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 Post subject: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 12:42 pm 
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I don't really know much about mastering other than what I've learnt on the AW16g - kind of trying to match commercial CDs and previous recordings I've been happy with that I've made.

My question is, can pro mastering engineers (is that what they're called?) notch out harsh frequencies without affecting other things from a full mix? Sometimes I've mixed things as well as I can but later listen and feel that certain things are too harsh in the mid-range area. An example would be vocals - everything else might be OK but the vox too harsh or whatnot. Can the mastering process help reduce only that issue without changing the overall sonic feel of the track from just a two-channel wav file?

I may have waffled a bit there trying to explain myself, sorry, but any advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks,

CDA.


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 1:20 pm 
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Yes it can be done but there's always a price to pay.

What I do to detect unwanted amplifications of certain frequencies: in the EQ screen, one of the bands is set to the highest Q (10) and the lowest gain (-18). Then, while playing the song loudly, I have the frequency sweep the complete spectrum. When you hit a problem frequency (which can be caused by virtually anything), you will notice.

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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 2:08 pm 
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I will have to give that a try, thanks.

When you say there is always a price to pay - do you mean sonically or that it costs loads of money to have mastering done? :) I've looked around in the past at online mastering services and the charges are sky-high! :shock:


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 2:38 pm 
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You can go the other way too. put the Q to 10 and the gain at some very high level (+18) and sweep as Robbie suggested. In Robbie's method, with a cut" you would be listening for spots when a frequency disappears and the whole mix sounds "better". The other method, with a big gain, you will be looking for the spot where the mix sounds the worst. Once you locate that frequency, then reverse the gain and listen for the "better" quality. In either case do not expect miracles. Once you region is determined, make the gain adjustment. It is rare that a -18 cut would be the answer. Mastering is more about shaping than fixing.

As you embark on this, it is really helpful to know the numbers and how instuments and voices relate to frequency spetrum.

Surgical stuff is best undertaken on the offending track during the mix process, or even better during the tracking, so it doesn't exist in the first place.

The cost to which Robbie referred is loss of frequencies shared by various components of the mix. Carving out to get rid of a nasty will also carve the same frequencies from the instruments/ voices that may be what you want to hear, within a mix.

The high dollar cost of mastering can be attributed to the time it take s- as mastering is largely undertaken in real time - the engineer listens to your mix and translates that familiarity through his/her experience to make the mastering decisions. Also, the gear is very expensive - and lots of it - to give the engineer many option from which to choose as they colour your mix.

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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 4:19 pm 
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Robbie The Botkiller
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Yes, what I meant by "price to pay" is that it leaves a scar, sonically speaking. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - I've seen amazingly beautiful women with scars. :) And, no such thing as a goudacheese without a dent.

Mastering is indeed shaping. Cutting out a frequency this harshly is not shaping, but repairing.

I also used Byron's method to determine the problem frequencies. Once you find one using that method, your ears will hurt.

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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 4:36 pm 
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Byron - thank you for your reply.

I am going to mess around with both of these suggestions - it's something I've never heard of or done before.

I always try to get things to sound as good as I can when recording and mixing, the whole thing is based on trial and error though. It's taken me years to be able to hear something and then know what to do to make it stand out or to blend in. But there's only so much I can do with what I've got - I have no decent monitoring or outboard eq or compression and the like.

I have read that mastering is an art, and what you describe bears that out. I'd like to hear some of what we have done after it has been pro mastered. I am starting to go through our older stuff with a view to tweaking some of the much poorer mixes. This is what's gotten me thinking about pro mastering. I guess it's a matter of getting what you pay for - I have seen cheaper prices but then is that just a case of someone putting a mix through software and not spending any time on it? I mean, that kind of thing i could probably do myself - or try to learn to, ina bodged CDA kind of a way.


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 4:40 pm 
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Robbie wrote:
Yes, what I meant by "price to pay" is that it leaves a scar, sonically speaking. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - I've seen amazingly beautiful women with scars. :) And, no such thing as a goudacheese without a dent.

Mastering is indeed shaping. Cutting out a frequency this harshly is not shaping, but repairing.

I also used Byron's method to determine the problem frequencies. Once you find one using that method, your ears will hurt.



:lol: @ dented cheese and scarred women!

I don't think I need to cut out frequencies from too many recordings, hopefully, but I understand what you mean re: repairing/shaping.


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 5:44 pm 
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When "mastering" on the AW I tend to look first at the low end of the frequency spectrum. I will use the EQ on the stereo track to High Pass the very bottom end. Depending on the material, you may want to set a HPF as low as 37 hz. this will let most of the bottom end through, but get rid of some mud. If it is too boomy, raise the number. Going as high as 80 hz would be rather radical IMO, and would really take some oompf out of the bass and kick. Next I would look to the 1.8 - 2.8 khz zone on the third band and set the Q very wide (.7 - 1.5 for starters) and raise the gain very gently +0.8 - +1.5. listen - did that open up the mid highs in a pleasant / desirable way? if so, I would go to the second band and use the same Q at about 800 hz and this time put a cut of size simlar to the add I gave in slot 3. This could enhance what was started with the boost. Go back to slot one and let a little more of the bottom through perhaps. If you like what you hear, keep it. If not, continue fiddling - but be patient and listen at each stage. Remember, not all mixes need radical EQ curves.

Radical EQ curves are more likely to be seen on individual tracks, during the mix. I often will high pass acoustic guitars, setting the cutoff at 225 hz. This prevents the acoustic frequencies from interfering with bottom stuff in the kick, toms and bass. I tend to really carve up individual tracks sometimes.

Once I get the mix happening, I would go back and relax some of my more radical EQ ideas, until the carved up tracks begin to sit comfortably. Of course the use of compressors will affect how much you hear of a track, so the EQ might have to tweeked accordingly. the whole thing is an iterative process - trial and error.

Don't really worry about any mastering consideratin until the mix is as you want it. If the mix seems quiet, don't succumb to the temptation to boost the tracks looking for volume - instead, turn your monitors up. Make a mix that does not push the limits. Once that is accomplished, the mastering stuff is what needs attention.

Try taking your controlled mix, move it to a stereo pair (panned hard LR) - use the mastering presets for starters. Turn off all the individual tracks and Play back the mix on the paired channel and hear what those mastering presets do to it. See the gentle EQ curves the presets use? See what EFF the presets load Experiment with the "Limiter" presets in the effect library. The AW series do not have real brickwall limiters, but some nice stuff can be done with what is on board.

Keep at it - the time spent surely keeps you off the streets and out of trouble!

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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:35 pm 
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Thanks very much for the advice, Byron.

I will, once I have decided on a song to experiment with, or a batch*, try out what you have outlined. As you say, not all mixes need radical eq, and that's something I think I have done in the past to compensate for things. It's very interesting to read about your working methods when mixing.

Once - and if - I am successful I'll post some examples up.

*I've made two CDs of the first 25 songs I want to work on, or to see if they need working on. The plan is to go through them and take notes and then choose a few to work on.


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 Post subject: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:15 pm 
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cda wrote:
My question is, can pro mastering engineers (is that what they're called?) notch out harsh frequencies without affecting other things from a full mix? Sometimes I've mixed things as well as I can but later listen and feel that certain things are too harsh in the mid-range area. An example would be vocals - everything else might be OK but the vox too harsh or whatnot. Can the mastering process help reduce only that issue without changing the overall sonic feel of the track from just a two-channel wav file?

CDA.


The mastering engineeer can do what you are asking about (at a sonic cost to other mix elements that occupy the offending frequency range), but they shouldn't have to. As stated by others, best to nip offending frequencies when tracking or with EQ when mixing.

Think of the mastering engineer as the smooth/finish & touch up guy on a drywall or painting contractor crew. The mastering engineer is best used to "sweeten" a mix with quality (usually vintage analog) gear, to increase the RMS (overall perceived loudness) and to do polishing fades, song transitions, etc. They can do other things, just like a master craftsman can frame a dog house....but it would be overkill (and expensive) for them to do it.

Cheers,

Gary


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:38 pm 
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Byron wrote:
use the mastering presets for starters.


Just a small word of warning here - the mastering presets are essentially EQ and dynamic presets applied to the stereo bus. As such, you can edit them just like you edit EQ and dynamics on any track - press the stereo bus button and the EQ/dynamics button and off you go. You can't save your changes in the mastering library per se, but you can save them in a scene or the song's EQ and dynamic libraries (does the channel library work for the stereo bus?).

Anyway, now for the word of warning: When you recall a mastering preset, it applies the EQ and dynamics to the stereo bus, and those settings will remain there until you change them. Until you turn them off, everything you do on the machine will be heard through that mastering preset.


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 10:38 pm 
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I had my recent CD professionally mastered and not at a "cheapie" place, either. Other than the average volume level (RMS) getting raised there was very little noticeable between it and the same song I'd raised the RMS level on with Sound Forge on my PC. When I compared the 2 songs, by quickly switching between them on my AW1600 and studio monitors with the Solo feature, it was hard to tell much difference. Yes, there were some very slight differences, but nothing significant. The average listener would never hear them. In fact, I'm not sure I did. Maybe I just wanted to after paying the bucks. :lol:

I think the main result of mastering is that you'll get your songs nearer a commercial CD loudness level and the level of each song will be consistent. YMMV.

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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 11:12 pm 
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Same experience with mastering house results for me too. The tracks we had mastered for a CD we released did not sound noticably different volume wise from the same tracks I had boosted myself. But, it was good to have other ears listen to the project, and there were several items cleaned up at the mastering house, such as edits that required some digital wizardry to ceate a split second of audio to crossfade at the edit point, level balancing, track to track and a subtle analogue sheen for the whole project, as the signal passed through both a tape loop and high end tube stereo compressor. The EQ work and the final limiting were both done in the digital domain.

If the mix is good, the mastering is not needed to fix anything. Some projects can be mastered at the stem level. so if there is a problematic section, that stem can be adjusted. Or the relative volumes between stems can be adjusted, if the stems are made available to the mastering house.

I myself have been playing at "mastering" with the waves y96k card bought for my 2400. The limiters are "killer" (thanks Geno for that advice - it is true, the limiters are super) The EQ is very nice too - 6 bands and totally controlable sculpting of the cut notches. I really like the de-esser too - you don't really want to eliminate aspects of the sound, just control them. mastering is not really about fixing or radical improving - but rather polishing up, leveling and sequencing.

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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Wed Jan 26, 2011 11:53 pm 
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Bartman wrote:

The mastering engineeer can do what you are asking about (at a sonic cost to other mix elements that occupy the offending frequency range), but they shouldn't have to. As stated by others, best to nip offending frequencies when tracking or with EQ when mixing.

Think of the mastering engineer as the smooth/finish & touch up guy on a drywall or painting contractor crew. The mastering engineer is best used to "sweeten" a mix with quality (usually vintage analog) gear, to increase the RMS (overall perceived loudness) and to do polishing fades, song transitions, etc. They can do other things, just like a master craftsman can frame a dog house....but it would be overkill (and expensive) for them to do it.

Cheers,

Gary


Thanks Gary.

Yes, the more I think about it, and reading the comments here, I feel that I will try to remix the songs that have really bad issues instead of looking for an easy fix - and spending money. It's all practice!


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Wed Jan 26, 2011 11:58 pm 
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JM wrote:
Byron wrote:
use the mastering presets for starters.


Anyway, now for the word of warning: When you recall a mastering preset, it applies the EQ and dynamics to the stereo bus, and those settings will remain there until you change them. Until you turn them off, everything you do on the machine will be heard through that mastering preset.


Ah yes - it is good to point that out for anyone else reading this. It took me quite a while to figure out what was going on because of this. Also, it's possible to spend ages getting a sound right, and then realising that you have eq or whatver applied to it, and when you turn it off the sound is not as you want it. Grrr.


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 Post subject: Re: Mastering Question.
PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2011 12:04 am 
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HogTime and Byron -

Interesting to read your comments about your experiences with having things pro mastered. Again, it makes me think that I will remix things instead of going down the pro mastering route at this time. I am going to read up some more about mixing and get some practice in.


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