Here are a few Frequently Asked Questions on audio mastering and our mastering services. As always, if you’d like to know more, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch here.
1. So what is it that you do?
2. Why should I master?
3. Do you mind us being present at the mastering session?
4. What are your rates?
5. The studio I recorded at say they can master my recording, so why should I come to you?
6. Should I go digital or analogue?
7. Can you make my CD sound like and as loud as my favourite CD release?
8. Should I normalize or peak limit my music prior to mastering?
9. In what format should I bring my mixes?
10. How long does it take to master an album?
11. Do you master differently for vinyl release?
12. Can you master from stems?
The audio mastering process is the end of the creative/artistic stage and the beginning of the manufacturing process. When you come to us we sit down and listen to your audio mixes and to your needs. We invite you to come in for a consultation before the actual mastering session, or send in your mixes for evaluation – this is a great opportunity for you to be able to get feedback on your mixes beforehand.
Remember, audio mastering isn’t re-mixing. In a world where more and more people are mixing their own material it’s often advantageous to get the benefit of hearing your mix in a high resolution environment before you present it for mastering. Where applicable, you can then tweak your mixes so that you get the optimum benefits of the mastering process. This can save a lot of headaches as well as give the mastering engineer an opportunity to hear and get a feel for your music – we feel this is very important as well. Then we determine how we can make the music sound better using EQ and/or dynamics processing to maximise the sonic potential of your recording.
We can carry out editing if required, and compile your program so that the sequence sounds just right, adjusting fades, then PQ encode the Production Master including adding ISRCs if required (recommended, and essential for online sales).
A reference copy is made and upon your approval we then cut a Production Master (CD or DDP Image), error check it and hand it to you or send or upload it for manufacture.
Professional audio mastering helps ensure your music is making its best possible first impression to listeners, whilst allowing for any final anomalies to be corrected. It’s the time for the final critical listening to be done and to ensure a consistency and cohesion on your release. You may have a real gem, but unless you cut and polish it, you are selling yourself short. You work really hard to get your music sounding right, so don’t skimp where it counts. It’s all about the vibe and cohesion of the final overall work.
We encourage you to be present at the mastering session, unlike some mastering studios. This is the last step before your project goes out so we feel it’s important that you be there for input. We also like to help educate and engage you in the process.
At Jack the Bear’s Deluxe Mastering we discuss your budget and needs and tailor a solution to suit. We generally prefer to give a fixed quote range rather than an hourly rate. Usually we can accurately do this provided there are no surprises or extra work required that originally wasn’t intended, (eg: mastering from stems or lots of editing). Nothing stifles creativity more than stress. The last thing we want are clients who have an eye on their watch and wallet and not an ear on the speakers. We are passionate and service focused.
Remember: THE BITTERNESS OF POOR QUALITY REMAINS LONG AFTER THE SWEETNESS OF LOW PRICES.
Most recording studios offering in-house mastering in the same room don’t have the full range monitoring, utmost equipment and signal path or, most importantly, the experience in specializing in mastering. Your mastering engineer is the fresh, objective set of ears who is also empathetic to what you’re trying to achieve. They should be fully conversant in a wide range of musical genres. Music mastering requires a different approach to mixing. We work on a stereo pair, not a 24, 32 or 48 track system dissecting your sounds. We don’t use a finalizer or produce your CD Master haphazardly. Sure, it may be convenient and cost effective, but why spoil it right at the end where it’s vital to get it right? Remember, your final mastered product is what the world gets to hear.
There are pros and cons for each and neither one is necessarily better than the other. We are more inclined to use a predominantly analogue approach, especially with so many people working in the digital domain. Generally people describe analogue as being “warm” or “round”, and digital as “clean” or “transparent”. Often a combination of the two works well. Upon listening to the source material we can then determine which best suits your music.
We have nothing but the highest quality in both analogue and digital processing, as well as an ultra clean and transparent signal path.
We like to think that we help create your own individual sound. It all comes down to your mix, and we would rather see ourselves as trend setters rather than trend followers. Sure, by all means bring in your reference material and we’ll do our best. Be warned though: louder is not always better. While you can compress the hell out of music and get it loud, this technique comes at a cost. The dynamics of the music will suffer and, more often than not, the program material won’t sound as musical. Additionally, the listening experience becomes quite fatiguing. Sure, the attitude is there for the first 30 seconds, but it can wear off quickly and become mundane. At the end of the day it’s not how loud you make it, but how you make it loud.
As far as the radio myth that loud, highly compressed music always sounds better on air, think again. Radio adds so much audio compression, limiting, clipping and other processing that it’s scary! The effect of compressing already compressed music is cumulative. For a (crude) example, if you have a program compressed at a 5:1 ratio, then add a further 10:1 ratio, the final outcome is equivalent to a 50:1 compression ratio. There are also variations between AM and FM, and between the actual stations and time slots themselves. They are in a constant state of flux, continuously tweaking their sound, so how can you predict what they are going to sound like from week to week? There is no “one size fits all” approach to radio. Beware those who claim to get your tunes “radio ready” – it’s a marketing ploy. Good audio is good audio no matter how you slice it. Music made before the days of CD’s sounds as good and is just as loud on air as their modern day counterparts, and if you listen to those recordings they are free from the hyper-compression epidemic we have today.
We are not anti-compression. There are situations where a bit of the ol’ ground and pound works magic. It always comes down to what works best for the music, not something to keep up with everyone or default to. Good mastering shows – anywhere! The main concern is how it will translate across a wide variety of playback systems.
DEFINITELY NOT. Normalizing functions in audio workstations can actually degenerate the quality of your audio. If you feel you need to run a compressor on the mix buss but you’re unsure, bounce out two versions: with and without it. Listen with the compression switched in and out but compared at equal levels. It’s possible you may slam it too hard, or the attack or release may not be quite right. It’s very difficult to repair that kind of damage to your audio files (have you ever tried to repair a fractured pain of glass?). By having alternate versions of your mixes unprocessed, we can avoid such problems. If in doubt, there’s no harm in sending two versions.
24 bit .wav or .aif files on data CD, data DVD or hard drive (USB or Firewire) are fine, or electronically via our online form or Dropbox. Files should be named accordingly with track number, title and mix version (eg: 07_The Song_vocal+1dB). Any extra takes or mixes (vocal up/bass down/solo up, etc) could come in handy, as we can edit sections if you feel the original mix has some shortfalls.
It’s best to leave the sample rate at your existing rate (eg: 44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96kHz) and ensure there’s no 16 bit dither on your 24 bit master buss. Additionally, with 24 bit resolution there is no need to have peak levels at maximum (0dB full scale). Mixing to peak a few dB below maximum (not simply reducing a maximized/clipped mix by a few dB) is ideal.
Always carefully listen back through your exported mixes prior to the mastering session. If you plan on mixing until 4am on the day of mastering, let us know – we’ll reschedule the session so everyone is well rested and ready!
We can also cater for 1/4″ and 1/2″ analogue mixes (include reference alignment tones) and Pro-Tools sessions.
At Deluxe Mastering we work until the job gets done to your satisfaction. An album can generally take anywhere from 6 – 10 hours depending on length, work needed, and formats required. However we don’t rush or work by the clock. We want your mastering experience to be relaxed, fun and productive.
In a word: yes. In many words: check out our vinyl mastering page.
Yes we can, although it’s generally by client request to address known issues such as vocal level, sibilance or solo parts. By bringing in, say, vocals as a separate file to your instrumental or other parts that you feel need special attention, we can do what would otherwise be tried in an M/S scenario, but with better results. Mind you, the session becomes more of a pseudo-mix session and it is more costly. In fact, these types of sessions can cost three times as much as mastering stereo mixes. It’s not something typically recommended (remember: the more we work from stems, the less fresh and objective we can be as your mastering engineer) but if you have the time and budget feel free to bring in your hard drive and let’s have fun.