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Is 'mastering' actually needed?

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Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Freuman » Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:35 pm

I have a solution for the loudness wars that most people here wont like:

OK, mastering used to be a hugely important process, but nowadays it seems to be little more than crushing the life out of music to make it louder than the last thing that was released.

:protest:

With digital recording we have loads of headroom and ridiculous signal to noise ratios etc...

So do we actually need the mastering process? It'd put more pressure on mix engineers to actually get it right, but it is easy to learn dither and if the mix buss needs a limiter then why can't the engineer be trusted? They can cope with applying limiters to other things...

:?

(I'm gonna duck for cover now!)

:D
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Jul 21, 2009 12:20 am

I realise there's a tongue stuck firmly in a cheek there somewhere.... but there is rather more to mastering than simply crushing the dynamic life out of tracks -- although that does seem to be the one thing that most people now associate with the role of a mastering engineer.

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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Mike Craig » Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:08 am

I am always delighted when I get my Mastered tracks back from the Mastering Engineer.
They come back sounding brighter and more polished with a wider overall stereo field.
The compression the ME uses seems to tighten things up and "glue" the mix together, as well as increasing the overall loudness.
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby CarlNorthcore » Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:54 am

There's nothing I love more than hearing our stuff come back from mastering, having been run through some mouth-watering class-a gear and attended to lovingly by a dude whose job it is to make my stereo bounces sound sweet.... a guy who finds it "fun" to listen for problem frequencies in the mix and notch them out (of the sides only, using a m/s EQ).

To be honest, I know that I can get a similar sound in my home studio (with my cousin's help who has some nice class-a gear), but it is a waste of my time, I don't really enjoy it and it simply isn't as confidence-inspiring and gratifying as paying somebody else to do it... read the above paragraph wrong, and it sounds quite naughty.

But there is something VERY satisfying about getting a track back and hearing what somebody has done with it.

In our genre (ambient) loudness usually is not an issue... but I still make ABSOLUTELY sure that the ME understands that I am NOT after an ambient track with average loudness of -9.0 dbFS.
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Syncratic » Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:44 am

Apologies for hijacking the thread a little, but can anyone recommend a good value for money (cheap) mastering service?

I'd like to send one my tracks off just out of interest really, to hear the differences they can make.

Thanks
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Tue Jul 21, 2009 11:34 am

Here are some good reasons to get your audio mastered.

Bring a number of mixes together as one product (especially if mixed on various systems/studios)

Insertion of sub code data to receive your royalties.

Insertion of CD Text and Barcode information

Quality control check on your spectrum through an accurate
room and monitoring system.

To subjectively improve the sound quality of your mixes if necessary.

To correct common problems in frequency response.

To correct/advise on mix problems which may cause playback
problems.

To increase perceived punch and if desired loudness with
least amount of artifacts introduced.

If requested critique of existing mixes.

It can actually be inexpensive.

Increase likelyhood that your CD/DDP master duplicates/replicates at the plant correctly and has a technical contact.

To say your music has been mastered alludes to the fact that you take your musical output seriously.

To maximise compatibility across a variety of playback systems, such as nightclubs, radio broadcast.

cheers
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Flow Mastering » Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:56 pm

Mastering is not just about loudness and usually, unless there is client pressure on the mastering engineer (or the mix engineer as more and more this is where the problem really lies), heavily limited tracks is a non-issue.

Most reputable mastering engineers will avoid using limiters when possible, or use only a very small amount (1 to 2 db) to avoid harming the mix.
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Helmutcrab » Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:29 pm

I think the benefits would be great (experience, neutral room, fresh set of willing ears as pointed out above) but i just cant afford it unfortunately seen as though i pay out money to make and perform music and dont get an income (like most other folks ive came into contact with) but i do take my music very seriously. :frown:
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby John Reid » Sun Jul 26, 2009 1:33 am

Apologies in advance, SafeandSound123, as I play devil's advocate and take your response apart (while poking a bit of fun along the way!). Your response is informative and clearly based on experience.

SafeandSound123 wrote:Bring a number of mixes together as one product (especially if mixed on various systems/studios)
Very good point, not obvious at all to the uninitiated; nevertheless, an art that, given time, might be learned by the ambitious home studio owner. In the internet world where the "album" concept has all but disappeared, this is unfortunately becoming irrelevant.

SafeandSound123 wrote:Insertion of sub code data to receive your royalties.
Absolutely valid point, assuming you get airplay; in terms of MP3's and downloads, irrelevant; let's not even mention piracy.

SafeandSound123 wrote:Insertion of CD Text and Barcode information
It's nice when you're ripping a pirated CD to find out who it's attributed to, free of charge, before you put the pirated track on the internet; saves lots of typing. BTW, what's a barcode? A secret number that gets me free beer?

SafeandSound123 wrote:Quality control check on your spectrum through an accurate room and monitoring system.
This is important if your work is going to be played back in an "accurate" room, otherwise the live engineer/DJ/punter will twiddle bass & treble as they see fit. Again, to downloaders/MP3-players, room acoustics play no part in how earbuds sound.

SafeandSound123 wrote:To subjectively improve the sound quality of your mixes if necessary.
Let's face it, this usually means somehow creating something out of the God-awful mish-mash of uncleared samples, incompetently-played instrument track snippets and pre-school lyrics that masquerade as music these days.

SafeandSound123 wrote:To correct common problems in frequency response.
The majority of issues tend to reside in the 20Hz-20kHz frequency range.

SafeandSound123 wrote:To correct/advise on mix problems which may cause playback problems.
For example, 14 tracks on your CD have only one instrument, a bass drum being played 4/4 at 120BPM;


SafeandSound123 wrote:To increase perceived punch and if desired loudness with least amount of artifacts introduced.
"... and if desired, loudness" -- actually no, I'd much prefer if my track was way quieter that the others, so they would feel guilty when they get successful and I'm a wino.

SafeandSound123 wrote:If requested critique of existing mixes.
So we pay you to tell us we're shite?

SafeandSound123 wrote:It can actually be inexpensive.
... unless we want the truth, which will undoubtedly come with a lawyer and a retainer.

SafeandSound123 wrote:Increase likelyhood that your CD/DDP master duplicates/replicates at the plant correctly and has a technical contact.
Admit it ... you own the duplication plant as well!

SafeandSound123 wrote:To say your music has been mastered alludes to the fact that you take your musical output seriously.
One notes the fact that one can still maintain one's music was mastered whether or not one's music was actually mastered or not.

SafeandSound123 wrote:To maximise compatibility across a variety of playback systems, such as nightclubs, radio broadcast.
Admit it, you own the bloody nightclubs too!

SafeandSound123 wrote:cheers
How dare you! :D
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby GliderBoy » Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:08 am

John, taking this all tongue-in-cheek, of course, I loved your response. Seriously, so much of what you said is but true on many levels, and therefore good for a laugh at this time of night. (I wish it weren't so true)...
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby GliderBoy » Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:10 am

P.S., just so I'm not misunderstood, I do believe there is value in mastering, even in this day and age.
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby MadManDan » Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:27 am

John Reid wrote: (everything John Reid said)
:bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: :bouncy: Again, as GliderBoy said, Sad but true. Mastering is STILL the "right" thing to do in a world of music-gone-wrong :headbang:
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby skopje » Sun Jul 26, 2009 4:26 am

I have known some artists i love recently get their albums mastered in NAME HIGH END mastering houses....

The musical style is of an acoustic nature, and quite honestly i preferred the mixes before mastering...

Things have gotten too technical and not enough emphasis on music or emotion..

Someone i know went in to abbey road and had mastering done. It is almost pefect. Every frequency is in the right place, all the mids have been tames, along with all the rogue frequencies..

But when i listened to the mastered versions without prejudice, i no longer enjoyed the music..

I can't back this up with science, and i know its subjective, but i trust my heart and soul.

Do you want to make something for people to listen to flawed or perfect? Or do you want to make a product that is loud on an i-player that someone can shuffle through?

I don't know

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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Sun Jul 26, 2009 12:22 pm

I do not agree that mixes translate only when played back in a well treated room.

Bob Katz summed this up nicely in his book, though in a
more articulate way.... (with a drawing to boot)

It's about pleasing as many listeners as possible on the most amount of playback systems, as you veer from accuracy this goal diminishes.

I am a rather serious person (esp. where my profession is concerned) and did not find the responses funny, though neither condecending.When someone is ready in their career they know it needs to be mastered and labels tend to cause they want QC amongst other things.

Don't get me wrong I like a laugh but honestly did not find the comments useful or funny. YMMV.

cheers

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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby John Reid » Sun Jul 26, 2009 10:09 pm

Again, I apologise if my response offended, that was not the intention and that was clearly stated at the beginning of the piece. I absolutely believe that mastering is an art, that it is essential for many types of music, and that the skills are not easily acquired and cannot be learned from a book.

Nevertheless, we live in a world where, despite all the amazing advances in technology, music "as a product" has been denatured to the point where it is just another commodity, like white bread or fried chicken, consumed by generations who have no idea how it came to be, and no desire to find out; as such, we either accept the situation as it is, or risk self-delusion. For such an audience, there is as little point in mastering the stuff they opt to consume as there would be in hiring Pulitzer prizewinners to write for tabloid newspapers.

To some degree I may have hijacked this topic, but only in the spirit of good clean weekend fun; it may provoke some thought as well. To return to the OP's question, "is mastering actually needed?", I would say, yes, but ... it depends ....
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Mon Jul 27, 2009 7:49 am

No offence taken, as mentioned.

When I master audio I don't think I have ever thought of the music as a commodity as such or definitely not in isolation. I consider how much hard work has been been put in by a songwriter, band/musician, producer, rec engineer,
maybe mix engineer and with that in mind proceed in a way that will produce a good master for that genre whilst taking into consideration client taste and suggestion.
I send out a short questionnaire for some guidance. There is a fairly wide aperture for what is a good master and as such a great result can be achieved whilst including the clients comments as well as keeping it within sensible/translatable technical constraints.


consumed by generations who have no idea how it came to be, and no desire to find out; as such, we either accept the situation as it is, or risk self-delusion.


I also think this does not give music lovers a great deal of credit, I thnk you will find that a great many young people are interested in music and production (thankfully)
a classic example would be the readership of magazines such as SOS and the dwellers on these forums. This week I am mastering an album for someone who has a day job and does not deem themself a pro musician, but the material and attitude I am working with from the client is nothing but 100pct professional.

It might be a wider problem with society that things should happen without very hard work, but I know nothing happens unless you are 100pct passionate about what you do. Being a cinic is easy, working hard to succeed is hard but rewarding.

I would love to talk more but I am installing some enormous bass trapping today.

cheers
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby van Sinn » Mon Jul 27, 2009 12:12 pm

I'm being offensive to John's (post #757366) disection, feeling this is mostly off to the discussion at hand about mastering.

Those comments may hold true if we all allow us to get drawn into this all-is-free-internet-download mechanism/hype, which seems to not only be about to litterally/partly destroy our business, but also impair our good judgement, morale and willingness to still persue Good Music, as difficult doing so may be.

Of course I'm perfectly aware of reality, but to say almost noone cares about albums and that correcting music to ideal conditions et al.. doesn't matter is really playing the devils advocate.

I believe it depends on which market. John's comments may hold true to a lot of popular pop and pop-rock et al.. - which may well constitute the majority of sellable contents in these times . but IMHO is not valid for all genres.

I mean no pun with this ;) I just partly disagree..
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Flow Mastering » Mon Jul 27, 2009 6:26 pm

Hi John,

I did find your post very funny as unfortunately it reflects the thought process of many budding musicians.

Luckily I have enough clients keeping me busy, so don't feel too much threatened by this, yet. Most musicians making a living with music or taking their art seriously soon realize that involving the best engineers (mixing or mastering) to help with their projects is money well spent.

The presentation of a song (even if it is not on CD) is as important as ever and can be make or break for a career.
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby turbodave » Mon Jul 27, 2009 8:48 pm

To respond literally, no, mastering is not needed! porn is not needed! I , however, am knock kneed! Dave
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Elephone » Sat Aug 01, 2009 11:48 am

One thing I'd say about mastering in modern times is... if you can, do it yourself. If not, make sure you're present and keep your recordings with you.

People are more likely to lift stuff from seperate tracks than from finalised recordings. Also, remember to post copies to yourself. (I developed a really cheap method of protecting CDs without needing recorded delivery. I'll post it in the Music Business forum...)
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Freuman » Sun Aug 02, 2009 5:38 am

Sorry for not posting a response sooner (holiday), The post was indeed very tongue-in-cheek, but I do find it interesting and I haven't had any answers that have convinced me yet, so lets play devil's advocate even further...

:tongue:

John has put forward most of the replies I would have (Though I was thinking more iTunes than Pirates).

So if music is mixed well, why can't the Mix engineers slap it onto a redbook? Surely they can top and tail songs? Surely they can fade out? When a Album goes onto iTunes (or similar), all the needed info comes up automatically when played on a computer, even with a dodgy CDR...

:?

Could you not say that mastering is only really needed for engineers who are not confident about their mixing?
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby SafeandSound Mastering » Sun Aug 02, 2009 8:16 pm

I thought about this before I posted up and whilst it may feel radical and "interesting" to suggest music does not require mastering I would purport that around 95pct of clients music is generally improved in some way by mastering.

That's really all I have to say now.

cheers
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Waltz Mastering » Tue Aug 04, 2009 12:41 pm

There's many mastering engineers who know how to improve the sound of your mix.
Despite all the negative vibes sent out about bad/crushed mastering. It's pretty cynical to think all mastering makes things suck or is not needed on a professional level.

What does destroy the sound of most really good mixes is just relying on a software limiter to get it up.

It's hard for me to grasp how a songwriter could write, producer, engineer, mix and master there own song and expect it to come out to the same level artistically and sonically as it would if you were utilizing people who specialize in some of these crafts to help you and the record making process.

There are many ME's who do samples, so if your not certain if you will benefit from the process of getting your mixes or album professionally mastered you have nothing to lose by checking it out for yourself.
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby notefarm » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:46 pm

Perfectly put.

I have been thinking of how to add my thoughts to this thread, but you said what I was going to say.

There is no way that I can play the guitar, engineer, mix and then master my own CD. I just can not wear that many hats. I would rather leave the mastering to some one that has dedicated there time to that craft in the same way I have to my guitar craft. I still have to wear the agents hat too in there somewhere, and teach guitar students and write out charts for gigs and sessions. I have to draw the line somewhere.

There is more to mastering than Red Book CDS and fade in and outs, and space between tracks and making things loud.

Financially, if I take into account my hourly rate and how long it would take me to master something and get and hmmmm OK job compared to and experienced full time ME. I know I save money letting them do it every time and get better results. They can do it quicker and better than I. Just as they would probably hire me to play guitar on there CD for the same reason.

Sorry for my rambling reply,

Wishing good mixes and success to all,
Jay
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Re: Is 'mastering' actually needed?

Postby Pure-Tone » Fri Aug 07, 2009 7:44 pm

I kind of like the way this guy thinks. Seeing all the "£25 per track" fools drives me nuts!, but if someones going to be daft enough to use one of them....that's their problem!.

I don't think there's much of an excuse for choosing the wrong guy anymore. Things have moved way past flicking through the ads in yellow pages etc. A good M E will have plenty of stuff out there on the net, their name will be passed around in tweets etc(people are more than happy to shout your name if you did a great job).
That's how i get all my work. I never advertised once, and i don't have a proper website. As yet, I haven't had the need, or time to make one!.

The right people find me. They pay the right price for the right finish. I take as long as i need on each track, until I think it's good enough, and my standards are damn high!, sometimes i end up sort of out of pocket. I've had shootouts with waaay better equipped people and put them in the shade.

What's the point of all this??. Find someone who still does it for a passion, not just the £25 for the hours work. Find someone who wants you to sound as good as possible, without making your sound hard and "brickwalled".
Don't be fooled by nice pics of expensive kit on their website. Mastering is an expensive business gear wise, so many of the people who do it had the money to buy the gear before having any talent. I know plenty of them!! (don't gripe at me if your talented and have good kit)

But once you find someone who makes your work all it can be....you wont question the need for mastering again :)

Bring the flames....I don't get to visit here much now

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