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

 

April 8th, 2014 by admin

While mastering has been somewhat of an expanded service over the years, there seems to a lot of confusion over some topics surrounding this important stage of the production process. Being a mastering engineer allows me to explain such misconceptions. Here’s a list of 9 Common Myths About Audio Mastering – Explained.

1. The Louder The Better

This is simply not true! Loudness is not desirable if it means sacrificing sonic integrity. This means pushing your track so loud that it eliminates all your dynamics in the track.

This can be fatiguing to the ear and have a negative effect on listening when doing so for an extended period of time. Use your volume knob. That’s what it’s there for, after-all.

2. Mastering Will Make A Bad Mix Into a Good Mix

Sadly, a poorly mixed track will almost always remain so. In mastering it is very difficult to isolate specific frequencies without affecting all the instruments.

For this reason, it is vital that a mix-down be mixed as best as possible before going into the mastering stage. That means getting the right tone and instruments balanced 110% before sending out for mastering.

3. Mastering Is The “Dark Art” of Making Music

Mastering is considered by most to be mysterious and therefore nobody wants to approach it. However, with experience, reaching sonic accuracy is just knowing what needs to be done to produce the best results.

This doesn’t mean start mastering your tracks by yourself. Which leads me to the next point.

4. I Can Master My Music Myself

It can be difficult to be objective toward your own music! Especially if you master your track in the same listening environment that it was produced in.

For those reasons, it’s better to leave it up to someone with fresh ears, who can be objective, and has the experience mastering tracks. Even top-end mixing studios will have their music sent out for mastering.

5. All the Mastering Engineer Does Is Add A Limiter

Making a track loud is just one part of mastering. An experienced engineer will do his best to ensure the best listening experience.

This can include, but not limited to: Editing & Fades, Track to Track Spacing, Hum & Hiss removal, Stereo Width, Surgical EQ, Tonal EQ, Compression/Parallel Compression, Adjusting the volumes of tracks to match so the whole project feels like a smooth listening experience, ISRC Codes and CD Text just to name a few!

6. Mastering Costs Too Much

Some mastering engineers can be insanely expensive, and rightfully so. They have decades of experience recording the best bands with the most expensive gear. There are also ones with wide varying ranges of experience, equipment, prices, and quality of work.

It is best that you find one that matches your budget and one you’re happy with!

7. Mastering Needs At Least -3db Headroom

I hear this all the time. The truth is, a good engineer will correct any volume issues before it goes into the mastering chain.

I prefer to work with as much signal as possible. Meaning that I like the audio to be as loud as possible before clipping (At 24bits). Then, during the mastering process I will turn the volume down to a preferable level before it goes into my chain.

Anything below -10db in volume I’m afraid might be losing signal and you should aim to submit mixes louder than -10db, but not reaching or exceeding 0db.

8. Mastering Isn’t Required For All Tracks

Actually this one is probably the most true, depending on how satisfied you are with your mix-down. Sometimes mixes come in that are near perfect, and in that case, doing adjustments like EQ, Compression can actually harm the audio.

It’s worth remembering that you should never underestimate a fresh perspective from an objective and experienced set of ears.

9. You Need Top Of The Line Gear

This is false. You need the correct gear and correct ears to make a quality master. In addition, with the options available today in digital music, it is entirely possible to make quality masters on a budget.

Instead, invest in listening, and new techniques, and understanding of good sounding recordings.

Conclusion

Hopefully this list helps to dispel any myths about audio mastering, and serves to clear up any confusion you might have.

What other myths do you guys hear about? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

October 2nd, 2012 by admin

Below are 6 tips you can use to ensure a better mastering experience for both you and your mastering engineer.

Following these suggestions will make your mastering experience more fluid, and will prevent avoidable mishaps during the mastering process.

1. Make sure you listen to your master using an unbiased program with no equalization
Every now and then we will have someone ask us to make adjustments to the master version only to find out they are listening to the song using a program with custom EQ settings turned on. This is counterproductive for both artist and mastering engineer. We have noticed that programs like Windows Media Player and iTunes will color the sound. An example of a good program to use when listening to single tracks is Quicktime Player. Whenever possible, be sure your EQ settings are set to FLAT when listening to the finished master recording.

2. Include reference tracks along with your pre-master
It is a great idea to include a reference song along with your pre-master. Even links to Youtube videos are a good idea because it will give the mastering engineer a reference on how to EQ your song in reference to the low frequencies, mid frequencies, and high frequencies. We find that artists who provide links to reference songs in reference to their own song will be satisfied with the master version without the need to make any further adjustments.

3. If you would like silence at the beginning of your song please include it in the pre-master or let your engineer know
Most artists these days are digital artists, and prefer that there be no silence at the beginning of the song. But every now and then we get asked to go back and provide a few seconds of silence at the beginning and end of the song. This is also counterproductive for both artist and engineer. To have it right the first time it is a good idea to let your engineer know when you send your pre-master in.

4. Give a track-listing to your engineer when having multiple tracks mastered at one time
If you’re having multiple tracks mastered to be released on an EP or Album, it is a good idea to give your engineer a track-listing of your project. This will ensure a consistent, fluid flow between songs and will save you from having to go back and make changes. If you find a good engineer, they will automatically do their best to master your songs at the same level. However, having a track-listing helps tremendously.

5. Properly label your songs with artist name and track name
Surprisingly the majority of files we receive are either missing the artist name or track name. As an artist myself, I make sure my files are properly labeled with my artist name and song title so the other person can quickly reference the file after downloading, or if it gets shared my artist name will be there for the other person to see. This make is it difficult for us when adding the id3 tags into the MP3 file as there is no artist or track name. We use the following format for file names – “(Artist – Title (Original/Remix)”. That will help the engineer quickly sort out whats what when receiving files.

6. Make sure your fade in and fade out are proper to avoid having to send in a new mix down
This one is pretty important. We see many times where at the end of the song it finished with a delay, reverb, or echo, etc… and the audio gets chopped off before the effect finishes. To avoid having to send a new mixdown be sure to include the full length of the song until the audio stops completely.

 

By following these suggestions you will ensure a better experience for both you and your mastering engineer.

 

 

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