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The client is always more familiar with the musical details of the project because they've heard it two hundred times. The mastering engineer will hear the songs several times aiming for different goals than you had while tracking and mixing. Listen to the mastered version as a new experience in the real world. Compare it with other commercial CDs before comparing it to the original mix in order to listen
as the consumer will listen.

Key: Don't change the setting of your consumer stereo prior to listening to your mastered CDR. Leave it set just as you do for other commercial CDs.

Sometimes clients hear their first master CDR and think it's great right off the bat. Then some hear their music in a new, objective way, and ask for some further enhancements or changes. This is somewhat common in the mastering industry, as artists often have new ideas when they hear their final project out in the real world.

With traditional mastering, enhancements can be anywhere from subtle to dramatic.  While there are surprising differences possible that mastering makes, HD Separation Mastering is always the best answer to mix issues such as:

• Harsh edgy vocals but dull drums in the same song
• Inconsistent toms-to-kic/snare ratios and eq settings
• Lack of instrumental dynamics that would be naturally found in a live performace
• Using specific processing to correct vocal levels within a song (and song-to-song)
• Editing space into over-played tracks (someone forgot that less is more....)

With Separations, you now have the ultimate control over the final outcome, and with that control comes more options. Sometimes with Separation projects we'll conclude that there will be advantages by separating out additional tracks:

1) Separating out the kic, overheads or percussion instruments from the other drums
2) Separating keyboards, horns or other uniquely textured sounds from guitars or other instruments
3) Separating the male and female voices in a duet for different eq treatment
4) Separating lead and backup vocals

"We did a show this weekend and I mastered it the way you said by separating tracks and oh my god it sound the best I've ever done.  My recordings have come up 100% since I've been using the Separation recording and mastering.  It's so much easier to get a good 3D sound out of a two track."  -J. Ferris

Mastering makes it so you hear
everything more - particularly with Separations. You'll hear the room sound on the drums better, you'll hear the vocal better, you'll hear the low end more focused (and perhaps warmer), and many other things. If there are flaws (sometimes masked in a track that is lacking in high end) you'll hear them too. Often the flaws can be traced back to the multitrack master and corrected there. With Separations, corrections can often be made here. Example: When lots of de-essing needs to be done- or things like giant slide noises from acoustic guitars. You must let us know what your budget will and won't allow when these issues arise!

Note #2: In some cases, mastering makes it so you'll hear some things less. Huh? I just said you'll hear everything more! make up your mind, John! Ahem. If we're doing traditional mastering for you, and you want your master really HOT, your final master may have less kic (or just less drums) due to the limiting/compression needed to raise the levels up to square-wave heaven. The answer is to lower the overall level of the CD master, or to send us Separations (allows us to restore the drum balance). Even then, there's a limit to how much volume your music can handle without creating distortion - and hot levels can make flaws more apparent. Be familiar with the dynamics of various commercial CD's so that you have a sense of where yours fits in.

N o t o r i o u s: Digital Audio Workstations are landing in homes across the globe, and many of the excited musician/engineers who work on these computers put too much faith in "digital." There can be distortion and soundwave problems that you don't hear because you're listening primarily from a musical perspective. There may be many ways that gain structure isn't explained well enough in that DAW manual (that you've read each and every paragraph of).

KEY:
Those red clipping lights are not your friend.
You may not think it's a problem, but trust me, keep those things off and enjoy the openness of more headroom instead (Mixing ideas here here and here).

First-time DAW projects are often the ones with the most problems, and the artists have high expectations because they have "the latest software." Every artist wants their music to sound like the stars, but it's important to realise that the big artists have bigger budgets in many cases or (at the least) they have the cream of the crop engineers and producers crafting their sound. Doing your homework ahead of time helps a great deal, and at times mastering will smooth out some of the rough edges.

Note #3: Prior to us recommending Separations, remixes could open up a "can of worms." In a couple cases, engineers would improve one issue in their mix, and end up refining several other things at the same time. They would submit an entirely different mix, and so our previous mastering settings would be unusable, and we'd have to start from scratch - which was costly. Separations solves that, in the majority of cases.

Sometimes
low end can be an issue, mostly because there's a huge variety of preferences - due to the huge variety of playback systems of our individual clients. Some clients don't care if the bottom blows up the consumer's boom box, so long as their mix sounds like an earthquake in a night club. Some clients don't want their pickup truck's speakers to distort from too much bottom - and some people have pickup trucks with 1,000 watt subwoofers that distort their neighbor's house! It's all about preferences and references - we'll work to achieve your goals!

Q) John, my master CD sounds great, but I could hear a bit of distortion at some parts.

Generally if you hear distortion in some parts, but not in the entire song (loud parts in particular) then something is going on in the mix. If it was in mastering, you'd hear it all the time. Our system has extremely high headroom, and it's unlikely that the distortion came from our end, although we're human....

Solution: To avoid distortion, spend more time at every stage of the recording process to be sure your gain structure is correct. There could be mic pre overload, compressor overload, line amp overload, intermodulation distortion (frequencies that when combined make anomalies that distort), amp distortion, outboard gear overload, etc. I can't tell you how many times I've visited someone's mixing session and seen clipping on the meters. Don't let the signal clip anywhere in the recording chain.

Very important: If you're out of town, communicate clearly what and where you hear any specific issues. Send us detailed notes that include the time in minutes and seconds - as well as the lyric or musical phrase (i.e. the third beat of bar 2 of the first chorus) where you want a change. Be specific with level changes - don't just say "song 3 is too loud." When we do final level correction of the songs, it's often in small increments.
.

Case history: A client heard glitches on their mastered CDR. After a close listen we found the problem. Mastering did not add the glitches, but they in fact came from the original recording.

Here's an image showing the top two panels (mastered version) and the bottom two panels (original). Notice that the glitches are not clipping the top of the waveform.

We used our Sonic Studio system to eliminate this glitch (see yellow circle) and everything sounded fine.

Another flaw we've seen is actual tiny gaps of dead silence that appear in the middle of a waveform. This usually occurs when the client's CPU processor is being overtaxed. As we know, digital can be somewhat temperamental. Close all your editing and mixing windows to lower CPU needs if you're hearing minor dropouts, and consult tech support for your gear.

Listen to all the details on any mastered CDR. Listen on several different consumer systems. If you want to listen on car stereos, make a 1X copy of your master - car stereos are a great reference but they can cause physical scratches to the disc and cause the pressing plant to return your disc (another good reason to have a backup master). Compare it with other commercial CDs. Don't be afraid to ask questions - it's your baby.

Important: Your project isn't done until you say it's done - but don't tweak everything do death. As Quincy Jones said (paraphrased) "We never finish a project. We simply abandon it." Be committed to being the best you are at any given point, and then relax.... the audience that's ready for you will love it.

Q) Will my CD sound equivalent to the bands on the radio? -Scott

It depends on which bands you're talking about and how equivalent the musical arrangements and recording techniques are! If you're a country band, you won't sound like System of the Down. The CD will sound like you - a little louder than some artists, a little softer than others - with lows mids and highs that are balanced.

What if I think there should be a few changes - is that going to be a problem....say I hear it and I think the sax is way too high - will you fix that without me having to pay more?

Studio time is charged when there is a preference requested. No studio time is charged if there is a defect (more about that here). With traditional mastering, we can make some improvements to individual instruments, but compromises to other aspects can occur! Your mix is embedded within itself. Separations solves that issue.

Hole - Courtney Love
Hole - feat
Courtney Love
Akwid - Grammy Nominated
Akwid - Grammy Nominated
Juice Newton - American Girl
Juice Newton
Laurie Morvan - Cures What Ails Ya
Laurie Morvan
HD Separations

Calvin Newborn
Calvin Newborn
Lorna Lee - Intentcity Records
Lorna Lee
Marc Seal
Marc Seal
Cutting a Hot CD

Mastering Procedures

How to prepare for mastering

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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Created 11/29/00 Modified 11/9/05
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