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  R&B Q&A  

Q) Should we not use any compression during the mix session and let you add Class-A compression? -hilli

The approach I recommend is to make your mix sound as good as you possibly can right where you are, and do what it takes to get that sound. Do not "guess" what mastering compression will do for your mix, especially since the mastering engineer generally cannot compress separate tracks which may or may not need compression. I agree with not using compression over the stereo mix buss, because if it's overdone, it can't be undone in mastering.

Here's the deal - with the steroid-hot levels of today's CDs (to the point of smashing most of the dynamic range so it looks like table-top mountain) most of the time limiting is used, and compression is rarely used. Limiting is fast and deep, compression is slow and wide. Yes, you can say that limiting is a form of compression but it is more specific to the peak information that must be addressed in order to make a hot CD without going into tons of digital overs (which don't sound good... and are found on many records by the way... which I think is one of several reasons people turn off their music sooner than they did years ago....).

Individual tracks should be appropriately compressed, even when using non-Class A compressors! The bass usually needs compression that is very different from the vocals, and very different from other instruments. The mastering compression is a global effect that is like polishing the car - but it won't specify whether the car has automatic transmission or manual - you have to build the car that way. Compressing or limiting the bass is an important way to keep it from bulging out unevenly, causing the mastering engineer to have to reduce low end in ways that compromise the kic.

As far as drums, I don't recommend compressing them (limiting works well at times) unless you want to create a specifically altered sound with compression. It can be very cool, but it's a mistake to think that adding a compressor to a drum will make it punchier in every case. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't. Remember, compressors are slow and drums have a very fast attack time. By the time you lower the threshold low enough to duck down the attack, you've smoothed out the snap in favor of that thwaak sound.

R&B and rap is really another discussion. Again, the CD loudness wars have altered the way you arrange the music and the way you mix in order be competitive. On a super-hot R&B CD, the drastic amount of limiting needed to flatten out the kic drum attack literally changes the shape of the waveform. The limiting adds sustain to the kic and bass, which means your mix will sound muddy if there's to much sustain in the instruments and samples themselves.

Unmastered kic waveforms look like a triangle sitting on it's side - the wide end to the left, the point to the right. Mastered kics look like a big box with a small triangle glued to the right. The box shape comes from the flattening out of the initial attack - the sound then sustains more vs. sounding instantaneous. The only way then to suggest an instantaneous sound is to shorten the sample more and put some air right after it, thereby recreating the impact.

Thus the arrangement of the music and the selection of samples has more to do with the punch than the mastering compression. If the bass, vocals, and other tracks are effectively compressed in order to keep their sound clean within the mix, then the other punchy sounds will come together in mastering and you'll have a great sounding record.

Q) Do you have any tips for preparing a mix to be mastered on to vinyl? -Simon

Basically mastering for vinyl is the same with some extra care around sibilance and low end phase. You also need to know how long the total length per side is given the number of songs per side, and how hot you want it to be on the disk. The more compression and limiting (normally associated with making "hot" CDs) the more it's easy to cut a louder disk. But that doesn't make its sound better. It just puts a "safety" factor on the peaks.

Lounder levels also mean more disk space is used by the lathe, so the number of songs, the speed 45 or 33, and what your competitive market is should be a factor. You want to compare your mix with other vinyl records - but compare not only the sound, but the length of the songs, how many per side, the arrrangements of the actual musical parts, and the market you're appealing to. Basically, match up to the formulas on the best sounding disks, and you're in there.

Generally, I'd try to retain some dynamics on the vinyl because it will sound better and be a more lasting, pleasing experience. Yes, the DJ may have to turn it up a bit. Again, many of the answers are in comparable product that's already out there for you to listen to. Assuming the factors I've mentioned are a reasonable match, you should be able to take in a great sounding LP and play it for the mastering engineer and say "get me in the ballpark of this record."

Created 5/5/03 Modified 4/30/04
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