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> Faqs For Mastering
Saoirse O'Shea
post Jun 16 2010, 04:52 PM
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The following are frequently asked questions that I get, which may help answer some general questions about mastering:

Q- You charge 'x' to master a 10 track CD. The lad next door will do it cheaper, will you beat his rate?
A- Professional MEs charge the rate that they see as appropriate in relation to their time, experience and facilities. Whilst there are some 'cheap' mastering service be aware that you may well get what you pay for. Ask yourself:

What is the experience of the engineer?
Are they a specialised ME or a more generalist mix engineer?
What equipment do they use and is it mastering grade rather than mixing/tracking?
What monitoring chain do they use?
How well acoustically treated is the mastering room?
Can the correct attention to detail be taken for the rate asked?
Will the engineer spend time uniquely processing your music for the rate asked?

Q - How can I send my audio for mastering?
A - Most MEs will accept uncompressed audio (wave or AIFF, interleaved stereo) files either as a PCM file on a CD or USB stick or as a file by digital upload/download. Very few will accept an mp3 or other compressed audio formats.

Q - what bit depth and sample rate should I use?
A- 24 bit depth and normally 44.1 kHz sample rate. If you have used a higher SR then don't correct it but tell the ME and let them do the SRC. If your audio is at 16bit then whilst it is not ideal it is acceptable.

Q- should I dither my audio before it's mastered?
A- no, let the ME dither the audio if it is necessary. Generally dithering should be performed as few times as possible, preferably only once, and the ME will have mastering grade dithering in their processing chain.

Q- How much audio can an ME put on a CD?
A- Nominally a CDA will hold 78 minutes of uncompressed audio and up to 80 minutes with over-burning. However, very few CD replication plants will quality assure a CDA that exceeds 74 minutes and as such most MEs recommend that a CD does not exceed 74 minutes. In addition to this, for replication a CD cannot have more than 99 tracks, each track must be separated by 2 seconds of silence and the first track must be preceded by 4 seconds of silence.

Q- What format will the ME send me?
A- Mes normally will specify the format that they will send back. Most offer 16 bit/44.1k Red Book CDA and/or DDPi and/or high quality 320MP3. Some may also offer enhanced (multi-format) CDA, SACD, DVD.

Q - can I send my tracks one at a time?
A- yes but bear in mind if the tracks will appear on the same release that it can be of benefit to master them as a single product in one go both to ensure audio coherence and to arrange sequencing. Most ME's will keep the masters so the previous tracks can be referenced as the overall job proceeds but may not complete fades, sequencing issues and insert metadata until the complete project is available for assembly.

Q - What level should my rack/s be when I send it/them to the ME?
A- Your audio should not be clipped and distorted and preferably it should not exceed -3dBFS. You should avoid using processing on the 2 bus, particularly compressors and limiters unless they are there for a specific aesthetic purpose and in these cases you should supply an alternative mix without such processing.

Q- Can I send alternative mixes?
A- yes and MEs often request alternative takes with, for instance, the lead vocal at + or -.5 dB.

Q- Can I send stems?
A- Some MEs will accept stems in order to perform stem mastering. Note however that this is usually only performed in specific cases where a mix has a particular balance issue that the mix engineer cannot deal with. Stem mastering will almost always cost extra.

Q - what might I expect my ME to do?
A - the ME will provide an objective and critical perspective of your audio to help ensure that it sounds as best as it possibly can. They will perform quality assurance to make sure that it is suitable for, and supply you with a premaster for commercial replication/duplication or digital distribution. They may, if requested, attempt to impart a particular vibe or feel to your work like colour processing a digital recording to induce an analogue feel. It is worth noting though that colour processing may not achieve an ideal end result - ultimately if you want your work to sound analogue then it needs to be tracked and mixed on analogue equipment.

Q- I want my mix as loud/slammed as possible. Will the ME do this and still maintain the audio quality?
A- Slamming a mix will nearly always result in some loss of dynamics and result in a 'crushed', over-compressed audio at best and distortion at worst. If you want your mix loud discuss this with your ME as it may be possible to increase the volume considerably without slamming it.

Q- I don't like the master I've been sent?
A- discuss it with your ME. Most ME's will perform 1 or 2 reasonable corrections as part of their service. However, MEs are not mind readers - if you do not tell them that you want your ambient jazz track to sound like Shakira and be louder than Iggy Pop's 'Raw Power' do not expect them to process it like that. Most MEs may charge extra for alterations that were not part of the original remit.

Q- what processors are used the most in mastering?
A- Whilst this depends on each individual track arguably the most common processing is eq, followed by compression and limiting. On very rare occasions a mastering engineer may also use multi-band compression, reverb and other tools.

Q- why don't you use multiband compression more, my vst MBC is described as a mastering tool?
A - MBC can introduce artifacts and pre-ringing in to a mix and may also upset both the coherence and stereo placement of a mix. If an individual instrument needs correction by MBC at the mastering stage then it is nearly always best to remix the audio using a standard wide band compressor or eq.

Q- Donncha no ow ta dose an MBC then?
A- Yes I do thanks - do you? [Sorry, couldn't resist - taken from an email inquiry I received this week and my reply.]

Q- do you use 'X' all-in-one plug-in mastering package?
A- MEs tend to use very specific mastering grade software and hardware equipment. It is very rare that an 'all-in-one' package will have the right features and quality across all of its package for an ME but an ME may occasionally use one or more individual parts of a package in combination with other tools.

Q- My ME wants metadata, why?
A- Metadata includes the ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) that uniquely identifies your recording and also may include bar codes, track and artist details as CD text, and CD art. ISRC is required by many distributors, including i-tunes and Amazon and also by most large radio stations; without ISRC your music may not be stocked and distributed in shops and on-line and if it is played on air or in public you will not receive your performing rights payments.

Q-What can an ME do and not do?
A-A large part of an ME's role is quality control: adding fades, spacing and sequencing tracks, re-balancing dynamics, removing errors. Whilst popular mastering discussion tends to focus on processing the audio, mastering cannot generally make a bad mix good. If you have serious mix balance issues these are best corrected in the mixing stage and whilst any M.E. should be able to offer some mix advice they will mostly expect you to correct your own wayward mix. If you chose not to follow the MEs suggestions then that is your decision and you should not then expect the ME to fix those issues in your mix. Remember, in mastering when you EQ the vocal you EQ the snare, when you eq the kick you eq the bass line and it is compromises like these that an ME holds in mind at all times. An ME is not a mix engineer and you should not expect them to mix your work; if you do they may charge extra for this additional work. Nonetheless good mastering can make a good mix sound great and mastering can make a very big difference to the end result.


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Get your music professionally mastered by anl AES registered Mastering Engineer. Contact me for Audio Mastering Services and Advice and visit our website www.miromastering.com

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We use professional, mastering grade hardware in our mastering studo. Our hardware includes:
Cranesong Avocet II Monitor Controller, Dangerous Music Liasion Insert Hardware Router, ATC SCM Pro Monitors, Lavry Black DA11, Prism Orpheus ADC/DAC, Gyratec Gyraf XIV Parallel Passive Mastering EQ, Great River MAQ 2NV Mastering EQ, Kush Clariphonic Parallel EQ Shelf, Maselec MLA-2 Mastering Compressor, API 2500 Mastering Compressor, Eventide Eclipse Reverb/Echo.
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SirJamsalot
post Jun 16 2010, 05:12 PM
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you really need to compile your posts into a "Grimoire" of sorts! This is really great information!

I have a question based on your FAQ -
should I dither my audio before it's mastered?

can you explain what dithering is and what purpose it serves?

And "You should avoid using processing on the 2 bus"
What is the 2 Bus?

Christian A.

This post has been edited by SirJamsalot: Jun 16 2010, 05:15 PM


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skennington
post Jun 16 2010, 05:52 PM
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Good stuff Tony! cool.gif


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Fran
post Jun 16 2010, 05:52 PM
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Indeed, this and the other posts are great information, I can add it all to the Knowledge Base, along with some stuff from the Recording & Mixing classes sub-board, what do you think Tony? smile.gif


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jun 16 2010, 06:40 PM
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Chris -
Dithering is a process used for bit depth reduction when we convert from say a 24 bit to a 16 bit file. Most MEs work in 24 bit but the red book standard for audio CD requires 16 bit digital audio. To go from 24 to 16 you could either hard truncate ie cut out 8 bits of data, or you can dither and noise shape.
If you just truncate the bit depth from 24 to 16 then you will have quantisation error. In some cases this may not be too noticeable but in the majority it will be.

The issues with changing bit depth from 24 to 16 is that you both remove audio data and you increase the amount of distortion in the audio due to quantisation error. In the former you can never get back the data that is removed so dithering 24 to 16 and back to 24 will not give you back the original data - you will get a 16 bit depth file plus 8 bits. In the latter there are different ways of dealing with the distortion - and this essentially is dithering. Dithering involves masking the quantisation error by putting low level noise over it. There are different ways to dither - how and where you apply the noise, and the type of noise you apply. So when you dither though you are 1 reducing the bit depth, 2 inducing quantisation error, 3 masking that by inserting low level noise. Hence, if you have to dither do it as little as possible and so if you intend to get your audio mastered leave the dithering to the ME.

2-bus - just my short hand for the stereo main bus channel on the console/daw. So generally where you can do what you want in mixing on the individual tracks but try to leave stuff off the main stereo track.



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Get your music professionally mastered by anl AES registered Mastering Engineer. Contact me for Audio Mastering Services and Advice and visit our website www.miromastering.com

Be friends on facebook with us here.

We use professional, mastering grade hardware in our mastering studo. Our hardware includes:
Cranesong Avocet II Monitor Controller, Dangerous Music Liasion Insert Hardware Router, ATC SCM Pro Monitors, Lavry Black DA11, Prism Orpheus ADC/DAC, Gyratec Gyraf XIV Parallel Passive Mastering EQ, Great River MAQ 2NV Mastering EQ, Kush Clariphonic Parallel EQ Shelf, Maselec MLA-2 Mastering Compressor, API 2500 Mastering Compressor, Eventide Eclipse Reverb/Echo.
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Todd Simpson
post Jun 16 2010, 09:00 PM
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Great tips for those headed for Pro Mastering. Thanks Tony! It's something really worth considering if you plan to release your recordings,especially for sale.


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MickeM
post Jun 16 2010, 10:03 PM
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Great reading!
I remember your story of the kid next door who "mastered" that guys tape for almost no money... for almos no result and lost original files huh.gif


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jun 16 2010, 11:16 PM
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Definitely important information that should be structured. There is a lot of read here. Have you considered writing a book on this tony? It looks like you are well capable of doing it.


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Jun 17 2010, 09:32 AM
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QUOTE (Ivan Milenkovic @ Jul 16 2010, 10:16 PM) *
Definitely important information that should be structured. There is a lot of read here. Have you considered writing a book on this tony? It looks like you are well capable of doing it.


Only recently finished a book on broadcast radio management Ivan with two others co-authors and currently in negotiation to have that translated in to other languages. So I'm avoiding any big writing projects for a while - next up when I get back to a big writing project is supposed to be a book on the collapse of Being in ontotheology and phenomenology (a little philosophical light reading).


--------------------
Get your music professionally mastered by anl AES registered Mastering Engineer. Contact me for Audio Mastering Services and Advice and visit our website www.miromastering.com

Be friends on facebook with us here.

We use professional, mastering grade hardware in our mastering studo. Our hardware includes:
Cranesong Avocet II Monitor Controller, Dangerous Music Liasion Insert Hardware Router, ATC SCM Pro Monitors, Lavry Black DA11, Prism Orpheus ADC/DAC, Gyratec Gyraf XIV Parallel Passive Mastering EQ, Great River MAQ 2NV Mastering EQ, Kush Clariphonic Parallel EQ Shelf, Maselec MLA-2 Mastering Compressor, API 2500 Mastering Compressor, Eventide Eclipse Reverb/Echo.
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audiopaal
post Jun 17 2010, 01:16 PM
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Great read, thanks again Tony smile.gif
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Ivan Milenkovic
post Jun 24 2010, 08:58 PM
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QUOTE (tonymiro @ Jun 17 2010, 10:32 AM) *
Only recently finished a book on broadcast radio management Ivan with two others co-authors and currently in negotiation to have that translated in to other languages. So I'm avoiding any big writing projects for a while - next up when I get back to a big writing project is supposed to be a book on the collapse of Being in ontotheology and phenomenology (a little philosophical light reading).


Sounds great! smile.gif


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