November 24th, 2014 by admin

As a mastering engineer of several years, I’ve seen a lot of music come through my studio. As a result, I’ve noticed many critical mistakes producers often make in their productions. So I put together a list the 6 most common mistakes I see producers make, and how you can avoid them.

By avoiding these pitfalls you will look more professional, cut email exchanges with engineers in half, train your ears, and you will know what to look out for in future productions.

1. Producing with the Limiter On
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see. Producers who do this are usually compensating for what they lack in production experience. I know, I know, the track just doesn’t sound big enough, so you add the limiter on the end because it sounds better.

But what you’re actually doing is ruining any chance of successful post-production work because the dynamics get squashed.

It is very hard to reverse the damage caused by a limiter once it has been added. It is usually best to avoid a limiter altogether instead of slapping it on the end of your master output. A limiter should be added as the last processing tool during mastering.

If using a limiter is necessary, just use a compressor with a small ratio (2:1) and small threshold. Again, IF NECESSARY.

2. Exporting Above 0db (Not Mixing Below 0db)
This one I see quite often. When you export your track, it is imperative that the signal does not exceed 0db. When I review a track and see that it does not have any headroom, it is because of 1 of 3 reasons.

a) It was produced with the limiter on (see above)
b) It was exported too loudly.
c) Both. Yikes!

Make sure when you’re producing your track, that the levels on the master channel have clear headroom.

What is headroom you ask? Headroom is the difference of space between the highest peak volume of your track and 0db. Usually, the more headroom, the better for post-production purposes.

3. Producing With The Master Fader Turned Down
I have been here before. You start your track with a kick and you want it to slam, so you turn the volume of the kick up, and turn the master channel down so you have room to add additional elements.

As you start adding more elements you notice that you keep running out of headroom, so you keep turning the master channel down. This technique will lead to tracks that are quiet at the beginning, but way too loud during the second half of the track.

Instead, try leave the master volume at 0db. Fight the urge to move that S.O.B. at any time. Do all your mixing before it hits the master channel and focus on the levels of your instruments.

If I start with a kick, I turn that channel down about -10db, and if I need to adjust the volume I will avoid the master fader volume and instead use the volume knob on my audio interface. I will say it once more. Leave the master fader volume at 0db.

If your levels go above 0db, then you have to mix your project down better so that it does not hit 0db.

4. Exporting in 16bit Without Dithering
You produced everything great! The track looks great! The waveform looks great! Sounds great! Everything is great! Then…. I see a big fat 16bit format.

This is a problem because if your stems are 24bit, and you exported to 16bit without dithering, you’ve just lost 8 bits of information. Gone. Period. Poof up in smoke!

And you will usually hear that in the master version once it is ready (or not ready) for distribution.

Do yourself a favor and check that you export in 24bit or higher if you plan to have any post-work done (mastering). Dithering should be the last step of the mastering process and should only be done once. (See dithering).

5. Cutting Off The End of your track during export.
Indeed, you’ve done everything right. However, the reverb/delay at the end of your track gets cutoff. When I ask a client to double check, they’ve indeed cutoff the end of the track by accident.

This happens because your DAW will export until the end of the last audio clip by default, and will not export any additional audio unless you tell it to do so.

Double check the IN/OUT points when exporting. You’re DAW will tell you exactly what point your track will start AND stop exporting. So export additional time just in case.

6. Not Exporting The Beginning Properly
This one comes up a lot, although not as common. The very beginning of your track starts with a kick, but the first kick sounds quiet compared to the rest of the kicks throughout the track.

It’s usually because the full length of the kick is not being exported due to the IN point being too soon. If that is the case, the rest of the kicks are the same way. For example, at a big drop or after a downtime.

Often times a kick sample is not precisely at the beginning of the track, and actually starts a fraction before. So examine that first kick like it’s under a microscope.

You might have to move your entire track up a fraction and export accordingly.

I hope this has helped you have a better idea of some common mistakes that producers make. If you avoid these you will be on the fast track to becoming a better producer.

 

Get Mastering

 

February 25th, 2013 by admin

Although dithering is an important step of the mastering process, knowing how to use it, when to use it, and why you should use it will improve your recordings and final mastered audio files.

What Is Dither?

Dither is low volume noise, introduced into digital audio when converting from a higher bit-resolution to a lower bit-resolution.

The process of reducing bit-resolution causes quantization errors, also known as truncation distortion, which if not prevented, can sound very unpleasant.

To understand this better, we must understand bit-depth.

What Is Bit-Depth?

In the digital audio domain, bit-depth is what defines the number of measurement values to describe the amplitude of a single audio sample. Each bit effectively represents 6db of dynamic range.

For example, a recording made at 24bit-resolution would have a potential range of 144db. (See figures 1-2 below).

Dithering (Figure 1)

Dithering (Figure 1)

Dithering (Figure 2)

Dithering (Figure 2)

 

Truncation Distortion

As one reduces the bit-depth, such as from a 24bit-resolution sample to a 16bit-resolution sample, you are reducing the number of values available to measure the amplitude of any given sample.

In other words you now have less values available to describe the dynamic range of your audio. (see figures 3-4 below).

Dithering (Figure 3)

Dithering (Figure 3)

Dithering (Figure 4)

Dithering (Figure 4)

As a result, certain values that are no longer there will be forcibly rounded off to the next closest value.

This truncation results in the loss of very low signal levels, and the creation of audible distortion where the values have been rounded, squaring off the waveform. (see figures 5-6 below).

Dithering (Figure 5)

Here is a 16bit audio file with a line drawn in the middle showing where the audio would be before it was converted from 24bit. (Figure 5)

Dithering (Figure 6)

This illustrates the truncation distortion where the audio is forcibly bent to the nearest bit. (Figure 6)

 

How Does Dither Prevent This?

If you apply dither to a silent audio file, and turn the volume way up, you can hear the sound of dither alone.

You might even see this visually if you add an EQ to the end of your production chain and see the noise moving around even though there is no audio coming from the speakers.

Introducing this subtle noise to an audio file prior to reducing the bit-depth eliminates the truncation distortion. You are in effect trading the distortion for noise.

Given this information, one could determine that the use of dithering on a 24bit sample, and exporting in 24bit or higher resolution bit-depth would be ineffective, as there is nothing being replaced with noise, and is only necessary when down-converting to a lower bit-depth.

The Computer Screen Analogy

To help better understand dithering, I like to use the hand over your computer monitor analogy. How it works is you start by holding your hand over your computer monitor.

Notice that you can see your computer monitor perfectly with the exception of the block where your hand is.

Now, if you wave your hand rapidly back and forth from left to right across the screen (applying dither), it allows you to see the entire screen as apposed to blocks of the screen.

Why Dither?

Now that you have a better understanding of what dithering is, you might be asking yourself, “why dither?” Especially if you can just keep your 24bit-resolution file and avoid dithering altogether.

The answer is simple; all finished, mastered audio files are 16bit. Although 24bit is a higher quality sound with more audio detail, and eliminates truncation distortion altogether, the reality is that 90% of all playback devices are 44100/16bit.

Which means if you try and play a 24bit audio file through one of these 16bit playback devices, it will sound like shit.

In this regard, you should keep the consistency of bit-depth throughout your production process from beginning to end. If you are producing in 24bit and your playback is set to 16bit, then you should be using a dithering tool in your production chain.

If you are recording and producing in 16bit, and your playback is in 16bit, then there is no need to dither. If you are producing in 16bit, and your playback settings are 24bit, there is no need for dithering.

What are the current settings of your project? What are the current bit-depth of your samples? What is your playback bit-depth settings set at? These are all things you should know when producing your track.

Note: If you intend to have your song mastered, it is best to export at the same bit-depth or higher as your project settings are set to. For example, if you are producing in 16bit, be sure to export in 16bit or higher.

If your project settings are in 24bit, and you export in 16bit without dithering, your audio file is damaged before it even goes to the mastering engineer.

Types of Dither Algorithms and Shaping Options

Many dithering options offer noise shaping. Noise shaping allows you to add an eq curve to the dither noise, helping move the energy of the noise to less audible regions within the frequency spectrum for an even better result.

Here are a few popular types.  (I will be using Ableton’s dithering options, though is very similar options in all programs)

Dithering (Figure 7)

Dithering (Figure 7)

 

  • Triangular – By default, Triangular is selected, which is the safest mode to use if there is any possibility of doing additional processing on your file.
  • Rectangular – Rectangular mode introduces an even smaller amount of dither noise, but at the expense of additional quantization error.
  • The Three Pow-r Modes – The three Pow-r modes offer successively higher amounts of dithering, but with the noise pushed above the audible range.

The Images Analogy

Image dithering works the exact same way and is no different than audio dithering.  Below are four images.

From left to right, the first image is an 8 bit image at full resolution, next is the same image reduced to 1 bit with no dithering, 3rd is the same greatly reduced image with dithering added, and lastly in image 4 is the reduced bit image with added dithering, plus noise shaping option added. (see figure 8 below).

Dithering (Figure 8)

Dithering (Figure 8)

 

Last Notes and Conclusion

Note that dithering is a procedure that should only be applied once to any given audio sample. If you plan to do further processing on your rendered audio sample, it’s best to render to 32-bit to avoid the need for dithering at this stage.

Lastly, you only want to dither your rendered audio if it’s final. If you’re sending it to someone else for mastering, or it’s just not yet the master, then don’t dither.

Regarding which mode is best, it’s really best to use your ears and spend some time with the results.

 

*Sources:

Images provided by izotopeinc – http://www.youtube.com/user/izotopeinc?feature=watch

*Helpful Video Demonstrations:

March 6th, 2012 by admin

In support of preserving Dynamic Range we wanted to shed some light and spread awareness on the so called “Loudness War.” Is it real? The answer is very much yes, and the music industry is suffering because of it.

The Loudness War is a sonic “arms race” where every artist and label feel they need to crush their music onto CD at the highest possible level, for fear of (more…)

August 21st, 2011 by admin

Some issues that came up in recent mastering projects were loudness and the maximization process. I wasn’t able to get a track sounding as best as I could because looking at the waveform it was playing at a constant -0db. This tells me that the track has already been limited and/or compressed before I had received it.

I just wanted to send a reminder out that light compression is (more…)

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