What is mastering? and how can a mastering engineer help my track/Album? Some insiders tips and information
Music Think Tank Open
Anybody (no really anybody) can contribute anything relevant to this page…All mp3s should be posted on the MTT radio page. If you cannot find your post here, your article may have been moved to the MTT homepage.
Entries in mixing (14)
This is a post by mastering engineer Barry Gardner who operates SAS Mastering
What is side chain processing?
Side chain compression is often seen as a complicated production technique but assuming you understand the basics of compression there should not be any troubles understanding how it works. Most audio compressors work by controlling the input signal using the same signals dynamics, so for example when there is a loud section in a vocal recording the peak in the vocal gets reduced in volume. This has the effect of evening out the level of the singing. It is a very common and useful technique for many types of instrument and most modern music mixes will have a reasonable amount of compression occurring.
We know the ‘loudness wars’ is a constantly hot topic in music production circles and one common belief is that a loud master is produced in the mastering stage. Certainly mastering can increase the perceived volume of a mix down. However there is often a limitation to how loud a mix can get before it starts to produce undesirable side effects such as distortion, loss of detail, loss of dynamics etc. I am occasionally asked how you can produce loud mixes and I would in the very first instance suggest mixing to sound good and not just loud. People should also consider the genre they are working in, the needs for a drum and bass/dubstep track are very different for a folk or ambient piece so be sensitive to the musical genre within which you are working. Also consider that software like iTune Soundcheck is also making “loudness” somewhat less relevant as it tries to even out perceived volumes of tracks in the playback domain.
Starting to mix music is exciting and I wanted to produce a short document that gives some good starting advice. Of course it will be impossible to teach someone how to mix perfectly in such a short time but this guide will point you in the right direction towards important concepts to understand.
Headphones are of course an essential part of any studio and tracking would be near impossible without them on most occasions, but what about for mixing?
There are a few consideration to bear in mind when considering going about mixing your next masterpiece on a pair of cans, firstly, the accuracy of balanced frequency representation is a must here.
If you are a musician who is also doing your own mixing and recording you are likely to need as much help as possible achieving a good mix down. One way of understanding how your mixing is holding up against professionally engineered records is to listen against a reference which you admire the sound of within the genre of music you work with. There are a few pointers which can make this much more successful.
So what does baking a cake have to do with record production? It’s a helpful analogy that will help you plan how much time, effort, and expenses to devote to the different aspects of record production. Before proceeding to the next step, always be completely happy with the current phase. Continuing the process after the fact will limit your full potential as many issues cannot be corrected at a later stage.
For many musicians, producers and engineers mixing at home can bring up some limitations for music making. It may not always be possible to utilize loudspeakers for one reason or another. A common reason would be working in a flat or other domestic situation where disturbing ones neighbours is a distinct possibility. This text is about mixing on headphones. Mixing on headphones is from the outset a compromise situation although these days many people will in fact be listening to music with a pair of ear buds so it is certainly an important aspect of audio reproduction to be aware of.
For people who have to start mixing on headphones the first thing to be aware of is hearing damage. Make sure you do not listen for too long periods of time at loud volumes. The ear quickly adapts to loud listening volumes and it should be avoided at all costs it is especially important when mixing on headphones. It can be easy to not realize how loud you are listening and I suggest that you listen no louder that you need to in order to hear the balance requirements in your music. Closed back headphones can assist in attenuating some of the external sounds if need be so you can listen less loudly, though they do tend to be less comfortable over longer periods of time. When it comes to headphones you should be expecting to pay between £50.00 and £100.00 for a good quality set. If you peruse the quality manufacturers sites you will come up with a few options. Personally I like open back headphones for mixing in a quiet environment because there is some airflow to the ears and they tend to be more comfortable for longer.
I often suggest using a good sounding mix reference track to compare your own mix tone to. This is often in response to receiving a mix which has far too much or too little low frequency content for mastering. In these instances it is best to address the core problems in the mix down by using a mix reference.
I would use a track which relates to the genre of the mix your are working with. Select a track based on tone, clarity, space and definition, not it’s perceived level. This will help when getting the right tonal balance for the track, i.e. balance of lows, mid range and highs. I suggest bringing a track into your mix session with it’s own separate stereo track. Ensure the file is a high quality .wav file or .aiff file. Choose a track that you feel has a great mix which works on a lot of different playback systems. It helps if you like the track but don’t just choose a track where you love the song itself, try and discern what qualities give the track a good mix down.
There was once a time when any credible mixing studio would not be seen without a pair of Yamaha NS-10 monitors. They are the black speakers with the white cones and are well recognized even by lay persons, in fact many people still swear by using them today. However another very common but less well known loudspeaker was the Auratone 5C. This speaker was very unassuming, a 5 inch single circular driver in a small wooden box. The goal of this speaker was to allow an audio engineer to have a focus on the critical mid range frequencies of an audio mix.
Almost all instruments and voices have mid range components and it is a frequency range which can easily get cluttered and such a speaker as the Auratone 5C allowed the engineer to reference the mid range without the ambiguities of multi driver loudspeakers. This type of speaker also approximated the reproduction characteristics of television sets, small radio receivers and other small devices from which sound would be reproduced.
When I record drum or percussion tracks for clients, 9 times out of 10 I’m sending the RAW wav files straight from Pro Tools. Of course, my goal is to always get the best sounds that I can possibly get in the studio and at the source. However, mixing and processing the drum kit is inevitable.
In general, mixing audio is a personal art form. Everything from the style of music to the instruments chosen will determine how the mixing session will go. Because the drums are typically recorded first, it makes sense to mix the drum tracks within the context of the remaining instruments later verses starting with a processed drum mix. Of course, there are no rules here. This is just what I have found to be the most effective way to work.
That being said, I get a lot of questions from clients asking for my advice on mixing the drum kit. My only goal when mixing drums is to attempt to highlight the sounds as I hear them in the studio. Meaning, my approach is simple:
Get rid of what’s not necessary and keep what is. I know, really deep stuff right?
As a musician it is highly recommended that you use 24 bit resolution in your digital audio workstation. This affords a number of real advantages and not just when processing the audio with plug in software. When you set your DAW to 24 bit you have allowed yourself to record at a much lower level without any technical detriment. The theoretical noise floor at 24 bit is significantly lower than that of a 16bit recording. This means that you can now record signals that peak at around -18dBFS. Thats sounds low but in fact this is equivalent to the electrical level that would have been understood as nominal in a large NEVE or SSL console i.e. 0Vu. In a digital system -18dBFS is referenced to +4dBu (1.23 volts), the same can be said of 0Vu. So there is no need to record at high recording levels when using 24 resolution. I think the confusion may have crept in for 2 reasons, we we recommended that hot signals were good at 16 bit and also the saying “hit zero” may have worked it’s way into the minds of musicians as a hang over from the days of large consoles and Vu metering.
We, as modern musicians, are spoilt. We can have anything we want in a snap. Instruments from Abbey Road, snap. Ultra high resolution Pro-Tools recording, snap. Performing an entire set using only a mobile phone, snap.
So, when anyone can record a song, why are so few people recording quality albums?
Because they require focus.
When you have 50 unfinished tracks floating around, how can you pick 10 to fit together into an album? A good album isn’t simply a collection of songs thrown together, often they are written and recorded during the same sessions. Unlike single songs, albums require a focus on the bigger picture. How will the songs sound next to each other? What order would they work best in? Do all the tracks belong on there?
With the low prices of recording equipment and software, it is no surprise that the number of musicians trying to make it big on a DIY budget is on the rise. Seasoned industry veterans will testify that not only does an artist need to possess the talent and determination to succeed in the music business but their success depends on the team of dedicated industry professionals surrounding the artist. As more and more layoffs take place within major labels, these professionals become more accessible to the little man.