What is mastering?
Simply put, mastering is the bridge between the recording studio and the duplication plant or digital download. It is often said that mastering is both art and science, and that’s true. On the creative side, we make sure that the sonic quality of your project is at it’s highest level possible and has the emotional impact that you intended. On the technical side, we also ensure that all of the technical requirements of the duplication process, no matter what the medium, are satisfied.
Obviously, our business has changed in the last few years and the recording studio is now, more often than not, a home studio. While this presents it’s own set of challenges for the mastering engineer, it also underscores the fact that professional mastering is needed now more than ever to deliver a high quality product.
How will my project benefit from the process?
The short answer is we make your project sound as good as it possible can. How that is achieved is where the magic is. With over 30 years of recording engineering experience, almost 25 years of mastering and 3000+ projects completed, we can draw from a huge reservoir of experience.
We start with an objective listen to sections of all the songs to get a overall feel of your project. In mastering we keep the macro view at all times so your project will have a consistent sound and feel throughout. That’s very tough to do in mixing where your usually more concerned with getting each song to sound good individually. Using very specialized high-quality equipment, in a sonically neutral room, we’ll balance frequencies, control the dynamic range and level match your music so it has the most impact. It’s deciding on what is right for each song to bring out what’s best for the whole project. That’s where the experienced ear helps. Another important aspect of mastering is making sure your music translates well onto the huge variety of playback systems. DIY mastering can sound OK in the original room it was created in, but when you get the project into the real world it can be less than ideal.
In a musical landscape that is so overcrowded you need every advantage available to you and mastering can be a huge one. It’s been said that a project that hasn’t been mastered sounds like a demo and one that has sounds like a record.
And yes, we can make it loud.
How much will it cost?
Please contact us to discuss your mastering needs and we can get a better handle on the scope of the project. We also offer discounted rates for indie labels/producers and package deals for artists.
What format’s do you accept for mastering?
In the digital realm we accept WAVE, AIFF and DAT with bit rates up 32 bit and sampling rates as high as 192kHz on data disc’s (CD-Rom). Our preferred digital format is stereo-interleaved 24 bit and the highest sampling rate your equipment will allow. But, please don’t upsample your project as it would yield no audio benefits and the sample rate conversion process can be very brutal on a mix. Just send it at the sample rate that you originally mixed it at.
In the analog world we can handle both 1/4″ and 1/2″, 15 ips or 30 ips two track mixes. Please include test tones of 100Hz, 1kHz and 10kHz. Also, please have the mixes separated by leader tape and include an accurate time sheet.
What level should I print my mixes at?
For digital we recommend a peak of -4dBFS, -3dBFS at the most. A average level of -15dBFS or lower will give us enough headroom to work with. With analog tape, the compression as a result of a hotter signal, can have a very desirable effect on the sound. But we suggest you be conservative, as this as can quickly lead to distortion on transients that can be hard to hear in a less than ideal listening environment.
Should I limit or compress my mixes?
This is a very hot, no pun intended, and heavily discussed topic. Our first response too digital limiting is PLEASE NO!!. Digital limiting, for the sake of volume, should be left to the mastering engineer and for the very last process while making the master. If your music has already been slammed to 0dbfs, there is no headroom left for us to work with. Once the transients are gone, they’re gone. Multiple limiting, like multiple dithering, can have very unpleasant sonic artifacts that are just about impossible to reverse. If you want your project loud we have the right equipment to do so, and still retain the musicality and depth of your mixes. If you must limit your mixes, please send along a unprocessed version as well.
Compression is a little different story. Stereo mix compression can have a huge impact on the overall sound and feel of music. It will also have a big affect on the balance between the individual parts of the music. If you love the way your mixes sound compressed, than by all means compress them. Our advice is be very careful with stereo mix compression and once again, send along a unprocessed version if there is any doubt.
Do I need to attend the session?
No, if fact over 80% of our sessions are now unattended. Also, unattended sessions can usually been done more quickly and less costly. For an unattended session to run smoothly, communications is key. All files need to be labeled very clearly and only send the songs that will be mastered. We will send you a form where all information pertaining to sequence, editing, song titles, songwriters, job orders, label information, ISRC codes, UPC/EAN codes can be entered. This will take the guesswork out of it for you and provide us with the needed info.
How do I send the project if I won’t be attending?
You can ether upload them to our secure FTP site or send them through the mail. If you choose to upload your music put all of your wave files in a folder, zip it and upload to our account.
What will I receive when you’re finished mastering my project?
We will send you a cross-platform application by Sonoris, along with the sound files through our secure FTP site. This program will allow you play the finished product, in it’s entirety, with all ID’s and spacing intact. It will also enable you to make your own reference CD’s, saving you money. Once the project is approved we will make the final production master CD or we can generate a master DDP, both which will have all of the subcodes including PQ’s, ISRC, UPC/EAN and CD Text. The industry standard DDP protocol is supported by most major CD replication plants and ensures an error free transfer and manufacturing of your masters. If your plant does not support the DDP protocol, we will be glad furnish you with a production master CD along with all required documentation.
What is CD Text?
CD Text allows the artist/label to embed and display information like project name, song title, artist, composers etc. in the data portion of an audio CD. CD players that have the CD Text feature will be able to display this information.
To have your text appear on computers and media players like iTunes and Windows Media Player you will need to upload all of your information to Gracenote.
For more information click the link to visit Gracenote website.
What is an ISRC code?
from the ISRC website:
The ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is the international identification system for sound recordings and music video recordings. Each ISRC is a unique and permanent identifier for a specific recording, independent of the format on which it appears (CD, audio file, etc) or the rights holders involved. Only one ISRC should be issued to a track, and an ISRC can never represent more than one unique recording.
ISRC’s are widely used in digital commerce by download sites and collecting societies. An ISRC can also be permanently encoded into a product as its digital fingerprint. Encoded ISRC provide the means to automatically identify recordings for royalty payments.
For more information click the link to visit the ISRC website- http://www.usisrc.org
What is an UPC/EAN?
The Universal Product Code and the European Article Number (which has been renamed International Article Number) are, similar to the ISRC, numbers uniquely identifying a product for retail sales or tracking purposes. Like CD-Text and ISRC codes, these can be embedded in the final production CD.