Professional Mastering, before and after

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deshead
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Professional Mastering, before and after

Post by deshead » Mon Apr 17, 2006 7:32 pm

Per Bill's request, here are some before & after samples of the mastering work I had done on my album.

High Enough intro: Before - After
High Enough extro: Before - After
Brand New Car intro: Before - After
Brand New Car extro: Before - After
I Meant To Remember intro: Before - After

I had the work done at Massive Mastering, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend John to anyone looking for a mastering engineer.

Some notes:
- I had the album mastered mostly because I wanted the advice of a second set of (trained) ears. I could probably have done it myself, but frankly, I'm not qualified to get the kick drum in Storm thumping the way it now does.
- The 3 songs above were also Songfight entries. Here are the original original versions:Hopefully you'll realize that I remixed them pretty extensively for the album. :)
- The most obvious change in the pre- and post-mastered tracks is the volume increase. I could have crushed the tracks myself (listen to the original Songfight version of High Enough,) but I knew John would do a much better job of choosing the right level for each track. So the raw tracks I sent him rode around -20dB RMS, with peaks at -3dB. (The raw tracks were 24 bit WAV files, so I wasn't concerned about losing fidelity because of the low level.)
- Beyond volume, the difference in the mastered tracks is most obvious in the extreme low and high frequencies. Listen to the bass guitar in the High Enough extro, and the string noises at the start of I Meant To Remember.
- If there's something on the album you're particularly interested in hearing before/after, just let me know.
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Post by Adam! » Mon Apr 17, 2006 8:15 pm

What a great example of mastering. Comparing the mastered and unmastered versions of High Enough Extro, the mastered one actually emphasizes the dynamics more than the unmastered one. So often mastering has a tendency to flatten out a mix, in this case it really brings it to life, while adding a great solidity to the bass. The treble boost and the ~6 db volume gain don't hurt either. Cool.
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Post by Mostess » Wed Apr 19, 2006 10:01 am

Thanks for that post! The three versions of the High Enough opening are excellent examples for G&Gs with amateur recording skillz like me.

And when/where is the release party? (note: I guess I totally missed it. And I was was even invited! How embarassing.)
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Post by deshead » Wed Apr 19, 2006 1:35 pm

Mostess wrote:And when/where is the release party?
Tomorrow night. You still have time!!


Here are some helpful thoughts for anyone who'll be sending their mixes to a mastering engineer. (And even if you're only posting mixes to Songfight, some of these apply:)

Clean up your low end: "Mud" in the low frequencies is the hardest thing to fix in mastering. Since the meat of the bass, kick, and (sometimes) the snare all reside below 120Hz, it's almost impossible for a M.E. to reduce mud without affecting the interplay of those instruments. Some simple things you can do that may help:
- Gate your toms and vocals. These tracks should be quiet when not in use.
- Use the microphone's bass-rolloff switch when recording guitars. Do the same on vocals if you're singing close to the mic.
- If you can't rolloff on the microphone, do it on the raw tracks. Especially if you have a mic pointing anywhere near an acoustic guitar sound hole, you'll have frequencies below the instrument's fundamental that are only adding mud to the mix.

Look for hiss: This is the high-frequency equivalent of "mud". Some kinds of hiss are unavoidalbe (and even desirable,) specifically tape hiss. But if you're recording in digital, there should be no hiss on your tracks. Solo each track, and make sure you haven't inadvertantly captured a fan or an open window or Yoko Ono. (On one of my songs, I accidentally tracked a guitar part in 16-bit and at too low a level. When I compressed the track, which was necessary for the mix, it brought the original noise floor up high enough that it was audible in places! Wicked hiss.) If you find hiss that you missed in tracking, use a noise remover. Even if you can't completely remove the noise, reducing it will leave the M.E. more high frequencies to tweak.

Use the highest bit rate you can: If your hardware supports 24 bits, use it. This is FAR more important than sample rate (which is a separate religious argument we can have in another thread.) Whether you record at 44K or 48K, you should be capturing everything at 24- or 32-bit.

Leave all your tracks in 24 bit: Let the M.E. dither. If you dither yourself, anything done in mastering happens AFTER the 16-bit (assuming you're mastering for CD) conversion. So send the M.E. a data CD with 24 bit WAV files, rather than trying to burn a redbook CD.

Don't bother with fades: This ties in with dithering. But in short, don't worry about leaving a couple of seconds silence on each end of the track. Most M.E.s prefer this. Tell them how long you want your fades to take, and leave the faders up on your mix.

Leave the master bus alone: This was tough for me. Mixing tracks for Songfight, I'd gotten in the habit of slapping Ozone on my master bus, and basically doing a self-mastering job on the final mix. But the M.E. has access to the same tools you do, and has better ears to boot. So skip the harmonic exciter and stereo widener, and let the M.E. make the call.

For God's sake, don't use compression the final mix: Sure, squash the hell out of the individual tracks. Get your mix the way you want it, but leave the 2-mix the hell alone. Compression is destructive. It can't be reversed if you do it wrong. And since the M.E. has FAR better equipment than you do, you'll be much happier with the end result.
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Post by Dan-O from Five-O » Sun Apr 23, 2006 3:54 pm

Here's a great article for anyone considering the mastering process that I stumbled upon. Turns out it's written by the same guy that did Des's mastering.
jb wrote:Dan-O has a point.
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Post by catch » Mon May 01, 2006 9:38 pm

I had my first album professionally mastered a few weeks ago myself, and I have to agree that it couldn't be more worth it. I now consider it an essential part of the recording process for anyone who takes their music seriously.

In addition to all the stuff des mentioned, mastering really glues an album together. I thought I had gotten my stuff to the point where it felt right moving from song to song, but when I listened to the master I was blown away. The mastering engineer not only boosted all the songs to a professional and equal level, but also managed the frequency spectrum across the album to give the entire thing a sort of subconscious unity.

...

I'm not being paid by any mastering studios. But, seriously, drop whatever you're doing and get your stuff mastered right now.
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Post by frankie big face » Sat Aug 05, 2006 2:10 pm

deshead wrote: Here are some helpful thoughts...
This is a great post in a great thread. Thanks for this information and your contribution to this discussion.
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Post by Generic » Sat Aug 05, 2006 10:44 pm

Great info, thanks a lot.

I'm curious, though, Des. You highly recommend your M.E., this much I've gathered. How much did he charge you to master your whole album? Was it a set rate, or by the track? Did you shop around? Was this guy on the high end or low end of the spectrum, price-wise?

I'm sure professional mastering is great, if you're steadily employed, and whatnot.

EDIT: I found John's price table—for anyone else interested, it's here: http://www.massivemastering.com/html/rate_sheet.html
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Post by roymond » Sat Aug 05, 2006 11:21 pm

Generic wrote:EDIT: I found John's price table—for anyone else interested, it's here: http://www.massivemastering.com/html/rate_sheet.html
John is a regular over at the Future Producers forum and he's very good.
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catch
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Post by catch » Thu Aug 10, 2006 4:19 pm

That price table seems to be right. (That is, it lands in the average-to-lower cost range.)
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