What is Mastering? - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 8 Old 06-24-10, 07:20 AM Thread Starter
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What is Mastering?

I thought I'd open this thread, not because I am an experienced mastering engineer but because I think I have the ears to become one

From my experience, given a good mix the first thing that may need adjusting is tonal/frequency balance. I figure this might be due to the equipment in the original studio maybe being off-key somewhere.

Beyond this there are other problems that may come up, most often I've seen are digital distortion/clipping or microphone abuse.

For these type of problems I have been experimenting with the SPL Qure parametric EQ. It has some kind of inductive/vacuum tube Qure circuit that seems to fill in the missing harmonics to 'complete' the signal. Of course there are some distortions that have defied many attempts. I would have to get into digital notches.

This gets into my whole idea about using transformers and vacuum tubes. And even tape. In my head, my comprehension, these types of devices in some cases translate the signal from electrical to electromagnetic and back and allow a completion of the harmonics that may have been depleted or truncated for any reason.

This may be why I tend to favor FET circuits over bipolar transistors, not that I have done definitive testing. Germanium transistors also have a tube sound.

Anyway, I'd suggest gaining some earsperience with a real system approaching reference level. People may have built up a system without objective reference. Check out other studios or demos at the AES convention.
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post #2 of 8 Old 06-25-10, 08:58 AM
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Re: What is Mastering?

While fixing problems sometimes becomes the job of the mastering engineer, I don't think that really describes the answer to the original question.

Mastering is the process of taking mixes and preparing them for media reproduction. In the days when vinyl was the primary means of distribution, knowledge of the process (and related EQ and filter compensation) was the expert domain of the mastering engineer.

Mastering for digital (DVDs, MP3s or CD releases, which seem to make up the vast majority of releases today) is a particular skillset but it's supposed to involve getting good levels and maintaining (not creating) the overall tone of the original mix.

Just my humble opinion but I think mastering engineers today get too involved in 'fixing' the mix. Maybe this is because mastering for digital is so 'ez-mode' compared to mastering for vinyl and mastering engineers, tending to be talented and knowledgeable engineers, want to add something significant to the project. But fixing should be a last resort, something that a mastering engineer does only by necessity or request (unfortunately, more and more mix engineers have adopted the wrong way of thinking and do more frequently request that the mastering engineers fix this or that; to me, that just indicates that their mix wasn't finished).

In the OP you stated:
given a good mix the first thing that may need adjusting is tonal/frequency balance
Whereas I would say: given a good mix, the tonal/frequency balance should not require any adjustment with the exception of undoing any changes that leveling/limiting has imposed on the original mix. You did say a good mix, after all. If you're talking about a mix with frequency imbalances or from an engineer who was unable to get the proper balance that they wanted, then yes, there will probably be some repair in order; but that says something not so great about the mix/mixing engineer who is delivering 'finished' mixes that lack in frequency and tonal balance.

Bottom line for me is: I refer my clients to mastering engineers. If we ever got back a mix that sounded a lot 'improved' (different) it might be the last time I ever referred anything to that mastering house.
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post #3 of 8 Old 08-09-10, 09:27 AM
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Re: What is Mastering?

To add my short 2 cents... When I master an album I'll ask the band/producer which song they feel sounds the best/might be their single. I will then use that song (after some careful limiting and, if need be, some compression and slight EQ if something is standing out too much) as the standard and match the tone, feel and level of all the other songs to that particular song. The songs shouldn't sound different when you're done, the album should sound even and cohesive.
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post #4 of 8 Old 08-09-10, 05:32 PM
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Re: What is Mastering?

i'll add my 2 cents also. . .
i'm a full time mastering engineer, and get quite a bit of 'second try' mastering jobs. they let their engineer master it or some other (read cheaper) guy do it out of his pro tools rig in his bedroom and i get to fix a mess that was started. at the end, we get a lot of 'we should have come here first'.
also, i agree with joe and juna, as a mastering engineer, i should be transparent. adding harmonics (read distortion) is not my goal. although there are some characters that each device (tape, transformers, tubes, etc. . .) impart, none of the devices mentioned are designed to add distortions and most circuit designers try to make the cleanest signal paths possible. . .

- nick
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post #5 of 8 Old 08-09-10, 06:01 PM
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Re: What is Mastering?

To me mastering should really be called finalizing because that's what an ME does to a track in my view.

Overall EQ curve, limiting M/S vs Stereo processing, it seems like little is done but that "little" is a much bigger "big" than most musicians actually realize...Hence why they go for the $25/song . Trying to cut corners never sounds good.

I remember when I started up everything I'm doing now and wanted to charge 80/song to mix and was talked out of it because now I see it from the other side and it's just stupid to charge less just to get your name out or for a band to spend less to get their name out (within reason, that's why you plan things). There are better ways to go about the album process and cutting corners is NOT one of em.

That being said. MEs rock.

On the harmonics debate, if ANYTHING needs some sort of harmonic boost it needs to be done in the mixing stage on the individual track. Maxbass, etc. Doing so during mastering would just muddy it up I would think.
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post #6 of 8 Old 08-13-10, 11:14 PM Thread Starter
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Re: What is Mastering?

I can agree what you all have said. Maybe I think in terms of producing as well. Yes I think it is about finalizing. To be arrogant I think the ME should have ~better ears than everyone else in the chain; to be able to finalize the product.

From my super-humble experience I have seen a couple of final products that can't use fixing.

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post #7 of 8 Old 09-06-10, 01:50 AM
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Re: What is Mastering?

My Job as a mastering engineer

Do what my client asks of me


Mastering Engineer
Dominic McGlinn B.Mus.T.(Hons)

Margate, QLD
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post #8 of 8 Old 11-03-10, 11:52 PM
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Re: What is Mastering?


You seem to be super interested and eager to improve your skills and system. I don't know you but would like to ask if you have attending any recording arts school or would you consider it? It is a great environment to try things and soak up tons of knowledge from experienced engineers. I attended two different schools for recording and live sound and it was the foundation for my work in these areas.

Just a thought. If you want to talk off forum just send an email.

Good luck,

PS I have no connection to any school!
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