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Category Archives for "Mastering"

77: Apple Spatial Audio & Dolby Atmos – Is This The End Of Stereo?

#77: Apple Spatial Audio & Dolby Atmos - Is This The End Of Stereo?

You've probably heard about Apple Spatial Audio or Dolby Atmos...


...and you've probably heard the marketing message, telling you you're missing out if you're still listening to music in stereo.

Is this true, though? And does that mean we need to upgrade our home studios and build expensive immersive audio rooms? Or switch to headphones exclusively? Is your stereo setup becoming useless?

Let's discuss!

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Community Q&A: “Analog” Sounding Mix Bus & Mastering Saturation

Recording Q&A
Daily Blog - July 16th 2021

The Self-Recording Band Community is awesome and our members ask great questions! We love that and want this platform to be as helpful as possible, so we try to answer them all. Sometimes on the podcast, sometimes directly in the Facebook group, sometimes via email and sometimes here on the blog. Let's do a little Q&A series over a couple of days. Today's question is about saturating the mix bus and using saturation in mastering.

Community Q&A: “Analog” Sounding Mix Bus & Mastering Saturation
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The Final Master Files You Need (One Master To Rule Them All?)

Daily Blog - June 8th 2021

Do you need a separate master for each streaming platform? Which format goes where? What about vinyl and CD? Read on as I try to answer these and end the confusion.

Want To Reignite Your Passion For Music? Read This.

You should at least get two different files from your mastering engineer

The minimum I send out to my clients and the minimum you should request from your mastering engineer is:

  • one WAV file for streaming and download (16 Bit / 44,1 kHz) 
  • and one WAV file for video and hi-res streaming (24 Bit / 48 kHz or 96 kHz)

This covers most, if not all of your digital needs. Whenever a platform allows a 24 Bit upload, you can use the hi-res file, for everything else use the 16 Bit file and you'll be fine. The 24 Bit file should also be used in your videos. 

Both of these WAV files are lossless.

Many mastering engineers will argue that one properly created master, or the two mentioned above, will be enough for streaming/download and everything else is not worth the hassle.

Others will recommend making different masters for at least some of the major platforms. So I'm going to explain what else you can do.

Youtube

YouTube is one of the most important music streaming platforms and of course the place where we all watch music videos. You can make a master that's specifically created to sound best with YouTube's encoding and processing. It's up to you to decide whether it is worth it for you, but it can't hurt to ask your mastering engineer for it. You can always use the 24 Bit WAV if you don't have a specific YouTube master.

Spotify

You can try and make a master that's specifically created to sound best with Spotify's encoding and processing, but one of the main problems (with any platform) is that it is constantly changing . Most people agree that one proper digital master will work perfectly on Spotify, but again, asking for it doesn't hurt. You can always use the 16 Bit WAV if you don't have a specific Spotify master.

Apple Music

"Apple Digital Masters" or "Mastered For iTunes" is a standard and set of specifications that Apple provides, so that mastering engineers can make masters specifically optimized for Apple Music / iTunes. Not every mastering engineer is convinced that it is necessary or actually sounds better, but if you want the "Apple Digital Masters" badge to show up on your release, you have to ask your mastering engineer to provide this specific file for you.

CD

For CD manufacturing you'll need a DDP image. This is a folder that has the actual audio files in it and also the meta data, like codes, song titles, gaps, song order, transitions, etc. Send this to your pressing plant instead of individual WAVs and you'll prevent errors in the manufacturing process. The actual audio file format for CDs is WAV 16 Bit / 44,1 kHz. So no need for a separate master here. Just make sure the sequencing and DDP creation is done properly.

Vinyl

For vinyl manufacturing you'll need one WAV file per side, not per song. So one file that has all the songs of one side on it, including the transitions and gaps. You'll also need a cue sheet that tells the pressing plant how long the songs and gaps are, where each song starts and ends, etc. Send this to your pressing plant instead of individual WAVs and you'll prevent errors in the manufacturing process. The audio file format for the vinyl pre-masters is WAV 24 Bit / 44,1 kHz (minimum, you'll likely get a master with a higher sample rate). In this case, you'll probably need a different master, though. It's not only about sequencing. Typically the mastering engineer will also adjust those vinyl pre-masters sonically. Loudness, sibilance, stereo widening and sub bass content often need to be controlled a bit more in order for a vinyl master to work properly. Sometimes the digital master will work just fine. Simply ask your mastering engineer for it and she'll take care of whatever needs to be done.

Don't convert yourself!

None of these files above can simply be created by converting one file into another! This is critical and super important to understand. So whenever you need any of those files, you gotta get them made from the original source mix and you should never just use a converter or online tool to try and create them yourself from the master you got! That won't work and likely degrade the sound of the master.

Choose a good mastering engineer

It helps to know this stuff, so you know what to ask for and where to upload the different formats. But at the end of the day it's a mastering engineer's job to provide you with the right files for what you're trying to do and to explain to you how and where to use them. You should either be given the option to choose what you need or you should just get a complete package that has everything in it. Different engineers handle that differently, but if they know what they're doing they should always be guiding you through the process and provide you with everything you need in the end.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

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2 Can any stranger work on your song?

Daily Blog - May 27th 2021

Could you send your session or multitracks to a stranger for collaboration and they would immediately know what's up? No? Please read on.

Can any stranger work on your song?

Your session might seem logical to you, but it could be completely confusing for everyone else.

Make it a habit to keep your sessions organized from the beginning and all throughout the writing, pre-pro and actual production process, so that anytime you need outside help, feedback, or want someone to collaborate with you, you can quickly and easily transfer files or sessions.

That includes: 

  • Constantly committing and getting rid of everything you don't need (redundant files, bad takes, etc.)
  • Consolidating everything you need (e.g. takes of the same instrument with the same sound spread out over multiple tracks without any overlap)
  • Color coding and clear labeling (your names, number of takes, any notes etc. don't matter. What's on the actual track does! So use "rhythm guitar left mic 1" instead of "James_078_(D)_final")
  • Making sure that all exports have the same starting point and line up perfectly when imported to a session.
  • Printing any amp sims, virtual instruments, MIDI stuff, samples, etc. and sending the raw files in addition to the printed files.
  • Reading and following any export & transfer checklists you get from people you're working with. They send you those for a reason.
  • Creating and frequently updating an info sheet that has all the relevant information about the project on it. You can send that along with your session and everybody immediately knows what's up.

There is more you can do, but even if you "only" do those things above, collaborating with other musicians and working with audio professionals will be so much smoother and lead to much better results. With less headache for everyone.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

Distort Everything

Distort Everything
Daily Blog - May 19th 2021

I received this amazing sticker from Scott Evans (antisleep.com) and it's right in front of me everyday. My daily reminder to have fun with the audio I'm working on and to constantly try and find ways to destroy sounds in a musical way.

My Love-Hate Relationship With Stem Mastering

Distort Everything. Seriously. It tends to make things better.

A little bit of harmonic distortion, a little drive, a subtle push, some extra density and overtones. It rarely hurts. It usually makes things better. It means you need less compression. And it makes things interesting, exciting and unique.

You gotta be very careful (and tasteful), especially during recording. But you can literally distort everything if you try hard enough and find pleasing ways to do so. 

And of course, you can always completely mess things up and create the most obnoxious, nasty tones ever if that's what you like (I often do!). No rules.

Have fun. Distort everything. I live by it. Thanks Scott.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

My Love-Hate Relationship With Stem Mastering

Daily Blog - May 18th 2021

Sometimes I feel like stem mastering is the best thing ever and then other times I promise myself never to do a project like that again. Why is that? And what's wrong with stem mastering in the first place?

Attention: Before you read on, please remember that "stems" are not individual tracks, like kick, snare, lead vocal, bass, guitar etc...! These are called "tracks" or "multitracks". "Stems" are groups of instruments that belong together or go together well, like all drums,  all guitars, all vocals, all bass instruments, etc. A mix might have 120 "tracks", but maybe only 5-6 "stems" will be sent to the mastering engineer for stem mastering. People get this wrong all the time for some reason and we finally need to end this. You can do better than that, so stop using "stems" when you're actually talking about "tracks". Thank you. 😉
My Love-Hate Relationship With Stem Mastering

I guess it mostly depends on whether the client actually wants and needs mastering or not. 

Today I mastered a project where this was absolutely the case. The band had done a mix, was happy with it and sent me stems that gave me extra flexibility to correct and enhance things. But they didn't want or expect to get completely different sounding songs back. Awesome! That's the type of stem mastering project I love! A relatively quick and intuitive workflow where I can be objective and follow my initial reaction to the mix (one of the main reasons to hire a mastering engineer). Plus, it's a MASSIVE transformation for the client, because I can correct and improve things without damaging other things. Great!

Sometimes, though, what people want and need is mixing. Looking for a "cheaper solution" for their problems they then ask for stem mastering. Danger zone.

This approach is problematic for various reasons.

  1. (Stem-)mastering is not mixing. A mastering engineer has to respect, serve and celebrate the mix. not change it. It's a different mindset and there are different goals to be achieved in mastering. Creative mixing decisions, like choosing effects, shaping the tones of individual tracks, riding faders or finding a balance that works for the song have to be made during mixing. At this stage it's about things like translation, quality control, minor corrections, a final polish, perception, focus, energy, overall frequency balance and dynamic control, loudness and technical requirements. 
  2. Managing expectations becomes hard, very hard with an approach like this. When someone sends me 10 stems, it does not mean I have to change or do something to all of them. But they might expect me to. I have to assume what they've done in the mix was on purpose, while they might be very insecure about it and don't really like it that much. They say they need stem mastering, but they actually expect a mix.
  3. It's hard to resist the urge to "improve" every stem. Even if the client understands the difference and actually likes the mix, it might be me who's causing problems. Because I feel like I could do so much with the stems to make the mix a lot better, but it's just not my job in those projects. It can be hard to remember that I have to stay in mastering land and not start mixing. I have to respect the mix and not abuse my power. It's not my songs, not my creative expression, not my record, my "mixing taste" doesn't matter and I'm not the producer or mixer.  

So, what's the conclusion? I don't know. I'm probably hoping you read this and ask yourself: "Do I need mastering or mixing?" before you think about hiring someone to do stem mastering for you. Stem mastering is an upgraded mastering service, not a downgraded mixing job.

If you understand that and feel like the extra flexibility would be great to achieve your desired end result, go for it! Stem mastering can be truly awesome and absolutely worth it - or ruin your mix and make your mastering engineer want to jump out the window during the process. 😄

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

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