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New to Mastering. . . Where the Hell do I start?
Old 1st February 2009
  #1
Gear Maniac
 
ColourSurround's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
New to Mastering. . . Where the Hell do I start?

Well, I've been doing a load of recording and mixing of late and I figured I'd really like to try to get my hand in on some mastering, at least for clients who have no intention to get a pro mastering job done, just to really give them the full pro feel so to speak. I've purchased Bob Katz's book which is quite brilliant but very technical and at times overwhelming (though he did do a fantastic job is simplifying some complex terms).

What I want to know is how do I start up on becoming a good mastering engineer. I reckon the most important thing here is to have the right set-up and space, but all that aside, what are good places to start in terms of hardware (or plugins), what are some good fundamentals to know.

I'll keep reading the book and I'm sure I'll learn a good lot, but it would be great to hear from actual pros who do this day in and day out and see how you approach the issue, and how you got started in it for that matter.

Cheers,

PiN
Old 1st February 2009
  #2
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Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by ColourSurround ➑️
Well, I've been doing a load of recording and mixing of late and I figured I'd really like to try to get my hand in on some mastering, at least for clients who have no intention to get a pro mastering job done, just to really give them the full pro feel so to speak. I've purchased Bob Katz's book which is quite brilliant but very technical and at times overwhelming (though he did do a fantastic job is simplifying some complex terms).

What I want to know is how do I start up on becoming a good mastering engineer. I reckon the most important thing here is to have the right set-up and space, but all that aside, what are good places to start in terms of hardware (or plugins), what are some good fundamentals to know.

I'll keep reading the book and I'm sure I'll learn a good lot, but it would be great to hear from actual pros who do this day in and day out and see how you approach the issue, and how you got started in it for that matter.

Cheers,

PiN
Welcome to the forum.

Your question has been covered here on this forum a number of times. Could I suggest you use the search function and look up the other posts on this subject? If you have specific questions I know I would be happy to help and most people on this forum will also help out answering your specific questions. It is too broad a question and it has been covered here before Ad nauseam.
Old 1st February 2009
  #3
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by ColourSurround ➑️
... I reckon the most important thing here is to have the right set-up and space,...
Probably not, but the most important thing is to have an exceptional good set of ears. That is in both ways, healthy sensitive ears that can hear the grass grow. Also ears that are very educated technically and musically.

If you find the excellent book by Bob Katz technically challenging you might want to consider going to a good school and get some engineering expertise first. Also the best way is to learn from a master by working as his assistant.

I think you are not having the full idea, what is required when you ask for some "good fundamentals to know".

But one fundamental you should know:
If a client asks you to make something louder, you should turn up the volume knob, not the master fader.
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #4
kjg
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by audio ergo sum ➑️
Probably not, but the most important thing is to have an exceptional good set of ears. That is in both ways, healthy sensitive ears that can hear the grass grow. Also ears that are very educated technically and musically.
+1

I think it is a bit naive to think that you can just read book, hook up some gear, and declare yourself mastering engineer. I am not saying that you take it that lightly, but maybe you are taking it just a bit too lightly? Just trying to be helpful, don't take it personal please.

It is indeed all about exceptionally trained and both technically and musically educated hearing. (hearing: ears + brain)

After you decided you want to get into mastering, you should IMO spend at least a few years studying the subject, both the technological side and the the aesthetical. Almost everything in mastering is a compromise, where in mixing you have all the individual tracks so if you spend enough time and are good enough a real compromise is not needed per se. In mastering, finding just the right compromise is a big part of the work. Hearing (monitoring, ears, brain), evaluating (what is causing this? technological and musical education/experience) and weighing the pros and cons of every decision (experience in mastering) is the main thing.
You would need, IMO, to practice a little - say a few years, at least - working on material in your spare time. Just practicing, analyzing, getting your head around the technology, a/b-ing, listening to the effects and artifacts of difference types of processing, and especially learning to switch to a different mode of listening. You need to be able to switch to a very objective, analytical listening mode when necessary.

I also agree with audio ergo sum, that if the technological side of BK's book is still somewhat challenging, you are probably lacking in the engineering department.
You have to know your tech stuff inside out, and if you are not completely comfortable with it, it will distract you from the actual work which is hearing/deciding what is best for the music/record. (Bits, bytes, dBs, logarithms, frequency and pitch(not the same!) Qs, threshold, ratio, attack, release, aliasing, nyquist, sample rate, oversampling, dither, clock, phase shift, pre-echo, RMS, FFT, etc etc etc etc should all be very familiar and understood terms.)
What is best for the record as a whole is also not necessarily best for the specific piece of music you are working on.. Another possible compromise. Loudness VS fidelity and dynamics.. Another compromise.

Study audio engineering topics, study different music styles (whether you subjectively like them or not, there is a lot to be learned when listening objectively and analytically).
Some insight in composition and specifically arranging and instrumentation is very helpful. O, and practice

I am sure you can do good work for any client that does not have a budget for mastering. But there is a difference between an ME and a mixer who slaps on an eq, comp and limiter on the 2 bus.

Also, lots of ME's and mixers will tell you they can only do one thing really well. They are different skills. Some people are able to switch hats, and have talent for both, but most people are significantly better in either mixing, or mastering.

Again, nothing wrong with slapping on a limiter for a client if he has no more budget (although I don't think it is wise of the client - much time and money invested so far.. spend 500 more to have it mastered by a professional catering to the budget segment!). But you have to ask yourself if that is what you want to learn, slapping on some processors on the 2bus in an acceptible way, OR do you really want to become an ME? In that case, prepare to invest a few years, although a decade is probably more realistic if you want to play with the big boys..

Hope this helps? All the best, good luck, and of course welcome to the forum!

Klaas-Jan Govaart
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #5
Gear Maniac
 
ColourSurround's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Sound advice lads, and no worries, I will never take anything personally. Asking questions and getting grilled is how one learns. I suppose I did come off as a bit too naive and I didn't quite state what I intended. It's not the terminology of BKs book that is challenging. Although I haven't engineered for too long I am quite up to par (moreso than many assistants in studios I've recorded in when I was in a band) on what's going on in a control room and I definitely make solid sounding mixes without ever squashing all the dynamics out of a recording, but it's more of the whole concepts of mastering that seem a bit daunting. One thing I definitely realize however is that this will be a long trek to learn the ins and outs and really consider myself 'professional' but it's one I am excited to take.

I will be searching these forums quite often in the coming months (years likely) and hopefully I will also be able to get an apprenticeship in a mastering studio, though that seems increasingly more difficult nowadays. Still, I'm deteremined to learn eveything I can so I thank-you all in advance for the help. You'll be hearing from me more and more!

Cheers,

PiN
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #6
Gear Maniac
 
fader8's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Awesome post, Klaas!

ColourSurround,
I can only add one cautionary element to what's already been stated here so eloquently.

While you're learning the craft, try to avoid the gear lust trap for as long as you can. Pick tools that are simple and practical and singular in purpose. Learn them inside out so you understand exactly what they are doing. Then use them in a way that provides you with maximum control over them.

With the proliferation of all-in-one processing/mastering solutions, some developers have really neglected, or ignored, the need for us to know just what it is they're doing to our audio, and using the "Hey, if it sounds good, it is good" line to justify it. While that may be fine in the context of adding some "color" at the end of your processing chain, it quickly becomes a liability when it's somewhere else in the signal path and we can't troubleshoot a problem that may be occurring later because we don't really know what that thing is actually, really doing. So my advice is to read those manuals, and if there are any mysteries, steer clear for now.

Related to that, I enjoy fine woodworking as a hobby, and there's one thing I've noticed over the years and it's that the most basic hand-tools, in the hands of a master, can always create a thing that is intrinsically more beautiful than anything any super-equipped cabinet shop could ever produce. I think the same holds true for the audio crafts.
Old 1st February 2009
  #7
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1 Review written
🎧 15 years
The first thing is to have some respect for the craft. The Search function has this topic covered, and the respectful this to do is to not waste time on well worn road when pages of great advice are already here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ColourSurround ➑️
What I want to know is how do I start up on becoming a good mastering engineer. [b]I reckon the most important thing here is to have the right set-up and space, but all that aside, what are good places to start in terms of hardware (or plugins), what are some good fundamentals to know.
Stop. It's not about the tools, it's about the room and the talent/skill in the room. Tools are how the talent speaks, not how an aspiring engineer goes forward. If you don't have a built room then bass trap the bejeezus out of your bedroom or whatever, rip up the carpet, and use wall treatments sufficient for reflections to be tamed. Learn about acoustics and mate the room to some full range speakers and a great DA before you do anything. I know it's not fun to build the foundation, but you'll save a decade of your life and the house may not tip over ... that sounds fun doesn't it?


Quote:
I'll keep reading the book and I'm sure I'll learn a good lot, but it would be great to hear from actual pros who do this day in and day out and see how you approach the issue, and how you got started in it for that matter.
Mastering skill begins from a particular way of listening to music, either you have that or you don't. Mixers are the same way ... and it's a different ear. If you have the mastering ear then maybe you can apprentice with a pro. Or maybe do it my way, the slow way ... which was two decades of serious musicianship, pro and apprenticeship. Two plus decades of recording engineering, often as a client who asked a lot of questions and watched everything engineers did. Then self-taught in mastering after years of disappointment with the available options. I began mastering out of musical frustration, to out perform other engineers, and am still of that mindset today.

Self-taught is a harder way to go than a quality apprenticeship and takes more other skills, and is fraught with some time-wasting perils, so try to get someone to take you on. I'm debating taking someone on right now. I know I should but it's a commitment. You will have to get on well with your ME to convince them.
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #8
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🎧 10 years
I think what Bob K's book taught better than anything is it takes years of critical listening and practice to be good at anything audio related. The equipment you use isn't as important as how well you know that equipment. The monitors aren't as important as the one listening to them. The room is the glue that binds all of it together. None of my equipment is great, my room isn't either. But I know the limitations of my stuff and have taken great care in learning everything there is to know about it. I spent a whole day just arranging things in my room before I turned on the monitors. I spent another day on acoustic treatment, then another half day rearranging the stuff in my room. I'm not a great mastering engineer either, but many people prefer me to guys that charge a lot more, some of which have three times my experience.

Get a ton of records and listen to them in a properly treated room through well-placed and calibrated monitors. After a day or 2 of that, run those same records through some various processors and think about how they change the sound I have HUNDREDS of songs stored on my hard drives just for the sake of reference, all playing through the same converters and console I use for my work. That's important because it all colours the sound. You want to get used to HOW they colour the sound and learn how to compensate for their shortcommings. If you change things, you won't be able to listen the same way.

Last edited by wado1942; 1st February 2009 at 09:40 PM.. Reason: typo correction.
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #9
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🎧 10 years
I'm probably going to be torn apart for saying this, but I keep hearing a lot of people say that to be a decent mastering engineer you need to be a decent mix engineer, but is this really true??? To quote lucey,

Quote:
Mastering skill begins from a particular way of listening to music, either you have that or you don't. Mixers are the same way ... and it's a different ear.
I do realise that later on in that paragraph, he says

Quote:
Two plus decades of recording engineering, often as a client who asked a lot of questions and watched everything engineers did.
I have been told by my tutors in college that I can do some good-but-not-spectacular mixes, but I have also been spending time training my ears to different EQ's, Compression, Dither etc. Does this mean I have to put all that stuff on hold and get fantastic mixes first???

P.S. I too bought Bob Katz's book, thought it was very useful.

Last edited by DanDaMan; 1st February 2009 at 09:45 PM.. Reason: Forgotten something
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #10
Mastering
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by MasteringDan ➑️
I'm probably going to be torn apart for saying this, but I keep hearing a lot of people say that to be a decent mastering engineer you need to be a decent mix engineer, but is this really true??? To quote lucey,
I don't think you don't have to be a decent mixing engineer to be a good mastering engineer, but you do have to recognize what is a good mix!

BK
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #11
kjg
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by MasteringDan ➑️
I'm probably going to be torn apart for saying this, but I keep hearing a lot of people say that to be a decent mastering engineer you need to be a decent mix engineer, but is this really true???
I think that in the end most people have more talent for either mastering or mixing. That's one thing.

I do think it helps a great deal in mastering to have considerable insight in mixing and into what actually makes a great mix (and the music production process as a whole). Insight you could probably not have if you are not able to do at least a decent mix yourself.

Vice versa, most good mixers will probably have some insight in what makes good mastering too and how to deliver a mix to an ME, but I think this is less important than the other way around. Great mixers will definitely have quite some insight in mastering.

So I say,

Good mixer without much skill and insight in mastering? Possible.

Good ME without much skill and insight in mixing? Very unlikely.

Great ME or mixer without substantial skill and insight in the other process? Forget it.

My 2€Β’,
kjg
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #12
kjg
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz ➑️
I don't think you don't have to be a decent mixing engineer to be a good mastering engineer, but you do have to recognize what is a good mix!

BK
I think you have a "don't" too much in that sentence Bob
Or? You don't think you don't? It is a bit confusing.

Well, maybe you don't have too.. But I think it definitely helps. A lot. Especially in communicating with mixers.
I'm sure you can do a decent mix, Bob? Maybe not so much a 176 track over-produced pop-turd, but a solid mix of a well recorded 10-24 track project won't be much of a problem, right?

That type of mixing, isn't that something any decent ME could probably do with somewhat good results?

regards,
Klaas-Jan
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #13
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🎧 10 years
Hey, half the battle for some projects is just knowing when to ask for a remix. I worked on a recent project where I asked for 2 remixes before finally going "That's great, I'll have it done in a couple days." I'm sure my client was slightly irritated by it but his record could not have sounded nearly as good as it does now if I just took what I was given.

On the other hand, sometimes I get a mix that's so good, I can only just stay out of its way and try not to ruin it. I remember a fellow mastering engineer telling me about how he had mastered the same project 3 or 4 times and the client was never satisfied. Eventually, he just copied the mix tape to a DAT and labeled it "Master". The client loved it, so that was what got printed. So yeah, sometimes it's more about what NOT to do than what to do.
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #14
Mastering
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by kjg ➑️
I think you have a "don't" too much in that sentence Bob
Or? You don't think you don't? It is a bit confusing.
right. Sorry about that. You don't have to be a decent mix engineer to be a mastering engineer, but you do have to know a good mix when you hear one.

The arts of Mixing and Mastering require hand to ear coordination. Yes, I can do a great mix in many different styles of music, but I never practiced hard rock mixing. Yet I can tell when a hard rock mix is good or what's wrong with it even though I doubt I could do a great hard rock mix. I never practiced at mixing hard rock. Jazz was my specialty when I was a mix engineer. But yes, I know enough about what goes into a hard rock mix, or any mix, to communicate with the mix engineer when I have a suggestion for them.

Quote:

That type of mixing, isn't that something any decent ME could probably do with somewhat good results?

regards,
Klaas-Jan
I don't know. Somewhat? The fact is that to be good at your craft takes a lot of practice. It would be insulting and presumptuous for me to claim that I could do a rock mix better than my clients. I can kibbitz pretty well, though :-). And I do produce rock mixes when my assistant does the mix in studio B, but he's very very good at it and very very practiced, and he can take a mix to a point faster than I can dream plus I just don't have the patience to mix complex mixes anymore myself. I admire people who can sit for hours and take the mix to fruition, working slowly through all the complex elements till they fit together. I give him suggestions, general comments on tonalities, maybe how the bass drum and bass are working together, where perhaps to pan the lead lines, ways to take it from an A to an A+, but I don't take his mix totally apart because he's already accomplishing a good job, he's good at what he does and that's why I hired him.

BK
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #15
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
You silly dreamer,
First of all, you need to earn a degree in Medicine, preferably with an emphasis in Brain Surgery, before you can even ask the question, "Can I give mastering a shot"? Duhhhhhhh..............
Blue Bongo
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #16
kjg
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob katz ➑️
The arts of Mixing and Mastering require hand to ear coordination. Yes, I can do a great mix in many different styles of music, but I never practiced hard rock mixing. Yet I can tell when a hard rock mix is good or what's wrong with it even though I doubt I could do a great hard rock mix. I never practiced at mixing hard rock. Jazz was my specialty when I was a mix engineer. But yes, I know enough about what goes into a hard rock mix, or any mix, to communicate with the mix engineer when I have a suggestion for them.

I don't know. Somewhat? The fact is that to be good at your craft takes a lot of practice. It would be insulting and presumptuous for me to claim that I could do a rock mix better than my clients. I can kibbitz pretty well, though :-). And I do produce rock mixes when my assistant does the mix in studio B, but he's very very good at it and very very practiced, and he can take a mix to a point faster than I can dream plus I just don't have the patience to mix complex mixes anymore myself. I admire people who can sit for hours and take the mix to fruition, working slowly through all the complex elements till they fit together. I give him suggestions, general comments on tonalities, maybe how the bass drum and bass are working together, where perhaps to pan the lead lines, ways to take it from an A to an A+, but I don't take his mix totally apart because he's already accomplishing a good job, he's good at what he does and that's why I hired him.

BK
I understand. You are not a specialist in mixing. But you still understand what mixing generally is about, what issues you could encounter, and in certain familiar genres you can do a great mix yourself.
You have practiced mixing in at least a few styles in some period of your career, and that will help you diagnose and communicate about mixing issues in general, even in styles you are not experienced in mixing yourself.

I think that is what I meant. I'd think you'd be hard pressed to find a great ME that has not mixed himself at some point in his career.

regards,
kjg
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #17
kjg
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blue Bongo ➑️
You silly dreamer,
First of all, you need to earn a degree in Medicine, preferably with an emphasis in Brain Surgery, before you can even ask the question, "Can I give mastering a shot"? Duhhhhhhh..............
Blue Bongo
Medicine will not cut it, by far. Theoretical Physics is the ticket, preferably with a minor in Artificial Intelligence. And of course, a Master in Composition and at least three Miss World nominations...

Old 2nd February 2009
  #18
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
I am going to try taking a different approach to your question.

I am temporarily putting by cynical nature at rest.

My response to your post is simply.........

Go for it,
1) Make sure you copy the original mix.
2) Pretend your are praciticing your first back flip on the diving board.
3) Who cares if you land on your stomach, you can try again.
4) Be aggressive, twist away on those knobs. (Jump higher on that board)
5) Keep picturing the final flip. (Compare your results with the original)
6) When you have finally flipped, see if you can flip just a bit better.
7) When gear is the factor and not your ability (Compressors, EQ's etc.)
THEN IT MAY BE TIME TO BUY A BETTER DIVING BOARD.

Just give it a shot, let your ears lead the way. Just as a youngster keeps getting back on the board, save your attempts, and get back on your board. Try 10 attempts fast...........like the kid learning a back flip for the first time.

The truth is, outside hints can explain the technique of a perfect back flip, but you have to be the one standing at the end of the board, ready to flip.
Flip away,
Blue Bongo
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #19
Gear Nut
 
🎧 10 years
My hats off to Bob,

He's on my reading list.

Blue Bongo
Old 2nd February 2009
  #20
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 10 years
nobody around here mentions this! - listen, listen, listen to ****loads of music (great mixes/masters) with a critical ear! hours! listen as a mixer, as a player and as a mastering eng.....then..the books and articles you read begin to kick in and make sense.....don't let the science get out of hand...music is about hearing...if it sounds good it is good!
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #21
kjg
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Yes, you have to listen to music. Study different music styles. How else to do this then through listening?

I agree with Blue Bongo and his back flip analogy. Practice, a lot and don't think about it too much at first. Just try approach A, make it sound good, bounce. Then try approach B, make it sound good, bounce. Compare A and B. Compare A with the mix, compare B with the mix. What was gained, what was lost, musically? Define that loss/gain in musical terms. Then try to reason why. Is it the faster attack speed of the compressor X? Is it the creamier mids of plugin Y? Is it the tube harmonics of your DA? Is it the slight emphasis on the lead vocal? But is the vocal not too "detached" now? Is it the way the bongo "sticks out" slightly less which gives the tune a more laid back feel? But is that worth the slight narrowing of the stereo field this compressor introduces? Is what you like the weightier bass guitar? Is the balance between the instruments still ok? Or does that "bigger" bass now slighly mask something else, or just emphasise the bass part too much?

So yes, practice. Try stuff. A lot of stuff. And then try to hear and analyze the differences, so you can weigh the pros and cons.

Also, when mixing you might try to make two different versions. Make some notes, then let them be for a few weeks.
Then after a few weeks, slightly resetting your ears, try to master both. Which version is easier to master? Why? Which gives nicer results? Why? Etc.

regards,
kjg
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #22
Gear Maniac
 
ColourSurround's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by kjg ➑️
Medicine will not cut it, by far. Theoretical Physics is the ticket, preferably with a minor in Artificial Intelligence. And of course, a Master in Composition and at least three Miss World nominations...

Funny, I have a degree in cognitive sciences, we did a lot of work on AI! My thesis was on the relationship between drugs, music and the brain. This was a Bachelor's mind you though so most of the research was based on others experiments. Anyway though, all fantastic advice as always. I know I'm in this for the long haul, so it's a matter now of continued listening and practise like Blue Bongo said. Still, great responses all around I must say. I definitely expected much more cynical replies. As always, thank-you all.
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #23
Gear Maniac
 
ColourSurround's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Never seemed to make Miss World though, I always settle for the congeniality award.
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #24
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macc's Avatar
 
Verified Member
3 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
I do lots of listening and I've got a great arse. I'm set.
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