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Mastering again.

Postby Arpangel » Thu Jun 18, 2020 8:43 am

One of my favourite guys on Youtube has just had his latest album mastered, I'm still failing to see the benefits of this process, in a lot of cases, unless the source material is pretty bad, I can't see the point.
I know my view seems weird, and it's a common practice to master, but after listening to this guys album after mastering there was very little audible difference, certainly not enough to warrant the fee, and all of the high end gear used by the engineer, probably enough financially to buy a small house.
OK, there was a "slight" increase in overall volume and high frequency content, but I could have done that in Reaper.
I've never mastered any of my albums, no ones complained, I have friends involved in various styles of music, and they don't either.
I'm not saying that mastering engineers don't have a place, they do in some circumstances, but IMO it's not something that should be assumed to be a neccesity.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby CS70 » Thu Jun 18, 2020 9:22 am

You might be misunderstanding what mastering is. It's like a check on your car. If all is well, there's not much to do and the car comes out pretty much how it came in. A good mix often doesn't need more than a little boost, and in these loudness-normalization days, not even that.

The value not necessarily in the result, but in that you go thru with the check.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Ramirez » Thu Jun 18, 2020 9:35 am

There are two ways to look at this really.

Firstly, an ‘album’ can’t exist without mastering. Mastering is the process of bringing the tracks together and creating a ‘master copy’ for duplication or distribution, in whatever formats needed and with the necessary metadata embedded etc. Sometimes this mastering process involves processing the audio beyond a simple gain change, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Secondly, there is the (quite contemporary, perhaps?) trend of processing the stereo mix creatively for aesthetic reasons. I think this is what you’re referring to here?
This can, of course make a positive change if it’s needed, and is often included in a ‘proper’ mastering service like I mentioned above, but as you say, it’s not always needed. In my opinion, the kind of money often charged for this kind of processing would almost always be better spent earlier in the album making process!
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Arpangel » Thu Jun 18, 2020 9:48 am

You're sort of confirming what I said, unless there are any glaring faults, then there's little that needs to be done.
As for compiling, relative volume between tracks, gaps etc, running order, aren't those things the job of the musician? I suppose that a lot of musicians aren't engineers, so they prefer to give those tasks to someone else.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jun 18, 2020 10:27 am

This seems to be another of your, 'I don't get this, so it's crap' posts...

If you don't feel the need to have your music 'mastered' that's fine. It's not strictly necessary for many outlets...

And if other people do feel the need, that's their business and their money, and there are lots of reasons why they might choose that route -- some technical, some psychological.

For me, the most important benefit of 'mastering' is the exposure of your material to a fresh and experienced pair of ears in a properly designed room with very high quality, full range monitoring.

This simply cannot be replicated at any normal home studio, and is the only quantitative way of assessing the material accurately and identifying any technical or artistic flaws that may well have gone unnoticed during the previous stages of production. It provides a reliable reference point and may be as much about peace of mind and confirmation of a job well done from a dispassionate, independent, professional, as it is about spotting and correcting any minor problems.

From that position of accurate reference monitoring, decisions can then be taken about the dynamics, imaging and tone of individual tracks and, if working with an album of material, the order of those tracks and how they sit alongside other tracks in terms of levels, tone etc. In some cases the artist may have already decided the order and timings, but in others a creative and technical input from a fresh contributor is often valued and appreciated.

And of course, a mastering engineer will undoubtedly have access to a range of tools, and have the experience, to tweak the sound beyond the capabilities of most project studio producers.

There is also the aspect of knowing about, and having the tools to create specific optimisations appropriate to particular distribution outlets in terms of loudness and peak levels, overall tonality etc.

And finally there will, in some cases, be the need to produce the specialist physical production masters required for vinyl pressing or CD replication (or even cassette production!).

So although 'mastering' may not actually be strictly 'necessary' in all cases, it certainly does potentially offer benefits in most situations which many value and appreciate to the point that they are willing to fund it as an investment in their music.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby The Elf » Thu Jun 18, 2020 10:31 am

This idea that 'it sounds good to me' is fine up to a point, but mastering is about so much more. And it's not about fixing problems (though that often has to be done).

Some people still want loud, loud, loud. Some people want their material mastered for a particular target, such as streaming, or vinyl, all of which have specific requirements (and can be expensive to put right if found too late in the process - ask Genesis about one badly mastered version of 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway...). Some need tonal balancing, since they either have biased monitoring, or simply don't understand what makes for a 'commercially average' balance...

Some just need another pair of ears to hear those glaring mistakes they can't hear for themselves.

And then there's the issue of creating DDPs for CD.

I could go on - this is one of those subjects where people feel that because they know about one aspect of the job that's all there is to it!

By comparison all an airline pilot does is steer the plane! :headbang: :lol:
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby CS70 » Thu Jun 18, 2020 10:35 am

Arpangel wrote:You're sort of confirming what I said, unless there are any glaring faults, then there's little that needs to be done.
As for compiling, relative volume between tracks, gaps etc, running order, aren't those things the job of the musician? I suppose that a lot of musicians aren't engineers, so they prefer to give those tasks to someone else.

You cannot know if there are glaring faults if you don't check.

That's because by definition, what faults there may be, you won't perceive them in your room and monitoring (because otherwise you'd have fixed them).

But there's to be said that if your music is sufficiently left field, so that there's really no expectation on its sound, nobody will know if what's in there is a glaring fault or made like that on purpose, so mastering is probably less interesting or necessary.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Luke W » Thu Jun 18, 2020 1:03 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:It provides a reliable reference point and may be as much about peace of mind and confirmation of a job well done from a dispassionate, independent, professional, as it is about spotting and correcting any minor problems.

All technical reasons aside, I think that's really important. Especially now with so many people doing everything from the writing through to the production, recording and mixing themselves then it can really pay to have it run past someone who isn't invested in the material artistically. It can be quite hard to be objective when listening to something you've crafted yourself from start to finish.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby CS70 » Thu Jun 18, 2020 3:08 pm

Luke W wrote:All technical reasons aside, I think that's really important. Especially now with so many people doing everything from the writing through to the production, recording and mixing themselves then it can really pay to have it run past someone who isn't invested in the material artistically. It can be quite hard to be objective when listening to something you've crafted yourself from start to finish.

Just a note on this. While I totally agree with the sentiment of the "new pair of ears", I've almost invariably found that mastering engineers (who do not have a close relationship with the band/label and can be physically quite far away) very seldom come out with any judgement on other than sonic aspects. And neither, frankly, it's happened often even when the mastering engineer is next door.

Now it may be different for big budget/big label productions, and of course it may also be that my music sucks so big time that the mastering engineer would rather stay silent... but all the ones I've met have been assuming that the arrangement, the performance, the overall mix etc is the sound the artist (or the label) wants, and their job is to make sure it plays well with most systems (and of course they take care of all the technicalities involved in album metadata, production of physical media, loudness, vinyl cutting and all the stuff that is technically necessary to go from a studio master to stuff in boxes (or in a Spotify directory).

Again, I may be mistaken, but I have come to realize that most mastering houses do not see as their job to really comment on other than sonic aspects of the material; and even then, they do it cautiously because they assume the mixing is done competently.

Part of being in business and retaining clients is to nurture relationships, and _not_ to be seen as patronizing is kinda important in that sense, especially with independent artists without a label.

Of course there may be a set of mastering engineers who like to leave a noticeable sonic imprint, but I have not met many, at least not with my own music or the music I have mixed for other people.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby RichardT » Thu Jun 18, 2020 3:51 pm

Speaking personally, mastering has big benefits for me. I have good monitors but not a very good room in terms of bass response.

The mastering engineer can assess the bass balance and decide the degree of low cut / boost and compression much better than I can.

Sending a track for mastering, when I know it will be listened to on great equipment with a person with experienced ears, encourages me to make my mixes the best I possibly can. Probably better than if I were just to get them ready for release myself. That's a personal thing of course, it might not make any difference to other people.

I've learned to look out for things in my mixes that I wouldn't have done before - for example checking for or being alert to resonances.

Every so often, quite often really, the mastering engineer picks up things that aren't right in the mix. It's quite easy to become 'blind' to faults when I'm mixing and I wouldn't pick them up when 'mastering' myself.

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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jun 18, 2020 4:10 pm

It's not usually a mastering engineer's job to remix tracks -- although some will accept or even request stems to do just that!

And you're quite right in that if you approach a mastering engineer to work on a finished track it might be damaging from their business point of view if they send the client away to remix their work! But equally, many mastering engineers will give a view about a provisional mixes in progress prior to mastering.

However, the point I was making about the 'fresh ears' was that this is someone who is listening afresh, without all the baggage of production and -- most important of all -- without the compromises of the project room's monitoring arrangements.

So if the vocals are a little too set back because the mix room monitors were a bit too forward, they will hear that and be able to rectify it. And if the lyrics are too indistinct, they will hear that too, because they don't know the lyrics!
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Arpangel » Thu Jun 18, 2020 5:10 pm

I have had some of my music mastered, by an independent engineer, AFAIC it sounded "different" not better, or worse, just different. I could have used either my version, or his and to be frank, I really didn’t care which one, as they both sounded "OK"
I know there are mastering engineers out there and that’s their living, and as I said, it may be appropriate for a lot of people’s music, but I’m not sure about where the technical issues end and the creativity begins, or vice versa. Plus, these days, mixing, production, and mastering, have very blurred boundaries. I may have recorded a vocal that I deliberately want to bury in a mix, the top end my be unbearably harsh because I want rawness and aggression to come through, if I was a mastering engineer and didn’t know about this I’d probably master it to sound really nice, and smooth things off, raise the level of the vocal etc. Speaking with the client of course is normal, so these issues shouldn’t take place.
I can sort of understand the argument about compatibility on all systems, but even then, IMO that’s also overemphasised, all I can think of is that my standards aren’t as high as some people’s, and I’m happy if things are good enough, or "OK" for better or worse!
I’ve heard some great records, and really bad ones as far as technical quality goes, and the bad ones are often by people who should be able to afford the best, and the dodgy sound was definitely not intentional.
The outcome sometimes, is so very, very unpredictable.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Jun 18, 2020 5:22 pm

Arpangel wrote: ...if I was a mastering engineer and didn’t know about this I’d probably master it to sound really nice...

You wouldn't be a very good mastering engineer if you didn't discuss the clients requirements before adjusting anything!

...the bad ones are often by people who should be able to afford the best, and the bad sound was definitely not intentional.

And you know that because?

You may be right; a 'bad sound' -- whatever that might be -- may not have been intentional, but there may have been circumstances entirely beyond the artist's or mastering engineer's control. Production plant issues are not uncommon, and it's not unknown for record companies to send entirely the wrong masters for production without consulting the clients of mastering engineers...

... or maybe the artist really did want it to sound like that -- just like you might want unbearable harshness and buried vocals...

I think it's perfectly fair to proffer an opinion that a particular commercial track isn't to your liking for whatever reason, but it's treading dodgy ground in my book to denigrate the work of professionals without knowing all the facts. I appreciate you're talking generally rather than specifically, but the point holds good, I think.
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby CS70 » Thu Jun 18, 2020 5:34 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
However, the point I was making about the 'fresh ears' was that this is someone who is listening afresh, without all the baggage of production and -- most important of all -- without the compromises of the project room's monitoring arrangements.

So if the vocals are a little too set back because the mix room monitors were a bit too forward, they will hear that and be able to rectify it. And if the lyrics are too indistinct, they will hear that too, because they don't know the lyrics!

Absolutely, this is what I meant when I talked about "fixing errors".
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Re: Mastering again.

Postby Arpangel » Thu Jun 18, 2020 5:36 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Arpangel wrote: ...if I was a mastering engineer and didn’t know about this I’d probably master it to sound really nice...

You wouldn't be a very good mastering engineer if you didn't discuss the clients requirements before adjusting anything!

...the bad ones are often by people who should be able to afford the best, and the bad sound was definitely not intentional.

And you know that because?

You may be right; a 'bad sound' -- whatever that might be -- may not have been intentional, but there may have been circumstances entirely beyond the artist's or mastering engineer's control. Production plant issues are not uncommon, and it's not unknown for record companies to send entirely the wrong masters for production without consulting the clients of mastering engineers...

... or maybe the artist really did want it to sound like that -- just like you might want unbearable harshness and buried vocals...

I think it's perfectly fair to proffer an opinion that a particular commercial track isn't to your liking for whatever reason, but it's treading dodgy ground in my book to denigrate the work of professionals without knowing all the facts. I appreciate you're talking generally rather than specifically, but the point holds good, I think.

Fair points, but I often wonder how, some recordings fall through the net, I would certainly want to be involved in every aspect of a release, checking things, I’m not mentioning specific names, but I really don’t think that they’d could possibly be happy with the end result.
Some artists seem to care, I’ll mention Neil Young, Lou Reed, who’s records aren’t associated with being particularly hi-fi, but they are, and they’ve both spoken out about technical quality in recorded music. The problems can come from uncontrollable sources, I know that, back in the days of vinyl it was awful, but now, things should be more controllable, and back to the mastering engineer, surely, his job, more than anything is to catch problems others have missed, and I fully acknowledge that aspect of a mastering engineers work as being extremely important.
But I do wonder sometimes, and agreeing with "accepted practice" has never been my strong point, and my inbuilt cynicism may be my biggest stumbling block.
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