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> The Reckoning And Nurture The Noise, mastering a compilation CD
Saoirse O'Shea
post Apr 21 2011, 03:40 PM
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Most, if not all, of us know that Ben Higgens is in the rock group The Reckoning.

What you might not know is that Ben and his group recently very kindly allowed one of their songs, Rusted Fist, to be included on a compilation CD called ´Nurture the Noise´, which will be released soon.

The compilation CD is a fund raiser on behalf of the UK radio station Rhubarb Radio and all the artists on the CD donated their music and time free. It features 10 tracks from the following heavy rock bands from England, Ireland and the USA, all of whom have been featured artists on the Saturday Rocks with Jenny Tate radio program. (BTW if anyone wants to listen to a rock radio program Jenny broadcasts live 1-3pm (UK time) on Saturdays, including a live stream to the internet and the programs can also be listened to later again via the internet. Check her out
via www.rhubarbradio.com .) The bands are: Steeltrooper, Agincourt, The Reckoning, Pantheon, Losing God, Blue Origin, Marc Malone 82 tracks), Alter Eden and, Entropy. So it´s a very good compilation, IMHO, of some of the best current rock that is out there.

Anyway, why do I know about it? I agreed to master/re-master the compilation and thought it might be helpful or interesting to go through some of the mastering issues that surround a compilation CD. These include:

1/ Coherence
A major issue for any compilation is that the various tracks will very often have been recorded at different times, in different studios, on different equipment, by different engineers and with differing production values. For a compilation a decision has to be made as to whether the mastering engineer should view them as different and treat them as individual tracks or attempt to find a coherent sound. With the former you can concentrate on making each track sound their best but potentially at the cost of a CD that may sound disjointed. In this case the producer and I decided on coherence and this meant that after final sequencing that the EQ balance of each track had to be checked and altered to ensure coherence.

2/ Recording formats
Normally an audio project will be presented in a uniform format, i.e. all the tracks will be in 24/44.1 or 16/48 wave files etc. With a compilation however we often have to deal with multiple formats. In the case of this particular project we had some tracks at 16 bit, some at 24, some as wave and some as AIFF. - all presented digitally. (Other compilation projects we´ve done in the past have included tracks on DAT, 1/2 inch tape, vinyl and so on.) Once I had the tracks I had to convert them all to a single format and form - in this case 24/44.1 wave files. However, I over-sampled two tracks to 192kHz as they had been dithered already to 16 bit, with a corresponding loss of high frequency space and air.

Here are two short examples of Ben´s group The Reckoning and their track Rusted Fist before and after mastering. Note - they are not volume matched and the files are mp3 rather than the CD wave files to save space. Thanks to Ben and The Reckoning for being kind enough to let me include these examples:

Attached File  Rusted_Fist_unmastered.mp3 ( 2.64MB ) Number of downloads: 167


Attached File  Rusted_Fist_mastered.mp3 ( 2.99MB ) Number of downloads: 170



3/Recording issues
As already mentioned the tracks were recorded and mixed under lots of differing conditions. Nonetheless many of them had similar issues - i.e. too much bass, muddy low mids - that seem to be common to a lot of mixes, including those done in professional mix studios. Individual issues centered more on unwanted recording noises and artifacts, EQ and compression of individual parts, and the inclusion of limiters on the 2 bus. These had to be dealt with on an individual basis before we could start to sequence the CD.

4/Sequencing
Sequencing is the stage where you assemble the CD in to order, add fades and do any necessary tonal balancing. As part of the process of sequencing the ME should ensure that the CD flows and is coherent. With flow it´s important that there are no unintended sudden shifts in volume between individual tracks - you don´t want one track to sound a lot quieter than others. Perceived volume here usually focuses on the lead vocal or main instrument in an instrumental. For non-compilations, assuming coherence for the CD tonality is required, flow is generally achieved by setting the processing chain for a specific track after which the other tracks run through the same chain and are continually compared and adjusted to match the volume of the first track. Essentially time is spent on the first track and the others then fall in line with some minor adjustments. For a compilation you again do this but there is much more checking and more adjustment of the chain followed by repeated checking because of the differences between the mixing of the individual tracks. Much of the work flow here is not just the common tonality but how that affects each individual track and what adjustments need to be made to a track individually. Once this is finalised then the CD is listened to again and some final processing is applied common to all the tracks to help coherence.

Here´s a picture of the CD being sequenced

Attached Image
After processing has been completed the tracks need to be assembled in the correct order and any fades/X-fades added. The picture below is the Fade window for Rusted Fist just prior to this. In this case we trimmed off a small amount of the initial silence and added a very slight fade in to ease the track in.

Fade screen for Rusted Fist

Attached Image

Once the fades are complete the gaps at the CD start and between tracks are set. The gaps are part of the PQ data for the CD: PQ includes accurate track time lengths, CD spin up and initial CD start intro time and so on, some of which is specified in the Red Book standard, along with other issues such as the maximum number of tracks, minimum track length and total CD time. The first picture above shows some of the PQ data for the CD. In the case of Nurture the Noise most tracks had a standard gap but one track, an instrumental, had a longer gap. This gives the listener a little bit of extra time to help adjust to an instrumental after hearing a lot of vocal lead material. This is also often true if a quiet track follows a much louder one. In the first picture you can see two boxes near the top of the screen called Autoplace and Slip. The first is turned off as I´m adjusting the gap for the instrumental manually but Slip is turned on and is set to slip right: any track will move to the right of any track that I manually move. In the case of Nurture the Noise there is a track after the instrumental, slip right means that the gap that is already set will be maintained as I adjust the gap between the instrumental and the track that proceeds it.

Exactly how long a gap between tracks is depends on the material and requires careful listening of the start and ends along with any fades and X-fades. If you look closely at the first picture you can see that there is a 1.57 second PQ duration at the end of tracks 2 and 3. This conforms to a 2 second gap after allowing for CD spin up. You can also see that there are a series of icons to the LHS just below the PQ data, which include a number of icons that look like a green arrow. These are all ways in this DAW that you can use to audition a track and range from playing the Cd in it´s entirety, playing an individual track, playing the end of one and the start of the next and so on.

The final thing to notice on the PQ data here is the ISRC code field. The first 5 alphanumerics define the record label and the country of origin. The last 7 alphanumerics define the year of first release and the track identity - in the case of The Reckoning the country is GB, label id is X7L, year 2011 and track id is 00001. On a standard cd from a single artist recorded and released in a single year only the last 5 digits will normally alter - the first 7 remain constant (same label etc) - and in this DAW we can auto generate sequential ISRCS. On a compilation the ISRCS are all different and so they all have to be entered and double checked manually.

5/Final burn and checks
Once the CD is assembled and sequenced the tracks can be dithered to 16 bit from 24 and the PMCD can be burnt. In our case we dither using HQ-TPDF and without noise-shaping. We didn´t use noise shaping for Nurture the Noise as several tracks had already been dithered with noise shaping type 3 and to add any more noise shaping would, IMHO, have resulted in too high a noise floor in the upper frequency range. We burn to a Plextor Premium II drive at 20 times speed in DAO and then check for C1, C2 and CU errors as shown in the final pic below. This shows that the PMCD conforms to the Red Book quality requirements of fewer than 200 C1s average per second (we had 0.5) and no C2 and no CU errors (we had none).



C1, C2 and CU error graph for Nurture the Noise.
Attached Image

Finally we wrote a covering note and printed out the PQ file for the replicator/duplicator and posted these with the PMCD and a reference cd for the producer. And that´s the story of how we mastered the compilation Nurture the Noise CD.
Attached File(s)
Attached File  Rusted_Fist_unmastered.mp3 ( 2.64MB ) Number of downloads: 132
 


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Ben Higgins
post Apr 21 2011, 03:53 PM
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Thanks Tony, for the mention, and of course we were glad to help in any way smile.gif


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Todd Simpson
post Apr 21 2011, 06:48 PM
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Great article on Mastering! Thanks much for sharing this, I hope it gets added to the WIKI right away.


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quadrium
post Apr 21 2011, 07:29 PM
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Bookmarked smile.gif Thank you for sharing this Tony. Very helpful article.

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Saoirse O'Shea
post Apr 24 2011, 12:31 PM
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Also, Rusted Fist was nicely tracked and mixed by a professional mix engineer so there weren´t really any issues to sort out at mastering.

Probably should have said that the type of vibe I was after for Rusted Fist was kind of Iron Maiden circa their Powerslave album. So at my end there was a fair amount of focus on the drum sound. Sound at mastering was got with broadband compression, EQ and a small amount of limiting- no multiband compressors, no dynamic EQ, no exciters, stereo wideners etc.


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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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Ivan Milenkovic
post Apr 26 2011, 07:11 PM
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Very good article Tony, I like the "before-after" samples too. Great documentation! smile.gif


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Bogdan Radovic
post Apr 30 2011, 05:19 PM
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Thanks for these articles Tony! They are very educational! smile.gif


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