Q) I have gone to this guy to record 3
different times, and for some reason, we can't seem to get a decent
sound from him. I'm really not sure if this is due to musicianship, or
if it is just due to mastering/editing. -David
suspect 2 things: (1) The engineer's monitor system isn't
revealing and accurate as it could be and (2) he isn't comparing his
work to other commercial CDs often enough. What can you do? The same
thing Michael Jackson did on one of his latest albums: insist that the
engineer have current commercial CDs available to reference to the
studio at all times.
track drums, reference to an awesome sounding CD. When you
track guitars, reference to an awesome sounding CD. Insist that the
time be taken to listen to other CDs at the same volume level at every
step of the way. (Michael, by the way, constantly referenced to his OWN
CD (The Wall) when he was tracking and mixing his latest record... and
if Michael can do it.... what engineer on the planet would say you
shouldn't do that?)
mix, spend at LEAST 1/2 to 3/4 hour (out of every 3 hours)
listening and comparing other commercial CDs to your mix. Click
-your mix - click - their mix - click - your mix - click
mix... etc. This eliminates 80% or more of the guesswork
BEFORE you're in the mastering studio. When you go in to the mastering
studio..... you may even consider the same method. Your master - their
master... your CD - their CD - all on a level-matched mastering system.
(The Nautilus DMC-8 is a monitor controller for all studios that easily
facilitates this technique.)
mind that your engineer should NOT try to make the
mixdown-copied-onto-CD as loud as a normal commercial CD. Trying to
make a hot CD before the mastering
doesn't work in your favor. The volume is for the mastering engineer to
create. The mixer should just make it sound great using good levels and
good headroom, compressing within the mix. Mixes should stay 2 dB below
clipping on digital meters. (Also check my articles on compression.)
I am just looking for some kind of suggestions to help [our engineer]
master our recording better.
Your engineer is
welcome to read my web site, but I can't
give him 26 years of experience without the 26 years! Check the site
map for a
listing of the articles that
may be helpful.
The problems that I seem to be having with him are the vocals being too
low/soft, the kick being way too high, and the guitar being weird...
kind of scratchy sounding, a lot of treble, not enough punch.
Aside from mix
issues, it could be that the mics are too
close to the speaker, or it's direct signals (not miked signals) so-so
converters that aren't fat and wide (a key issue with any digital
workstation). A "vacant" sounding mix usually means low-end converters,
clock issues and more. Some big engineers like to transfer to analog
from their digital workstation to give it the silkier, warm sound of
comes to comparison referencing, sometimes it's a little
intimidating for an engineer to put on the CD of a supergroup, and then
put up the work he/she is doing for you in the studio. That engineer
could think, "How can I possibly compete with that SSL or NEVE console
- and all those tube mic pre's?" Well, consider that record companies
will compare your product with the biggies who did record on an
SSL - so you might as well go through that discomfort in the studio
where there is no label rep in the room. Get happier with the sound at
"point A" and you'll be more confident of your product when you're in
the A&R room. Your results stem very directly from your level of
help is if the artist lets the engineer know that they are
willing to pay for the extra time that it takes to make these
side-by-side comparisons. Often the engineer has good intentions for
the session to go quickly. Realize that it may be more costly at the
time, but look at the aggravation that it can save you later...
everything has it's price, and we generally are at an advantage when we
just decide to bite the bullet and put in some extra effort earlier on.
worst case, the engineer will get aggravated and claim artistic
independence and not allow commercial CDs to be heard in his/her
control room! Then you can simply request that your preference be
honored - it's nothing personal - no one will make any negative
comments if it takes some time to achieve your goals - and ultimately
when the project is finished, everyone will know more than when they
started. It happens to the best of us. In fact, that's how we become
Q) I just recently had a project mastered,
and [the sound] seemed a little dull [before adding mastering eq].
[Adding top end] was definitely able to help it, but do you have
suggestions for getting more "air" in the mix stage? -Danny
Top end can
definitely help a mix have clarity, immediacy
and more "air." Other factors can be the A-D converters, the quality of
cables you have going into your mixdown machine, the kind of mics and
mic pre's used in tracking, the kind of chips (or lack thereof) in the
console (there's plenty of guys out there who will modify any console
with better chips, power supplies, or discrete blocks), heck, there's a
bunch of things that help!
try using different eq ranges for different instruments and
vocals, in order to have a spread of frequencies that are accentuated.
So if you're bringing out 2.5k in the vocals, lean more toward 1k in
the guitars, and 3.5k in the keyboards, and 4.5k in the backup vocals.
That's just an example. Wait to go wild on the parametrics - I've seen
a lot of home studio guys with their computers with amazingly wild
roller coaster eq settings on stuff that just needs some gentle top, no
compression and better panning. A buildup of frequencies in the same
range doesn't make things more clear - it makes it more glaring or
harsh. Then we have to cut very strategically to keep the clarity and
lose the knarly.
biggie is having a great monitor system so you can hear that
air is needed. Often studio monitors have their own "air" and it's
quite common that us mastering engineers have to add that back in. Even
the kind of cables going to the power amp, the kind of cables going to
the speakers, the placement of the speakers in the room, the acoustic
treatment, etc. makes a difference. (More here.)
surprised when a studio owner won't bat an eye to get a
$3,000 mic pre/compressor/eq in order to get a great vocal sound, but
resists getting a pair of $3,000 monitor speakers to get better sound
on everything! Yes, mastering experts can easily spot when a mix needs
more clarity, but that's largely due to the time and money we've
invested in the clarity of the "lens" we look through... and experience
helps... pro's who have been in their room for 30 years can hear a fly
land on the cone.
Q) Are there major differences in the quality of CD-R's in different
colors (i.e.- gold, silver, blue)? Is one type better for final masters
than another? - Jeff
Absolutely. You get
what you pay for. Unfortunately, the
consumer market, and what the consumer will buy/pay is what drives the
quality level of cdrs. If the manufacturers can shave off a penny here
and a penny there, they will to cut the cost and increase profits.
Quality isn't the priority.
different color of ink (on the bottom) and the coating on top
definitely makes a difference. I recommend Kodak gold on gold, BASF
ceramic coated and Maxells. You can try Quantegy or Sony, but all of
these brands change their formulas from time to time. I spend a lot of
time testing different brands, and it's getting harder to be completely
satisfied with what's out there. In a way, we're stuck with what they
Has there been any study published on the
shelf life of these different types of CD-R? Or is the jury still out?
I haven't seen such a
study, but the claim is a shelf life
of 75 years. Ok. We'll see. We were surprised when analog tapes (mostly
Ampex and some Agfa) started becoming sticky and unplayable. They can
be salvaged via baking and other restoration techniques. Supposedly the
manufacturers have fixed that. A huh. We'll see in another 20 years.
is definitely out on how long dat tapes will last. We already
know that the compatibility of dat tapes from machine to machine is
*less* compatible than our analog counterparts, so keep your fingers
crossed on those dat masters you're making. Best, in my opinion, to
make a CD backup of any dats, and a dat backup of any CD masters!
Q) My mix seems good,
but I have to turn the bass way down when I listen in the car. It seems
to have a mid bass hump that needs to be corrected. Can you do that?
Yes I can correct
what you're describing. If you can turn
down the bass in the car and still hear the guitars and vocals and
they're still big, you're in good shape.
When played through my studio monitors it seems just fine. Which would
you prefer to correct...the hotter bass signal or one that the bass
appears to be weak in the mix?
probably rather you be conservative with the low end. That way
I have more control over which particular frequencies I bring out. Make
sure that you can still hear the bass, though! Better yet, keep trying
to correct this at your place.
like you have a "hole" in your mixing position, like you're
close to your speakers, say 3-5 ft??? If you stand farther back from
the speakers, how is the bass response? Closer to what you hear in the
car? How about if you stand in a back corner of the room? Try to get at
least one other consumer thing like a boom box with some "mega bass" or
something where you can listen to some top ten commercial CDs and feel
like the bass/guitar/drum/vocal blend is really right. Then compare
your mix with that commercial CD in the studio as well as in the car,
the boom box etc. It's research time well spent.
everybody has CDs in their car. Do you have a CD cutter to
cut a cdr to play over a boom box or other stereo gear? Cassettes can
be difficult, because the azimuth can be completely different in your
car compared to on your studio deck.
Big key: If you're listening
in the car, don't compare a cassette or CD of your mix with music on
the radio! That's like apples and oranges. The equalization curve for
radio signal is completely different internally inside the car units.
Only compare CDs to cds, and cassettes to cassettes. Commercial
cassettes are usually pretty good, but remember there is still going to
be an azimuth difference (slant of the heads in the deck) between the
units that made those tapes and the tape you made. CDs are a more
accurate way to compare sonics.
Look out for
this!: When you are mixing
to CD (or making a CD copy of
your dat), don't be bummed if your mix CD isn't as loud as a commercial
cd! In fact, it's better if it isn't that loud! Some people are making
the mistake of compressing and using digital brick-wall limiters and
limiting programs in gear like the Finalizer so that their CD copy is
as loud as commercial CDs are.
this is a mistake is because the commercial CDs have been
mastered, and they have probably used $30,000+ worth of gear just for
the compression and eq, listening over very sophisticated systems, and
applying years and years of experience to achieve that sound. World
class mixing engineers know to stick to making the mix itself
sound great, letting the mastering engineer do his/her job of making
the CD sound great. Just use
commercial CDs as a guide - a
reference place to compare your highs, lows, mids, hearability of the
vocals, power and emphasis of the drums and guitars, spatial spread,
transparency, warmth, etc.
you have to "turn off the clock" to make a few extra
comparisons, it's worth it because it only helps get things dialed in
for future projects. Also be sure to check out my pages on Studio Monitor Madness and More On Monitors and HotCD Disease.
Q) Wouldn't you
recommend light compression 2:1 or less before mixing to a Panasonic SV
3800 DAT recorder? -Bob
there just isn't a "one-setting-does-it-all" answer to this
question. On some things, 2:1 would be perfect... others... I wouldn't
suggest it at all. I feel it's safest to not use compression on the
stereo buss. It's one more piece of gear that adds stuff making it less
pure signal-wise. A compressor is a long way from a straight wire in
terms of signal purity. For instance, some compressors may have a
slower slew rate that can cloud the precision of the mids and bass.
if it sounds better and really works for your ears, go for it!
Without being in your mix room and comparing A-to-B, I just can't
safely say it's the best way to go. Cool idea:
Make two mixes - one with and one without the compressor - and let it
be decided in mastering which sounds best within the context of your
entire CD. If you change your mind, you have the other version ready to
go. An excellent engineer once brought me material that was mixed two
ways - with and without a Finalizer. Which did we use? The client and I
picked the non-Finalized versions because it sounded more open and
dynamic. But it was worth it to have the option.
comparing your mix with other commercial cds, you will be
hearing those CDs with mastering compression. Best not to try to
emulate that compression in the mix room, but simply use the commercial
CDs as a reference to vocal level, over-all punch/vibe, highs &
can vary from song to song in any one album. Every song
somewhat effects the approach used on the other songs. (That's one of
the advantages of having automated eq - I can jump from the first song
to the last song to the middle in a matter of seconds.) Therefore I
think the less "unifying" one-setting-processors used, the more the
character of each song is revealed within the context of the whole cd.
Do I mix to my dat at 44.1 or 48k? I know
CD is 44.1 but it sounds better at 48 to my ears. Am I gonna lose any
sound quality when its recorded to cd? -KC
question! Mix to 48 if the mastering house you plan to use
processes in the analog domain, as I do. If they strictly master in the
digital domain, mix to 44.1.
I seem to be getting a lot of feed
back(i.e. hisss) when recording how can I remove this noise? -DC
Behringer de-noiser, a bargain and sounds great.
I run a project studio out of my basement.
What would you say is my best option to gain more control over my
end should be terrific in there. For low end, cardboard
boxes, or go to your local Home Depot and get the cardboard tubes for
making concrete footers. Anything that vibrates turns sound energy into
heat. Fill with free (used) foam from carpet places that are happy to
give it away. Also, diffusers like CD cases, books in shelves, plants,
just experiment! (More here.)
I hear many song recorded on CakeWalk Pro9,
Cubase, Vegas, and ProTools and they all sound good if its done right.
What's best? -Sean
Nuendo, Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Vegas Pro..... they all
sound slightly different, but
what's most important is that
your music kicks. Get the best
A-to-D converters you can afford
and if possible, a good clock device like the Apogee Big Ben. Pick the
DAW that bests suits your budget and functionality goals. (Here's my
look at 30 different DAW
How important are near fields for mixdown?
loaded question! Some people HAVE to have them. I don't like
them at all. I say get the most expensive audiophile
speakers/amplifier/cables you can responsibly afford that are
full-range. Getting used to them is a world better than going back and
forth between big and small... but it's purely a preference thing. If
you can interpret NS10's correctly (oh gasp!), you're in there.
My levels are clipping on my computer
workstation. Should I leave the master fader at zero and turn down the
levels of each track considerably (-8 to -12), or leave the levels of
each track up around zero and lower the level of the master fader to
around minus 6? -Scott
to keep the master fader at 0 and bring down the individual
tracks. If possible, remove the master fader - it can be helpful to the
sound. Keep your pluggin levels such that if you bypass them, the
volume of that particular track stays the same. That way you can bypass
the pluggin and really see - level-matched - if it's helping the sound.
Q) How can I tell if my music is really at
the level it needs to be to sound good once professionally mastered?
is the same as everyone else's in the sense that some people
are going to love it, and some people won't. There's lots of big name
artists with recordings that sound so-so, yet they have hits. There's
artists with magnificent recordings that only sell a small amount,
regardless of the mastered sound. Sometimes it's the look of the artist
that matters, sometimes it's the promotion that matters.
is just... your music! If you enjoy it, and others you play
it for enjoy it, then chances are it can be put out there at the level
you are. See what happens. Promote it to the best of your ability. Just
START. John Lennon was never satisfied with their recordings. If he had
the chance to make them all perfect, it would have taken years longer
for their classic music to come out, but promoters and record companies
would have objected.
with humanity's time-frame, and the infinite personality of the
end-listener, who will find your music through whatever path is
available for your kind of music. So if you expect night club-play to
increase your exposure, you may want to consider that volume thing as
an acceptable gain accompanied by an acceptable loss. EVERY vinyl
record contained those elements. It's just with digital, everyone can
be SO picky because there's no scratches and warped records to make us
ignore purist concerns like a "change with the stereo field."
Q) I'm getting noisy CDs. Should I attempt
to get the ambient hiss or "noise" out before or after mastering? -Phil
Behringer de-noiser on tracks coming into the system. It's best
if you can just hit "play" and everything's clean sounding before you
go to CD.
Do mic pre-amps really make a large
difference in quality? -Brandon
may not seem subtle at first, but it all definitely adds up.
Plus, a good pre can be used for anything, vocals, guitars, you name
it. They are designed to replace the stock mic preamps in your board,
which typically are chips, and don't sound as robust as tubes or
discrete circuits. Ask your local gear dealer how they're set up - many
engineers bypass the board altogether, avoiding the chips in the
channel modules too.
I notice that on a lot of major label
recordings the WAV is flattened out.
referring to the musical waveforms having clipped table-tops,
that's not a great goal. It's not musical sounding, though it can be
Are these cut offs because if the wav goes
any higher it will cause errors at the plant?
the way digital clipping looks. It can come from hitting the
A-to-D converters too hard. Slam it too hard and yes, the plant may not
dig it - though in some cases I've seen commercial releases with a lot
of digital overs. I don't recommend it!
I don't have the feature on cool edit pro
to cut the wav off...
I wish we had the $ to get someone with
experience to master it for us.
can be affordable (some
will even say how can one afford NOT to master!).
We mastered 4 of our songs somewhere else,
but they still weren't as loud as major CDs, would it be ok to just
bring it up (normalize ) a little? -Tom
either is or isn't - you can't really do it "a little." It
probably won't hurt, but it's also possible your songs are already
normalized! Try it and see if you get what you want. Otherwise great
mastering gear (and experience) will help you achieve that level and
still keep the quality.
I recorded and mastered my solo CD from my
analog multitrack to digital. Sounds great in my studio but my local
radio station won't play it because it sounds mushy over the air. I
mastered at 44,100/16 bit stereo. Is this not proper for radio? What
should I master at for radio? -Randy
the issue for "mushy" sound. 44.1 is just the sampling rate,
or how much resolution is occurring when the analog-to-digital
converters are analyzing the sound. Mushy comes from some aspect of
your recording, either the tracking, mixing, or *sonic* aspects of the
advantages if an experienced mastering engineer is that
he/she brings an objective ear to the project, on different speakers.
If you've done all your work over the same set of speakers, you're
compiling any problems or inaccuracies in the system, which are
building up by the time it gets into their hands. Compare with
commercial cds, and then compare yours with commercial CDs over your
system, and then keep comparing. (More