than just making this web site a sales pitch for DES,
I decided to make it more of an information source.
would like to share some recording and mixing tips and
tricks that will help you prepare for the mastering process.
am also going to be highlighting along the way THE
BIG MISTAKE - which will indicate things that
I see happen regularly that are easily avoided and cause
major problems in mastering and/or manufacturing.
I hope you will
find tips here that will help you improve the sound quality
of your final product. I also do this selfishly, because
if you follow these tips, my job as a mastering engineer
will be a lot easier.
will be an ongoing process, so the info will start out
sketchy at first, but I will flesh it out as time goes
by. In other words - check back often to see what's been
am going to do this without getting overly technical,
so you don't have to be an experienced recording engineer
to understand the majority of the topics. Of course, I
will point out along the way why DES is your best
choice for music mastering and editing, but whether you
use DES or not, please use the information.
Feel free to e-mail me with any questions that you have
regarding the recording or mastering process.
--- George Geurin
Mastering Engineer - DES Mastering
DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN
TO YOUR MUSIC!
ARE TWO CURRENT TRENDS IN THE RECORDING
WORLD THAT CAN SERIOUSLY DEGRADE THE SOUND
QUALITY OF YOUR MUSIC!
HERE FOR DETAILS
DO'S AND DON'TS IN PREPARING FOR MASTERING
critical that you prepare your original master properly
during the mixdown sessions. There are two reasons for this:
The obvious is that you can harm the sound quality of your
finished product if you make mistakes during the mixdown.
Maybe not so obvious is the fact that the more together
your original masters are, the easier the mastering session
is for the mastering engineer, and the more he can stay
focused on the sound and not be distracted by working around
problems with the masters. And, if you are paying an hourly
rate, the session will go faster if your material is properly
The first major decision you will have
to make is what format you are going to mix down to. You
first have the basic choice of mixing to an analog two-track
or to a digital format. And then you have several options:
you mix to analog two-track, your options will be:
Tape width - 1/2" or 1/4".
Tape type - extended output (Quantegy 499, GP-9 etc.)
or high output (Quantegy 456 etc.)
Tape speed - 30 or 15 i.p.s. (inches per second).
Noise reduction - Dolby SR, Dolby A, dbx or none.
you mix to a digital format, your options will be:
Digital resolution (bit width) - 16 bit, 24 bit or
Digital sampling rate - 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz,
96kHz or 176.4k 192kHz.
Delivery medium (what you will deliver to the mastering
facility.) - Data CD-R or DVD-R, USB or firewire hard disk,
Audio CD-R, DAT or upload to the mastering room's server.
DIGITAL vs. ANALOG AS ORIGINAL MASTERS
If your budget
allows, 1/2" analog 2-track running at 30 i.p.s. with
no noise reduction is the preferred mixdown format of probably
90% of the industry's top 40 producers. And increasingly
since 1999 most major label albums and singles are also
tracked on analog multitrack. This is true of all genres
of music with the exception of classical, which is almost
all digital, and most top jazz and electronic music producers
prefer digital as well.
And that pretty
much tells the story; all classical and many jazz recordings
need to be very accurate, honest reproductions of acoustic
instruments. We know what a violin, cello, grand piano,
flute, trumpet, upright bass etc. is supposed to sound like
because we have a real-world reference for those acoustic
instruments. Digital can yield a much more accurate recording,
and if top quality A-to-D converters are used to make a
24 bit recording at 88.2k or 96kHz sampling rate, then the
sound quality is arguably as good or better than analog.
Classical and jazz purists also demand a wide dynamic range
- the difference between loud and soft - in the reproduction
of the music. The difference in volume between a single
triangle being lightly struck and the complete orchestra
with percussion hitting a mezzo forte is staggering, and
this requires your recording medium to have a very wide
signal-to-noise ratio. Digital, especially 24 bit digital,
is the hands down winner over analog in this respect. It
is practically impossible to faithfully reproduce the dynamics
of classical or small-group jazz via analog without having
to resort to noise reduction, which presents its own set
that digital has in the recording of acoustic instruments
is its absolute speed accuracy. The slight, rapid speed
variations in even the best analog recorders - called 'wow
& flutter' - can severely alter the very high harmonics
in the sound of an acoustic instrument, and this can ruin
the naturalness, and therefore the believability if you
will, of the reproduction.
The other end
of the musical spectrum - electronic music - also most often
prefers digital. Music that is based on electronic or sampled
sounds with very sharp, fast attacks is sometimes softened
up too much by analog tape, especially if recorded at too
hot of a level. Producers of this music genre will most
often prefer to cut on 24 bit digital, mix to 24 bit digital,
and then have the option of laying-back to analog 2-track
or using analog processing during mastering, or staying
digital all the way.
pop, rap, r&b & country are the genres that are
gravitating to analog. These musical styles are based on
electric instruments often with effects and distortion that
have no real-world acoustic reference for their sound. The
idea in production is to make the music sound larger than
life, and to somewhat (or completely) restrict the dynamic
range of the music. The coloration that analog tape adds
helps greatly in this regard, plus it alters the signal
in a way that is very familiar to our ears since all music
up to the late seventies/early eighties was recorded, mixed
and reproduced via analog media, and even throughout the
age of the Compact Disc many producers have stayed with
analog multitracking and mixing as they have realized all
along that it is the superior sound. And as previously stated,
not only is the pop music industry going back to analog
in droves, they are going all the way back, with tube preamps,
mics, compressors, eq's and now complete tube consoles being
all the rage.
You might be surprised how affordable it is to rent an analog
2-track machine for mixdown. The machine preferred by most
producers is the Ampex ATR-102 1/2", as featured
at Digital Editing Services, and these machines normally
rent for around $150.00 per day, with most rental places
offering 7 days for 4, which means it's around $600.00 for
a week. Not bad for the sonic difference that mixing to
and mastering from analog can make.
But all is not
lost if you track and mix in the digital domain. "Layback"
mastering has been a preferred mastering technique of the
industry's top mastering engineers and producers for several
Digital Editing Services now has this capability.
What is layback mastering? Click
vs. AUDIO CD-R vs. DATA CD-R/DVD-R AS ORIGINAL MASTERS
let's address standard 16 bit DAT vs. Audio CD-R. Even though
DAT is a magnetic medium with all of the inherent problems
that brings, it still does not have as high of an error
rate as an Audio (Red Book Standard) CD-R. Even though error
correction occurs when the CD-R is read, there is still
a LOT of correction happening when compared to DAT, which
is already correcting more errors than you would think possible
without being audible. During playback, the less error correction
that is occurring, the better the sound quality.
are big issues concerning the quality of the CD-R burner
and the stability and resolution of the sound card if the
disc was burned on a computer. Or if the music was mixed
straight into a workstation from an analog console, then
the quality of the A-to-D converter comes into play. Or,
if a DAT machine's front end was used to feed the digital
input of a sound card, or if the mix is coming from a digital
console, it is critical that proper cabling was used. Problems
in any of these areas can induce "jitter" and
other artifacts into the digital signal, which will cause
a loss of clarity and a diminishing of the stereo field.
though it is the current rage to deliver pre-edited Audio
CD-R's for mastering, we still recommend delivering raw
DAT masters and not loading into any workstation or computer.
BIG MISTAKE: We have actually received CD-R Audio
masters from people who mixed to DAT, and then loaded the
DAT into a computer using the cheap built-in analog inputs
in order to burn a CD using shareware CD software and a
$100.00 CD burner because they had been told that CD is
what everyone is using as masters. Even if they had connected
the DAT to the digital in's of a a workstation using proper
cabling and used good CD burning software and a good burner,
there would be no benefit, and possible detriment in doing
this. Standard DAT and Audio CD-R use the same digital recording
format - 16 bit, 44.1kHz PCM - so they are essentially identical
with the exception of error rates, as pointed out above.
if you are tracking on a hard disk system, and you have
the option of bouncing to disk (mixing directly to the hard
drive) or mixing back to two open tracks; or if you are
mixing to a workstation from an external mixer, then the
preferred delivery medium would be Data CD-R or DVD-R.
This seems to contradict what was just said above. The reason
Data discs would be preferred is that when you transfer
your audio files to Data CD-R or DVD-R using programs such
as Toast or Nero, the method used to write the data disc
is a much more accurate method of transferring data than
that used for writing an audio CD-R yielding a MUCH lower
error rate, it has a much better error correction scheme
than either DAT or Audio CD-R, and it actually runs a bit-by-bit
comparison of the data on the CD-R to the files on the disk
drive (called a "check sum") to be sure an absolutely
accurate transfer has taken place.
if you mix to a workstation from an analog or digital mixer
and you have a 24 bit interface, or if you are bouncing
internally on a hard disk system, then you should mix to
24 bit files. The audio files that you copy to the Data
CD-R can be 24 bit or even larger, and can be any sampling
rate from 44.1k to 192kHz. If you create an Audio CD-R,
it can only be 16 bit, 44.1kHz. For more info on this, Click
if you mix to a workstation, we still do not recommend altering
the mix files at all prior to mastering. That includes editing,
fading, changing gain, normalizing, eq'ing, compressing
- anything that would alter the signal. What most people
don't realize is that even the slightest change made to
the sound file by the workstation - say changing the gain
by 1/10th of a dB - requires ENORMOUS calculations by the
workstation.. The Sonic Solutions SSHD as featured
at D.E.S. is the most powerful and audibly the most
accurate workstation in the audio industry. It can perform
these and other functions so much better and with much greater
detail than any other system, and at 48 bit resolution.
To get the full advantage of Sonic Solutions mastering,
just use the workstation you're mixing to as a recorder,
not an editor or processor. Record each song as a separate
24 bit stereo file, record so peaks reach anywhere from
-6dBfs to -3dBfs, transfer the files to CD-R/DVD-R using
Toast or a similar program, and leave the rest to mastering.
BIG MISTAKE: We have received Data CD-R's from
people who mixed to 44.1kHz, 16 bit DAT, and then loaded
the DAT digitally into a workstation recording the audio
as 24 bit files in order to create a 24 bit master disc.
There is absolutely no benefit to this, and once again even
if using proper digital cabling there is a chance of harming
the sound. If the original recording was 16 bit, recording
it to 24 bit does not make it magically sound like a 24
bit recording. It is still 16 bit resolution, it just takes
up more disk space than if it were still a 16 bit file.
what many workstation owners and users don't understand
is even if the DAT had been properly loaded into the workstation
as 16 bit files, ANY alteration to those files, however
minor, will cause the file to expand to 24 bit or greater
on playback depending on the workstation. If any DSP is
done to the 16 bit file, it should be bounced to disk with
the changes as a 24 bit AIFF or WAV file, and then transferred
to Data disc for mastering. If you make any changes to audio
in the workstation, and then dump to standard DAT or Audio
CD-R without dithering, you are creating truncation errors
- the system is merely chopping off the bottom 8 bits of
the 24 bit word - which translates to a light veil of distortion
over the entire mix, and a loss of clarity and image. If
you do it the right way and dither the signal down to 16
bits, then you have potentially created problems for the
mastering engineer as he will have to dither the signal
again after his processing, which can create noise problems
in some material.
idea is, in order to assure the best sound quality possible,
the first mix master that is generated, whether it is DAT,
Audio CD-R or Data disc, should be submitted for mastering.
This means the raw, unassembled, unprocessed master with
all the false takes and alternate mixes and noise and count-offs.
Digital Editing Services can work equally well from
DAT, Audio CD-R or Data CD-R or DVD-R. And we have experienced
no particular problems with Audio CD-R, so don't be alarmed
if this is the only delivery format available to you.
WORKING WITH HIGH RESOLUTION DIGITAL AUDIO:
are working with a high density system, you can track and
mix at a sampling rate of 88.2kHz or 96kHz, with a resolution
of 24 bit or greater. This would necessitate delivering
your product for mastering on Data CD-R, DVD-R or a Macintosh-formatted
hard drive as described in 24-bit
& beyond., Or mix to one of several high density
digital recorders available on the market, which might necessitate
you providing your own machine for the mastering session.
though the sample rate will have to be converted to 44.1k
for the CD master, this gives you the option of archiving
your mastered material at 88.2 or 96k, 24 bit for future
release on high-resolution formats such are DVD-Audio and
Super Audio CD (SACD).
YOU ARE MIXING TO DAT TAPE CLICK HERE
FOR DAT TIPS
I USE COMPRESSORS, LIMITERS AND EQ'S?
limiters and eq's are some of the most important tools
in a studio's rack. Judicious use of these processors can
make the difference between a mediocre mix and great one.
However they are probably the most abused and overused processors,
and compressors and limiters are probably the least understood
of all gear.
limiting and eq'ing the entire mix is best left for the
mastering process. A properly equipped mastering suite will
have the finest quality processors available, and will usually
have a variety to choose from both analog and digital.
some music, such as heavy metal, is dependent on the whole
mix being highly compressed to the point that the compression
is as much an effect as it is a level control. In cases
such as this it is often necessary for the engineer to mix
with compression patched to the overall stereo output because
extreme compression will actually change the mix.
most critical use of these processors in the studio is to
patch them to individual tracks that require them as opposed
to the overall stereo mix. If the bass guitar, vocal, or
whatever element of the mix won't sit in the mix properly
- it wanders from too loud to too soft - then a compressor
patched to that instrument or vocal will restrict it's dynamic
range so it stays put.
If the engineer knows his gear, he will be able to compress
signals that are too wide dynamically while they are being
tracked. If you are recording to analog tape this will make
a difference in the noise floor of those tracks, and it
can also improve resolution in a digital track by keeping
the average level of the signal higher on the recording
If you are trying to record a signal that is more extreme
in dynamic range than usual, it is often best to apply some
compression while cutting the track - say 2 to 4dB of gain
change - and then compress it more as required during mixdown
as opposed to trying to compress a lot during one stage
or the other. This will also allow you to experiment with
different ratios and attack/release times during the two
have your own recording set up and you already have a really
good mic or two, one of the best investments you can make
is in a high quality mic preamp and processing setup. This
has been a secret weapon of professional musicians since
the 1960's - if you only record with one or two mics at
a time, you don't need an expensive 40 input console to
make professional quality recordings, you just need a couple
of really good mic pre's, eq's and compressors. For a small
investment you can have a couple of recording channels that
are equal to the best recording consoles made, and if you
choose correctly they will beat the sound of mic pre's and
eq's in consoles up to the $50,000.00 range and beyond.
This is a booming market in pro audio gear, so you have
a lot of options. There are a lot of great one-piece boxes
such as the Manley Vox Box that combine mic preamp, instrument
preamp, eq and compression. These boxes aren't cheap, but
the difference they can make in your recording can't be
In order to get the full benefit of your outboard recording
chain, it should be patched directly to the input of your
multitrack recorder, not to your console and then routed
to the recorder. The idea is to get the best signal possible
to tape (or disk), so don't degrade the signal by passing
it through your mixer first. The mixer should only be used
to monitor the output of the multitrack, not to feed it.
This is a little more hassle because you have to repatch
each time you want to record a new track, but the trouble
is well worth it.
BIG MISTAKE: If your budget doesn't allow for
one of the high end one-piece boxes such as the Manley,
don't buy a cheap all-in-one box. Spend your budgeted money
on a as good of a mic preamp as you can afford, then save
up and add a top quality compressor, then save and add an
eq. It takes patience, but you will wind up with gear that
you will use for the rest of your recording career as opposed
to something you'll be plotting to replace within a year.
I USE AURAL EXCITERS AND/OR STEREO ENHANCERS?
are devices such as the BBE Enhancer and the Aphex Aural
Exciter, among others, that add an apparent brilliance and
sparkle to the mix. However, you need to be VERY careful
with the amount that you use. In general, if bypassing the
exciter makes the mix sound completely different - totally
dull muddy - then you can be pretty sure that you are using
WAY too much. In my experience, they work best when you
can just perceive that the exciter is in the mix path -
just adding a slight bit of extra presence. But it should
not sound like a blanket has been thrown over the speakers
when the exciter is bypassed. . If your ears hear nothing
but the "excited" sound for a while, they normalize
to it, and when you bypass the exciter it will sound totally
wrong. An easy thing to do is to constantly reference you
r mix to professionally-produced CD's to make sure you are
staying within the real world in brightness. See the section
titled "The Second Alarming
Trend" for related information.
The best results that I have achieved using an exciter was
by patching it to key elements in the mix, not applying
it over the entire mix. In the case of the Aphex, you can
actually set it for 100% processing & use it like a
reverb on your console by feeding it with an aux buss and
returning it on channels or fx returns. The BBE, on the
other hand, should be patched to particular channel inserts,
for instance one channel patched to the lead vocal and the
other to the acoustic guitar. If done properly and subtly,
these tracks will stand out in the mix without being harsh
or overbearing, they will just be highlighted slightly in
Enhancers - In a properly setup stereo system, the sound
stage appears to be between the two speakers. Stereo enhancers
or spatializers are devices that make the stereo field widen,
even to the point that some sounds appear to be coming from
outside of the two speakers. This may seem like a great
"gee-whiz" effect at first, but you need to realize
that in order to achieve this effect, the device is almost
always throwing bits of the signal out-of-phase. This means
two things if overused: first of all the effect will be
drastically different depending on the speakers that the
final CD is played over, and how they are set up. In some
rooms on some systems, it will sound exaggerated and distracting
while on others it will be barely noticeable, and on some
the entire mix will sound different - ranging from hollow
to boomy to mushy. Secondly, if you throw the signal too
far out-of-phase, you drastically narrow your chances of
the material ever being broadcast professionally over radio
or TV. We'll save the reasons for future discussion, in
the meantime a web search on "mono compatibility"
important to realize that overuse of exciters and spatializers
causes a type of distortion that is not evident like severe
clipping or harmonic distortion. It is a phase distortion
that causes "listening fatigue", a factor by which
your ears (or brain, actually) becomes tired of the distortion,
and it becomes very uncomfortable to listen to after five
or six minutes. The listener will find themselves turning
it down, or off, without really being able to explain why
- it just became bothersome to listen to. Even though exciters
and spatializers can be the biggest culprits, this phase
distortion can be caused by ANY type of signal processor,
especially the type that processes the entire sound such
as eq's and compressors. And especially if they are not
well designed. That is why the very high end and usually
most expensive gear may not immediately seem to sound that
much better to you - it is the long-term listening effect
that really separates the true high-end processors from
the mid and low-range.
START TRACKING OR MIXING WITH YOUR BEST MATERIAL
is strictly one man's opinion; over the years I have mastered
countless albums where the first song on the album was also
sonically the worst sounding song on the album. The majority
of the time it was also the A single from the album. And,
in my opinion, it was not coincidental that it would almost
always be the first song mixed, and if I checked with the
engineer it would also be the first or second song tracked.
The reason is obvious: everyone's excited to get the best
stuff done so they can hear the finished tracks or mix.
But in either tracking or mixing things get refined as you
progress - the engineer is usually tweaking everything from
mic placement to eq as the tracking progresses; the mix
engineer refines eq, effects, separation etc. I've mastered
many albums where the least impressive songs on the album
just jumped sonically while the A material sounded lifeless.
nice to get everyone into the session by starting with the
best stuff, but think about moving the them down the line
a bit for the next project. Just something else to worry
and fret about as a producer.
Sorry, that's all for now. Check back soon. Last updated 10/25/01.