"Your work on it is
incredible. Every note and nuance of my acoustic guitar tone
comes through beautifully."
Peterson - Grammy - Hawaii
master. I'm happy with it, the record company is happy
with it - I'll be using you for all future projects I do."
-Finn (French project)
amazed at how much
the masters sound - everything has much more definition - the drummer
was excited about the "crisp and defined" sound -
the instruments occupy their own space and the vocals are the best!"
Ginseng - Love
bring a new level of
sonic excellence to your music.
It's a powerful process, whether the mastering is taking place with a
traditional stereo mix, or with Separation Mastering. The fresh
perspective, the sonic tools, the commitment to the best sound possible
-- all leads to a product that has the clarity, level, sweetness,
musicality and feeling you've envisioned for your music.
mastering to be more relaxed than
tracking or mixing . It's an exciting
process, seeing everything
finally come together.
Expect to hear things you've never heard
before in your mixes since
mastering will often make them more clear, 3-dimensional and distinct. The
articulation (and volume)
brought up in mastering is great, but sometimes there can be tics,
blips, hiss and flaws that snuck by you at mix time. Sometimes extra
low end in your mix will mask problem items in the top frequencies. The
good news is that there are many tools available to enhance and correct
some of these issues.
Expect mastering to give you enhanced
compatibility. Mastering, like
many technologies, has come a
long way - but our main goal is much the same as it has been for the
last 25 years - to make your project sound great on a variety of
playback systems. The sonics of your album should be appropriately
compatible with other commercial CDs. It's even a good idea to bring in
a couple commercial CDs with you when you come in for mastering. On our
Nautilus NEMO DMC-8 (discrete level-matched monitor system) we can
listen to your music and hear exactly how it stands next to other hit
Expect the musical background of a mastering engineer to influence the
your product. Mastering is art and
science rolled into one. The
art aspect comes from the depth of experience - for example, Bob
Ludwig, Doug Sax, Bernie Grundman and John Vestman all have classical
backgrounds (John has eight years of classical
violin training) - it really adds to
the perspective brought to
Mastering can bring out certain
aspects of the mix more, or subdue certain aspects.
Want your CD
to be louder and have the kic drum to punch out more? Want the guitars
to sound a little fatter? Want the voice to blend into the mix a bit
more? Want a shorter fade? A longer fade? Want all the songs to be at
the same volume level? Want the good chorus cloned to replace the lame
chorus? Want the intro cut in half? Want more royalties from the record
company? Almost all of these things CAN be done in mastering -
particularly when you use the Separations
Trap: Extra extra loud
CDs sound impressive at first, but they can cause the dynamic range
(how low compared to how high) to shrink, thus losing overall punch.
MFiT files need to be mastered at a lower level anyway! The wider that
excursion or distance that the speaker moves (due to a
greater dynamic range), the punchier it
still around, but the trend is reversing because of iTunes players and
iTunes Radio - both of which use "Sound Check" software which is
designed to even out the "playing field." Louder overall music has a
smaller dynamic range makes the sound somewhat less open and
natural due to dynamic contrast.
can hold only so many one's and zeroes - there aren't any bonus
dBs that are available once you get to that top portion of volume
potential. Some mixes will indeed sound punchier after mastering
because the bass can be focused - particularly using Separations.
Almost all mastered CDs can be made louder than the initial studio
mixdown. Don't be fooled that the secret to a hot CD is to pre-squash
your mix. Often a hot CD is best facilitated by a CORRECT
musical arrangement and mixdown. This often takes experience - well,
some call it trial and correct!
Expect to learn from the mastering process.
Any questions you have are welcome. We prefer that you
questions. Even the ones that you think are too far out, or too stupid
to ask. Often you'll get your wish.
What not to
expect from mastering!
Do not expect mastering to make or break
the album. Your material and your performance
has to do that.
Do not expect mastering
to take exactly the
amount of time you think it will take. In some
cases it can take
longer! It's a creative process. Has anything,
including graphics, been done in exactly the amount of time you thought
it would take?
Do not expect the
mastering studio to never
have any technical difficulties. It's a studio.
maintained, and it looks simpler than a 48 track analog console, but
it's a complex system - with high-resolution digital clocking, computer
systems, back-up gear stored out-of-sight, machine alignment, etc...
and there can be small technical
delays. Not often. But occasionally. We don't charge for down time.
Do not expect the
mastering engineer to be
able to remove each and every flaw that appears.
MOST we can
get. But as mentioned above, you may hear little problems that can only
be minimized, not eliminated. Our mastering system is
fabulous for taking out dings. It is amazingly powerful, but there are
types of distortion that can be embedded in the sound, and therefore
part of the sound. Bringing in Separations often helps isolate
distortions, making it easier to locate and remedy.
Do not expect the
mastering engineer to be
tireless. We love our job because it's music,
and music is
energy and emotion. You don't want us to be a robot. You want us to be
affected by music, and have sensitivities to music, and therefore have
the limitations associated with being a sensitive and responsive person.
After you've listened to your CD at home, do
expect the mastering engineer to make changes for free. There is
a difference between a defect and a preference. If we do something that
is determined to be a defect, we will absolutely make every needed
correction and not charge you a penny. But if you'd like different
edits, and more space between song 5 & 6, and more bottom on the
bass (but not the kic), expect that you'll be on the clock. We're happy
to give you what you prefer. Remember, if you've approved the work done
in the mastering studio, then further changes are a preference.
Listening to the product at home and on different systems is your part
in the mastering process. We don't have time to experience the whole
album over 5 different systems - you do - and your input is important
in this process. It's not done till you say it's done.
what other clients have said about their masters
"I admit I was a little
sceptical at first... but once I talked to [John] over the phone, I
felt like he was a professional and I could trust him. He really got me
the sound I was looking for."
Dalton - "Cut Over" - Danville, VA
working with a
guy who can really HEAR! The steps [John] has taken to increase sonic
definition have paid off." -Dennis Dragon
- Grammy-winning engineer/co-producer for Captain & Tennille,
Carole King, Johnny Rivers, Rocky Horror Picture Show and more
Q) How much of a difference
hear in my ready-to-press masters? -Joshua
When something is excellently
recorded and mixed, mastering shouldn't be a "night and day"
difference. However, in many cases, mastering can and does
make a night and day difference to the sound (particularly with Separations)! Each project is unique.
If your goals include retaining the musical integrity (not just going
for blistering square-wave levels) you can probably still expect volume
and balance enhancments - as well as widening of the sound stage, and a
general smoother sound, more focused bottom and clarity. High-end
mastering is superior to "mastering" plug-ins in every case we've heard.
We don't recommend "pre-slamming" your mix which can box us into a
corner and possibly rob you of punch. Separations also helps in this
area. Make your mix loud if that compliments your sound, but then leave
the levels untouched and make Separations. With less content hitting
your stereo limiter or compressor, the sound will open up in mastering
- where added gain is easy. More dynamics and headroom at the mixing
stage should be a concept that stays in balance with
mega-slamming. Now, keep in mind, a non-slammed mix will sound
different when mastered to slamming levels. Slamming changes the
mix and the tone to a degree, so pre-slamming at the mix stage can give
you insights into how the product will sound at an overall hotter
master my project
with you, (and
receive one master CD for duplication purposes) - I can than burn it at
home to make copies, correct?
Yes. We can make you a Redbook audio CDR master that you can copy into
your computer and make duplicates from, like you can with any
commercial CD. There's no special CD plant coding that will mess things
up. The main thing is that you can't play the master in a moving car or
walkman - or do anything that could scratch or put dust or fingerprints
on it. Your master CDR is very delicate and should be treated with
the utmost care.
[If we master] directly
from the computer,
allowing us to bypass the Pro Tools master fader, do you feel that I
would hear anything differently than I will in having you master from a
bounced mixdown file?
Taking out the master fader (in Pro Tools) helps in mastering and
when you bounce to stereo data files. You gain even more by bringing
the computer here and having us reclock it. Not to be redundant, but
Separations are even better than bringing in the computer. Use your
master fader to ensure that you're not going into clipping. Then
whenever possible, remove the master fader. It sound better. (Some
people even use different buss outputs instead of the stereo buss
output when bouncing a stereo mix. Loop-back files also are an
excellent way to go.)
listen to our
original bounced mixes] I still have this feeling that we lost
something [vs.] how it
sounds to me live on the speakers.
That's correct. By coming out of the mix session (instead of a bounced
file) it will sound just like the mix session. Many people agree that
the bounced (or rendered) stereo file doesn't sound as good as the
original mix session. If you have a great monitor controller that lets
you do level-matched A-B'ing, you can distinguish the difference - and
therefore know what you're dealing with.
What should i be
listening for in the
masters i received from you?
Q) I would really like to find out what
is causing a "cheapness" to my [studio's] sound. - Jim
A-B your masters with other commercial CD's. Start with the commercial
CDs, get a nice sound on the consumer system, and then don't touch the
system. Put in your CD and see how it sounds. Is it clear? Is it full?
Is it smooth? Is it wide? Is the vocal where you want it? Do the lows
sound good over the system when they sounded good with other CDs? If
there are differences, check is it the sounds and arrangments
themselves that are different, or is it an over-all difference - like
clarity, presence, fullness, shimmer, etc. If you're goals are sheer
level, then we have to approach it from that standpoint, and in all
cases, the end result is primarily dictated by the sounds themselves,
the mix, and the arrangement of the parts.
a pyramid. The most important location of great sound starts
at the base, namely the source (ya know like the guitar strings, then
the pickups, then the amp, then the mic, then the mic pre, then the
compressor, then the console, then the machine..... how good the player
is, tight the parts are played, the arrangement, the intonation, the
musical layering, etc.),
farther up the line you go, creating great sound involves more
bandages. That's why I've put all this info on my site, to help people
get it right from the start. Mastering can make a huge difference, but
it's not really supposed to turn an apple into an orange. Whacked stuff
will just sound like better whacked stuff. If a project is really right
from the ground floor up, the mastering puts a gorgeous paint job on
the car, but it doesn't change the performance of the engine.
the band that cuts their tracks and then spends a month in
Pro Tools correcting the drums so they're in the pocket. Sheesh! I say practice
another month instead and play the parts right from
beginning! I know. It forces you to sweat and increase your discipline
and skills... but then you get the benefit of that improved skill when
you play live!
It seems like I'm hearing something
different on CDR than what I'm hearing thru my monitors. I've heard you
talk about a $350.00 SCSI cable (from computer to burner) - could that
make the difference?
was referring to a digital cable from anywhere to anywhere,
like from a DAT to CD burner, from a DAW into a DAT machine or CD
burner, etc. I don't think there are any SCSI cables of a $350 calibre,
but I don't think that's the problem anyway.
I Bounce to Disc my mixes using a Master
fader with these inserts: a waves compressor, a Waves L1 Limiter, and
finally a Digidesign Dither Plug. Could this be a weakness?
engine used to render a stereo file is always a sore spot,
which is why I recommend getting a Masterlink and a great digital
cable. Come out of your mix session into the Masterlink at the same
sampling rate and then render an audio CD from the Masterlink. Keep
your high sampling rate files (CD24) for mastering.
all those Digiwizgizmos over the stereo buss are all
recalculating the signal, and may or may not be helping the sound. I
say work a little more at making the mix smoke on its own... just be
careful, many guys get carried away with stuff stuff stuff. When my
clients bring in their computers for mastering, I spend more time
taking off stuff than I do adding
another pluggin to this or
Could there really be that much difference
between a PT le mix engine and a TDM one?
there are slight differences in different DAW systems.
The songs, the singer, the performances, the professional approach of
the artist are all more important than which DAW you use! But ask
around - digital systems and computers are always improving.
I burn my CDR's using Maxell's for
sample mixes to hear on other stereos. Do different CDR's really make
that big of a difference?
Sometimes it's not noticable on
home systems, but we've heard differences here, and we use
Maxell 700mb Music CDRs. Always burn your reference CDRs at the slowest
speed your burner will go. Be sure to use excellent digital
cables when used to interface your
gear. It's probably more important to burn audio CDR's at the slowest
speed your burner will go.
6/15/98 • Modified 10/4/14