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 MASTERING


MASTERING 
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Preparing your music for mastering
  

 


In today's highly competitive world the highest sound quality is very important for success of a recording. If you want the really good sound quality after mastering process you should take care about certain things in the mixing stage and in preparing tracks for mastering.

How to prepare the sound recording for mastering

When you prepare your material for mastering you should follow certain rules, which should be applied in order to get as good sonic results as possible, which is important for your CD.


1 When you perform your final mixdown the 24 bit resolution gives better and more error free results. While CD-quality, that is 16 bits 44 100 khz is satisfactory, in professional music production world we use every opportunity to get a better sound, and the higher resolution is one of them. Digital mixdowns of 32 bit float resolution are also accepted, but the 24 bit mixdown will do the job. The higher sampling rate of 96 kHZ is also very desirable. While the standard, 44 100 Hz rates are theoretically providing the frequency response of up to 22 050 Hz, which is quite enough for human hearing, some researchers claim that the listening process is taking place not only with ears, but also the whole body and those higher frequencies can significantly raise the perceived quality of the music. Anyways, it will not hurt if you make your mix at 24 bits 96 kHZ. It means double precision in volume and frequency.    

2 Make sure all of your mixes are carefully described and contain all the necessary notes on special versions, fades, and the sequence of songs, and also your special requests such as making the solo guitar louder, vocal more up front or to the back, leveling a synthesizer in the mix.

Remarks on compression in the mix:

The problem of too much compression in recordings is growing bigger and bigger. Very high levels often lead to distortion, making your carefully worked out track hard to listen more then once or twice. 
It is worth knowing, that compression is something easy to add, but very difficult to remove and to reverse its negative artifacts. Therefore it is much better to leave the compression and final level of the recording to professional mastering engineer. If you send a heavily compressed and limiter treated mix which is already very loud you will leave very little room to a professional to maneuver. The final effect will be WORSE then after sending the right, moderate in the level and uncompressed mix. Send mix with lower volume level, but with nicely worked out track levels and equalizer relations (tonal characteristics) between them. The well shaped mix should be done the way all the tracks complement each other- there is a niche for the vocal and leading instruments, the bass is working nicely with the kick drum and the cymbals are not interfering with other instruments in any way, rather they are complementing them. For more info about proper mixing see our article on mixing.  

Avoid using compressor or limiter on a master bus during mixing. It often causes irreversible damage to the material and bounds specialist's hands limiting the full potential of mastering process. Professional sound engineers use special mastering processors and have their proven methods worked out over years of experience that bring out far better results than unprofessional "master during mix" tries. The mixdown does not have to be loud, final level will be professionally set in our studio and will successfully compete with level of any commercial recording. Try to leave about 3-6dB of headroom in your mixes, wherever it is possible make your mix quieter, not louder. You should not use normalization process, also. Each change to digital sound is recalculating the digital word and can cause errors, especially when working in lower resolutions. The only thing really worth working on is tracks levels and track equalizer setting along with nicely positioning them in stereo panorama, and giving them some effects like reverb, or echo. Also, the FX are very important in achieving best sound of mixdown. Nicely and carefully done mixdown will always give far better final master, therefore spend your time on it.

Vocals in recording
Vocal should be mixed loudly and clear, up front, even when it seems to be too loud in relation to other tracks. In a typical rock, rap or pop song vocal should fill about 50% of acoustic space of the mix, being definitely up front. Only the drums and bass should be almost as loud. However, there are exceptions from that rule, for example, when we want vocals to have only background character, or if the vocals  have many effects on them, which make them more of an ornamental sounds. Heavily processed vocals or backing vocals may stay in deep, barely audible background of the mix if such is the artistic goal of the recording.


Drums and bass in a recording
Drums should be mixed loud, but bass should not be too heavy or loud. In the good mix it should rather be felt than heard. The right mastering will pull it out and set the correct level and dynamics of it. When bass is too strong it takes up too much space from other instruments and is certain obstacle in the process of mastering, especially in setting the high average level of loudness of the whole recording. It is also important to set the kick drum and the bass slightly differently using equalizer. You can read more about it in a separate article of this page on mixing. The point is to make bass and kick playing on slightly different frequencies and complementing each other. This is the only way to make them perfectly audible in the mix. For example, if we boost 55 Hz for the kick, which is very low, the bass should be set in slightly higher register, say 88 Hz. It will positively give better definition of those instruments in the whole, mastered mix. Plus, there is two ways of mixing kick and bass-one approach would be to make the kick more of a sharp hit and the bass a low cushion giving the fundamental to the whole mix, or vice versa. It is no good when the bass and kick play on the same low frequecy.    



Cymbals in recording
You have to watch their level, they can not be too loud in the mix! They should only complement the mix, give some upper end and not go over any other instrument. Cymbals tracks work well with their panorama set to both sides, leaving the center for the vocals or lead instruments. The cymbals should have the lower end of spectrum removed with use of high pass filter or just regular equalizer. this way they will sit it the mix much better not taking any energy from other instruments.

Moreover:

It is worth to resist the widely spread on the music market temptation of making everything loud as possible, at any price. It is result of "level wars" that started in the late nineties and last up till this day. Bob Katz writes about it, just like many other mastering specialists or just pure enthusiasts of good sound and they point it out as one of the most serious things impairing music quality today. nobody wins in such war-  the loser here is both the listener and the artist! Therefore it is a very nice idea to leave yourself a few decibels of space on your meters and concentrate on great track balance, the sound and the artistic performance. For detailed tips on mixing see another articles that you will find in article section of this page.
 

Formats accepted

Preferred medium is CD\DVD-R with your recorded material in .wav format. Other formats accepted include .aiff, .ogg-vorbis and other popular digital formats. We also accept mixdowns and tracks on 1\4 inch reel-to-reel tape with the speeds from 9.5 cm\sec (3.3\4 inch per second) up to 38 cm\sec (15 inches per second). There is a possibility of sending down the material for mastering via Internet, using file sharing services such as Rapid Share. While sending many tracks for mixing a good idea would be compress them to make them smaller and faster to upload and download. The most appropriate format for this is Monkey Audio as this app ensures completely lossless compression of files.  The sound loses absolutely nothing when transferred back to .wav format. Using file exchange portals such as Rapid Share instead of sending music on CD\DVD using regular mail has one major advantage- money and time saving. You can do that, it  will allow us to quickly download your music and start working on it.
Mp3 is actually accepted in its better quality settings such as 256 or 320 kb\sec but we do not recommend it as it is a lossy compression format and always, at least theoretically it will cause our recording to lose some of it's quality.
 However the .mp3 format is very useful when it comes to exchanging ideas or giving us a hint of your music style.   

 

 

For all your questions and inquires please contact us at:

info@studiomastering.net

 

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All articles are covered by International Copyright Laws.
Copyright ® by Mariusz Wojto˝, 2007-2008. Copying, the use of excerpts for any purpose without the agreement of the author prohibited.
Emotion Converting Plant is a registered trademark of Mariusz Wojto˝.





 

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