CD Mastering Services at Vestman Mastering

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  How to Prepare for Audio Mastering  

1. Map out a schedule for who and what you need... all the way up to delivery date. It's easy for us to focus on the moment and forget the big picture. Some clients rush to get their CD mastered, only to have delays and complications with graphics, printing, pressing, you name it. Get a calendar and chart what needs to be done so that everything is in sync leading up to getting your CDs in hand.

2. Book the mastering session 1 to 2 weeks in advance
, so that you have time to think about any last minute questions or ideas that you want to bring up in the session. If you are making Separations (aka stems for mastering), put them all into new sessions in your DAW, along with your stereo mix, and A/B comprare the sound to be sure all tracks are included (or not duplicated) in your separated tracks (stems).

Use a flash (thumb) drive to send us files or contact us about the easiest way to use the internet to transfer your files. Label your file folders for all master bounces (prefereably 24 bit) so you can find and copy files easily. If you copy mix files instead to CDR's, (or DVD-R's - don't use DVD+R's) label your discs carefully. Carefully write on CDRs before burning them (the top is more fragile than the bottom) using a soft (medium Sharpie) pen. DO NOT USE PAPER LABELS EVER.

4. Think about the song order and include a written list with the flash drive. If you're not sure of the song order, that's ok. You can decide that anytime right up to when we make your masters.

Include your ISRC codes, album title, UPC code (optional), artist name, record company etc. in your list of things to give to the mastering studio.

5. Make a list of what you think needs processing and editing on your songs. After comparing your mixes with commercially released CDs, you may feel that in your mixes, one song needs more bass, and another one needs more vocal. If you're in a group, have a meeting to listen to all the songs to make notes. Note: If you find that the bass player wants more bass, the drummer wants more drums, the vocalist wants more vocals, and the guitarist wants more... you get the picture....... Order pizza, and let the mastering engineer lend some suggestions.  One of the benefits of mastering is that someone with a completely objective point of view will be listening with fresh ears and a knowledge of the "sonic marketplace".

Good idea:
Make alternate mixes - vocal up 1/2 dB, kic up 1 dB, or whatever variations you may be concerned about. Much better idea: Bring in or send in Separations for mastering.

List any sonic concerns in your documentation. What have you debated about while you've been mixing? Check out more
mixing tips and some great EQ and compression suggestions.

6. KNOW YOUR BUDGET. Ask up front for a cost estimate, but realise, it is almost impossible to predict how much it will take for your project (studio rates and policies here). Years ago we had a project where the cymbal crashes were just too loud every time they hit. We did level correction on each crash, and it took more than an hour of unexpected time - but the result was fantastic! Today using Separations, that issue would have taken 5 minutes to resolve.  (Even before Separations, we were quite ascertive doing creative things in mastering.)

7. Bring (or send) a couple of commercial CD's (or audio files NOT from iTunes) with you to the mastering session that you LOVE the sound of. This gives an exact reference of your taste. You have listened to your favorite CDs many times at home (and in the car) and you're familiar with the tone and overall level. Our system is level-matched so that we can compare your project with the commercial albums, and you'll know exactly how your sound compares next to anyone you pick.

Interesting: One customer brought in about five commercial CDs, all of which he thought sounded great. After we did some comparisons with his project, he was shocked to hear that they all sounded different -- and most he didn't like! He heard differences on our system that he had never heard on his own. This is common, since many home systems have their own "tone" which tends to mask the differences in sonic qualities on different albums.

DON'T REFERENCE MUSIC BURNED OFF OF iTUNES. Different users may apply different settings in their iTunes program, and that can lead to the sound being NOT what it was originally. iTunes doesn't sound good. (Don't burn CDR copies of your mastered audio files with iTunes either. Use a standard Mac or PC audio burning program. Use Burn Folder in Mac, Toast, Disc Write, etc.) Bite the bullet and reference ONLY with real pressed commercial audio CD's.

8. When you receive your first master/reference CDR, don't just rush back to the studio where you mixed it for your first listen. Check it out on home systems, boom boxes, the car, clubs, etc. You've been accustomed to hearing it in the studio, and it's going to sound different than you were used to in that "creative cocoon". What's more important is the real world. Take notes about what you hear. The mastering engineer can easily recall your session and make any changes you would like. Every mastering studio makes these kinds of changes from time to time, and it should be very cost-effective to do so.

9. Be sure you have an idea of how you want the song titles, album title etc. to read in the CD Text - and talk to your pressing plant ahead of time about any video files or web site links you want included. Click here to read about the difference between CD Text (shows up on alpha-numeric displays) and CDDB (shows up on computers).

10. Check this chart for a list of formats that can be brought in for mastering. Check the site map in case you have eq, compression, hot CD or other questions that can be answered ahead of time! Consider if you want us to master your instrumental and/or TV mixes - it's easy to do!


1. If you must compress the stereo output buss, make an alternate version with less compression or none. When compression is over-done, it can restrict what's possible in mastering. It is good, however, to make a version with peak limiting on it to see how your mix holds up when the time comes to make the level hotter. Send both a limited and non-limited version to be mastered, or better yet, send Separations.
2. Listen to your favorite commercial CDs in the control room to compare with your sound. Use level-matching A/B listening.
3. Be aware of the level of the lead vocals from song-to-song. Listen again to your previous mixes.
4. Allow for extra time to mix. Nothing is worse at this critical stage than running out of money, and you end up stuck with less than the best. Mixing is a crucial point in your project.
5. Take breaks, have fun, and enjoy the process! 

"Superb job! I love what it's done
to the guitars."
-Fintan McGregor, France

"[Since 2002] I am still quite satisfied with my experience with you, and plan to return when it's time to master our next album in a year."
-Mike - Fullerton, California

"I am thoroughly impressed with Separation Mastering. The width of the sound achieved along with the other adjustments is the difference between typical versus outstanding sound."
-Todd Griffithe, California

"I hadn't heard about Separation Mastering, but after this session I'm a devout fan. John is not only skillful, but a pleasure to work with."
- The Artist Grace - O.C. California

EQ Magazine

See the two-page article in the May 2006 issue of EQ Magazine on Separation Mastering, by John Vestman and Don Sundstrom.

Q) My mixes sound good in the studio, but not at home or in the car.

Sounds like Studio Monitor Madness!

Q) For better sonic quality, you recommend mixing to a DAT machine or Masterlink instead of rendering (or bouncing) to a stereo data file in my computer. I have no idea how to work with DAT. What will I need?

Make a loop-back file. This is where you take the digital output of your DAW mix, loop it back into the digital input and record the stereo mix onto a new stereo track. Record these tracks at 24 bit, even if your recording is 16 bit. Burn those new stereo tracks onto a data disc. The mastering studio can then import those files as the source. This is as good as (or better than) a Masterlink - you just don't get the cool features of a Masterlink.

As far as a DAT machine, they are pretty much history.  Better to get an Alesis Masterlink. You can make CD copies on the Masterlink (with some basic DSP features) and keeps your master data at 24 bit. It's easy to use and will be around a long time, in my opinion. By the way, if you're not making Separations, and if possible, bring in the Masterlink to the session - the hard drive in the unit sounds better than the CDR files. But if you're making Separations on a Masterlink, the CD-24 discs are a great way to go and the width and definintion of Separations adds a world of great sound quality to your product.

Make sure you buy the best digital cable you can afford when coming out of your DAW or stand-alone recording system. The Masterlink A-D converters are decent, but if you can get a higher quality A-D and go into the Masterlink digitally, that's better. 

Will the internal burner I already have work or do you prefer a mix on a DAT tape?

The internal burner in your computer (or Roland unit) could be one of the problems as to why your CDRs don't sound as good as what you hear when you're mixing. If the burner is burning at high speed, it make the sound more harsh. The rendered stereo file is another place of lost quality. That's why we recommend that you take the direct digital signal from your mixdown straight into a digital recording device. The cable, again, is important. Get the best you can afford.

Q) We have recorded the drums in "flat" (no eq) with a Finalizer. Did we screw up?? -Clayton

If you like the sound you have now, that's the most important thing. It's not the method that counts, it's the results. I prefer to eq to the multitrack master, some engineers prefer cutting all tracks flat and eq'ing only at mix time.

Do we need to MIX at our studio or can you do it?

We can recommend talented engineers who work in Pro Tools, Nuendo, Digital Performer and more.

What is the preferred format for mastering - 1/2" reel-to-reel, DAT or audio or data CD?

After Separations, we prefer analog 1/2" or 1/4" reel-to-reel - 30 or 15 ips. Check out this chart.

I am interested in knowing what kinds of options are available, such as Dolby.

If you go analog for your mix, do not use Dolby. Just go elevated +5 or +6 at 30 ips. I have some cool secrets on alignment that your engineer may get into. Some people do like using Dolby SR at 15 ips, so that's something to consider, but it's not common.

Is it good for me to include info about my mics, size of room, processing equipment, etc.?

It's just helpful for us to know what the multitrack format is (2" tape, computer, DAW software, etc.) and the mixdown format (1/2" , 1/4", wav files, Masterlink, etc.) All the mics, room, and processing gear isn't important unless there's a specific problem that we find as we're going along.

Is it possible for us to be present during the mastering process? Even though we live in southern Mexico, we are willing to come to you.

I've had clients from Mexico, Brazil, New York, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, Vietnam and Israel come here to attend sessions. There are a couple reasonably priced motels close by the studio. I look forward to hearing your project!

Date created: 10/25/99 • Last modified: 8/13/12

Royalty tracking and important ISRC codes on you CD

George Duke - Grammy Nominated
George Duke - Grammy Nominated
Akwid - Grammy Nominated
Akwid - Grammy Nominated
Chaka Khan - Fly Miracle Project
Chaka Khan
Fly Miracle Project
Stephen Stills
Stephen Stills
Fly Miracle Project
Teena Marie
Teena Marie
Marc Seal
Marc Seal
Warner Brothers Web Concert - Sting, Chili Peppers
Warner Brothers
Web Concert
Sting, Chili Peppers
Tisha Campbell-Martin

Cutting a Hot CD

Mastering Procedures

How to prepare for mastering

Creative changes

Even More Secrets of Mixing

Even more about studio monitors


How to create Separations

Illustrated History of Separations

Great reference CD's

Getting a bigger sound recording

Eq Settings that make a mix come alive!

How much compression?

Should I have the pressing plant make the glass master at 1X?

Stereo widening techniques

Differernt opinions in the studio

Backup your masters!

How to Align a 2-Track Analog Machine

Prepare for Success