What is mastering?
As written on the Mastering page:
Mastering is the final link in the chain when creating a single, ep, mixtape, album or continuous mix release (and in recent years demos and showreels are finding fewer excuses for not being mastered!). It’s the last chance to make sure your audio will translate well across all sound systems, add the final polish, and sound great when played next to other tracks and “big money” releases. It’s also the point where all the technical aspects of preparing a release get sorted: track levels are evened, and the running order is programmed along with any other data needed for duplication.
Additionally, there is a misconception that mastering only makes stuff louder – this is incorrect, although a good mastering engineer can add a serious amount of volume without destroying the audio in the process
How should I prepare the tracks for mastering?
Remove any limiters you may have on the master channel and ensure that the master channel is not clipping – ideally the track should not peak higher than -4db. Export/render/bounce down/record the master channel from your DAW or mixer at the bit rate and sample rate that you have been using in your project. Making sure you have properly labelled the tracks, send them to me via an upload service – I use www.wetransfer.com on a regular basis.
Hang on! You’re asking me to remove any limiters? Why? And what about other effects on the master channel?
For better or worse, it has become common practice for limiters to be placed on the master channel when mixing. Although this may make mixing slightly easier (as it can allow for more of idea of what the finished product may sound like) it kills any chance of getting a decent mastering job out of the track. At a very basic level, a limiter is an extreme version of a compressor: it pulls any volume over a certain point to back down to a fixed level and then usually allows the user to increase the average volume. This may be good for individual channels but on a whole track it can be deathly. A really good, and short, article on why you should never mix with a limiter on a master channel can be found here: http://therecordingrevolution.com/2011/09/12/should-you-mix-with-a-limiter/.
Other effects on the master channel definitely can have their place – gentle compression and sweetening eq come to mind – but as a general rule, if you’re having to apply extreme settings to a master channel effect then there is something wrong with the mix that should be dealt with on the individual channels, or simply re-recording a problem part!
What is the turnaround time? And how do I receive my mastered audio?
Turnaround times depend on current working schedules, and can change if I have any queries about the audio I receive from you but I can usually give a 5 working day turnaround from me confirming I have received your audio – please allow extra time for any Red Book CD master sent through the post. Obviously if you order the 24 hour emergency master service then you will get your audio returned within 24 hours of me confirming I have received your audio.
As standard you will receive your mastered tracks as 16bit, 44.1kHz Wav files.
Ok, so seriously – why do I need a mastering engineer? Can’t I do it myself?
These days everyone has access to mastering tools (although not necessarily the expensive hardware) and most people who know about mastering have at some point tried to master their own material. The trouble is it’s quite a specialised, subtle process and it’s really easy to f*ck it up. Although the tools are commonplace, there is no substitute for a good engineer who knows what they’re doing – this really can be the difference between an OK track and a great track.
And why should I come to Loaded Audio?
If by Loaded Audio you mean me, Francis Kimberley, then you should come to me because I’m great at what I do. I’m not going to try and blind you with meaningless science of the equipment I have, or try and be “more professional” than anyone else (a big problem with mastering engineers, unfortunately), nor will I harm myself and, ultimately, you with ultra low prices as that’s simply not sustainable. What I will do is deliver great masters and engineering as many times as you need it. I would get better results just using a Behringer EQ and limiter than a lot of people would using the Loaded Audio studio.
What’s Stem Mastering?
Stem Mastering is a particular type of engineering where, after the track has been mixed, whole elements of a track have been rendered off together (to form “stems”) and the mastering engineer balances these elements before mastering the track as a whole. For example: all drums and percussion in one stem, all guitar and melodic elements in one stem, bass in one stem, and lead vocals in one stem and all backing vocals in one stem. There may have been 30+ individual channels on that track but it’s now been slimmed down a handful. The mastering engineer is now able to adjust levels, perhaps add some extra processing to a stem, give a different angle to a mix or give some extra polish before the mastering stage.
So when is stem mastering suitable?
Broadly speaking, stem mastering is best suited in two situation: when a mix needs some tweaks but it is not possible to get any more time with the mix engineer, or (as previously stated) when you want to add some extra polish to the mix before mastering.
Why Mix Fix?
Mix Fix came out a problem faced by some producers I knew from my local dance music scene. They’d produce a track but would sometimes struggle to get the mix right – they’d have a good basis but couldn’t take it up to the next level. Sending the track over to another studio proved difficult too; there were the obvious DAW and plug in compatibility issues, and the track may rely on a particular effect or sound that would come about through interaction between different fx or instruments or both – deconstructing the track to send elsewhere would rob the track of it’s original magic! I would often get calls asking me to come out to people’s own studios and help them. It then occurred to me that this would be a valuable service to many other people for all different reasons.
So you’ll help me start a mix from scratch?
Mix Fix was specifically designed to help existing mixes get finished to a high quality and keep expense low. Although I prefer not to (just a personal preference) I can help you start a mix if you really want me to. Please bear in mind that starting a mix will take a significantly longer time than getting me to help you with you already have.
Do I have to be with you when you mix?
It’s not necessary but it is definitely preferable. Having you with me means you can give instant feedback and guide the mix at a much quicker speed. This keeps costs down for you and it also means you get to see how the mix is finished which can be quite educational.
My studio sucks, my acoustics are rubbish and I only have “cheap” plugins and outboard? Will that matter?
No. It is very hard to buy bad quality gear these days (even some of the free stuff you can get is amazing!). The plugins bundled with nearly all DAWs are significantly better than a lot of gear that would have cost hundreds only a few years ago – it really is a case of “it’s not what you got, it’s what you do with it”. Also, don’t worry about acoustics. I will keep a constant check of things on reference headphones so we never stray off course.
How many mixes will you help me with?
Mix Fix is a timed service – you are paying for time, not on a track by track basis. I will help you with as many tracks as time allows.
Can I send you tracks to mix at the Loaded Audio studio?
Yes, a mixing service is available but this is by invitation only. This allows me to manage the time at Loaded Audio much more efficiently. If you are interested in getting your mixes done at Loaded Audio please get in touch and we can talk about your project.