a mix with compression, multiband compression, and brickwall limiting.   At least they do that on my mixes.

It got to be pretty damn ridiculous how often I had to go back to remix.  One saucy day I decided to go ahead and get a mix loud while I was mixing it.  It was just an experiment.  I tossed on a multiband compressor, brickwall limiter, and RMS meter.   It was a pain in the ass, but one by one I was able to solve problems real time in the mix by tweaking individual tracks.  Somewhere in there I looked up and saw I had met my loudness requirements with a mix I thought sounded good.  Mission Accomplished.  Some flaws you simply don’t hear until the squeeze is on.  Being able to adapt to this problems on the fly is absolutely essential in my opinion.

So why would I add a 4-minute render process, import to “mastering” software process, etc when I could just do all of this real time?

This is where it gets interesting.  The ancient giga army method of  pretend mastering seems like a VHS tape in 2012.  It’s outdated and doesn’t make sense in this post-Cold War world.  I can’t think of one single reason why I would want to GUESS what some further process down the line is going to do.  That’s not too far from turning the monitors off in my opinion.  I’ll just slap it on now so I don’t have to play the regret game later.  I don’t have time to take a 30 minute process and turn it into 180 minutes just to use some method that made sense in 1981.  I’ve got tax forms to fill out. SMILEY

Are There Any Downsides?

Obviously, I would LOVE to have a different guy in a different room take a look at my mixes (maybe even listen to ‘em SMILEY).  That brings up the cash issue, which we’ve already addressed.

My experience has shown that when I have 12 songs mixed up to prime time level, they all work pretty damn well together.  That’s the nature of the tight tolerances of high RMS levels.  You can’t go too nuts too often.  When I toss them into Cubase to make sure there are no mega distractions from song to song, it’s usually not a big deal to pull 1dB out there or .5dB here to get ‘em to sit well.  It’s plausible that that pre-compression EQ could be necessary to solve problems, but a mix wouldn’t have made it this far if I didn’t like it.

What doesn’t make sense to me is why I would put this render process in between, try it in my “mastering” software, notice a new problem, fix it in the mix, render, try it in the “mastering” software.  Repeat.  That’s about like using monitoring you don’t trust and going out to the car 15 times a day.  No fun!

The Biggie:  Odds are strong that your “mastering” software isn’t doing anything that my 2bus can’t do.

The Mastering Machine

When I attended my mastering session at Eric Conn’s, his mastering machine was high end compressor (he had several to choose from….I can’t remember all of them but I remember seeing a Manley.)  He had an API EQ.  He had some esoteric multiband compressor.  He had a Waves L2 hardware box.

To recap, he had an EQ, a compressor, a multiband, and a limiter.  You don’t necessarily need “mastering” software for that.  You already have all of that in your DAW.  So unless you have a great reason to use your “mastering” software (and you may), I’d be skeptical.

Conclusion

Real mastering is always preferred to pretend mastering.  Just like the Ultra Nasty is always most fun with (at least) two people. SMILEY

Methods used for audio mixing and mastering during the Apollo program made a lot of sense in the days of studio armies.  One man armies should implement methods with tanks that make them the most efficient now regardless of what Napoleon did with horses.

If PRETEND mastering is going to be used and you consistently have to remix and remix and remix, you should entertain the thought of merging the two processes together.  If it’s you doing the pretend mastering in Wavelab, Sound Forge, or whatever, it’s still you regardless of whether you have 30 tracks to tweak or just one stereo track.

In any case, PRETEND mastering is still breaking the Apollo Program mega army rules so you are already being kicked out of your “tribe” for not following tradition.  The only problem is you have no tribe.  It’s just YOU  making coffee, soldiering, and cussing your DAW.  SMILEY

Saved Comments


Stan_Halen – 02-27-2012, 11:19 PM
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Cool! Now if I can just figure out how to make PRETEND mixing work as well …

aj113′s Avatar
aj113 – 02-28-2012, 03:40 AM
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Not to mention pretend lead-vocal-recording………………..

fHumble fHingaz’s Avatar
fHumble fHingaz – 02-28-2012, 06:18 AM
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…fH shrinks down, shrugs shoulders, draws knees up to chest, covers ears & eyes… & hunkers down to await the inevitable onslaught & vicious invective of I.M.T.A (Internet Mastering Trolls Association) as they come thundering across the ether from their usual environs on “EarShutz”….. I can hear their distorted (analogue tape, of course!) howls: “Master at home, Drury? Heretic! Ye shall be burned at the stake!”

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bobbybovine – 02-28-2012, 07:06 AM
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mmmmm sacrilicious!!

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aj113 – 02-28-2012, 08:18 AM
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In the final analysis it’s all about what comes out of the speakers when you press the play button. After all, if Joe Blow likes what he’s hearing, is he really going to give a sh!t about who mastered it and how?

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jjb – 02-28-2012, 08:49 AM
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A pretend mastering second set of ears is really simple. Turn off the computer. Wait a few hours. Come back and listen again. 99 out of 100 times, that “masterpiece” you mixed will be begging for adjustment, refinement, and so on!

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DanTheMan – 02-28-2012, 11:34 AM
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There’s got to be an easier way to listen to your songs in succession though than using your DAW and opening one file then another then another… Isn’t job #2 of mastering making sure that when the next track comes on it’s from the same album? There’s going to be too much gap for me to get a good listen that way.

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kakeux – 02-28-2012, 11:59 AM
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Great article, once again!

But sure some will hardly disagree with you…

I bought sometime ago CD architect…which is a mastering software..The only reason I used it is when there is a need of doing a Red book master. You can control the burning option and timing between tracks. Minor level correction…But “pretend mastering” is made in my DAW. It’s easy to make a reference song and import it in all other sessions…so that you have a good way of getting songs to fit well together.

There is huge benefits in fresh ears, experience…but I feel these are the only ones I can see…scratch it, different gears are one too.

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Dahla – 02-28-2012, 01:36 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by fHumble fHingaz View Post
…fH shrinks down, shrugs shoulders, draws knees up to chest, covers ears & eyes… & hunkers down to await the inevitable onslaught & vicious invective of I.M.T.A (Internet Mastering Trolls Association) as they come thundering across the ether from their usual environs on “EarShutz”….. I can hear their distorted (analogue tape, of course!) howls: “Master at home, Drury? Heretic! Ye shall be burned at the stake!”
Haha!

I wonder what would happen to their arguments if Brandon banned words like mastering converter and tape machine…

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87xjco – 02-28-2012, 01:40 PM
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Didn’t this concept of Mastering and having a different person then the mixer, create a final version, come about largely because of the background noise problems that are inherent in analog recordings, especially early ones?

I always assumed the need arose from needing to get rid of tape hiss and other noise that was more noticeable, the higher the volume was turned up. And that was so difficult to get rid of that only a magician could do it.

I still remember the frustration of all that on our 4 track cassette recorders and reel to reels. I could never get a track volume anywhere near to say commercial cassette, without all the background noise being unbearable.

I always felt I just needed that magical guy at the studio, who could get rid of all those high frequency problems, without ruining the sound of the vocals and cymbals and leads etc… Couldn’t have been anything wrong with what I was doing

Now with todays digital equipment, all those noise problems are pretty much a non-issue.

Maybe alot of what the Mastering Engineer used to do, is alot less necessary now too.

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alexmcginness – 02-28-2012, 02:13 PM
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:-) Brandon you certainly like to make things difficult for yourself. Long story short heres your solution. You need what you said Eric Conn had in his studio…also you need the ears of many pro mastering engineers to listen to your mix and a: spectrally balance your mixes for proper bass mids and treble and bring the level up to comercial levels while manintaining transparancy and b: its gotta be cost effective. Solution you put the ears of wold class mastering engineers on your eyes and get all the doo dads you need by downloading and paying for and spending time to learn how to work a program called Har-Bal 3.

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thejonesatwork – 02-28-2012, 02:30 PM
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My 2 cents, for what it’s worth

If you need subtle then you gotta spend the money. If you’re not willing to spend the money, then you are barking up the wrong tree for big dog mastering. $99 a song will get you nothing you will find value in if your recording at home with crappy acoustics on $300 monitors. There is no reason to spend even $1000 a song on a recording that will make $40 on iTunes though. Seriously, it’s just math.

If you live inbetween $40 on iTunes and somewhere under releasing through Best Buy, buy iZotope Ozone. You will get 90% of the way there with a frickin preset and your wife will still love you. Ozone ROCKS for cheap mastering (ask Butch Vig). And with that I have to say that IMHO most of the $99 per song mastering places won’t give you anything substatially better than Ozone. If you think about it, If he’s only getting $99 are you going to get more than an hour of someone with talents time? Not unless his name is Jasquarta, lives in New Delhi and is listening to your mix through an Apex Boom Box. How is a $99 per song mastering engineer going to afford the $10000 room and $5000 harware necessary to get to subtle changes. He’s not, and he’s probably using Ozone or T-Racks and cranking stuff out on presets without any real attention paid to it.

So if you plan on going against Katy Perry or Maroon5 and will sell a million copies, probably best not to sell less because your sound doesn’t match up. If your a 1-man-band, buy Ozone and call it a day. None of your fans will hear the difference.

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cporro – 02-28-2012, 02:31 PM
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useful post.

mastering is pretty misunderstood from talking to people. they think it can do wonders. i guess if you put the word “master” in anything people get all excited (as you say… insert joke here).

when i read bob katz book i recall him saying best case scenario is a letter grade improvement. and like you say sometimes the mastering guy just says nice job i’m not touching a thing. what he ain’t gonna fix is the common overuse of compression. and why do people still think they need to max out levels when everyone records at 24bit these days?

talk about buss compression while mixing…andy wallace has been doing that for a while. gives you a better idea of where you are headed imo.

as you say part of the mastering process is a different set of ears. hell, i’d like about 6 sets on every mix i’ve done. second perspectives are crucial imo. but with only one set of willing ears my second perspective comes via walking away and then coming back, car stereos, and other speaker.

for pho-mastering tools i agree. compressor, multiband compressor, limiter, eq. one thing that’s been interesting to me lately are linear phase eq. i might do a blog post on those. i kinda wrote them off and never did any listening to them. but then 2 weeks ago i started using a new eq that made it easy to switch into several modes one being linear phase. it’s a lot more significant then i thought. now i want linear phase options on my eq and multiband compressor?

another cheap tool for pho-mastering is a single MixCube speaker imo. some people hate them. but some people (me) think they are a good tool. here is take: BlueDustStudio / Chris Porro | Original Music and Thinkies

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Dahla – 02-28-2012, 02:38 PM
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One mastering story I can think of (from Sound on Sound “classic recordings” articles or what they’re called), is the piano from John Lennons Imagine. That was the mastering engineer who low passed the piano to remove tape hiss. According to the recording engineer, the piano was well recorded, but hiss had to go during the mastering, making the piano dull.

Funny how some people still yearn for a tape machine.

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Chalo – 02-28-2012, 02:41 PM
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The secrets of the magicians revealed… IMHO, the “good thing” about real mastering is the fact that real mastering studios have hardware, monitoring systems, rooms, etc. that I won’t buy or build unless I make my own mastering studio one day. One of the last things in my “to buy” list is an Studer analog tape recorder, and stuff like that. What we CAN do with pretend mastering is a troubleshooting session in the box. Stuff like the missing drums and other mixing problems can be detected before sending the mix to the mastering studio, saving us some time and headaches. If it were just a matter of getting loudness levels high and getting rid of some hisses, mastering studios would have been dead and long gone for some time now.

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nulldevice – 02-28-2012, 02:47 PM
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The main problem, to my mind, and ears, is that most people who want to save money and do “pretend mastering” don’t really want to go through the tedium of checking the RMS levels and comparing to a sane loudness etc, or don’t want to spend the money on anything beyond the basic tools, or just plain don’t want to take the time to understand what they’re trying to accomplish.

So you get some guy who slaps a cracked copy of L2 across his 2buss, jacks the gain as high as sounds “awesome” in his bedroom studio, and then wonders why it sounds like crap on iTunes. Or why it sounds weird when he releases an EP with 4 songs that all have wildly different loudnesses.

Sure, we can all sit here and say “well, that dude’s not doing it right” but we have the luxury of already knowing what “right” is.

It’s not that pretend mastering is at all intrinsically bad. It’s just that a lot of home-recording guys don’t really want to get involved with that phase of things, or don’t want to get involved *enough* to more than just half-arse it. Hell, I know of some reasonably professional project studios that farm it out, simply because they’d rather be devoting their time and resources to something else.

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LRM – 02-28-2012, 02:48 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by Stan_Halen View Post
Cool! Now if I can just figure out how to make PRETEND mixing work as well …
…it’s the PRETEND recording I’d be afraid of!

Great article there Brandon.
Bedroom recording/mixing kind of eludes to bedroom (PRETEND) mastering right form the get go but most I think get fearful of ruining the music or just not knowing what it is that they need to do to actually mastering a song or album (and the rest do it without knowing that’s what they are doing in the first place). I know I don’t know nearly enough to think I’m doing more than mixing to as close to completion as I can muster. If it’s loud and complete in my ears = it’s mastered… that is until I post it in Bash This!

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seanmorrogh – 02-28-2012, 07:11 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by DanTheMan View Post
There’s got to be an easier way to listen to your songs in succession though than using your DAW and opening one file then another then another… Isn’t job #2 of mastering making sure that when the next track comes on it’s from the same album? There’s going to be too much gap for me to get a good listen that way.
I recently started using Presonus Studio One Pro v2 as my DAW. It’s project function is great for mastering, lets you pull all the songs into a sequence and adjust times between them, etc.

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voltron – 02-28-2012, 07:47 PM
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I absolutely swear by T-RackS 3. Because it sounds great, I can’t afford “real” mastering, but most importantly I am a lazy, lazy man (ie: I load up a preset, do some minimal tweaking and BAM! Done.)

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doug hazelrigg – 02-28-2012, 11:42 PM
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I’m largely in agreement. What you’re basically saying is get the mix AND the loudness right in one pass, because doing them separately often ruins things. Still, even when you use mix-bus compression for this purpose, I think there’s still a place for mastering by a second person, even if it’s just a matter of sequencing and very minimal EQ

But the overall point of the article, that the old 2-stage procedure, has become anachronistic, is totally right-on

dudermn – 02-29-2012, 02:09 AM
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Its quicker to go from .wav to .ac3 than to spend rendering every format for 20 minutes.

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guywithaguitar – 02-29-2012, 06:22 AM
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Wow, great post!

I am sure many people have wondered why they shouldn’t work on the mix 2bus straightaway instead of self mastering after rendering. It does allow for a coherent view of the project and more tweakability. I was wondering this myself the other day, but I thought that since the pros suggest rendering first, there must be something in it. Thanks for clearing a lot of stuff up.

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rca33 – 02-29-2012, 02:43 PM
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Just my 2 cents…

We tend to think that a professional release = the perfect sound / mix /mastering, but I’m not so sure about it!

Talking about the big guys, how many times do we hear a distinct distortion from clipping at one (or several) points of a song? Take a listen to “Crazy Love” by Michael Bublé. There’s not only some distorted clips on the vocal, but the whole sound feels (at least in my ears and gear) standing on the edge between a “full bass” and a “muddy sounding album”.
If we go back to 1983 and the self titled album from Genesis, can anyone say that it sound good recording-wise? I can’t, although I love that album.

I can’t say if the problem was on the recording stage, on mixing or on mastering…and it doesn’t matter. My point is that the big boys are still human, and we generally use the BEST recordings as reference tracks to compare with our home studio mixes. We don’t generally use average sounding professional tracks as references (although there’s a tone of them), so it’s very clear that we’re also aiming for a high goal…with a small percentage of the resources.

I believe that we need to spend more time increasing our skills in the recording/mixing stage. In the end, if the mix sounds good and has the overall level that you want/need…

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AndiP – 02-29-2012, 02:43 PM
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I used to call this “1/2 Mastering” on my website – I figured that there are any number of people out there who could use a second-pass set of ears in a different room without needing to pay for a $M gear list. Hell, I get other folks to go over my mixes because I’m usually sick to the back teeth of them by the time they’re finished. I lost the “1/2″ part of the title when I started to get some work-in as it’s just too complicated to explain to someone who wants to be able to say ” I had my track mastered”.

I’m actually offering to work an original track for free to the end of March because I need some portfolio pieces that I can use on my website and most of what I do seems to end-up being covers with thet attendant copyright issues; so if anyone wants to give it a go PM me (apologies if this offends site protocol – feel free to cut this paragraph if it’s inappropriate).

A..

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Danny Danzi – 02-29-2012, 08:42 PM
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Interesting read here. For what it’s worth (coming from someone who likes to consider themselves an ME) I don’t think anyone needs mastering if the material isn’t going to be sold or exploited widely. However, the problem I hear is all the people attempting to master on their own, are failing and ruining their mixes. They’d be better off releasing the mix with the output at -0.3dB and leaving it alone.

These plugin mastering suites are killing music because of the presets. People are making horrible judgement calls. What they think sounds good, isn’t really good at all if they go back and listen to the original mix tracks. But they are so won over by the hype…all the classic gear emulations…c’mon, stop it. Mix your tune, put it at a decent level and move on to the next one.

For people that need a bit more polish and the extra ears, you do yourself a diservice if you attempt this on your own. Especially if you’ll be selling this stuff or shopping it to a label. It’s always best to get that second set of ears you can trust. And you all have that anyway, because I’m here and have offered discounts to anyone from this site that uses my services. LOL!

Seriously though, the reason this is so subjective is because I sincerely believe the majority of ME’s are just taking your money and throwing a compressor/limiter on the project and walkin away. Ever go on those sites where they give you before and after? On most of them…all I hear is a level boost, not an eq curve change. Most of these guys don’t have a clue as to what is needed to master a song the right way. Before I master anything, there is often times an editing session. This can take an hour per song. Anyone not doing this before they open up a single mastering plug is not mastering. There’s more to it than that…trust me.

How are they adjusting peaks? Right…they aren’t because they are just slamming a compressor or limiter on. That’s not the right way to do it. All you’re doing is working your comp/limiter harder than it needs to be worked. If you had the transients of the material in control before you attempted to master anything, you gain head-room and nothing in the tune is capped. Remember, you can only go as hot as your highest peak. You won’t keep things clear that way when you start making things loud.

See that’s the other thing…mastering to people seems to mean “loud” over things being more clear. Loud has nothing to do with mastering a song to sound good. Remember that. The better your mix is, the better it will sound in the mastering stage. It’s like this…

If you play in a band…and are so loud and unprofessional that the soundman has to take you out of the mains, you just degraded the sound of your band. The lower and more incontrol you are, the more the soundman (if he’s good) can make you sound like a million bucks. Now enter this scenario into the mastering field…

If you send me a mix that sounds like ass, is loaded with 2-bus compression and all this other stuff that you had no business messing with, 1 of 3 things are going to happen. I’m either going to tell you to take all that crap off and give me another mix, I’m going to work out a happy medium with you to where I can master the song, or I’m going to tell you to go somewhere else. The more crap you put on this mix, the less I can do to enhance it the right way. The more it’s balanced and you leave things alone that you know nothing about, the better I will make things sound for you….and that’s not a threat it’s a promise.

People today don’t know anything about 2-bus glue. Seriously…I mean this with every ounce of my being. 2-bus glue is just that…a little compression that glues your mix together with a coloration from the comp you may be using in the 2-bus. End of story…that’s all it is. Instead, we get guys way over-using this to where it is no longer glue…it’s cement or even worse, epoxy mixed with cement and the over-all sound of ass. It really does sound terrible guys…you’re kidding yourselves if you think it’s good. I sometimes wish this technique was never shared to the masses. I may get 5 clients per week out of 30 that know how to use this correctly. All the others are smashing the living hell out of their mixes and using these mastering type plugs like crazy…then they send the stuff to me. I just laugh and reply back “this needs to be remixed…please remove all instances of t-raxx, compression or limiting on the master bus. If not, I will not master the material because you are attempting to do my job for me…and you aren’t doing very well.”

Yep, I’ve lost quite a few jobs replying like that. It’s ok though, you can damage your music if you want to…I will not take part in having my name on anything like that. Unlike other ME’s, I don’t need to take someone’s money for the sake of a paycheck. I’d rather starve than take part in ruining music because I love what I do. If I can’t make a difference for the better, I don’t want your money.

Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with mastering on your own as long as you can really listen objectively to what you had pre-master and what you have post master. Don’t feel so and so’s plugin is making things sound better because you paid for it when it really is degrading your music. Who cares that so and so used an API compressor or a hardware version of a Fairchild….you having the same gear or a plugin emulation doesn’t mean it will make your music sound better.

Bottom line: If you can’t make a mix sound fantastic without any mastering at all, don’t even attempt to master the stuff yourself. Any of the mixes I have done for clients as well as my own, can stand on their own and be impressive without any mastering going on. That said, it depends on the level of mastering that may need to be done on a song or a project. But rest assured, my mixes are where they need to be and would sound quite good without any mastering. This is where you need to be first and foremost. You know the old phrase “fix it in the mix” well some people are trying to “fix it in the master” and if you are one of those people, you’ve already lost the battle.

-Danny

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dbths1987 – 02-29-2012, 10:47 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by Danny Danzi View Post
Yep, I’ve lost quite a few jobs replying like that. It’s ok though, you can damage your music if you want to…I will not take part in having my name on anything like that. Unlike other ME’s, I don’t need to take someone’s money for the sake of a paycheck. I’d rather starve than take part in ruining music because I love what I do. If I can’t make a difference for the better, I don’t want your money.

-Danny
I love your lines.. mad props

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aj113 – 03-01-2012, 06:39 AM
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I agree with Danny. I do my own mastering, the problems I have are in getting the final mastered copy to NOT affect my mix, not the other way around, (i.e. trying to make the project sound great through mastering tools when the original mix is crap to begin with.) When I master, normally it is just a case of trying to get the loudness up to some sort of acceptable level while still keeping the mix sounding the same – or as the near the same as I possibly can.
To that end, in the last couple of days I have taken Brandon’s philosophy to heart and attempted to cut out the separate mastering software, and master straight from the box. I’ve only done two masters this way but already I can see I won’t be going back to the old way. The luxury of actually being able to mix in the full knowledge that what I am hearing is actually the ‘finished’ master is a real boon. Not only has it saved me a lot of time, but more importantly it has allowed me to get exactly the mix I am looking for, without having to make any compensatory blind adjustments to allow for how I think the mastering software is going to affect the finished product.

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AndiP – 03-02-2012, 10:47 AM
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Presets can be a useful learning tool, a chance to hear some possibilities that you may not have thought of. Unfortunately they do encourage a “top-down” approach; select a multiple-choice sound option and then tweak, rather than a “bottom-up” approach of listening, deciding what you think needs to be done then figuring-out how to do it. Because most of us have very short term aural memory, and because many plugin-suites will change a half-dozen modules with each preset change it’s very easy to spend 20 minutes working slowly towards an increasingly extreme end-result (ever checked a job the following morning and had a “Please God let me not have sent that out” moment?) .

I suspect that the most difficult ME decision is the one to do nothing if that’s what’s required as it effects our ability to get paid and robs us of that “I’m involved” feeling (imagine being the guy who gets to boast that “I didn’t master “Rumours”)! That said, I’m amazed at the number of mistakes and errors that appear in mixed 2 tracks, things like sibilance, noisy edits, unpleasant resonances and cut-off verb tails that suggest that there is a role for the ME as QA checker at the very least!

A

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Danny Danzi – 03-02-2012, 07:38 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by aj113 View Post
I agree with Danny. I do my own mastering, the problems I have are in getting the final mastered copy to NOT affect my mix, not the other way around, (i.e. trying to make the project sound great through mastering tools when the original mix is crap to begin with.) When I master, normally it is just a case of trying to get the loudness up to some sort of acceptable level while still keeping the mix sounding the same – or as the near the same as I possibly can.
To that end, in the last couple of days I have taken Brandon’s philosophy to heart and attempted to cut out the separate mastering software, and master straight from the box. I’ve only done two masters this way but already I can see I won’t be going back to the old way. The luxury of actually being able to mix in the full knowledge that what I am hearing is actually the ‘finished’ master is a real boon. Not only has it saved me a lot of time, but more importantly it has allowed me to get exactly the mix I am looking for, without having to make any compensatory blind adjustments to allow for how I think the mastering software is going to affect the finished product.
Good post aj, and I agree with you. However, there is going to come a time where you may have to make an important edit while inside your mix project. When that happens, you’re going to have to edit each individual track. This is where it can become a mess. It depends on the tune and the mastering job that needs to be done. There are times when I do quite a bit of mastering to where I’m mixing in stuff while I do it. I may need to do this outside of the mix because it would just be too much to edit one at a time. But I can relate to what you’re saying doing it all in one project. To me, I’d just rather take it out of there but wouldn’t disagree with you or anyone else that is doing it this way. Whatever works is what’s best at all times.

Quote Originally Posted by AndiP View Post
Presets can be a useful learning tool, a chance to hear some possibilities that you may not have thought of. Unfortunately they do encourage a “top-down” approach; select a multiple-choice sound option and then tweak, rather than a “bottom-up” approach of listening, deciding what you think needs to be done then figuring-out how to do it. Because most of us have very short term aural memory, and because many plugin-suites will change a half-dozen modules with each preset change it’s very easy to spend 20 minutes working slowly towards an increasingly extreme end-result (ever checked a job the following morning and had a “Please God let me not have sent that out” moment?) .

I suspect that the most difficult ME decision is the one to do nothing if that’s what’s required as it effects our ability to get paid and robs us of that “I’m involved” feeling (imagine being the guy who gets to boast that “I didn’t master “Rumours”)! That said, I’m amazed at the number of mistakes and errors that appear in mixed 2 tracks, things like sibilance, noisy edits, unpleasant resonances and cut-off verb tails that suggest that there is a role for the ME as QA checker at the very least!

A
Well said Andi! As for the non-mastering we are sometimes faced with, I have no problems with that when it happens. It’s only happened a few times though, but it has happened. Most times, you are just about always going to remove some sub low frequencies, some highs and you’re going to clean things up a bit while compressing, MBC and limiting. You may even lose a little stereo field depending on how much of this you have to do so you will have to add a little back in. But there is always something to do that can make a difference no matter how subtle it may be. I’ve only had 2 projects in my entire life that I felt didn’t need a single thing done to them. I’ve been doing this a very long time and have worked with people and styles from all walks of life as well as all over the world. It’s rare to get the perfect mix in, but when I have heard it…it made me smile. I get paid the same amount no matter what and there are other things that I have to do.

I’ll always remove DC offsets
I’ll always have to put in ISRC, EAN or UPC codes
I’ll always create PQ sheets
I’ll always have to dither and CSR
I’ll always have to check for pops, clicks, noises, oscillations
I’ll always have to manually level the audio and control peaks
I’ll always need to compress and limit even if done in a subtle way
I’ll always need to create the album with gaps, fade-ins, fade-outs etc.

That’s just a rough idea…but even if there is no eq needed or subtle to no compression or limiting is needed….there are other things I will always need to do. So there’s really never a time where the ME “didn’t do anything” to a piece of music.

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shackman – 03-03-2012, 01:20 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by Danny Danzi View Post
They’d be better off releasing the mix with the output at -0.3dB and leaving it alone.
So very True!

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alexmcginness – 03-06-2012, 11:07 AM
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:-) What does mastering do for you? It gets the spectral balance correct between your tunes and with industry standards to sound correct on many speaker systems, and gives you good overall industry competitive levels, and volume matching of your tunes so they sit perfectly on your CD. How do you achieve all of this yourself? Easy…Har-Bal 3. ooorrrrrrrr keep using trial and error till you can afford to go pay a bundle to get others to do it for ya. Your call.

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clarity – 12-29-2012, 05:10 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by fHumble fHingaz View Post
…fH shrinks down, shrugs shoulders, draws knees up to chest, covers ears & eyes… & hunkers down to await the inevitable onslaught & vicious invective of I.M.T.A (Internet Mastering Trolls Association) as they come thundering across the ether from their usual environs on “EarShutz”….. I can hear their distorted (analogue tape, of course!) howls: “Master at home, Drury? Heretic! Ye shall be burned at the stake!”
HAHAHA!!!!! Awesome response to an awesome article!

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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One response to Pretend Mastering With A One Man Army

  1. The very mentioning of products like Wavelab and Sound Forge, even Cubase, Samplitude and ProTools makes me wanna puke, or at least “pretend to” since I’d never waste $’s on restricted J-Ware.. To our Acoustically eventually “perfect” project studio. Clients WILL bring their favorite materials for referencing, or I’ll use my extensive taste and music collection to make good mastering decisions.

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