"does your price include mastering?"

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Chris_Avakian
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"does your price include mastering?"

Post by Chris_Avakian » Thu Oct 18, 2012 12:12 am

does anybody else have people asking this? is it just a misconception some people have? it seems like i cant go a week without somebody either not understand what mastering is, and getting upset i dont handle it in house. i always refer my clients to mastering houses.

like the add in the magazine says, doing your own mastering is like doing your own dental work.

how does everybody else handle this when your asked?

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Post by kslight » Thu Oct 18, 2012 4:53 am

Nothing worth getting real upset about...mastering is one of those gray areas that isn't easy to define its purpose for the average consumer. In fact, I'd venture to say that even a good portion of recording engineers are a bit unclear.

I know the traditional philosophy is to not handle mastering in house (unless that is your specialty), but I have noticed the credits on a great deal of releases starting maybe 6 years ago have mastering done by the mixing engineer.

I understand the benefit of having a real mastering engineer at the end of the chain, but to be honest I end up covering that role from time to time on the projects I mix as well, and everyone ends up happy in the end. I try to discourage it by not being the cheapest guy on the mastering block (which seems to be the current race to the bottom fad), but I won't turn my nose up at it either.

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IanWalker
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Post by IanWalker » Thu Oct 18, 2012 6:19 am

Explain what mastering is, and why its better to have someone else do it.

That said, there are some people who still ask me to do it for them.

So what do I do? I re-iterate to them why its better to have a specialist do it. I tell them why its valuable to have someone with a better (or sometimes simply different) room handle it. I explain why another set of ears are ALWAYS a good idea.

Then if they still want me to, I give them what I refer to varyingly as a "ghetto mastering job", a "pseudo-master", or a "rough mastering job".

Basically, I gain match and limit a bit to give them a more consistent listening level. I've had one or two go out the door that way and see pressing. Honestly, they sound good to my ears still.

Might they have sounded better with a pro mastering job? Sure, but no one would listen to these and say "Man, they should have gotten a better mastering engineer on this". A couple still surprise me with how good they sound.

If the mixes are good, a less-than-perfect mastering can squeak by - especially on a small, local release.
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Post by Gregg Juke » Thu Oct 18, 2012 1:36 pm

Well, that's the thing. If it's a project that has any kind of budget worked-out before hand, they should include mastering in the process. If you're the producer, not just the engineer, you should be talking about mastering from jump-daddy (see how I got that dated psuedo-Jazz Hip-Hop reference in there? See?).

But if it's a small local project, they don't know what they're doing, despite your best efforts at educating them, and they still want you to handle the "mix and mastering stage," then yeah, go to town with the limiter plug-ins. We do a lot of our own stuff, and there are a few clients that come through specifically for what I'd call "pre-mastering" (because "ghetto mastering" has already been taken).

I'm not sure how to/if we should promote this type of service, as I don't want to take work from professional mastering engineers, but at the same time, people want it and it's "dogg eat dogg" out there, isn't it? (See? I did it again with the reference thing)...

"Ghetto Mastering," "Budget Mastering," "Psuedo-Mastering," and "Pre-Mastering" don't look as good as "Mastering" on a website.

One reason we got into our own thing is that we had some pretty horrendous experiences with "Mastering Engineers" in the past, and figured (rightly) that we could do just as good or better of a job on our own. But for my next release, I'm saving the pennies for a certain highly-recommended Tape-Opper that seems to have a penchant for doing this kind of thing well (who shall remain nameless because I don't want to embarass him, and also because this record may not be coming out until the year 2525).**

GJ

** (Did you see that Zagger & Evans reference there? See how I did that?)

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Post by joninc » Thu Oct 18, 2012 4:53 pm

this is a good thread...

i am in the same boat as some of you and i do see the trend of more and more larger releases having mastering by the mix engineer (the last Ray Lamontagne is a good example) AND i have also had some frustrations with mastering engineers at times too and felt that I could arrive at where I wanted to be quicker on my own.

That said, I have also had the privilege of working with some great ME's who did awesome work and help take the mix that final 5%.

so - i always recommend that artists have things mastered by someone who specializes in that but i also am mastering more and more over the past 5 years and have been really happy with what i can do there as well.

i used to be really afraid to even try to master anything, thinking that i needed a way better room/monitors/gear to do anything decent with final mixes, but i realize that it's like anything - if you know what you are listening for and how things SHOULD sound (i realize that's very subjective) then you can often help make improvements. i guess i have a better understanding of what mastering is now too having been working in this field for a little longer.

for me - the reality is that $ is always tight - and i think it's way more important to allocate the funds to a solid mix and cheaper mastering then a quicker/rougher mix and high end mastering. i have had a few conversations with artists in the past year or 2 where i told them that i think they need to re-adjust their budgets in this way to get a better end product. (and i have been asked to master a few projects that would have benefitted a lot more from outside mixing rather than my mastering.)
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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Thu Oct 18, 2012 7:13 pm

everyone's had a bad experience with mastering at some point, me included. it sucks. you work really hard on a record and get it back and "WTF DID THEY DO TO MY ART????" so depressing.

i try really hard not to be that guy. but you know, usually all it takes is a polite email saying "please back off the limiter" or whatever, you get the revision back and it's fine.

anyway, i hardly mix at all anymore, and as a reasonably experienced ME, i'm probably pretty good at mastering my own stuff, but i hate doing it. i can put up someone else's record and pretty much know right away what it needs...i put up my own mixes and i can't tell if they're perfect or the worst shit ever.

objectivity counts for a lot.
joninc wrote:i think it's way more important to allocate the funds to a solid mix and cheaper mastering then a quicker/rougher mix and high end mastering.
for sure.

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Post by fossiltooth » Fri Oct 19, 2012 7:43 pm

If you do it yourself, it is by definition not mastering.

Mastering is the act of having another trained set of ears listen to the record and tweak it in a separate space that is specially designed for that purpose. Plus: those ears should belong to a person who has listened to thousands of records in that space and has a proven track record of competence and good taste.

Making things louder, EQing, etc., are all things mastering engineers might do, but that is not what mastering is.

Sure, there is an unprecedented prevalence of less-than-stellar mastering engineers today -- and that is one of the reasons I finally agreed to start saying "yes" to doing mastering jobs myself -- But I do it in a specially designed space, and I would never master my own mixes. That would defeat the whole entire purpose of that step in the process!
joninc wrote:i think it's way more important to allocate the funds to a solid mix and cheaper mastering then a quicker/rougher mix and high end mastering.
Absolutely. No contest. (But beware of cheap mastering guys who try to do too much.)

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Gregg Juke
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Post by Gregg Juke » Fri Oct 19, 2012 9:43 pm

All of that may be academically true, Justin, but after you drop your first couple/three $500's' on mastering sessions (with guys that have lots of gear and with specially set-up rooms; some attended sessions, some not), and you listen back and yeah, your home-limited mixes _still_ sound better; well, you can call it what you want and argue semantics all day, but you stop throwing the money away.

GJ

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JohnDavisNYC
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Post by JohnDavisNYC » Sat Oct 20, 2012 4:52 am

All of the mastering engineers that I trust for my mixes have the ears, chops and humility to make a record I deliver sound right. They may have to dig way into it, or they may decide that a flat transfer with minimal gain is appropriate... They aren't out to prove something or use all their toys, they're out to make records that sound good.

Granted none of these guys are at the $500 price range for a record, more like the $1500 price range for a record. But it's worth it...

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Post by Bill Williams » Sat Oct 20, 2012 6:05 am

Good studios record good music using good rooms, good mics and good tape but good mastering houses make good masters.

Analouge vinyl stampers.
Digital Glass Masters.
Digital mp3s.

I don't know any recording studio which can make all those... I know only a few mastering houses which can and they are why I make money. They own the converters and lathes and glass things and I own the noise.

The difficulties I find are in distribution and warehousing... No one has trucks or sheds... Space and fuel is too expensive.


Also, artists are fucking maniacs. Just for the record.

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Post by fossiltooth » Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:52 am

JohnDavisNYC wrote:All of the mastering engineers that I trust for my mixes have the ears, chops and humility to make a record I deliver sound right. They may have to dig way into it, or they may decide that a flat transfer with minimal gain is appropriate... They aren't out to prove something or use all their toys, they're out to make records that sound good.

Granted none of these guys are at the $500 price range for a record, more like the $1500 price range for a record. But it's worth it...
^^^YES. This.^^^

Although, if you catch the kind of person who is still learning, but on their way to becoming that kind of ME, you might be able to pay considerably less than $1500.

Keep in mind however, that kind of person is often going to be a protege or assistant to the $1500-or-more-per-record kind of ME.

As always, there are a few exceptions to this rule. To find those exceptions, trust referrals and word of mouth and relevant past work. Not Craigslist ads.

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Post by jhharvest » Sat Oct 20, 2012 9:23 am

I went to a local studio here in Tanzania and the chief recording engineer asked me if I could give him any tips for mastering. I explained that I'm not a mastering engineer which he found really confusing.

Making a record is like building a house. The band supplies the raw materials like bricks and things. The mix engineer puts them together. The house could be livable at this stage but then you still want the ME to come and give it a nice coat of paint. Except in this analogy paint brushes cost $10000.

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Post by chris harris » Sat Oct 20, 2012 11:42 am

I appreciate everyone's opinion here. And, I respect that lots of people differ on some things and agree on some things.

My opinion is that there are lots and lots of people, at all price points, who sell their mastering services, who are terrible at it. These are mostly the lazy people, who see people do something, or read about it, and decide for themselves that it is easy. These are the people who are always asking about "presets" and leaning on them. There are plenty of these kinds of people who are recording and mixing the bands with the same half-assed interest in really even understanding what they're doing. I know several. They have no appreciation for the "art" part of it. They don't really care to discover. They just want a manual for what to do, so that they can do it every time and hopefully get passable results. Hell, they often do.

But, Justin is right that there are plenty of people who are great or on their way to greatness, who are early in their careers, or maybe in a market where opportunities for notoriety are less frequent. But, they have the curiosity to care about why they do what they do. You can get really great results from meager budgets if you just put a little time and consideration into choosing who to hire.

In my opinion, the best way to get the best results, regardless of your budget, is to have a very detailed conversation and mutual understanding up front. Between communication, and hearing an engineer's previous work, you should be able to find someone who's great for your project at any price point.

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Post by Nick Sevilla » Sat Oct 20, 2012 12:30 pm

jhharvest wrote:I went to a local studio here in Tanzania and the chief recording engineer asked me if I could give him any tips for mastering. I explained that I'm not a mastering engineer which he found really confusing.

Making a record is like building a house. The band supplies the raw materials like bricks and things. The mix engineer puts them together. The house could be livable at this stage but then you still want the ME to come and give it a nice coat of paint. Except in this analogy paint brushes cost $10000.
TIA.

And, no mastering rarely if ever costs 10,000. Unless you're talking in other than USD.
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Post by Snarl 12/8 » Sat Oct 20, 2012 2:10 pm

Nick Sevilla wrote: And, no mastering rarely if ever costs 10,000. Unless you're talking in other than USD.
He said the brushes, not the paint job. Try to keep up with the analogy. (j/k)
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