Mastering Exercise

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Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Mon Jul 07, 2014 4:49 pm

All,

A while ago, I wrote a song - You Said - that I recorded with the help of Mark Petruzzi (lead vox) and my oldest daughter (who helped with backing vox). Over the past few months, I've been exploring the process of mastering so when I finally got around to this song I was quite excited to see how I could make an already very good mix even better.

I went through the trouble of remixing the song to prepare for what I knew would happen when I actually mastered it: I pulled the bass back a bit since I knew that frequency area would open up; I added sheen to the vocals to help them stand out more; etc.

Then I went through my current mastering process, including compression, EQ, exciter, saturation and limiting. When I listened to the result, however, through my monitors and my car I couldn't hear a difference.

My monitors are not more than average - Yamaha SM-3's - and my car lacks bass response. And my ears aren't what they used to be either. So I'm posting this here to get your impression on the A/B comparison of the two.

Both links are to MP3s. I know this is lossy but that's the format I tend to mix down to for listening in the car. I will upload to Bandcamp in WAV when I re-release though.

Original version

Mastered version

If you're interested in the gear used, signal chain, etc. please post here and I'll put up the information.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby shadowfax » Tue Jul 08, 2014 8:15 am

Well..had a listen on my system (in sig) and there is hardly a difference, the mastered version sounds ever so slightly wider but that's about it for me, frankly whichever version you want is ok for a listen, if you put them up without labeling them I don't believe anyone would know which is the mastered version, I've gone through the same hassle and have come to the conclusion that mastering isn't worth the hassle (for me personally)
there was never enough difference for it to be worth the work.
clearly there is an awful lot to mastering and if you can't get an expert to do it I believe the time is better spent doing another song.

cheers, Kevin
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Fri Jul 11, 2014 1:04 pm

Kevin: thanks for the listen. :) I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss mastering overall. I was always very happy with the overall mix I got for this song originally and thought the clarity of the original mix was quite good. (Kudos for that really goes to Mark Petruzzi who not only sang the amazing lead line but also provided some great feedback on EQ tweaks, etc.) I just wanted to be sure that I wasn't missing something since I know my monitors are just a tad over average and that my ears aren't what they used to be.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby polgara » Fri Jul 11, 2014 3:42 pm

hi Larry.i was having a listen and having a look at your recording, how come all the peaks are flattened on the wave form there appears to be no peaks hardly. plus it still sounds quite loud even though the rms is only -14 db. i noticed it does sound a bit saturated on louder parts with distortion .is there some reason why the peaks are gone ,was this intentional .
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Fri Jul 11, 2014 6:40 pm

That may be due to the compression settings.

The distortion is due to an overdriven guitar that is sitting pretty far back in the mix. It only comes in during those parts. I've noticed the same thing as well, i.e. that it detracted a bit from the overall mix.

I am, for the record (pun intended...guffaw), using the K-14 scale for final mastering.

I just redid the exercise, because there were some outstanding leveling issues. I adjusted this in the original mix, re-exported the raw WAV, then tweaked the compression and limiting settings before reprinting a new mastered version. This has been uploaded to Box at the same link above.

Have another listen and see what you think.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby polgara » Sat Jul 12, 2014 12:20 pm

Hi Larry ,i can`t tell the difference between the two but i must say ,i like the song ,did you originally sing this one a while back.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Sat Jul 12, 2014 1:34 pm

Yeah, I did when I first cut it. I was soliciting comments on the song and overall arrangement at that time. Then Mark agreed to sing it and he took a good song and made it spectacular! My oldest daughter helped with the backing vocals, and the female voice really added some timbral variety that was needed there as well.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby polgara » Sat Jul 12, 2014 2:33 pm

yes Mark does a good job ,i remember i liked your version .congrats on getting your daughter interested in music, when they grow up hearing it all the time it seems like a natural move ,i am teaching both my daughters the guitar .
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby shadowfax » Mon Jul 14, 2014 3:36 pm

Working on a new track at the mo and when you said "maybe I shouldn't dismiss mastering so quickly" I thought :idea: ..y'know..maybe your right :!:(after a couple of days in deep thought) :lol: so I'm gonna have another go at it on my new track..went and bought Izotope Ozone 5 pro a while ago so I should get into it and use it proper like :roll:

thanks for the kick up :)

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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby twilightsong » Tue Jul 15, 2014 5:40 am

I DL'd it but it must be the original mix, because the levels are pretty low (in contrast to what polgara said)
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby Sherz » Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:14 am

Mastering Schmastering... overrated and grossly over-hyped. I've wasted stupid amounts of money on the past on 'pro mastering'. Mastering in many cases means perfectly good mixes made louder and ruined. It's another 'emperor's new clothes' phenomenon and one that is not so applicable in this day and age of single digital downloads anyway. It used to be all about preparing a set of tracks for release as an album - LP and later CD, but really is a waste of time for single tracks that end up as MP3's. Just get your levels sorted and leave it at that I reckon.

I now just 'master' my single tracks straight out of the mix... which is essentially just about overall sound level. You can put all sorts of gimmicky FX across the mix... 'harmonic exciters', 'stereo wideners' etc but in the end, you'll probably find that you prefer the track the way you painstakingly mixed it in the first place. And the 3 people that will ultimately be listening to the song won't care and will probably listening on ear buds plugged into an iPhone anyway.

You spend hours on a mix. After 'mastering' it sounds very much the same... so why bother? Or ...you spend hours on a mix and then alter it drastically with mastering... so what was the point of all that detailed attention while mixing??

Mix until you're content and happy with the result. 'Master' to get the levels to where you want them (and there's another debate right there!). Upload it and rejoice if and when someone actually listens to it! 8-)
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby shadowfax » Tue Jul 15, 2014 11:39 am

Lorra very salient points there...considering the quality that Ian consistently puts out I think I'm gonna go with what he is saying..I'd rather do another song than P about mastering...one day this..the next day that..we've got too much choice nowadays, watched an interview with the guy that did the "I feel love" Donna Summer track, can't remember his name but the track is famous for the first use of computerized arp bass (I belive,correct me if I'm wrong) anyway, he said ..in the 70's we'd spend half an hour sorting the bass out then move on but nowadays people are spending a whole afternoon sorting the bass and the next day sorting the snare sound..he reckoned it was nuts..I reckon he's right! :) at the end of the day it's about the song..not the production..production needs to good enough to hear the song ok of course..I think foolomons example is very interesting from this point of view.

best to all :) , Kevin
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby cmaffia » Tue Jul 15, 2014 7:31 pm

shadowfax wrote:at the end of the day it's about the song..not the production..production needs to good enough to hear the song ok of course..I think foolomons example is very interesting from this point of view.

best to all :) , Kevin

For me its both the song AND production. I suppose it depends on your individual goal. Personally speaking, I didn't invest my hard earned money in professional hardware and software just to create good demos. If you use the right tools (and there are many great freeware plugins for that) and research how to master properly, you can still have the mix you painstakingly created along with the added "glue" and loudness. If you're deviating that much from your mix when mastering then you're doing something wrong. Please don't take this the wrong way. I am not saying everyone should master their material and you're wrong if you don't. I am just defending the point that throughout modern recording, there has always been a post mix process to unify material to a standard as well as improve its sonic qualities. The process shouldn't be dismissed entirely and has its place whether you master one song or a collection of songs.

Recently I've been using this with the Steiny brickwall limiter in Wavelab 8 and have been very pleased with the results. It's easy to overdo but if you understand how it works you can get some great results. I've also placed this on my masterbuss in the project and "printed" to my DA-3000 with great results as well.

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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Tue Jul 15, 2014 11:40 pm

Doug: both versions were printed to the K-14 spec, so the levels shouldn't be too low.

Ian: I understand what you're saying, but I'll counter that if you think mastering is simply about getting levels correct then I think you need to go back and read up on what mastering intends to accomplish.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby polgara » Wed Jul 16, 2014 12:32 pm

hi Larry ,where do yo roll off your top end when you are finishing or mastering ,you have a nice cut off point and so does Ian (sherz) it has a nice soft kind of feel to the high frequencies . my finished stuff still sounds quite harsh in the highs ,and i don`t know where to cut off before it starts getting too dull.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby Sherz » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:01 am

foolomon wrote:Doug: both versions were printed to the K-14 spec, so the levels shouldn't be too low.

Ian: I understand what you're saying, but I'll counter that if you think mastering is simply about getting levels correct then I think you need to go back and read up on what mastering intends to accomplish.
Perhaps you misread or misunderstood what I wrote. I DON'T think mastering is just about getting levels right, what I'm saying is in a practical real world that probably all you need to concern yourself with. So, no I don't need to go back anywhere and read anything. I am well aware of the original intent behind mastering, much of which is really not all that applicable to single tracks anyway - tracks that for most people invariably end up as MP3's on some website not being listened to.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby Sherz » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:08 am

polgara wrote:hi Larry ,where do yo roll off your top end when you are finishing or mastering ,you have a nice cut off point and so does Ian (sherz) it has a nice soft kind of feel to the high frequencies . my finished stuff still sounds quite harsh in the highs ,and i don`t know where to cut off before it starts getting too dull.


I don't do any top-end adjustment when 'mastering'. All my EQ adjustments are done in the mix... and I spend a good amount of time tweaking things. Doesn't makes sense to me to then later go mess with it. If you're unhappy with it... go back and adjust things accordingly - in the mix. :)
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Sat Jul 19, 2014 12:21 am

Ian: I was honestly surprised when I read your original post because I didn't think you would seriously think that was mastering. So I'm sorry I misunderstood. :) However, while in principle what you describe should be possible, there are some sweeping EQ changes, etc. that should be made in mastering rather than in the individual channels.

Pol: I don't do a cutoff in the high frequencies. If anything, I do a high shelf filter (I want to say at 2.5kHz) to add sheen to the overall mix. If you are hearing harshness then you may have one of two things happening: you have distortion occurring in the tracks where there is emphasis in those frequency bands; or you have multiple tracks competing for your ears in those frequency bands that may even be causing distortion.

Now that I think about it, however, I do have a LPF on the hi-hat and cymbal tracks. I don't recall exactly where the roll-off point is, but I think it's around 15kHz.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Sun Jul 27, 2014 3:58 pm

Another Before/After, using the song It's a Sunny Day. This song was originally recorded in 2012.

Before

After

This isn't strictly an A/B comparison since I did a decent amount of remixing on the original before the mastering process:

Removed the reverb (as well as the rest of the inserts) on the master bus
Added Magneto on the vocal track (which, surprisingly, I didn't have originally)
Added reverb to the vocal track only using the Smooth Vocal Room preset - I lowered the Mix dial to 10 and increased the reverb time to 4 seconds.
Re-EQ'd the vocal track by added a high shelf filter at about 2.2hKz
Applied stock track presets to the kick, snare, hi-hat, and toms...of particular interest is the presets' use of gates to really tighten up the sound
Adjusted the volume automation on the vocal, kick, and guitar solo tracks to get the levels more correct before mastering

This got the "raw" track closer to where I wanted it before applying the mastering process. I auditioned the mastered version on my monitors, headphones, and in the car before deciding that I was happy with the result.

To my ears, the sound is considerably tighter (using the connotative meaning of the word) while adding more space to the mix due to proper segregation of frequency bands.

The part about this that is most exciting is that the entire process - remixing and mastering - took me about 3 hours total.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby shadowfax » Sun Jul 27, 2014 4:11 pm

Well..I know you don't wanna hear this but the "before" is much better than the "after" before sounds more natural, the vox on the after is thin and sharp amongst other things..you've got a perfectly good song in the "before" :)

just my opinion though..Kevin
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby cmaffia » Sun Jul 27, 2014 4:18 pm

shadowfax wrote:Well..I know you don't wanna hear this but the "before" is much better than the "after" before sounds more natural, the vox on the after is thin and sharp amongst other things..you've got a perfectly good song in the "before" :)

just my opinion though..Kevin

I agree with Kevin. If you EQ in your mastering process it kinda messed with it in you AFTER. Too much mid range and compression overall. Before is nearly there for me.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby polgara » Sun Jul 27, 2014 8:32 pm

regarding Sunny day ,they were both fine with me, the vox did sound brighter on the second which after gettin used to it was also ok ,i was listening on ear goggles though, so i can`t give a full review , i think what is very noticeable to you Larry isn`t necessarily as noticeable by someone listening for the first time ,a lot of it is just detail ,i like the tune though and yes i managed to listen through it twice ,so it can`t be that bad ,you even sound a bit like Joe Walsh vocally. like the song ,is the brass real.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby Jrace » Tue Jul 29, 2014 7:10 am

The mastered sounded a bit more open in the upper mids and actually sounded a tad less distorted (which is odd as you mention you added saturation?) but yeah sounds nice :)
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby foolomon » Wed Jul 30, 2014 8:23 pm

The brass is stock Kontakt 5. ;)

Sunny Day was used because the "before" version was indeed "nearly there" as far as I was concerned. It could have stood on its own, but I was able to get a bit more room in it at least in my opinion.

Now let's consider something more extreme. For the Musicians For Haiti project, Glyn, Wim, Peter and I did a song called Hunger. It was recorded in 2010, originally using a live bass and lot more reverb. I eventually replaced the bass with Scarbee and reduced the mix level of the reverb to something more manageable, and that's what you'll hear in the "before" version. I remixed and mastered this song to get something that sounds an order of magnitude better, in my opinion.

My inexperience as an engineer is reflected in the before version. :D

Before
After

I was going for a James Brown feel with this song, which the drums reflect and Glyn delivered on wonderfully.

Changes made during remixing:

Drum kit was changed from Multi-mic room to Tight Kit (Battery 3 -> 4)
Added high shelf on the vocal group channel
Added SoundToys LittleMicroshift on the backing vocals group to thicken them up. This group gets routed to the vocal group.
Used stock track presents on the individual drum tracks. For those not familiar with how I record, a MIDI track holds the master drums, which I then render to individual audio tracks using the MIDI Transformer insert.
Removed reverb entirely from the master bus (in addition to removing the other inserts).
Added reverb to the lead vocal and drums group track
Added slight delay to the lead vocal and Wim's tenor sax solo
Adjusted volume automation on a few tracks

Then I did the mastering process.
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Re: Mastering Exercise

Postby shadowfax » Thu Jul 31, 2014 2:06 pm

They both sound very good, my personal pref is for the "after" in this case but I really don't think there is enough difference to justify the effort IMHO, I don't belive anyone would be able to do a blind test and know which was mastered and which wasn't...either one is totally acceptable as a listen.
I think the comments from cmafia and sherz cover it really,
for myself I have decided to try and get it right while tracking and leave well alone (apart from the loudness thing)

best :) Kevin
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