#10: What Is Mastering? Do I Need To Have My Music Mastered?

Picture Of Mixing And Mastering Studio

Mastering is a confusing topic, right?

Why is there an additional step when my music is already mixed? What's the difference between mixing and mastering? Should I master myself? Can the mixing engineer master it? The difference seems so subtle, is it even worth it?

We try to demystify the "dark art" of mastering, explain what it actually is and talk about why your music needs it.

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Things you'll learn in this episode:

  • What mastering is
  • The importance of communication
  • The difference between stems, tracks and the stereo mix
  • The difference between mixing and mastering
  • How a mix benefits from mastering
  • The advantages of having two separate people for mixing and mastering
  • It's ok to be loud! (but you don't have to be)

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Automatic Episode Transcript — Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy (click for full transcript)

TSRB Podcast 010 - What Is Mastering? Do I Need To Have My Song Mastered?

[00:00:00] Benedikt: [00:00:00] It's a weird concept that you have a final mix and everything was made, like everything sounds the best it can be, and then there's still another step necessary. Why? Why is that? Just the self recording band podcast, the show where we help you make exciting records on your own wherever you are, DIY stuff.

Let's go.

Hello and welcome to the self recording band podcast. Name is Benedick tine. I am your host and I'm here with my amazing Canadian cohost, Malcolm owned flood. How are you my friend? 

Malcom: [00:00:38] I'm great. I'm great. Benny. Stoked to be here. How are you this week? 

Benedikt: [00:00:42] I'm doing fantastic and this has been a particularly fantastic day.

And uh, there are a couple of reasons for that because first of all, like it was really fantastic today because first of all, the weather is perfect. Second. I had crazy busy [00:01:00] days last week. I went super long, I worked super long hours, did a lot of stuff that was pretty exhausting. Great, but exhausting. And today was the first day that I had a relaxed breakfast with the family and I took my bike and I went up to the nearest mountain and I sat there and I had a beer with me and I drank that beer in the sun on the mountain.

And then I got back home and then I took a nap, and then I had lunch with the family, and then I did some mixer revisions. And now, then I got, um, two amazing plugins and Epsom and the drum middy thing. Like I got the. Room, sound barber, Chell the drums, and like virtual drums, which are crazy good. And then I got the SDL tone hub plugin.

Malcom: [00:01:50] So 

Benedikt: [00:01:51] yeah, that was also like new Kia day. And, uh, pretty cool things that I got. And then now I'm here recording this podcast with [00:02:00] you. So it couldn't be. Much better actually, but I have to add one thing, like the day it took kind of a dramatic turn right before we 

Malcom: [00:02:07] started this, 

Benedikt: [00:02:08] this recording, because, uh, you guys can see the at home, uh, on your, like, you can see that because you're listening to the podcast, right?

But I'm here at home and not at my studio, YouTube, Corona stuff. And I still don't have a real, like Mike stand at home because I always forget it at the studio and I have a real like makeshift thing here that I'm going to show to Malcolm. Like these are just 

Malcom: [00:02:28] rolls 

Benedikt: [00:02:28] of tape stacked like each other and the mic 

Malcom: [00:02:32] taped in the middle 

Benedikt: [00:02:34] of them.

Like I can't even explain what 

Malcom: [00:02:35] that is. It's just a stack of 

Benedikt: [00:02:37] like tape rolls at the bike place in that thing and it works. 

Malcom: [00:02:40] You gotta you gotta take a photo of that, the post when the, when this episode goes live. 

Benedikt: [00:02:47] And the thing is, I, uh, I had to like tape the mic to that thing because it wouldn't like be like keep, yeah, it wouldn't stay in the same position basically.

And then I [00:03:00] accidentally swallowed a piece of that 

Malcom: [00:03:03] and now I'm 

Benedikt: [00:03:03] afraid I'm gonna die. I don't know if it's like poisonous or whatever. Like I, I put the tape off, swallowed a piece of it, and now it's stuck in my throat. I can still feel it and I'm afraid. It will be there forever, 

Malcom: [00:03:17] so he'll be all right. Oh, 

Benedikt: [00:03:21] that was don't, what was your day like?

Malcom: [00:03:24] I mean, okay. That's hilarious. The sun is like, just come up in Canada here. So my day is just beginning, but that sounds awesome. I think I'm going to copy your day. I'm going to definitely do a hike because the sun is meant to be. I'm just going to quickly look at the weather. Yep. It's going to be sunny today, a high of 13.

I'm excited. Um, so I'm going to go hike and bring a beer with me for sure. And then, uh, I might grab STL, uh, tone hub. I've been thinking about checking it out. I mean, I like, I love my campers so much and I love my amps so much, but that thing looks pretty cool. I got to [00:04:00] say. 

Benedikt: [00:04:00] Yes, I haven't played around with it much.

They had a trial, um, that I played with a little bit and I heard of obviously like some examples before I bought it, but I just went for it because I was kinda convinced and I left. There were other, there were other stuff. And uh, so far it's, it's absolutely fun and there are so many expansion packs and stuff that, yeah, I think there's not, like, you can't really go wrong with that.

I think so. That's a great role. For sure. Yeah. All right. So today we are not talking about  or virtual drums. We did that already a lot. Um, it is the drum thing. We are gonna talk about mastering. And . You are a mastering engineer. You run a company called stone mastering, and I do a little mastering as well, but I am not like specializing on mastering only anytime soon.

It's more of a, I'm a mix engineer and also do mastering. And I [00:05:00] thought, I try to explain what I think mastering is and why. We need it and what it does to the mixes and what it does for my clients. And then I'd love to hear your perspective as a mastering engineer who has a lot of mastering only if that is something you would agree with or if you view it from a different perspective.

Malcom: [00:05:22] That sounds great. Okay, let's do it. 

Benedikt: [00:05:24] So I think. To me, mastering is different things. First of all, it's that like the most obvious one. It is kind of the final Polish, like the last bit of. I'm making it sound just a little better, a little more expensive, making the low end tighter or fuller or whatever.

This is lacking. Making the high end a little more expensive, like removing some resonances or weird stuff that's not supposed to be in there. Correcting some minor mixing problems, [00:06:00] stuff like that. So that's, that's the first part of it. The second part of it, it's kind of a quality control for me. The last step in the process before it gets to.

The distribution or manufacturing, they pressing plant like stuff. So it's the mastering engineer is, and that like quality control to me kind of per definition can only be through someone external. Like, I can't control my own work. Like I need someone else to do that. So a mastering engineer is kind of a.

To me, it's a second pair of ears. And the important thing is it's not only the ears, it's a different room with different speakers, different everything, listening to what I did. So it's unlikely that the same problems that I have in my room, because every room has problems and every speaker has problems.

It's unlikely that the exact same problems are in the other person's room. And it's not, to me, it's not so important that it's like the perfect mastering room. Of course that helps, but the more important thing for me is that it's a different room and a different person [00:07:00] and a different setup and everything, so they won't hear the same problems that I hear heard while I was mixing.

And, um, yeah, it's kind of a quality control. It, they might hear the mastering engineer might hear things that I just couldn't hear when I was mixing. That might be able to correct some, some resonances that my room just didn't show me or whatever. And like every room has stuff like that. So that's, that's another thing.

It's also like a feedback quality control thing because good mastering engineer would, should, I think, always tell the mixer if. There's stuff that might be better fixed in the mix and not in mastering. So at least when I get stuff to master and there is an obvious thing that's wrong, I would always tell the artists or the engineer if they that that this is the case.

And if an ask if they could fix it and then like resend it. So that's also as like a feedback learning thing for me. Every time I send stuff to mastering, usually I learn a little bit about my mixing and [00:08:00] I get feedback. And then it's, yeah, that's, that's basically the main, the main things, like what I, how I look at it.

And I think the mastering that you do when you do it as a mixer or if you mix and master stuff, which is what I do a lot. Um, you can do that. And I do it, and I wouldn't do it if it's not, if it would be possible, and many people do that, but actually I don't consider that even mastering. I think if I master my own stuff, it's just part of mixing.

I haven't mastered, I just mixed it. I made it sound as good as possible as, but that's, that's what I do in mixing. And I think that real quote unquote real mastering. It's not possible if you mix yourself, because that will be a separate step with all those things that I explained, and if I mixed something, my goal is always to make it sound as good as possible.

And [00:09:00] then only then I am done with the mix. So what would I do then to improve it? I've already done everything I can to make it the best it can be. So. I'm, maybe I made it louder or a, made sure that I did stuff that I wouldn't do if I would send it to a mastering engineer, but essentially I've just mixed it and made it sound as good as possible.

It's not, it's not the same as mastering, so I wouldn't even consider that mastering. I always tell clients that if they want to do it with me, it's cheaper than external mastering engineer, of course, and it's, I do it as kind of part as an additional step, as a part of the mix. Yeah, I don't consider it like separate mastering and I kind of include it in the mix.

So that's the way I look at the whole thing. And then there's the technical stuff, like the finalizing with like the order of songs, creating the sequence, embedding codes, making sure that all the different file formats get exported. So you have a file for video in a file for streaming and one for episode digital [00:10:00] masters and the DDP and the vinyl and everything.

So that's the, the last, final thing that's also part of mastering, right. And that's, that's how I look at it. And the last thing I want to add in, but then I, I am curious when you say, the last thing I want to add is historically, and correct me if I'm wrong here, um, I think that what we call mastering now, and we will call it that way, is actually pre mastering.

And mastering originally was the, the, the, the transfer of. The mix to a certain medium to vinyl flack from the tape to vinyl and stuff. And um, that will we talk, what we call mastering now is kind of pre mastering. So it's what happens before the actual transfer because the transfer is not necessary anymore in most cases.

But, and, and that's why you will, I'm just saying that because people will read or hear those two terms. They will, he pre mastering and mastering, and they get kind of confused. But nowadays, I think if you talk about audio mastering, we [00:11:00] mean the whole thing. So, 

Malcom: [00:11:03] yeah. Yeah. So, uh, I'm, I'm not as like the history buff and I came into this world before mastering.

To tape was the norm. Um, you know, so I, I'm, I may be wrong on this, but I believe that, uh, you are absolutely correct on that, that even today, if like, because tape is our story. Yeah. Not tape. I have vinyl, for example, is, um. Is popular. Again, if you make masters for vinyl, you're actually providing the vinyl plant with what we call vinyl pre masters.

And it's, that's where mastering originally came around was to prepare stuff for that transfer because the mix that might be sent in might not translate onto vinyl at all. They might, uh, I believe the problem often was that there could be too much low end, which would cause the vinyl to skip. So you had to prepare it to be put onto vinyl and that was mastering and now that has changed a lot.

[00:12:00] Mastering is much more about that, like final step of quality control and making sure it's polished and. And add is optimal loudness, um, for release on whatever format. You know, we're still taking into consideration what format we're going to today. So if, uh, if CD is the end aim versus streaming, that is important for the mastering engineer to know, but it's much less about actually preparing for a physical, uh, platform.

I guess. So I think you're right there. Um, I want to quickly touch on the master in your own mixing, like you were talking about, is that mastering, um, and I, I mean, on a technical standpoint, yes, I guess it is mastering, but I think you're right. I think it is more likely that the mindset you're going into when you are a quote unquote mastering your own mixes is still mixing.

Because, and I do this too, you know, I still make songs. So if I'm mixing a [00:13:00] song and I'm kind of at the mastering stage, but I hear that my kick John doesn't have enough click or something, you know, enough attack, chances are I'm going to go and jump onto my kick channel and the just-it, they're not on the two bus.

Right. Where a mastering engineer wouldn't have that option. So you, the, the whole mindset and problem solving has to really flip and. When a mastering engineer receives a file, they just receive a stereo mix. So they don't have the option of going in and changing that one piece of it. They have to make a decision that's going to affect everything.

So if I boost some four to sixK  or something to try and get some attack and presence on that kick drum, and. That solves that problem. It might also bring up, uh, the vocals or the, the fizzy guitar stuff, right? Like, it, it could, how all these side effects and we really have to think about, uh, like what's the cost of the decision we're [00:14:00] making?

Are the, is there a smarter way we can accomplish the same goal without these side effects? Um, and is it worth it all around to provide this change? It, it really is just a different mindset more than anything. To me that like mastering is a completely. Different mindset. And there's, there's the quote, uh, like, can you see the forest from the trees or something like that.

You know, people can't see the forest from the cheese or the cheese from the forest. And mix mixing is the trees. And mastering is the forest. That's like how I see it. Um, and, and I think that really kind of like, for me, visualizes it in a cool way. Where it mixing, you can really hone in on each, each stump and, and, and, you know, hand, hand, color.

Those trees were mastering. You just have to like look at this whole big thing and make decisions based on that. Um, so you can tactically master your own mixes, but it's going to [00:15:00] end up being different. And I think if that's something you want to do, you should actually bounce off a mix into a new session.

And try and master it from that session without all of your multitracks available. Even if you end up going and printing a new mix, you know, like you'll be like, you'll get to a point and you'd be like, okay, obviously I should've changed this in the mix, but that mindset is going to, I think, result in a better product for you.

I don't know. Maybe it won't because maybe you don't think like that, but 

Benedikt: [00:15:28] yeah, basically I think that most people listening, I mean, they will experiment with it and some will mix and master and stuff, but I think. What's most important is that as musicians, like when you're not really mastering or mixing it all yourself, you understand why you actually need it and why.

I mean, you explained it really well and the visible visualization with the forest and the trees is really cool because I think that. Especially musicians and not mixers or mastering engineers. Of course, they, um, kind [00:16:00] of don't understand because it's just hard to understand if you're not doing it everyday.

And if you're not really , they don't understand what it actually is and why they actually need it. Because when you mix and you send a mix to the client, to the, to the band, or if you mix yourself. It is a final song kind of. And why does that need to be mastered even? What is the additional step for, why do I have to pay for that?

What is like, we kind of explained it right now, but I still think it's, it's a weird concept that you have a final mix and everything is made, like everything sounds the best it can be, and then there's still another step necessary. And why? Why is that? And I think that's the main reason why such an episode might be valuable for, for musicians.

I guess. 

Malcom: [00:16:44] Totally. There's, there's kind of another few aspects that I think are important to consider. Um, number one would be like specialization and somebody that specializes in getting stuff as loud as it needs to be. [00:17:00] In the most transparent ways is going to be really good at that job. Right. Um, and probably better at that job than somebody that doesn't really have any experience doing that.

And I don't know if you guys have listened to the radio lately or anything that's been released commercially, but things are loud and the, so your mix is gotta be kind of affected to get to that loudness and either you can just throw  on it. And try and get it there, or you can trust somebody to get it to that loudness level that is required in a way that's going to sound better.

Um, so I, I think there's part of mastering today is also hiring somebody. To try and get your music where it needs to be. Um, in the most transparent way possible. Cause they like, mastering isn't about changing the mix by any stretch. It's like often if I get like a perfect mix, which doesn't happen very often, but if it does happen, I will not change anything.

I will just get it loud sometimes. [00:18:00] I'll get it loud and then change it to make it sound more like it did when it showed up because the loudness has caused, uh, like a, a Sonic effect. So the mixed, it doesn't sound like it did when I received it, and I want it to sound just like the mix I got, but I need it louder.

Benedikt: [00:18:13] Absolutely. I love that. And that's also, again, that presents another challenge and the hard thing to understand because then many musicians will probably ask. Why do I need in such a case? Why do I need a mastering engineer then and why do I pay that mastering engineer if it doesn't do actually anything with it except make it louder or if the mix is already pretty loud, which can also happen these days.

Many mixers, meaning myself included mixed pretty loud already sometimes, and I'm so if there's not much a mastering engineer does, except like saying that it's great and sending it back basically the same as it came in, is it still worth having that mastering engineer then. 

Malcom: [00:18:53] I think so. I mean, I, uh, usually when I mix something, I actually hire a different master, an engineer.

[00:19:00] So I mean, that should have some weight. I think a mastering engineer hires another mastering engineer when he mixes something. Yeah. Because I believe that that, uh, like outside perspective is so valuable because you could be way off. You know, sometimes you just get lost in the mix and you're like, okay, it sounds great.

And they're like. Whoa. Okay, I did this, this, and this, or, Hey, could you change this? And then I'll master it, and you're like, Oh my God, thank, thankfully they gave me this insight because it really makes a difference. So just the unbiased ear is worth it, I think, because mastering isn't expensive in the scheme of things.

Yeah. Like when you add up everything you've put into make all the time, all the gear, uh, the studio time, if you've done that, that mixed in, if you've paid for that, um, chances are you've invested quite a bit of money. And mastering is a drop in the bucket compared to all that stuff. And like you said, a good master.

An engineer will also provide feedback when, when it's needed and when, when they think will be useful, uh, to the [00:20:00] mixer. So there's also like this learning part of it, which is easily worth the price of admission usually, too. 

Benedikt: [00:20:06] Sure. 100% and I totally believe in that. And I, I would actually be. Glad I would never be mad if a mastering engineer told me that they didn't do anything.

I would be glad because that means that the mix is great. The flattery, the song is great. That's a good, that's good use. And all the technical stuff still has to be done. And the feedback is there and like I don't, I wouldn't feel bad. I actually would. That's actually the goal. I always hope that that happens because that means everything else was done, was done right.

You know. 

Malcom: [00:20:34] Told that. Yeah. Uh, I'm mastering engineer telling you that they didn't have to change anything in your mix is like the highest form of flattery in the audio world. Yeah. Yeah. I actually, I remember, uh, reading there was, uh, an article with Andrew Sheps about mixing on headphones or yeah, mixing on headphones in the box.

I think he mixed like a record with an Apollo twin using headphones or something. 

Benedikt: [00:20:58] Right now. 

Malcom: [00:20:59] Yeah, yeah, [00:21:00] exactly. So I think this was like his first one, and he took it to Abbey roads or something to get mastered, and he was all nervous waiting there and then they came out and they were like, well. We can charge you for the extra couple hours, but we're already done.

We just had to turn it up. It was perfect. Yeah. It was like, all right, sweet. You know? But like even Andrew Schepps is hiring mastering engineers and he's stoked when they're like, Oh, it's good to go, you know? 

Benedikt: [00:21:21] Yeah, absolutely. And he's one of those mixers that I, that who mix so loud that it's basically just about the transfer.

And he actually says that he doesn't want a mastering engineer to change his mixes because he spent a lot of time getting it to sound that way. Like, and it would be. It will be weird to get it back and have it sound completely different, because if you know what you're doing, there's a reason why it sounds that way.

So it's basically just about making sure that it works on all the different platforms and on all different speaker systems. And it's to correct his headphones or listening environment that he's mixed in because that might have, that might just might have problems and a mastering engineer will hear that and [00:22:00] correct it, but the balance and all the.

The decisions made. Urine mixing should be the same, and it's, yes, he called it, in theory, it should just be about the transfer actually. And in his case, it's not even so much about turning it up because his mixes sometimes are like really, really crushed. And so, yeah. 

Malcom: [00:22:19] Yep. Yeah, that's totally true. Another thing that, uh, people kind of forget about is the bass string between songs.

So, uh, I think. Oh yeah. People mixing themselves might have a hard time understanding why they need mastery and when it's just a single, but it becomes especially important when they send off like a F an P where somebody actually now looks at all the songs together. Again, looking at the forest, not the trees, and notices that song five.

Is way less compressed or way darker than the rest kind of thing. And that kind of stuff is really easy to miss when you're focusing on the little nitty gritties, like, is my snare tone perfect? You're probably not going to notice that the whole [00:23:00] mix is overall darker than the rest. If your snares sound the same, you know?

So I'm asking an engineer can then come in and try and adjust that dark mix to kind of suit the rest of the songs without actually changing the overall perception of the mix. Kind of just like tilting it. The way it needs to go, I guess. Um. And, and that kind of stuff plays a huge role in like the continuity of the album as a whole.

Benedikt: [00:23:23] Absolutely. And also too, I totally forgot about that, but that's so true. Also, um, not only that the songs match sonically or it makes sense sonically, that there is a kind of, there's a flow through the record, but also things like the breaks in between the songs. It makes such a difference and it takes a lot of experience to get there.

Right. Actually, it makes such a difference. Um, if the, if there are short or long breaks, how long they are, you can, sometimes it makes sense to have kind of rhythmic breaks that it just like is a natural, like transition to the next song. Sometimes it makes sense to just leave a little silence [00:24:00] there and like let the listener breathe and like, and then the next song starts and sometimes the next song has to start right away or it has to, there has to be no, no gap at all.

And, um. And I find that to be particularly difficult and it takes a lot of experience just to, to get to know what works and to get that right. And it's, it's one of those things where many people probably wouldn't even care nowadays because, uh, when you care about nowadays, because like, who listens to two albums anyways or, or APS.

But I think there's the, are people who listen to whole records and who like. Listening to songs in context and there are still albums or EPS being made that have a concept or, um, yeah, that need to have a flow. And so that's, that's absolutely an important thing that restaurant needs to take care of.

Malcom: [00:24:55] Yeah. Totally. I, I think on that topic, the [00:25:00] most important part for me is that there's still artists that really care about making a collective piece of art. Um, where this, it's not just a collection of songs. It's like, it's like. This is the wall, or this is dark side of the moon. You know, like, it's like this is like a whole masterpiece all put together and it's important that it's listened to together and like people that really look at their art that way.

That's when sequencing has to be just perfect. Right. I love that stuff. I love listening to it from start to finish. I especially love when the ending of the album goes back into the start of the album in a great way. Like if you like listen to it on repeat and like they've even got the connected that, Oh, I love it.

Yeah. It's so true. 

Benedikt: [00:25:39] Yeah, absolutely. And also if it's not your own sequence, it might even be things like the, the tilting that you were talking about. It could also apply if you tell your mastering engineer that you want to ha, like if it's single and. You want that single in, you want to get that into certain types of playlists on Spotify or into like if we want [00:26:00] that to happen next to a certain type of, of other productions in songs, then the mastering engineer can also make sure that the whole.

Not without changing the mix of the balance, but just tilting it as you said, to make sure, okay, next to all the other productions that you want your thing to compete with, that it doesn't sound weaker or thinner or that it doesn't sound too brittle or whatever. And you can also kind of adjust to that too, to an extent.

So if you know what the goal and the medium is that it's made for. You can make sure that in such a playlist it works well and it does the same kind of energy, the same dynamic or lack thereof, or the same density or the same amount of low end, and you can, you can just make sure that your song in such a playlist after another song doesn't sound weaker, so absolutely.

Malcom: [00:26:52] Yeah. Okay. People listening to this, send your mix engineer a reference mix of a band that you like and think suits what you're trying to do [00:27:00] and then send that same thing to the mastering engineer. Yeah. Like it's, it's such a good idea. And I, I don't know, I like, I have to ask for it and people still don't do it.

So it's not like I'm, I'm gonna make you sound like this band, but I'm going to learn something from what you said. You know, it's, there's nothing, no harm can come from that. Unless you're just way off and you, you know, if you're a death metal band and you send me a pixie song, that's not going to be useful for me at all.

But, 

Benedikt: [00:27:24] but that happens as well, 

Malcom: [00:27:26] is that those people are delusional. 

Benedikt: [00:27:31] Great. Yeah. Just go ahead. I'm curious to hear your, your thoughts on your, um, in more of your thoughts on that. So you kind of explain what, like what mastering is to you with the forest and the trees and stuff. Um. What else is there? What, what 

Malcom: [00:27:45] there's also 

Benedikt: [00:27:46] the nation or what did you think?

Malcom: [00:27:48] Like the, he's the metadata D D DDP creation kind of stuff. And that, that's like the really dry, boring stuff of mastering. Um, that's like where like the song data and. Uh, I [00:28:00] SSRC ICR I S I S RC codes. That's right. Gets, that gets put into, uh, the DDP, which then goes to the manufacturing plant. And a DDP is like a disk image of your entire album that gets used to be a burnt into a CD essentially, or a replicated into a CD.

And then, uh. That has all of the sequencing data and all the data, pretty much of your entire albums locked in this file so that it is then captured inside of your CDs as well. That stuff's all really boring, but that's the mastering engineer's job as well. That is only really relevant when you're actually doing physical CDs.

It's not relevant for online streaming stuff anymore because you enter all that data when you upload it to your digital district, a distributor, um. So there's that kind of stuff. I mean, I think we did a pretty good job. I'm kind of looking through my notes here that I prepared before this, but 

Benedikt: [00:28:53] there are some stuff that I'd like to hear from you that I read in there, like the, um, first of all, like the difference, [00:29:00] just so to be clear and to make the clear distinction, like what is the actual technical difference from mixing and mastering.

Like not the way you look at it and that the perspective thing, but what is it actually, what do you do? Which, which kind of files 

Malcom: [00:29:13] do you do, 

Benedikt: [00:29:14] receive and treat, and what's the end result of that? 

Malcom: [00:29:18] Right. Okay. So I receive whatever file they recorded in, uh, generally. So the highest resolution version of their, their song, but not entered into, 

Benedikt: [00:29:27] not a multi-track one file right 

Malcom: [00:29:29] into, off the truck.

Yes. So a one stereo file. Um, yeah. So all of the, yeah, I guess it's good to be this like broad, it's for people that are really due to this. Um, yeah. You've got your multi-track recording, so there's a single channel for your kicking, your snare and everything. That all gets recorded down to a single stereo file, which is just like any song you would pull up on Spotify.

That's a stereo mix. I received that stereo mix. Um, so I don't have access to all the files anymore. I just have access to your mix and then I will [00:30:00] apply my processing. 

Benedikt: [00:30:02] In that realm, 

Malcom: [00:30:03] and then eventually, probably because you probably recorded it at a higher sample rate and bit rate, then, uh, the end result will be.

Because chances are you need it to be a 16 bit, uh, 44 one wave file. That's kinda like the norm. Um, so I have to dither it down to that quality, and there's a process for doing that correctly as well, uh, to make sure there's not a minimal Sonic loss in, in the downgrade end of that. And then that file, the reason that file is the norm is because that's what CDs, except they don't accept a higher quality file than that.

So we, we did the it down to that, and then, uh. People tend to just use that file for online stuff as well. Little hint though, you can request higher quality files now to be uploaded online because some surfaces will take those higher quality files. Does it matter? I think so, but [00:31:00] most people don't. Don't care.

You'll be fine. Nobody's, it's not going to make the difference between a hit song or not. Yeah. But just, you know, if you've really prefer to have the high quality file, the highest quality possible file requests, master files of that as well, and then you could just have the dithered ones and the full Rez files as well.

Um, I also provide MP3s usually. As well, just so people have a good MP3 to use on their like website player that only accepts MP three files. I would prefer to give them a good one rather than them making their own crappy one with some pretty website. Um, so I, I essentially take a full rest file, make it sound as good as I can, and then deliver it in the formats required, depending on what they're doing with it, um, in, and make sure it gets to that format in the best way possible as well.

Does that answer your question? 

Benedikt: [00:31:50] Yeah, that answers the question. Absolutely. But, and um, so we have the multi-track mix down to a stereo track that is the mix. And then we [00:32:00] have the processing of that stereo track and the mastering and making sure all the formats all there and that it works on every playback system and stuff.

So, yes. And everything you just explained. So yeah, that, that explains it. Technically 

Malcom: [00:32:13] there's, there's one more type of mastering just to mention quickly. Yeah, of course. I wouldn't recommend this, but you can do STEM mastering. So that is when, if you were the mixer, you would, uh, send me like a stereo track.

That is just all the drums from the mix, a stereo track for all the guitars, the stereo Trek for all the bass, stereotyped for all the vocals. And then, you know, groups kind of like three to five groups usually. And then I would take those five stems and. Kind of master them into the song. And the theory is that those five stems or whatever, uh, once I loaded them into my door, they would play back your mix perfectly.

And then I would just master like normal, but I would have a little more control because I can just tweak the individual stems [00:33:00] instead. That is essentially mixing to me, it is a middle ground between mixing and mastering, but if you can't commit to the mix. Being a stereo track and you're thinking you should send the stems, you're probably not done mixing or you need help fixing.

That's my theory on that. I mean, I'll accept it if that's what you really want me to do, but chances are you just need to work harder on your mics. 

Benedikt: [00:33:23] Yes, and I need to add one thing here because that's like, I will ever probably keep reading that for years to come, but I, people always confuse. Tracks or multi-track with stems.

I hear people calling their multitracks or their tracks stems all the time. And I just want to say that this is not correct or not true and it's confusing. So tracks are like individual tracks and a multi-track is like a, a whole folder of, of those tracks. Um, are the individual audio files off your [00:34:00] instruments?

Microphones. Whatever, like the kick around, the snare drum, the bass, the vocal, stuff like that. Those are tracks. And a multi-track is the whole thing of the whole folder and stems are groups that where those tracks are grouped together to create a stereo drum file, for example, or a stereo, Volcker song 

Malcom: [00:34:20] Elvis, 

Benedikt: [00:34:20] all the vocals, stereo guitar file with all the guitars and those are called stems.

So. Yeah. Next time you ask your, your mixer, what format your tracks should be yourself, call them tracks, and that's dams. It's confusing. 

Malcom: [00:34:37] Or like, Hey, can we get the stems? We want to like remix the song or something. I'm like, okay, do you actually want the stems or do you want the tracks? Like that is such a different job to prepare.

Exactly. Yeah. 

Benedikt: [00:34:49] Yeah. But that's a good one. I forgot about STEM mastering and I, I'm kind of in the same. I have the same opinion as you here. I do it as just as you do. But [00:35:00] yeah, it's a kind of middle ground between mixing and mastering. But, um, yeah, I think, and also it's not so much cheaper than mixing. It is in my case.

I don't know how, how other people handle it. Um, so I don't know if you, if you paid for the mix and then you ask for STEM mastering, it's. It's almost as if you like pay for mixing twice. Not, not kind of, but at least I, I charge a good amount of money for STEM mastering because it's just, it's more like mixing then than actually mastering.

There's a lot that goes into it, and depending on the material, it can take me just as long as a mixed as, and so. I dunno. I'm, I also think a great mix doesn't need to do. You don't need to do STEM mastering then because that also goes against, and I liked how you phrased it there in your, in your notes that you prepare for the session that goes against all the, the whole.

I'm not doing harm or not changing the mix thing, [00:36:00] because if someone is, sends you, sends you stems, they basically asking you to turn it upside down in a way, because otherwise they wouldn't give you that much power and control and like there's this dangerous so. I would love to hear you talk about that again.

What that like what you, what you wrote down there, this, this oath that a mastering engineer has to swear 

Malcom: [00:36:22] thou shall not harm. Uh, yeah. So I mean, I occasionally, I must admit, all break that rule. If I think that the. The change I'm making is really going to save the mix. Even if there is a small side effect, as long as it outweighs that side effect, you, is that a side effect to a great deal?

This is like only on a really unexperienced person's mixed, you know, um, where there's just like, I have to really work some magic black magic to save it, you know? Um, and there's going to be a side effect, every decision. So if it, that side effect is a negative, but the overall mix is greatly improved, I'll go ahead and do it.

But generally speaking. [00:37:00] If there's going to be a negative side effect, I'm going to kind of, my bias will be to say, okay, I'm not going to do that. It's not worth it. They sent me a mix for a reason that was mixed this way for a reason. Um, and that decision was probably, you know, they probably liked the snare loud.

You know, most people probably don't like the snare that loud, but they did. And that's what they sent me. I have to then think, okay, like, so say it's like a really aggressive rock song and I want it to be very aggressive and loud. Um, just to kind of suit other music in that genre. And I think aggressive rock music sounds better aggressive and loud, uh, by getting it that aggressive and loud, the snare might be like pushed down into the mix by the limiter or the clipping.

And I'm using, I have to figure out a way then do either, uh, limit it differently so that the snare doesn't get duct as much or. Uh, do that and then figure out a way to make the snare kind of come back to life. [00:38:00] Um, so that they don't notice that the snares quieter. You know, so maybe you can do harm, but you have to, you have to clean up your mess in mastery for sure.

Benedikt: [00:38:09] Absolutely. That's a great example with this narrow, I think, and yeah, and you attempted to, because you can't actually, with the tools nowadays, you have a lot of power in mastering, I mean, a classic mastering setup with all analog gear, and that's how still many of the best mastering engineers work. Um.

Those are rather broad strokes and coloring and Polish and that type of stuff. I mean, there are surgical analog cues, but it's not with analog setups, it's more about like broad strokes and, and general like vibe and character and adding colors and stuff like that. Um, but with the tools now and basically also every mastering engineer desks that even if they have a great analog set up, you also have available all the digital.

Tools and all this stuff, and even with a stereo file without stems or drafts, there's so much you can [00:39:00] do. And that's dangerous because you can. Um, your own opinion and what do you think should a song should sound like, can get in the way of making the best product for the client? Because just what you said, because if you give in to that instinct that you might have about something.

The chances are you gone to make it, you're going to drastically change it and it will be better for you, but it's not anymore what the client wanted at all. And you can do that. There is, especially with mid sized stuff and stuff like that, you can do so much sometimes. And I, I'm guilty of that as well, some, and sometimes it works.

Sometimes people love it because some people who do not really have an understanding of mastering and mixing and all the differences, they just. They hear that it's better than before or whatever, and then they, they're stoked and they think you did a great job and others don't appreciate it as much because they didn't want you to alter the mix.

So you should have a conversation. [00:40:00] With your mixing engineer or mastering engineer and tell them what you actually want, like if you are, because some people are just not happy with the mix they have and they want the mastering in the to do the best they can to improve it. And then you are basically free to do whatever you think you can do and do some magic tricks to it.

But others are pretty stoke with their mix and you don't want to mess it up. And if you don't have that conversation, there's always the danger that the mastering engineer completely. Alters, alters and changes the mix and the balance. And as a mastering engineer, it's always dangerous to give into your personal taste and instinct.

And sometimes when I get stuff that I wear, I think. The guitars are buried and too dark and it's not really wide enough and everything is masking stuff. Like I tend to maybe ACU more highs or upper mid range into the sides and then widening it a bit and get the guitars. Farther apart and brighter and stuff [00:41:00] without changing the drums as much, and you can, there's a lot of stuff you can do.

Or I like to notch out resonances in the guitars then and stuff like that. Only on the sides. And that might, you know, there's a lot of thing that certain things that you can do, because I think that guitar shouldn't be this harsh or this style, for example though, but they might just be. What do you want to have on your record?

And that's why I mixed it that way and that's why we have to have the conversation. Then. 

Malcom: [00:41:31] I have a, a form that all my clients fill out as they submit a mix to me that asks them a bunch of questions specifically for that reason. And I've got certain people I know because I worked with them, um, like over and over again repeatedly, uh, that I know expect me to make some big changes because I'm, I meant to lift some extra weight for them.

They, they're just, you know, maybe they're not that experienced and I'm going to take it the extra mile to get it where it needs to be. So I know that I can tell you to take liberties with them where I have other people I know. [00:42:00] That they're looking for loudness, uh, only and, uh, I shouldn't really, like, I, again, I have to be as transparent as possible, um, which is totally great.

So I, I, different people, different situations call for different treatment and, uh, it's the mastering engineer's job to figure out what that is. So communication is super important for a mastering engineer. 

Benedikt: [00:42:22] Sure, absolutely. And I think when in doubt, what is your take on that? When in doubt. So if that, for some reason that communication didn't happen, or the band didn't really tell you what they wanted, or it was confusing or whatever, let's pretend you don't have that info, would you?

And, and the mix was like, okay, but you feel like they could be. Um, there's something lacking and it could, could have this or that to make it really work. Would you then still stick to what the mix sounded like and just that basically keep that mix, make it better or louder? Or would you [00:43:00] then just make bold moves and hope that the band approves and you will, you will then.

Malcom: [00:43:06] Anything that strikes me as like less than professional, uh, I would default to, to improve in it. Um, if I didn't have that info and I always get that info, but if I do have that info, I would be like, okay. They, they expect mastering because people do expect wonders to happen. Um, so that'll be like, they expect me to turn this into.

To, to a piece of gold. They want me to Polish the turd. Um, and I would do that. So yeah, I, but I, I don't know that's contradictory, but that's like, it's all based on experience and learning what to expect from people. And I think most people deep down know that their mix doesn't sound as good as the thing they're comparing it to.

Um, yeah, cause people listen to professional music all the time. So, uh, my instinct would be that they, they want it to sound as good as it can be. 

Benedikt: [00:43:57] Okay. Cool. So, um, [00:44:00] this whole oath off those shall not harm is really only working if you get the communication down because only then do you know what would.

Actually do harm and, and what, what wouldn't, so 

Malcom: [00:44:16] yeah. Yeah, totally. Cause, uh, harm means different things to different people, for sure. 

Benedikt: [00:44:21] Okay. So let's pretend I am a band and I sent you stuff to master and. So here's a couple of questions that I, that I have for you. So like you said, you had a form, so maybe some of those questions are already, would have already been answered, but let's say I didn't see that form and I, I'm hitting you up and ask a bunch of questions before I want to work with you.

Cool, and I just throw a couple of questions at you that I get or that I got from people in the past. Okay. I'll see what, and then we'll see what you would, you would answer to that because that could be helpful because those are real basically real questions that the people ask. [00:45:00] So I assume, yeah, those answers can be, would be valuable.

Okay. First one, can you turn the vocal up a bit please?

Malcom: [00:45:13] Uh, so I suppose that's like a, a revision request, I guess, right? 

Benedikt: [00:45:17] No, that's like we, we, we like the mix, but could you turn the vocal up a bit? Like  you think the vocal is a little Berry? Could you turn that up? 

Malcom: [00:45:24] Okay. So I would first then ask. Uh, they to try and get in touch with the mix engineer or who is the mix engineer, you know, establish that.

And then I would ask for them to send me a vocal up version. Um, so that, by the way, that's a good thing for people to know. It is not commonplace, but it is common enough to send the master an engineer, a couple of versions. So you can send just your regular mix that got approved and then you can send a vocal up version.

Maybe a vocal down version. So, uh, often people will label that with like V op one. So that's focal up one DB or V up two vocal up to DB. Um, and that is to account [00:46:00] for, uh, changes that happen through getting music loud, essentially. So the vocal is very forward and then gets kind of pushed into the mix through, uh, to compression and limiting, um, that that's totally not essential.

And I would almost say just trust your gut on that. And if I think I need an alternative version, I'll just request it. Um, okay. That vocal is just not going to sit where we want. Could you send me up a, a vocal F version and then it'll be perfect? So I don't know. I think a mastering engineer can normally guide people to that rather than them spending a bunch of time sending out a bunch of, like making a bunch of versions.

Um, but yeah, so back to your question, establish who that mixing engineer is and then ask them to send me a vocal up version if that's not possible. Which sometimes seems to happen. It's like they don't want me to know who the mixer was or, or they're too embarrassed to let me know maybe, or, or they've like deleted the sessions already.

I have no idea what these situations are, but it's like, that's not possible. I'm like, what? Okay. Then I will try and make it happen. [00:47:00] So a situation like the lead vocal app. That's normally going to be like a mid side move. Um, so you can affect with mid side, you can affect just like the middle of the stereo image or the sides.

And normally I leave vocal is straight up the middle, hopefully. Um, so I might be able to, you know, uh, like give a little, a small boost and some frequencies that kind of highlight the vocal there. Um, and hopefully that would accomplish what we need without too many side effects. 

Benedikt: [00:47:30] Okay. So you mean you don't have direct control and like a knob where it can just turn the vocal up and mastering?

Malcom: [00:47:37] Oh yeah. I just grabbed my vocal focal fader and throw it. Yeah. No, know what my magic vocal button. I do not. No, unfortunately not. But I do like you. It's amazing what you can do with that mid side stuff or like dynamic GQ. So say I turned it up with a mid side, a Q. So I grabbed some vocal frequencies, um, say like they just want like, like I would probably reach around three [00:48:00] K, I think if I wanted the vocal to appear louder, give it us a little boost there and then that may be okay.

The siblings came up. All right, now I can grab a dynamic mid side cue that only ducks. Or I'll, or even like a, an intelligent DSR, um, that will just own the engage when sibilants is jump out kind of thing. So now I've kind of achieved the best of both worlds. You know, you have to be really careful with that stuff because, you know, you don't want your high hat bark to get decimated or something like that.

Um, but there's really clever ways to accomplish a goal without the side effects. 

Benedikt: [00:48:36] Okay. Yup. Yup. Absolutely. Sure. And so the next question kind of goes hand in hand with that, but I really got those questions not only once. So the next one is, and I'm not, um, it's not that I want to make fun of people, it's just real questions.

And that shows that how, like how many people just have like lack proper understanding of, of what mastering is. So the next one, [00:49:00] um, so here's a mix. Can you make, can you please send us a, an instrumental and an acapella version of that? 

Malcom: [00:49:10] Yeah. Love that too. Yeah, of course. I can. Uh, when, no, you can't.

Obviously, you can't remove the vocal from the mix without, yeah. It's not, it's just not possible. Um, realistically, so again, that to solve that problem, I have to get an a. Communication with the mixer and request a instrumental version or an acapella version, you know, whatever, whatever needed be. So that's again, if you want that stuff rather than, you know, the vocal app versions like I was just talking about, uh, the instrumental and other versions like that, like actual alt versions or radio edit for example, is a common one.

Uh, do send that the first time. I mean, it's fine if you send it later, but try and get that all together so the mastering engineer knows and kind of prepares for that ahead of time. 

Benedikt: [00:49:51] Agreed, and I think you're can send it later. But in many mastering engineers, myself included. We'll have extra fees for that because if you [00:50:00] just hold it, I'll send it along with the mix.

You can basically have already half the session open. You may, you might need to tweak some settings to make it work without the vocal or whatever like, but it's already there and it's not much extra effort to print a second version with like when you're already working on it. But if you have to later open the session again and uh, and start all over and recall settings, even worse, if you have analog gear and stuff.

Um, then this is basically like a new new mastering almost. And many people will, um, charge you extra for that if you, if you send the the old 

Malcom: [00:50:35] versions later. Yeah, I do charge like an alt fee, um, kind of regardless, but it's, it's significantly less if you are prepared the first time. 

Benedikt: [00:50:45] Absolutely. Absolutely.

Malcom: [00:50:47] You know, I'm, I'm always going to be reasonable with people, but, uh, and work with them. But like, uh, 

Benedikt: [00:50:52] you have to let them know that this is the case. I mean, that's the requirement basically. Yeah. Okay. So next question. [00:51:00] So, um, we are uploading this to our digital distribution platform and they are asking for an Apple digital masters.

Do we need that? Is it worth it? Um, can you provide that? 

Malcom: [00:51:13] Uh, you definitely don't need it. Um, and technically I can not provide that yet. I, uh, cause you're talking about the verified by, or the mastered for iTunes requirement kind of thing. 

Benedikt: [00:51:27] Right. There's a specific reason why I'm asking that, but go ahead.

Yeah. 

Malcom: [00:51:30] Um, so I'm, I'm looking into that presently because I want that little badge on my website. But, uh, aside from that, like the bastion engineer, I often use when I met mixed stuff, like I mentioned before, I'll hire an external mastering engineer for my own mixes. Um. He told me, just like, he doesn't use it.

Yeah. He's verified and he can provide them kind of thing. But like, unless he specifically is asked to provide files in that format, uh, he, he doesn't do it. Um, my [00:52:00] understanding is that it's just, uh, like, uh. It's like a set of guidelines they want you to follow. Is that correct? Maybe you know more about this than I do then.

Benedikt: [00:52:08] Yeah. The reason why I'm asking is because, um, I've talked to a lot of my mastering engineers about that. Not everyone has the same opinion, but there seems to be, um, and I might be totally wrong here, and if you are a mastering engineer listening to this, please correct me and tell me what's, what's true.

But the way I, I see it is technically you could do it. You just, you're not allowed to use the name and use the batch without being kind of verified by Apple or whatever, but, and you need, and they are providing you with tools, but I think the tools that are available to everyone, right, you at least the, the, the, the, the guidelines.

So they, that they are providing you with tools to create that, the format in a way that that is. Uh, requires so that you can call it a ma Apple's digital masters, and it was called massive fruit for iTunes before that. And it's, um, um, it's about [00:53:00] loudness. It's about some, some other things. It's about the technical specs that you have to, um, that you have to do.

So that is, it is the right format. But basically, bottom line is it's just technical stuff that you could do anyways with or without that batch. But you have to follow this, these requirements. Apple has to approve you if you want to use this, the batch and the, if you want to call it Apple digital masters and many people that I talk to about this that I talked with about this.

Agree that it's more of a marketing thing than an actual thing that matters. Like because Apple shows that badge next to music that's, that's been created by those mastering studios, and that's been created to these standards, and it says like Apple digital masters. So people assume that this is a better quality than the other records, and that's the reason why people want to have that.

But if you didn't see that badge and just listened to. Stuff on Apple music, [00:54:00] you wouldn't be able to hear what is like an Apple digital master and what is not if it's done properly. And it's more of a, I dunno, it's, it's, it's more a marketing thing that Apple came up with, then something really useful. At least that's how I understand it and that's how I perceive it.

And I don't know, it's kind of, it's kind of weird. And, uh, I think the question here is only do you want your listeners to. See that and just is it important to you that th that you come across as someone who did that extra step and half, then half of that master Apple digital masters thing in place? Or do you think your listeners just won't care because it's, it doesn't really make your song sound better.

It for some people it might just look different if that badge is there, but that's basically the main difference to me. 

Malcom: [00:54:48] Yeah. Yeah. Like, like I said, I'm just getting it so I can have it on my website. The little badge. It's like, like you said, I want to get it for a marketing reason there. There's really no.

No [00:55:00] reason I, and honestly, I mean, I know iTunes is a big company, uh, or Apple, but like iTunes and stuff, it's big, but Spotify is slaughtering them. So people are mostly listening on Spotify. So, uh, getting your music mastered for a different platform than Spotify doesn't really make sense. Yeah. In the big scheme.

Benedikt: [00:55:20] Yeah, and I mean, there are mastering engineers, one that I work with frequently who do provide you with all the files regardless. So you just get the Epic digital masters and then you can decide if you use them or not. Um, right. Many mastering engineers will have a pretty sophisticated setup where they can create an export all those formats pretty efficiently and they, it's quicker to actually just do all of them.

And then. Let the artists or the label decide what they want to use. Then to ask every single person what they want and why. They just do it and provide it kind of a flat rate thing, and you just get all the things and if you get it, I would say just use them if your provider, if like if the digital [00:56:00] distribution platform, if they have the option for these masters, then use them.

If you don't. It's not a big deal. And, but if you have them, yeah, just just use them and upload them, but know that it's not really required to be on Apple podcast because many people think that, and it will not sound dramatically better. It's just a thing that Apple Apple came up with to be special, I guess, because they want people to think that music on Apple music sounds better than anywhere else.

If that patch isn't there, and that's the main reason. So yeah. 

Malcom: [00:56:34] Yeah, there you go. Hi. Well, we were talking about this. I downloaded this piece of software that you just load the full Rez file into and it spits out an Apple master. So that's all there is to it. 

Benedikt: [00:56:44] Yeah, exactly. 

Malcom: [00:56:44] It's essentially, yeah, I did there.

Benedikt: [00:56:47] Yeah. Yeah. And then they have like, there's more to it. I think there's a loudness. Um, level that you should not be? I don't know. I'm not, no, I don't know what I'm talking about here because I don't do these as well, but I think this more than just a, [00:57:00] that there is something to it, but it's nothing that you wouldn't be able to do without the Apple masters thing.

Right. Okay. So, but that's a common question because people just don't know. And they're wondering if that's required to get their stuff on Apple music. And it's not. Do you have any, like, frequently asked questions or one that sticks out particularly that you could talk about? Oh, yeah. 

Malcom: [00:57:22] The big one lately has been like about, uh, lofts and like how loud it should be mastered for and, and stuff like that.

Um, that seems to be coming up a lot and there's a, like a lot of, I think, misinformation about that. So everybody's saying that your music should be mastered too. I said, what are they saying. See that's how much I don't care about this. I think they're saying negative 14. Laughs. 

Benedikt: [00:57:47] It's different. It's different opinions, but it's, yeah, go ahead.

Malcom: [00:57:50] Yeah. Uh, yeah. So yeah, the, the one that pops up right away is negative 14 is kind of the sweet spot for, uh, for the [00:58:00] loudness on streaming platforms like Spotify. And I, you know, it's, it's amazing cause there's like some really great mash and engineers that really swear by this. But I don't know if you've, it's really hard to explain, but I've, I've mastered rock songs that I've should be loud.

To, uh, to a much louder than that and that I've made masters of them much quieter around that negative 14. And my God, it is not a good way to listen to rock and roll music if you ask me. Rocky is, it shouldn't be that quiet at all. Um, so the idea is that, okay, there's a sweet spot and if you're any louder, there's going to turn you down.

So you've wasted dynamic range, which is true. You, uh, you could be more dynamic and get away with it on streaming platforms like that. But that doesn't mean that your music sounds better, more dynamically, your music might sound better with less dynamics. Um, and if that's the case, make it less dynamic.

You know, all this means is that you can make your music sound as good as you want, and you don't have to be [00:59:00] loud, which is cool. You know? So if you have like a soft acoustic song, it doesn't have to be really, really stinking loud and it'll still perform well on Spotify and other streaming platforms. But that doesn't mean you have to be quiet.

So if you're making a loud song, make it loud, make it slam, and uh, it'll just get turned down. But it'll still be loud in context 

Benedikt: [00:59:24] and dance and energy and like all these other things that have hope. Let me get loud. I minus 14. I don't think I ever delivered a mix at minus 14 to a mastering engineer because my mixes don't have that much dynamic range.

And I make, for my main, my rock mixes, they might have like, I don't know, eight, seven or eight DB dynamic range or something like that. Or maybe you're 10 or I don't know, but not mine. Not 14. And  if you're talking lofts, not minus 14, um, the UFS, it's. Like there's in the mix already, too much clipping and limiting and compressing that happening just to get the tones that I [01:00:00] want.

So that even without a mastering limiter, if I had just hit play, I'm already louder than that. That's, 

Malcom: [01:00:05] yeah, yeah, totally. All day. So I, I'm, I'm with you there. Uh, pretty much all people need to take away from that is a loudness. Doesn't matter, just trust your ears. Um, and, and, you know, hopefully trust your mastering engineer to make a good decision.

Yeah. For the loudness. Okay. Then that's another reason that providing a reference track. So important. You know, if somebody sends me, um, a Royal blood. A track as a reference track, um, which I, if you guys don't listen to Royal blood and you like rock music, go check him out through. So good. Uh, but there's stinking loud and it sounds awesome like that.

So, you know, that's like a really good reference to have if you're trying to be aggressive and loud like they are, it's like, okay, these people are okay with this kind of heavy loudness. Let's go for 

Benedikt: [01:00:52] it. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. This is just part of the aesthetic and yeah, just it's okay [01:01:00] to be, to be allowed and don't be afraid to ask for that because some mastering engineers might send you back.

Pretty quiet masters and you might be afraid to ask because you think that's the wrong thing to do, but don't be afraid to ask. And if they're not really, do it, and then probably go with another mastering engineer. And because this could happen, there are like great mastering engineers that just don't like, they will probably if you ask, but who will try to make you believe that this is that you shouldn't do that, but it's okay to be loud.

It's like my com said it's not a must, but it's totally okay if that's what you want. 

Malcom: [01:01:37] Oh, absolutely. 

Benedikt: [01:01:38] Absolutely. Yeah. Yep. Basically, um, that's it because all the other questions that I have are not really relevant because those are more like mixing engineer questions, not so much band questions, bans mostly care about why, why they actually need it.

Why. Um, what formats do they really need and what goes where and which of [01:02:00] the files is meant for what. And a good mastering engineer will probably label them in a way that it makes sense to, to the band when they get the files. Um, and then stuff like the Apple masters and basic understanding of what actually happens in mastering and all the other things are more relevant.

If you are a mixing engineer and send stuff off to Mexico to mastering. 

Malcom: [01:02:21] Yup. You know, I, I just wanted to add one thing cause you asked like, okay, why I'm trying to explain to bands why it might be worth it. And we've talked in past episodes about how copying people that are doing what you want and, and kind of mimicking people that are, are successful.

And it's a pretty recurring theme that a professional professional productions are getting mastered. Um, and sorry, I should be afraid that they're either getting mastered by a really experienced mix engineer. Or they're getting sent to an external mastering engineer as well, but there's always a professional at the end of the chain.

Benedikt: [01:02:58] Yeah. [01:03:00] So true. Yeah. The quality control thing. Yeah. It's just, it's just, just gotta be there and mastering is for that reason alone. I like to, I love to work with, with mastering engineers, and to be honest, yeah. Like there's not that I couldn't do it technically, and it would sound fine and you probably would never would have never asked for anything different than you would be happy with the result, but still that the little difference that it makes, and also the feedback and the potential, like the security, just to know that everything's okay and you didn't overlook something that's, that's worth it alone for me.

I just. Yeah. It could be that eight out of 10 mixes that I master myself are perfectly fine, but then there could be one or two that have a real problem that I just didn't notice. And without mastering it, this problem didn't ever get solved. And if we had used a mastering engineer, this record might be better or did not have this problem.

And I don't know. I didn't want to, I don't want to have that risk. I just want to know [01:04:00] that. Two individuals in separate rooms have listened to it and say, and both individually say, it's okay, it's ready to release. That's just the thing that I want to have. I don't want to, I don't quite kind of don't like it if I'm the only person responsible for.

The end thing. I can't do it. And I'm confident enough to say that it's okay, but it's much better if you have two individuals sign off on it. 

Malcom: [01:04:22] Yeah. Abs, absolutely. Yeah. At Lake bastards, the most affordable way to implement a professional into your project. Yes. It's a, it's the, it is. Um, and it can make a huge difference.

Uh, the other thing that kind of came to mind is that I, that I kind of forgot to mention is that like the mastering engineer, uh, is really in charge of saying, okay, this is finished. It's, it's done. Um, so that's not always just like sonically, like I'm also looking for weird things, like the amount of times I've had to go and remove click tracks, bleed in the quiet sections of songs.

Um, you know, and like, and you know, or like, there's a little like, [01:05:00] stick it that's just totally not meant to be there. And sometimes I can fix that kind of stuff, um, with, with some tools and that kind of stuff is also considered mastering. To me. It's like, okay, like, I, I've got to fix this. Click in this order, there's a digital click.

I have to figure out a way to remove that kind of thing. Right. Um, it's all kind of all consuming. It's like, all right, is it finished? All right. There's an air. I have to fix that now. It's done. 

Benedikt: [01:05:23] Absolutely. I totally forgot about that. And that's also. Most mastering in the news we'll have, and that's kind of kind of a requirement for mastering, I guess, is they will have good monitoring and they will have, of course, good ears and there might be something in your mix that you just, for some reason did not hear.

There might be a distortion, there might be. Um, something weird that the mix might be totally fine and it might be well balanced and had half the ripe Y vibe and everything, but there might be a technical issue that you just didn't notice. Some noise, some distortion and  [01:06:00] or something like that. And a mastering engineer with really high quality speakers or headphones that he uses or she uses to check stuff and high quality converters and stuff that just makes things like this, uh, like these audible.

Um. They will, they will hear it like this, is they will have a more sophisticated and more high end listening environment than most listeners. And they, if they don't, if they can't spot it, it's not there or it's not relevant. But, uh, it's might be there. If you are just mixing, because I mean, how many mixing engineers do great work and deliver great mixes on NS tens or some, some monitors like that that are, they are great and you can make awesome mixes on those, but you probably will never hear a subtle distortion way up in the frequency spectrum with some, I dunno what weird a thing because they, they just don't have those speakers just don't have the resolution.

And the. The . They cannot reproduce stuff like that, but a mastering rig [01:07:00] can and or should be able to do that and yeah, if a mastering engineer says it's okay, but they can't hear anything, then it's good enough for the listeners usually. Yes, 

Malcom: [01:07:11] totally. 

Benedikt: [01:07:11] Totally. And it's, if you've ever been to a real, like. Hi at mastering studio.

If you've never been there as a musician, I would highly recommend if you have a near you that you attend a session. One day. I did that. I did that, uh, years ago for the first time, and it was mind blowing to here's because like that, to be in a room like that, to hear. People AE being stuff and you just can't tell the difference.

And they can't. They, they clearly, they, they explain to you what is happening and you're just standing there and you don't hear anything. 

Malcom: [01:07:44] And it's just wondering like, what the, 

Benedikt: [01:07:46] what the hell is going on here? And now I can hear many of those things that I wasn't able to hear back then because you have to train your ears to be able to hear that.

But it's a really cool experience and it kind of shows you. What actually goes into being a great mastering [01:08:00] engineer and what those people are there for and why you pay them money to do what they do, even if it, if they don't do much, it's just the experience, the train ears, the high end gear, um, the years of, of, of training to get to a point to be able to be able to do that.

Um, once you've been there, you, you absolutely know why it's worth every, every single cent that you pay for that. And 

Malcom: [01:08:23] yeah. Yup. So, yeah, even even today, like, you know, I generally don't finish a mix until I'm happy with it, but I send it off and I get it back and I'm like, okay, like I didn't know it could be this little bit better.

And I'm so glad I did that. You know, like it, whenever I make master comes back better than you sent it in. It's like, Oh wow. I, I didn't know could go there so. This was worth it. 

Benedikt: [01:08:49] Sure. Absolutely. And there's one more thing before we wrap this up that I want to add, but which I've found really useful, and this is, many people like to do many bands or [01:09:00] labels and sometimes it makes engineers like to do test masters.

They ask mastering engineers to do free tests. And many mastering engineers will do that. Malcolm included. He will do a test master for you if you ask him or if you go to still mastering.com and, and request that, um. And that's a great thing, but I think actually what's even better than asking for a free test Vester is the following.

First of all, many mastering engineers won't do it. Not everyone does it. I'm like, it's totally up to the mastering engineering. It doesn't have to, it's not a sign that one is better than the other. It just, some people do it and others don't, for whatever reasons. Um, but anyway, I think better than asking or requesting a free test master is if you have an album or an  or something where there's a little bit of a budget going into anywhere anyways, and not just a single, but if you're spending a couple thousand dollars on it for an album anyway, then it's not in the grand scheme [01:10:00] of things not so expensive to just pay to.

Different mastering engineers to do a test master and not tell them that it's a test Maister just half them. Just hire them for one song of that record and have them master it as a single and then see what you get back. Because it's just natural that if you tell someone that he's competing with someone else and it's a test and they could potentially get the record.

Um, it's just, it could be that they do things differently than they would if they were just hired. And especially if you are like not a well known band. And I don't, I don't like, I always assumed that people are great and many, most mastering engineers are great and would never do that. But it could be that you are.

Just a not so well known band and they don't know like the, it's just a single a one off thing. It's not too expensive and maybe they just get it done and move on and don't really think about like, not that I think that [01:11:00] many mastering engineers do that or should do that at all, but it could be the case.

And if you want to be safe, if you want to make sure that you actually hear. What, what those people do. If they don't know that they're competing, then just ask them to sing, to master a single song and then see what you like best and then hire that person for the rest of the record. Yeah, totally. I think that's a great way to know that that's, that's pretty, yeah.

Because I truly believe that even if people are not mean, I truly believe that if you know that you're in competition with someone else and that there is a potential full length record, um. There then, I don't know, maybe you would just do different 

Malcom: [01:11:40] things maybe. Yeah. I mean, most people that request a test manager for me aren't even putting me up against somebody else.

It's just that they just want to see my work kind of thing, and I'm, I'm happy with that. Um. Yeah, I don't really, for me, I don't know if it would make a difference. I think like, I, I'm it as if it's, [01:12:00] it's going to be the one either way, but I, I see your point for sure. 

Benedikt: [01:12:02] Yeah. It should be that way, of course.

But you never know. And, um, it's just interesting because you, you then, there are no questions. You just get the real thing and it's not too expensive. I mean, let's say, um. Yeah, I don't, but it depends on the rate of the mastering engineer, but it's doing one song with two individuals. If you're doing a whole record anyways, it's not that expensive and it's worth just paying them and then choosing the one who does the best, the better job.

That's a great way to do it. 

Malcom: [01:12:30] Absolutely. 

Benedikt: [01:12:31] Okay. So, um, um, what, what did we forget? What do you want to add to this as a mastering engineer? Is there anything you would want to ask people maybe like, or tell people if they record themselves? Is there, are there things that they could do to make your life as a mastering engineer easier?

Or is it more of a thing that makes engineers need to take care of. 

Malcom: [01:12:55] Uh, you know, I think really just take advantage [01:13:00] of the communication thing cause like, that's, that's, uh, that benefits both ways. So, uh, communicate ahead of time with the mastering engineer about how they want files delivered. Um, and also send them your mics so they can kind of give you feedback beforehand.

Um, unless you like asserting your mixed slams and it's just not necessary, you know? But generally I think that's just like something that should always be done. Why, why? They're like, just remove the ego from it, send it to them, get some feedback from their mastering rig before they even master it every time.

I think that would be worth it. Um, it's, it's up to you, but I totally think every band should do that, at least for a song, you know, and don't be afraid to do it before the rest of the songs are ready. Um, I think people kind of think sometimes that they're like taking advantage of my time. If they do that, where they send me the first song and the rest aren't ready.

But send me that first song that's been like the single or something. I'll give you feedback and then that mix, whoever's mixing that gets that feedback is going to be better equipped to move forward with the rest of the songs. [01:14:00] Right. Rather than repeating the same mistake potentially for the rest of the songs.

So get in, get in touch with your master, an engineer before you need mastering. Get in touch. Jury mixing 

Benedikt: [01:14:10] also makes it easier to. Get your stuff or more likely to get your stuff in time because it might just happen that you wait until the mix is done and then you want the master's now at, but the master engineer might not just not be available right now, 

Malcom: [01:14:24] the schedule.

Benedikt: [01:14:25] So if you get a touch early, you just know that right after the mixing you will, the mastering engineer will actually have time to master your record and you won't have to wait another four weeks before they can get to it. 

Malcom: [01:14:35] Yup. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, during quarantine, I've probably got the time, but otherwise I'm pretty busy yet, so get in touch.

Sure. 

Benedikt: [01:14:44] Okay, so I'm going to pluck your website. He wants again, because people should, should check that out and should see what mastering does to their mixes. Because you offer a free test mix, so there's no risk you can test, you can try it out for yourself. You can see what [01:15:00] mastering would proper mastering mastering does.

To your mixes. You can see if it's worth it to you. Um, you can also see what's not possible, because like you, that's also the thing that you just have to learn. You have to get used to, um, what like, what mastering can and can't do. And, um. Yeah. Because like if you send, it could be that people now go ahead and record a demo and then they don't really mix it or have, don't have a mixer, and then just send you the demo and then expect that a full Polish record comes back and that's just probably won't happen.

Like it will be better than before. But. 

Malcom: [01:15:35] I'll do my best. 

Benedikt: [01:15:35] Exactly what? Yeah. I just, I just want people to know that this, there's a reason for all these individual steps, but go add your record. We'll definitely come back better than it was before. All the boxes will be checked. If there's an issue, Malcolm will let you know and you can find out.

What mastering is, how it works and how it's done properly, and go to stone mastering.com [01:16:00] and then you can request a free test master. I dunno. Do you have a direct linker URL for them to go to for the test master or is it just a button on your website? 

Malcom: [01:16:08] You know, I, I probably do, but I don't know what I've had.

So yeah, just go to stowmaster.com you can't miss it. Like there's literally like 30 called actions on every page, so he'll be fine. And also, you know, even if you don't want a test master, like I said, get in touch early before you need mastery before mixing even. So just ghetto, like email me, get in touch if you have questions about mastering or about something we didn't cover in here.

Uh, email me there. That's fine. You know, I'm available. 

Benedikt: [01:16:33] Yeah. That's what I meant with mastering. Can't do, not that they should send you stuff and then it wouldn't, it wouldn't, it wouldn't happen, but they should just contact you and you will tell them before you even start what's possible and that's worth it alone.

Get in touch with Mark directly and you won't, you won't regret it. Yeah. 

Malcom: [01:16:51] Yeah. Totally. 

Benedikt: [01:16:52] Awesome. Very, very cool. Um, yeah. Then let's wrap this up. I guess if you have any questions [01:17:00] other than contacting Mack and asking him or having him work on your records, you can always email us at podcast at the F recording band.

I will forward it to Malcolm if it's a mastering specific question. If we forget anything, if we've got anything wrong, because there's so much, so many technical things, and if you're not a, like as in my case, I'm not as specialized mastering engineer who does mastering only, so that I could, I could have gotten the whole Apple digital masters thing wrong or something.

That's the case. 

Malcom: [01:17:27] I don't know how we did on that part. 

Benedikt: [01:17:28] Yeah. So if that's the case, please tell me what it, what it really is like, just explain it to me. I, I, I genuinely want to know. So educate me and tell me. What I got wrong here. Uh, yeah. Other than that, I hope it was helpful. I hope now, I don't know if there's still a current teen when you're listening to this, but if it is like you'll be in front of your phone or computer anyway.

So, uh, do a little research, finds a mastering studios, compare them, hit up, mock him, go to his website, learn about [01:18:00] that stuff, and then for your next production you will have that additional step there. 

Malcom: [01:18:05] Hopefully. Golden. 

Benedikt: [01:18:07] Cool. That's it. 

Malcom: [01:18:09] Thanks for listening. 

Benedikt: [01:18:11] Thank you. Bye.

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