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Common Problems You Have to Deal With
Old 8th September 2012
  #1
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Common Problems You Have to Deal With

What are some of the most common problems you are having to deal with when mastering a track from a sub par mixing engineer?

I don't mean headroom or file types...I'm more concerned with frequency build up, certain instruments that you may find frequently are mixed too loud, things like that.

If this is too broad of a question, or if it has been answered before I apologize.

I was just thinking that I know the common problems I have to deal with from a mixing engineer's stand point...but I have no idea what you guys are dealing with.
Old 8th September 2012
  #2
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A common issue that you might see a bit is when there's opposing frequency problems in the same range.

ie: a dull sounding vocal against an overly bright snare or guitar.
Balance issues.
Old 8th September 2012 | Show parent
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Dark track, bright vocal. Bright track, dark vocal. These can, obviously, be aesthetic decisions but are a difficult thing to deal with if un-intentional.

Some frequency response things are pretty easy to correct.

An example is too much bottom which is the easiest to fix. Otoh, removing top is much, much, harder.

I would say this: Many of the issues I hear are really the result of the arraignment, and not strictly speaking the mix balances.

This is where listening to records and comparing your work is vital and educational.


DC
Old 8th September 2012
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All of the above, plus - Hi Hats. Overly loud or bright hats can become painful when EQ and dynamic processing is applied to a mix. Keeping the hats under control during tracking and mixing can make an ME's job much easier.
Old 8th September 2012
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I'll second everything said earlier on.

I'm also seeing more extreme high frequency stuff lately, stuff that needs to get rid of. And in weird places, like vocals. It is indeed difficult to get rid of top end.
Old 8th September 2012 | Show parent
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trakworx ➑️
All of the above, plus - Hi Hats. Overly loud or bright hats can become painful when EQ and dynamic processing is applied to a mix. Keeping the hats under control during tracking and mixing can make an ME's job much easier.
Somewhere there was a memo that the overheads are a vital point in communicating the song to the listener. And they must be compressed. Loud and compressed. If they sound like steam escaping when you turn the volume down, it's a guaranteed hit.


DC
Old 8th September 2012 | Show parent
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dcollins ➑️
Loud and compressed. If they sound like steam escaping when you turn the volume down, it's a guaranteed hit.


DC
As CLA would say, "an ocean of crap."
Old 8th September 2012
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I would say that the most common problem that is difficult to fix, as opposed to common problems that are easy to fix, is that of tracks that are generally quite dull in tonality but have one very bright element (typically cymbals, hihat or vocals). It's very difficult to fix tracks that are both too dull and too bright at the same time.
Old 8th September 2012
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Bright track with sizzly ear piercing guitars, hats, cymbals and sibilant vocals and dark/dull/buried snare.
Scooped mids are also a common problem as there is no "body" to the track. Even worse when the latter is combined with a very light bottom end. A course, test and license should be compulsory before even thinking of approaching a low cut filter. This default cutting is really doing a lot of damages and many engineers seem to think it is common practice to hi pass everything by default
Old 9th September 2012
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Some use the high pass as a substitute for the low shelf. I.e., they cut away too much and too high, instead of merely lowering the low end a bit when that's what they should be doing.

Most common problems: sibilant vocals, lack of focus in the mix, overly bright hi-hats, extreme subs, etc.

However, the biggest problems aren't usually in the mix, it's in the arrangement, recording and production.
Old 9th September 2012
  #11
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Very interesting replies guys. Thanks for the insight.
Old 9th September 2012 | Show parent
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lagerfeldt ➑️
Some use the high pass as a substitute for the low shelf. I.e., they cut away too much and too high, instead of merely lowering the low end a bit when that's what they should be doing.
[...]
Yeah.

There seems to be a lot of this these days.

I think that perhaps one of the reasons is that in many "budget rooms", getting the low end right is often difficult, so a lot of folks just get rid of it altogether, and they notice that their low end problems "go away".

Unfortunately (along with the "problems"), OTHER things go away, too - like phase coherency and low end "warmth".

...Then they try to make up for it by piling plugins on the mix bus to compensate.

By the time the ME gets hold of it, well...

...In short, good monitoring in the low end is pretty much as important when deciding when to eliminate frequencies as it is when deciding how to shape them!

.
Old 9th September 2012
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This is a valuable thread. Thanks for the good replies.
Old 9th September 2012
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Getting 16-bit mixes that are very bright and loud, an attempt at all-in-one plug-in "self-mastering" before ~actual~ mastering.

JT
Old 9th September 2012
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Time is of the essence

Over-bright lead vocals, or a lead vocal that might be loud or bright enough but has been overly low-cut and hence lacking fullness/"closeness".

Bass lumpiness < 60Hz. The rarer phase error issues (sometimes in just one element of a mix). Hip hop tracks with MP3 loops. Hip hop tracks in which the only bottom end is a kick drum sound that's never passed through an output stage or air (too much fundamental freq). As Dave mentioned – things which largely have their origins in the arrangement.

But most of all (more with indie artists, and not unrelated to the above): simply not allowing enough time to spend living with the mixes, referencing, adjusting things subjectively ahead of mastering. Lots of avoidable rushing going on, usually due to someone booking a launch while still tracking/overdubbing/mixing. Every time that's been deliberately avoided things have been smooth and turned out great, and it's better for all concerned – none the least for the music itself.
Old 9th September 2012
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IIIrd's Avatar
 
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Brickwalled mixes
Old 9th September 2012
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A common problem that's hard to fix other than what's been mentioned already is phase issues in the midrange that usually stem from people poking around with ultra narrow Qs on their digital EQs.
Old 9th September 2012
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Ill second the woes of a loud brash hi hat...
Old 9th September 2012
  #19
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Phasing is another common issue here. That and running out of coffee.
Old 9th September 2012
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Overly loud bass with a big hump at 60 Hz.

Thin sounding vocals that are buried in the mix.

Overuse of equalizers, limiters and compressors before the mix is mastered.

Strange effects applied to every track most often phasing or Aphex type effects that are over used. (Someone must say to themselves. Gee I have 32 plugins on my ProTools rig so I should use them on every track to really get my monies' worth>.)

Vocals that sound like they were recorded in another room with the door shut between he rooms.

Bass that is muddy with the bass drum and the bass guitar sounding like they were one in the same instrument.

Everything panned to the middle or everything panned to the extreme sides. I once got a mixdown that was all mid-side. The client forgot to rejoin it when he was finished doing some EQ on the side channel. He never listen to what he was sending me.

Mixes that look like bricks and the client want them to be "louder"

Mixes that have already been mastered before they arrive here for mastering.

And my #1 favorite. <trumpet fanfare please>

Mixes that are not ready for mastering and the client is on a extremely tight budget and wants the mastering to make up for all the problems that have befallen the project since it was started and he needs it done by the end of the day so he can get his 1000 CDs pressed at DiskMakers for his/her CD release party on Saturday (Just an aside...why don't people schedule their CD release part AFTER they get the CDs back from the manufacture???)

Old 9th September 2012
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In addition to what others have said: uneven bass, and inconsistent lows track-to-track on album projects, presumably due to the use of mix monitors that don't do 'real' bass. Although I have heard stuff mixed only on NS10s that's bang-on LF-wise - know your mix gear, I guess.

Regularly on an album of rockers with the occasional ballad, I find that if the former have about the right amount of low end the latter may have too much - though as DC points out, fixing excess bass isn't generally too tricky.

Wasn't there an Eagles album where one or more tracks required full bass cut from two Sontecs in series, or did I imagine that?

EDIT: that may have been the Steve Hoffman Hotel California reissue, and the original ME would presumably have had to deal with the same problem. I have the SH CD of Alice Cooper's Killer (a fave from my yoof), and think he did a nice job - not night and day compared to the standard CD version, but it's evident he got more out of the mixes.
Old 9th September 2012
  #22
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another favourite:

"The mix is good. But yesterday I had this very cool additional idea that we just have to pull out of my arrange, edit a bit to fit the radio mix and mix it in. Do you have the session from the EP we did some years ago to check against what we did there?"


aaaand:

"We had to replace / get rid of the samples in 7 mixes you just mastered due to legal reasons."

Had both of them the last 2 weeks.
Old 9th September 2012 | Show parent
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kosmokrator ➑️
another favourite:


"We had to replace / get rid of the samples in 7 mixes you just mastered due to legal reasons."
I had to do that with a hip hop client a couple of years ago. There was no way to do anything but a hatchet job on the material but his label was giving him no wiggle room. The twelve samples had to go or they were not releasing the album. Very messy.
Old 9th September 2012
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In a more general vein:

- fully expecting a $200 bedroom-studio production to sound like a $1 million budget reference album they bring along

- not understanding that everything takes time (they ran out of time, money, release party tomorrow, label needed it last week, etc, many variations on the same theme)

Always willing to do what we can, with a smile,
Thor
Old 9th September 2012 | Show parent
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joelistics ➑️
A common problem that's hard to fix other than what's been mentioned already is phase issues in the midrange that usually stem from people poking around with ultra narrow Qs on their digital EQs.
From people reading on the Internet that they need "surgical" eq, I bet.

That would be another thread: "Things people read about mastering that actually cause problems for mastering engineers."


DC
Old 9th September 2012 | Show parent
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kosmokrator ➑️
[...]
"We had to replace / get rid of the samples in 7 mixes you just mastered due to legal reasons."
[...]
Its like asking a baker to take the sugar and vanilla out of a cake he just baked ('cause it was shoplifted).
...And then also adding:
"Oh, and by the way, can I borrow a cup of sugar from ya?

...And hey, have ya got any o' that fake "vanilla extract" stuff laying around anywhere?"
.
Old 9th September 2012 | Show parent
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thor ➑️
In a more general vein:

- fully expecting a $200 bedroom-studio production to sound like a $1 million budget reference album they bring along

Thor
Sometimes they cannot understand the difference - some times they cannot hear the difference. Lots of musicians lately seem to have lost the ability to self critique their own work. They bring in things to be mastered that they say are their best work and honestly it is not. I always try and help them anyway I can. Sometimes I wonder why what they are hearing in their brains sounds so much different from what I hear in my mastering speakers. There seems to be a major disconnect.

FWIW
Old 9th September 2012
  #28
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The biggest problem I see is people who have no clue how to record think it's going to come out the other end of the mastering session sounding amazing. With unlimited tracks and plugins, I'm getting guys who use four tracks on just a single guitar part "for that big professional sound" and none of it is usable because the guitar & amp aren't set well and the player relied on editing to make the performance for him. Pro mixers make great mixes because they get pro musicians making recordings. I blame computers, for both the workflow they allow and for bad guidance from You Tube and the like.

Bad vocal mic technique is probably the most common problem. Just about everybody is too close to the mic and they jump all over the place dynamically because they don't know their own voice or how to compensate for it with mic placement. Sure, you can ride the levels like crazy and compress the snot out of it, but it'll sound like crap. The most recent vocal session I did here, we had a pretty good singer and I don't think the compressor ever reached 6dB gain reduction. You could hear every word clear as a bell without ever jumping out of the mix; no Autotune/Melodyne here, not even EQ. It can take hours to beat a bad performance/recording into submission and still can't be great.

The saddest part is that people often don't realize where the problem is. I did a mixing job for a guy recently where the vocalist was absolutely EATING the mic, out of tune, clipping in the vocals and guitar tracks everywhere. I told him I could mix it, but he'd never like the results because of the problems in the recording. It was just a 4-song EP that would have been easy to redo, but he insisted that they were in too much of a hurry to redo it. Well, after a week of revisions, he still wasn't happy with it (go figure). I ultimately told him I wasn't going to do any more work on it unless he at least rerecorded the vocals... never heard from him again, never got any payment. Had he just spent a day to redo the vocals, it would have saved a lot of time and I'll be willing to bet he would have been much happier with the results.


NEVER BE TOO MUCH IN A HURRY TO DO A GOOD JOB! If you don't have time to do it well, don't do it at all or it's all a waste. Spend an extra hour getting ready for the recording session, setting mics & levels etc. It will save time and money in the long run. Maybe do one song instead of four. It's rare that I record for people, but when I do, there's often a real hard time restraint due to budgets. One band who hired me had recorded eight songs at another place and they hated the results. The singer had worked with me in the past and talked the band into hiring me to redo the album. The first thing I did when they arrived was throw away the drummer's tattered, duct-tape covered, heads and put on better ones. I worked with the bassist on his sound, plugging him into one of my own cabinets because I hate DIs and his amp sucked (little Behringer?). They got three songs done in the first session and said my rough mix was way better than anything they got at the other studio in a month's time. All it took was fixing what produced the sound.

I know you're talking about mastering, but the problems I see most often can't be fixed in mastering. Mastering is for great mixes that need a little nudge this way or the other to work ideally, not fixing performance/recording problems.
Old 9th September 2012 | Show parent
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe_caithness ➑️
Ill second the woes of a loud brash hi hat...
Yeah, when I mix for people, the first thing I do is listen to the tracks and see what's needed/not needed. 99% of the time, I delete the hihat track because there's already too much in the overheads.



Continuing my rant, rap guys with brick-walled MP3 loops that consist almost solely of fake drum samples and sine waves covering the 20-35Hz range.
Old 10th September 2012
  #30
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sdbmastering's Avatar
 
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Over processing with mostly digital stuff is definitely a common problem... You can't take all those artifacts from a mix!
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