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  What to Expect From John Vestman Mastering  

Vestman Mastering Console

"Your work on it is incredible.  Every note and nuance of my acoustic guitar tone comes through beautifully."
-Jeff Peterson - Hawaii


"I've just received the CDR 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)

"I'm amazed at how much different 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!"
-Mr. Ginseng - Love Machine Blu

Expect mastering to 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.

Expect 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 clarity and 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 albums.

Expect the musical background of a mastering engineer to influence the quality of 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 your sound.

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 format!

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 is.

Louder CDs are 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.

CD data 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 ask 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. Highly 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 not 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.


"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."
-John D. Dalton - "Cut Over" - Danville, VA

"It's great 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

See what other clients have said about their masters

Q) How much of a difference should I 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 level.

If I 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.)

[When I 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.

Q) What should i be listening for in the masters i received from you?

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.

Q) I would really like to find out what is causing a "cheapness" to my [studio's] sound. - Jim

It's like 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.),

The 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.

It's like 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 the 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?

Actually I 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?

The mix 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.

The L1 and 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 that....

Could there really be that much difference between a PT le mix engine and a TDM one?

I've found 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.



Created 6/15/98 • Modified 10/4/14

Mastered For iTunes - Apple certified
Jeff Peterson - Grammy winning performer
Jeff Peterson
Grammy winning performer

Akwid - Grammy Nominated
Akwid - Grammy Nominated
George Duke - Grammy Nominated
George Duke Grammy Nominated
Hole - with Courtney Love
 
Hole -with
Courtney Love

Crosby Loggins
Crosby Loggins
Chaka Khan - Fly Miracle Project
Chaka Khan
Fly Miracle Project

John Gray, Ph.D. -Author of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus"http://home.marsvenus.com/
John Gray, Ph.D.
Brazil's A cappella BR6
Brazil's BR6
Teena Marie
Teena Marie

Cutting a Hot CD

Mastering Procedures

How to prepare for mastering

Creative changes

Even More Secrets of Mixing

Even more about studio monitors

Separations

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

Career Consultation

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