CD Mastering Services at Vestman Mastering

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Mastering Procedures
From Source-to-Destination

• First of all, we like to know about you and your project. 
In our first contact we'll find out about they type of music you're doing, what your goals are, how you've recorded your project, what type of files are you bringing in (or tape), what are the commercial CDs that sound best to you, what overall volume level are you looking for, etc.

• Your music is loaded the "source" computer
The majority of the time our clients bring in 24 bit wav or aiff files - and we copy them into our hard drive and create a new project in our "source" Digital Audio Workstation.

If you bring or send in
Separations or traditional stereo mixes, we'll do some file organization and bring up the first song. If you bring in an analog source, we're ready to go. Let us know if you have any songs that are your sonic favorites in the project (and let us know if there's some issues to watch for as well).

We'll begin listening and possibly go over any of your written notes. We're happy for you to attend the session, but if you can't make it, that's ok too. We charge the same rate whether you're at the session or not. Generally, the smaller the crowd, the more time-efficient the session will be. It helps to write out a list of your concerns and then have one or two people speak for everyone. We can work on music in any order, but it works well to do it in the order it will end up being on the CD.  Generally starting with the big/ louder production numbers is best, but not a requirement.

We begin sound enhancement using analog eq, compression, limiting, de-essing, polarity correction, width enhancement, multiband compression and level correction. If we're doing Separation Mastering, we'll use some State-of-the-art plug ins help to optimize the individual tracks. During the first few songs we do a lot of A/B'ing of your music with other commercial CDs (either one's we have or one's you bring in.)

If you're attending the session, we should all be in agreement about the "before" and "after" tone enhancements we've come up with.  If everyone says "ok - sound really good" we then record each song into the Pyramix "destination" mastering system (this takes real time).  We mark down all the processing and eq settings in our data base for easy recall of every single setting in the console, just in case we need to recall the song(s) again.  Every sound adjustment is recallable and non-destructive.  We always want to keep an eye on what you brought in originally, as well as what the new result is.

• All the songs "land" in our destination computer.
As with all DAWs, the projects editing decision list (EDL) gives a visual display of your music. As we go along and each song is loaded in, we do preliminary cleaning up the beginnings and endings of the songs.  We may not perfect the fade outs at first - saving that part of the process for later when all the songs are in the EDL.

Important: We not only A/B compare your music with commercial CDs, we also compare each current song we're working on with the already completed songs in your project. This is not standard in many other mastering studios, but it is for us. Example: When we're loading in song #8 - we're still checking the sound on songs 1 through 7.   This is a more complete approach to mastering because the tone and levels of each song are being monitored during the entire process.

The project will develop it's own "global" sweet spot (or optimum tonal balance) and it will become evident how every song relates to the others. Sometimes ONE song can influence the sound of the entire album! If we need to change the eq on a song that's already been loaded in, it's easy, fast and very simple to do. If you attend the session, you'll hear the differences in the processing - you won't be puzzled about anything.

At this point in the desination comuter, more editing and creative work can occur - we'll set the amount of space between songs and set the Track ID's (they can go anywhere you like) and handle any last minute creativity. Let us know if there are any cross-fades you'd like, where you'd like the song ID's, and if you want any hidden tracks. Note: if you ask questions during the session, we tend to give detailed answers. Keep your budget in mind when asking questions (but know that you'll come out of the studio with more than just a master - you'll have knowledge and experience that will always make the next record even better).

We'll burn you a reference CDR for the purposes of hearing everything all dialed in. Treat any CDR we give you with the ultimate CARE!  Listen on several consumer systems (maybe even on a DJ system). Dont' be tempted to take it back into the studio first. See our page on Studio Monitor Madness to see why.

Your CDR was designed for the real world. Take it there first. Ideally, listen to other contemporary commercial CDs first to get used to the tone of other records.  We always adjust our listening when we first get into the process.  I don't recommend pulling out your favorite old Stepenwolf records, or Greatest Elvis Hits!  Those old recordings have a different flavor than today's records.  Listen to your "competition." Listen on boom boxes. Listen in the car
(but remember, moving car CD players can scratch the surface - always use care with your reference discs and/or masters). Listen on a couple home systems.

After you've listened to other CDs, then your CDR, then listen to your old mixes.  Remember, there were things you really really liked about your un-mastered mixes.  Mastering can change the flavor of your music, hopefully for a more polished, enhanced experience.  But it will be different.

You may hear things you haven't heard before in your mixes. Put the CD on in the living room and go wash dishes in the kitchen and see how it feels at a distance. Play it at a party, in the garage, play it soft, loud, on your computer (certain PCs can have some weird default playback characteristics) etc. Keep listening to your "competitors" CDs and see if the over-all impression of your product comes across effectively, given the time and budget you had to work with.

We can make everything as consistent as you like, OR leave things unique and different if that's what you're after. Think about these things before you begin! How much time it takes to process your music depends on how consistent the mixes are, how much optimization of the Separations you'd like, and how many songs there are total. Twenty short songs totaling 45 minutes - takes longer than ten longer songs totalling 45 minutes.

Now your mixes have more clarity, consistency, and presence. You may hear subtle things revealed that you forgot about. Due to the big CD volume contest, you may hear less impact on the drums, or the eq may bring UP the impact of the drums. The vocal may be more clear, as well as the hi-hat or guitars, or you may hear more body in the middle instruments. The catch: you may hear distortion that was masked in the track before - mastering tends to reveal everything a little better.

Your CD may be perfect just the way it is. Or you may want some additional creative changes like spacing in between the songs, or a different fade. Be sure your key people listen to the end product, as well as some fresh new ears or other professionals who will listen.

KEY: We keep all the settings for your project in the computer, and most changes are easy and fairly fast to accomplish With a few clicks and turns - voila! But some changes can be more involved.... it's depends on each project and how much detail is appropriate for your budget.  We've found that especially with Separations, our clients tend to pay more attention to detials, and tend to ask for more detailed (and subtle) changes. When folks have the technology to work with, they usually do!

Whether a second master is made or the first one is perfect, we can either make an Audio CDR master or a DDP master to send to the pressing plant (check to see which format your pressing plant prefers).  We always make a backup master of the approved version for you to have for safekeeping.  This isn't a big budget consideration, but just remember we always make 2 masters.  Your music is worth being careful!  Now you're on your way to having a superb CD that will sound great for a long time - and the ball is in your court to make it a HIT!

John Vestman Mastering

Created 1998 - modified 09/24/09

More about compression
Info about Eq'ing to multitrack
Info about cutting a hot cd
Visual example of creative mastering techniques

"I was absolutely stunned at the quality of sound.
the mastered copy sounded a thousand
times better yet you still managed to
keep the feel of the material."

-Garry Phillips, Soldier, Northampton, England