1. Map out a schedule
for who and what you need... all the way up to
delivery date. It's easy for us to
focus on the moment and
forget the big picture. Some clients rush to get their CD
mastered, only to have delays and complications with graphics,
printing, pressing, you name it. Get a calendar and chart what needs to
be done so that everything is in sync leading up to getting your CDs in
2. Book the mastering session 1 to 2 weeks in advance, so
time to think about any last minute questions or ideas that you want to
bring up in the session. If you are making Separations (aka stems for mastering), put
them all into new sessions in your DAW, along with your stereo mix, and
A/B comprare the sound to be sure all tracks are included (or not
duplicated) in your separated tracks (stems).
3. Use a flash (thumb) drive to send us
files or contact us about the easiest way to use the internet to
transfer your files. Label your file folders for all master
bounces (prefereably 24 bit) so you can find and copy files easily. If
you copy mix files instead to CDR's, (or DVD-R's - don't use DVD+R's)
label your discs carefully. Carefully
burning them (the top is more fragile than the bottom) using a soft
(medium Sharpie) pen. DO NOT USE PAPER LABELS EVER.
4. Think about the song order and include a written list
with the flash drive. If you're not
sure of the song order, that's ok. You can decide that anytime right up
to when we make your masters.
your ISRC codes,
album title, UPC code (optional), artist name, record company etc. in
your list of things to give to the mastering studio.
5. Make a list of what you think needs
processing and editing on your songs. After comparing
with commercially released CDs, you may feel that in your mixes, one
song needs more bass, and another one needs more vocal. If you're in a
group, have a meeting to listen to all the songs to make notes. Note:
If you find that the bass player wants more bass, the drummer wants
more drums, the vocalist wants more vocals, and the guitarist wants
more... you get the picture....... Order pizza, and let the mastering
engineer lend some suggestions. One of the benefits of mastering
is that someone with
a completely objective point of view will be listening with fresh ears
and a knowledge of the "sonic marketplace".
Good idea: Make
- vocal up 1/2 dB, kic up 1
dB, or whatever variations you may be concerned about. Much better idea:
Bring in or send in Separations for
List any sonic
concerns in your documentation. What have you debated about while
you've been mixing? Check out more mixing
tips and some great EQ
and compression suggestions.
6. KNOW YOUR BUDGET. Ask up front
for a cost estimate, but realise, it is almost impossible to predict
how much it will take for your project (studio
rates and policies here). Years ago we had a
project where the
crashes were just too loud every time they hit. We did level
correction on each crash, and it took more than an hour of unexpected
time - but the result was fantastic! Today using Separations, that
issue would have taken 5 minutes to resolve. (Even before
Separations, we were quite ascertive doing creative things in
7. Bring (or send) a
couple of commercial
CD's (or audio files NOT from iTunes) with you to the mastering session
that you LOVE the sound of.
This gives an exact reference of your taste. You have listened to your
favorite CDs many times at home (and in the car) and you're familiar
with the tone and overall level. Our system is level-matched so that we
can compare your project with the commercial albums, and you'll know
exactly how your sound compares next to anyone you pick.
Interesting: One customer brought
about five commercial CDs, all of which he thought sounded great. After
we did some comparisons with his project, he was shocked to hear that
they all sounded different -- and most he didn't like! He heard
differences on our system that he had never heard on his own. This is
common, since many home systems have their own "tone" which tends to
mask the differences in sonic qualities on different albums.
MUSIC BURNED OFF OF iTUNES. Different users may apply different
settings in their iTunes program, and that can lead to the sound being
NOT what it was originally. iTunes doesn't sound good. (Don't burn CDR
copies of your mastered audio files with iTunes either. Use a standard
Mac or PC audio burning program. Use Burn Folder in Mac, Toast, Disc
Write, etc.) Bite the bullet and reference ONLY with real pressed
commercial audio CD's.
8. When you receive your first
master/reference CDR, don't just rush back to the studio where you
mixed it for your first listen. Check it out on home
boom boxes, the car, clubs, etc. You've been accustomed to hearing it
in the studio, and it's going to sound different than you were used to
in that "creative cocoon". What's more important is the real world.
Take notes about what you hear. The mastering engineer can easily
recall your session and make any changes you would like. Every
mastering studio makes these kinds of changes
from time to time, and it should be very cost-effective to do so.
9. Be sure you have an idea of how you want the song
titles, album title etc. to read in the CD Text - and talk to
pressing plant ahead of time about any video files or web site links
you want included. Click here
to read about the difference between CD Text (shows up on alpha-numeric
displays) and CDDB (shows up on computers).
10. Check this chart for a list of formats that can be brought in for
mastering. Check the site
case you have eq, compression, hot CD or other questions that can be
answered ahead of time! Consider if you want us to master your
instrumental and/or TV mixes - it's easy to do!
FIVE QUICK TIPS WHEN MAKING YOUR MIXDOWN
1. If you must compress the stereo output
buss, make an alternate version with less compression or none. When
compression is over-done, it can restrict what's possible in mastering.
It is good, however, to make a version with peak limiting on it to see
how your mix holds up when the time comes to make the level hotter.
Send both a limited and non-limited version to be mastered, or better
yet, send Separations.
2. Listen to your favorite commercial CDs in
the control room to
compare with your sound. Use level-matching A/B listening.
aware of the level of the lead vocals from song-to-song. Listen
again to your previous mixes.
for extra time to mix. Nothing is worse at this critical stage
than running out of money, and you end up stuck with less than the
best. Mixing is a crucial point in your project.
breaks, have fun, and enjoy the process!
"Superb job! I love
what it's done
to the guitars."
"[Since 2002] I am still
quite satisfied with my experience with you, and plan to return when
it's time to master our next album in a year."
"I am thoroughly impressed
with Separation Mastering. The width of the sound
achieved along with the other adjustments is the difference between
typical versus outstanding sound."
"I hadn't heard about
Separation Mastering, but after this session I'm a devout
fan. John is not only skillful, but a pleasure to work with."
Artist Grace - O.C. California
the two-page article in
the May 2006 issue of EQ
Mastering, by John Vestman and
Q) My mixes sound good in the
studio, but not at home or in the car.
Sounds like Studio
Q) For better sonic quality, you recommend mixing to a DAT machine or
Masterlink instead of rendering (or bouncing) to a stereo data file in
my computer. I have no idea how to work with DAT. What will I need?
loop-back file. This is where you take the digital output of
your DAW mix, loop it back into the digital input and record the stereo
mix onto a new stereo track. Record these tracks at 24 bit, even if
your recording is 16 bit. Burn those new stereo tracks onto a data
disc. The mastering studio can then import those files as the source.
This is as good as (or better than) a Masterlink - you just don't get
the cool features of a Masterlink.
a DAT machine, they are pretty much history. Better to
get an Alesis Masterlink.
You can make CD copies on the Masterlink (with some basic DSP features)
and keeps your master data at 24 bit. It's easy to use and will be
around a long time, in my opinion. By the way, if you're not making
Separations, and if possible, bring in the Masterlink to the session -
the hard drive in the unit sounds better than the CDR files. But if
you're making Separations on a Masterlink, the CD-24 discs are a great
way to go and the width and definintion of Separations adds a world of
great sound quality to your product.
you buy the best digital cable you can afford when coming out
of your DAW or stand-alone recording system. The Masterlink A-D
converters are decent, but if you can get a higher quality A-D and go
into the Masterlink digitally, that's better.
Will the internal burner I already have
work or do you prefer a mix on a DAT tape?
The internal burner
in your computer (or Roland unit)
could be one of the problems as to why your CDRs don't sound as good as
what you hear when you're mixing. If the burner is burning at high
speed, it make the sound more harsh. The rendered stereo file is
another place of lost quality. That's why we recommend that you take
digital signal from your mixdown straight into a digital recording
device. The cable, again, is important. Get the best you can afford.
Q) We have recorded the drums in "flat" (no
eq) with a Finalizer. Did we screw up?? -Clayton
like the sound you have now, that's the most important thing.
It's not the method that counts, it's the results. I prefer to eq
to the multitrack master, some engineers
prefer cutting all tracks flat and eq'ing only at mix time.
Do we need to MIX at our studio or can you
recommend talented engineers who work in Pro Tools,
Nuendo, Digital Performer and more.
What is the preferred format for mastering
- 1/2" reel-to-reel, DAT or audio or data CD?
Separations, we prefer analog
or 1/4" reel-to-reel - 30 or 15 ips.
Check out this chart.
I am interested in knowing what kinds of
options are available, such as Dolby.
analog for your mix, do not use Dolby. Just go elevated +5 or
+6 at 30 ips. I have some cool secrets on alignment that your
engineer may get into. Some people do like using Dolby SR at 15 ips, so
that's something to consider, but it's not common.
Is it good for me to include info about my
mics, size of room, processing equipment, etc.?
helpful for us to know what the multitrack format is (2"
tape, computer, DAW software, etc.) and the mixdown format (1/2" ,
files, Masterlink, etc.) All the mics, room, and processing gear isn't
important unless there's a specific problem that we find as we're going
Is it possible for us to be present during
the mastering process? Even though we live in southern Mexico, we are
willing to come to you.
clients from Mexico, Brazil, New York, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana,
Vietnam and Israel
come here to attend
sessions. There are a couple reasonably priced motels close by the
studio. I look forward to hearing your project!
created: 10/25/99 • Last
Royalty tracking and important
on you CD