Mastering songs

with industry Pro, Nick Batzdorf

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gen5020
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Mastering songs

Post by gen5020 » Sat Feb 10, 2007 5:39 pm

I am having a terrible time getting my tunes HOT! I have fairly good gear and I know what I'm doing for the most part but when I compare my tracks with others (doing mostly production music), mine sound wimpy and a few notches quieter than others. I know I can spend more money and get them mastered which will probably do the trick but I'm wondering if anyone has a secret piece of gear or trick up your sleeve that could help me. I have been in other forums where you wouldn't even bring this subject up, because they assume you will indeed, master your recordings. But most of us are plugging songs, doing rewrites and/or pumping out production music and we're trying to keep costs down to a minumum (at least I am). So here is the question: Care to share what you are doing in this department? I'd really like to hear what Matto and you other big shots are doing in the production field. Also, any tips on gear or technique?Thanks everyone.Dave

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Re: Mastering songs

Post by koopaloop » Sat Feb 10, 2007 6:29 pm

Hey Dave,I dont really have or use any 'gear'. But I do use 2 great plugins, that I couldnt live without.T-racks 24 and Voxengo Suite/Elephant.Both are awesome, and really add some analog warmth to tracks while they bring them up a few notches.When T-racks doesn't seem to be working, I use Voxengo, and vice versa.Though one or the other is good.Hope that helps.....KKhttp://www.t-racks.com/www.voxengo.com

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Re: Mastering songs

Post by ernstinen » Sat Feb 10, 2007 8:27 pm

Hi Dave,I've been mastering since the analog days, and I used to rent a great EQ (Massenburg) and used a bit of stereo compression going to reel-to-reel tape. Man, there's nothing like analog tape to beef up levels.But, alas, those days are gone (some still mix to 1/2" analog tape), but I decided that maintaining a tape recorder didn't make much sense anymore.So now I run one analog pass into an Empirical Labs "Fatso Jr," which simulates analog tape, consoles, compressors etc. It's a marvelous piece of hardware, but it's (gulp) $2000.Well, through that, I go into an Alesis Masterlink and record at 24/96. Then I do a digital feed into Pro Tools LE and fool around with a T-Racks EQ. I try and keep the levels as high as possible, ignoring the LED meters unless I hear audible digital distortion.Once that sounds nice, I go back digitally into the Masterlink, and it automatically reduces the mix to the CD standard.____________________________________________I know this is a little more "hi-tech" answer than you're looking for, so here's what I would do on a budget: Use a "little" bit of stereo compression; Add a "little" bit of really high EQ and really low EQ (18k & 50hz or so ---); And use your ears on peak levels.BTW, alot of people really overdo it with "normalizing" and compression. Louder is not necessarily better. Make your masters sound warm and musical.My 2 cents,Ern

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Re: Mastering songs

Post by andreh » Sat Feb 10, 2007 11:32 pm

Dave-The first thing I'd ask is why you feel your tracks need to be as "loud" as everyone else's...are your clients complaining? If not, then leave the life in your music that's bound to be robbed if you start squashing the heck out of it like most commercial CD's are these days.If you do feel you need to compete with commercial CD levels (which should really only be the case if you're releasing a commercial CD; I can't think of another area of music production that calls for levels that hot), then your main tool will be a peak limiter such as the Waves L2, Massey Mastering Limiter, etc. or a hardware equivalent. That alone won't get you there; you'll probably need to compress & peak limit individual tracks, and the 2-track will likely need some compression as well...and this is assuming you already have a mix with very good frequency balance to start with - none of these methods will work without that.If your problem is not actually one of volume but of lack of fullness in the mix, then actually adding more dynamics (less compression) may be the answer...if everything is super-squashed the listener won't sense any life in your songs.Do you have an example track you could post for more specific feedback?Andre
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Re: Mastering songs

Post by gen5020 » Sun Feb 11, 2007 8:40 am

Hey KK, Ern and Andre. . . thanks for the posts! As usual, I find great help here at the forum. I checked out the Voxengo site, KK, lots of good stuff there. I'll look into the elephant and possibly others. Both you and Ern mentioned the T-racks. I have a T-Racks eq that I love, can you tell me the device you recommend for a final mix? Ern, thanks for the indepth version of what you do, I need to study it more and look up some of the stuff you are using.Andreh, yeah, I know what you are saying about giving the tune life with dynamic contract. I totally agree, it's just that I wish I could get it, overall, as hot as others. I have the L1, can you tell me if the L2 is that much better? I want to play by the rules here, so I don't know if I can send you to some sites where my tunes are listedwith other tunes so you can hear the difference, but I'd be happy to have you go to my broadjam site and listen to some. http://www.broadjam.com/davidflavin Thanks again guys.

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Re: Mastering songs

Post by koopaloop » Sun Feb 11, 2007 11:43 am

Hey Dave,Listened to your stuff. Only listened to a couple of tracks, but to be honest, from what I heard. THeir levels seem just fine to me. Im interested to hear what others think too.... And the T-racks unit I use is the whole thing. The T-racks 24, its got the EQ, Compression, Limiter, and Peak Lmt.Its a VST so it can be used like that or you can use the seperate parts seperatelly. Like Comp on one track, EQ on another, Limit on another, and then Comp/EQ/Limit, on the final mix. etc.Some great sounding tracks there by the way.Is that you on the sax? KK

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Re: Mastering songs

Post by andreh » Sun Feb 11, 2007 2:17 pm

Dave-I listened to some of your tracks - nice stuff. Mixed very well too...good overall balance. If I had to nitpick, I'd say there might be a little too much going on in the 6-8k region (particularly on some of your higher-frequency percussion elements, but on some snares as well), and in some cases your bass is a little bigger than it can be if you want to obtain the hottest levels possible; lower frequencies have a more damaging effect on limiters (when pushed to the "limit") since their waveforms contain greater amplitude.As far as levels go, I agree with Koop that they're loud enough, though they are 3-6dB's shy of some commercial releases (after a quick listen back-to-back with Coldplay's "X & Y"). I have to ask again...why do you feel compelled to match the levels of commercial CD's? If you're targeting your work to anything besides a final, released CD (which will probably go through pro mastering anyway), then superhot levels are not imperative.Andre
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Re: Mastering songs

Post by gen5020 » Mon Feb 12, 2007 12:35 pm

Thanks again for the comments, guys.Andre, would I drop those low frequencies in the final mix or in my actual bass/bass drum tracks? That's a great idea. I've heard that it tightens up the bass part but I never thought of sheer volume as well. I guess the real reason I want it fairly "hot" is because it seems the other tracks that are surounding mine in a Production Library are all hotter and I just think if a client is looking at 2 songs that are pretty much the same, they would take the louder sounding one. I might be wrong. Koop, the sax player is a good friend and co-writer of mine. We are both music teachers and it's fun to collaborate on tunes.

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Re: Mastering songs

Post by andreh » Mon Feb 12, 2007 1:19 pm

Dave-You can approach it either way, but fixing an issue in the mix is usually preferable to doing it in mastering since you can better target the problem instrument or frequencies.Reducing a mix's bass content won't make the mix louder by itself, but it will often allow you to apply more peak limiting and overall gain before the signal starts to sound like poop. This can be afffected by other aspects of the mix, though, so you'll have play it "by ear."You should check with a music library before you assume they want superhot tracks. Some libraries want to do the mastering themselves (though this is mostly true with the higher-end ones), in which case they'll want you to leave some headroom in the mix.If your music sounds great, it's unlikely a library will choose not to accept it because it's marginally lower than other tracks in their stable...although they may ask for hotter versions at some point, so it doesn't hurt to be able to provide them. Your stuff isn't exactly "quiet" anyway. None of the libraries I've been accepted to (or ANY music recipient, for that matter, including game developers, TV/film producers, and advertisers) have ever made special requestes for ultra-hot levels in all my years of producing music. The exception, of course, is the mastering projects I've done for CD releases, but even then only the hiphopp guys seem overly concerned about a slammed signal.This is probably because in most contexts where music in not the spotlight there's plenty of headroom available in the medium (20dB's in film, 6dB's in most broadcast, variable in games), and there are other audio elements that need to be heard over the music so it ends up being turned down anyway.I"m interested to hear Matto's take on this, since he has lots of library experience; surely more than I do.Andre
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Re: Mastering songs

Post by matto » Tue Feb 13, 2007 10:14 am

The vast majority of libraries I work for do their own mastering and specifically ask for "unmastered" songs, even in cases where I get contracted to do a whole disc.In cases where songs from a number of composers are being put on the same disc, only the library can do a proper mastering job.If they don't they probably feel that loudness doesn't matter for background applications, which I would tend to agree with. However personally, if I was a library I would not release a CD into the market place that doesn't have at least some basic level matching done, IMHO it comes off as unprofessional. You don't want to force the music super to constantly turn the volume up and down as he/she auditions various tracks. It's mostly a matter of convenience, I don't think a music supervisor would fall into the "louder is better" trap as the music will be way in the background anyway...IF you find a need to make your tracks "louder", I agree with Andre that it would have to start in the mix. IMHO perceived loudness is largely a function of mix density (I'm talking about spectral density here not density of the arrangement). You'd use EQ, compression, effects and automation to make sure each individual instrument takes up the maximum space allotted to it in the mix, at any given time, just shy of stepping on everything else. Which is a quite tricky and time consuming process that takes a long time to master. Then in the mastering phase, your most useful weapon for squeezing out yet more volume would be a multiband compressor, plus maybe some overall EQ. The Waves C4 is very popular, as is the Precision Multiband plugin for the UAD-1 card.matto

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