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> Mixing And Mastering - Choosing A Mastering Studio
Saoirse O'Shea
post Sep 19 2012, 11:28 AM
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If you do decide to master your own material you should be aware of the quality and technical standards for your release format. You should try to be as objective as you can about your work and if at all possible critically listen to it on a mastering monitoring chain in a suitably acoustic treated studio. You should also be as familiar as possible with music production and editing and be able to use your daw and hardware and software wthout relying on presets.

Very few people however are sufficiently objective enough to master their own music and so it is rarely a good idea to do this if this if you intend to release your music commercially.
If you decide that you don't want to master your own work there are a lot of people and studios who offer mastering so how can you chose between them?

Different types of mastering studios/engineers
It doesn't take long looking on the Internet to realise that there are literally hudreds, if not thousands of people and studios who offer audio mastering. These include:

The amateur home or 'bedroom' masterer. This is the self-taught person who often works from home, relies on software and who makes considerable use of pre-sets. Their room/studio often lacks sufficient acoustic treatment and little of their software will be specifically for mastering. Very few have an understanding of the quality and/or technical requirements for each format. Sessions are unattended. Some will do this work for free but most will charge a low rate which (should) reflects their use of presets along with their very limited experience and skill levels.

pros - usually inexpensive and may be free.
cons- you get what you pay for.

The professional mixing engineer/studio. Many mixing engineers/studios nowadays offer a basic mastering service usually to give their clients an idea of what their music would sound like if it was mastered. Here the engineer who mixed your work also masters it often at the same time, in the same studio and on the same equipment. The engineer has at least some understanding of the quality and technical issues for the required format and a good understaind of their studio and equipment. Nonetheless the engineer, studio and the equipment are rarely specialised for mastering. Sessions are usually attended. Fees varely widely.

pros- can be quick and easy as the mastering is often done alongside the mixing. Fewer engineers for the producer to deal with. Can be cheaper than professional mastering but rates vary.
cons - tends to lack objectivity about the mix and often does not reach the sonic quality of a professional master.

The professional mastering engineer/studio Here the engineer, studio and equipment are specialised for, and often only provide, mastering. The engineer has a good understanding of all aspects of mastering and the requirements of the different formats. Sessions can be either attended or unattended. Fees vary.

pros - Objective about the mix. Specialised, high end service.
cons - another engineer/studio to work with. Not as immediate as the service fom a mix engineer. May not be the cheapest solution.

How to chose an engineer/studio
As there are literally hundreds of people on the Internet how do you chose between them then? Here are a few things to consider.

Only you can decide what you can afford and what you want from the service. A high price may not always provide a good result and sometimes a free/low cost solution might meet your needs. Think carefully about what you need and what you can afford.

Ask the engineer questions about the service they provide and if you have any technical queries ask them. A good service will answer your questions and will often provide explanations about what they do, how and why. Mastering requires communication between the cllient and the engineer and if the engineer can't /won't answer your questions from the start you may well not get the results you want.

Does the studio have photos of their equipment? If they haven't then it may well be because they rely totally on software and work form home. Do be careful with photos as some internet sites use stock, generic photos and some use photos stolen from other sites. Most professional studios now watermark their photos because of this.

Some people use photos taken whilst the engineer was in a different studio. The classic photo is of a mix engineer sitting at someone else's console in someone else's studio. One way to avoid this is to see the studio in person. Professional engineers are usually happy for people to arrange to visit their studio but don't try to pop in uninvited. Most professional engineers are also happy for you to attend your session. If your engineer will not let you make an appointment to visit or attend sessions you may need to ask them why.

Is the equipment and studio suitable for mastering? Professional mastering is specialised work and requires specialist equipment. Recording and mixing hardware and software is not specialised mastering equipment nd is often not able to operate at a high enough quality. Ask the engineer what equipment they use and why it is suitable for mastreing.

What experience has the engineer got? Many are accreditted members of the professional Audio Engineering Society (AES) and you can check their registration with the AES.
Accreditation helps demonstrate that they have the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience. Any mastering engineer should be able to answer technical questions so don't be afraid to ask! The engineer may also provide a list of clients and projects that they have worked with/on and any awards that they may have been nominated for or won. Lists ishould clearly identify what the project was for - mastering, remastering, compilation, post and so on. Some sites include famous guest musicians used on a track as clients.

Can you hear their work? Many web sites include 'before' and 'after' samples of audio. Very few of these samples are level macthed - the 'master' is louder and so sounds subjectively better. Very few professional mastering engineers provide samples like this for many reasons including copyright, the need to level match the samples, the breach of client confidentiality by posting the 'warts and all before' sample, the reduction in audio quality when audio is streamed. What a professional engineer will do is suggest examples of their work for you to listen to or offer a demo.

Will they provide a demo? Some sites will master a track, or an edited track for free or for a nominal fee. This can be helpful if your demo is really representative of your project. Furthermore a demo may not represent the final proposed master as that is often dependent on issues such as fades, track order, flow and coherence. Many studios instead allow you a specific number of free 'amendments'. If you are not happy with the first provisional master you can ask for an amendment. This can be more helpful then a demo as it is based on the full project rather than one 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

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Gabriel Leopardi
post Sep 19 2012, 02:11 PM
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Great article Tony! This clarifies a lot of myths about mastering. Thanks for this great input! smile.gif


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bleez
post Sep 19 2012, 06:51 PM
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back in the day my old band recorded a 4 track CD in a proper studio and then it got mastered at hilltongrove in London. The whole experience was without doubt one of the finest things Ive ever been involved in!


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Bogdan Radovic
post Sep 20 2012, 12:27 AM
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Awesome article Tony - very useful!

I think going for the "free demo master" option with online studios is a very good to get a feel for what you are going to get. I have noticed that many of studios do offer this option nowadays and it should be possible to get at least several completely different masters to compare and choose from.


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Todd Simpson
post Sep 20 2012, 12:28 AM
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Very cool article! Should go in our recording wiki!


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Sep 20 2012, 07:43 AM
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QUOTE (bleez @ Sep 19 2012, 06:51 PM) *
back in the day my old band recorded a 4 track CD in a proper studio and then it got mastered at hilltongrove in London. The whole experience was without doubt one of the finest things Ive ever been involved in!


Dave's a nice guy and a good engineer smile.gif


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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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Saoirse O'Shea
post Sep 20 2012, 08:12 AM
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QUOTE (Bogdan Radovic @ Sep 20 2012, 12:27 AM) *
...

I think going for the "free demo master" option with online studios is a very good to get a feel for what you are going to get. I have noticed that many of studios do offer this option nowadays and it should be possible to get at least several completely different masters to compare and choose from.


If/when you do try to make sure that the track really is representative of the project and what you are trying to achieve.

It tends to be the less experienced engineers who offer free demos as they are trying to build their client lists up. Us more expierenced engineers don't usually have the time to do work for free. To give you some idea we get about 30 or so 'free demo' requests per month. If we did them that would be a week's work. As it is we provide free advice and comments on mixes. which takes a considerable amount of time as well.


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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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PosterBoy
post Sep 20 2012, 11:47 AM
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I can easily see, when it comes to mixing then, going to a person who predominantly mixes for your genre is best, but what about mastering, is there a need to seek a mastering engineer who mainly masters rock music as opposed to hip hop or dance music?


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Sep 20 2012, 01:38 PM
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QUOTE (PosterBoy @ Sep 20 2012, 11:47 AM) *
I can easily see, when it comes to mixing then, going to a person who predominantly mixes for your genre is best, but what about mastering, is there a need to seek a mastering engineer who mainly masters rock music as opposed to hip hop or dance music?


Not really. Most of us at the pro end work across genres. In my experience and opinion it helps to have a mastering engineer who has experience of a wide range of genres. It brings objectivity and they also have an understanding of what is good in other genres rather than one and what is transferable.

On a good/excellent mix the mastering adds the final few percent to the sound quality but the vibe should really be set at recording and mixing, leaving it to mastering is a bit late. In these instances mastering really is less about this and more about ensuring quality of the audio, that the release is fit for purpose and sequencing. On a weak/poor mix - well they would benefit from being remixed. Think of it as mastering polishes rather then fundamentally changes what is there.






--------------------
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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