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Q) Is it O.K. to compress my drums before I take it to the mastering facility? -Ken

If you mean compress the drums while you're mixing the whole song, yes, it's ok, but I don't recommend it. I rarely compressed drums. Compressors are slow and they let the peaks go by. Compressors handle RMS (overall) level which works wonders on vocals, bass, guitars, keys, etc. Limiters handle the peaks which can cause a digital "over." In mastering, we work on peak and RMS gain reduction.

If you're looking for a particular compressed tone to the drums, cool, go for it... in general... nah. If the kic drum is inconsistent in level, punish the drummer (just kidding) by having him or her be at the mixdown and be in charge of riding the fader. Or automate the level so it's consistent. That's called manual compression and a lot of big engineers do that. Gating the kic and toms (a little bit) is a good idea. (More here on compression.)

Is it fine to E.Q. my final mix before taking it to mastering?

If you mean eq the individual tracks of your mix, absolutely. If you mean take the final mix and "master" it, or stereo process it... say if one song needs some highs, another song needs some lows.... no. Spice up the individual tracks so each mix sounds great then leave it alone.. Compare with commercial CDs all the way. Don't depend on compressing the stereo buss or using stereo eq on the mix. DON'T bounce your mixes to another tape, file or disc just to make a sequenced, eq'd, edited version to save time in mastering.

The songs sound great when the mix is E.Q.'d and the drums are compressed, but when they're not it's kind of muddy.

Mastering is a great place to remedy muddiness, but 
I'd ask why it sounds muddy to begin with. If you're comparing your mixes with commercial CD's every step of the way, it shouldn't sound muddy. You'd be listening to your mix, then you'd listen to [whoever's CD] and you'd go... GASP! OUR MIX SOUNDS MUDDY COMPARED TO THAT! And then you'd go back and start tweaking stuff so it sounds clear. (When you add highs to vocals, make SURE you use a de-esser - dbx units used to go for around $150.)

Now then, you might not have $200,000 worth of processing gear like the big artists can... So you may not get exactly that same sound, but it should be in the ball park. (It also helps to have really really fine audiophile speakers.... I know, they cost $2500 or more... and your local studio gear shop will object.... more about that here.) But j

Key: Just as important is the signal you send to the montors. The electronics, cables, D-A converters are all important for having an accurate "lens" to listen through.

Anyway, get it as good as you can. Leave that as your master mixdown. Then if you want to eq and compress the whole stereo thing (like rough mastering) for your own REFERENCE sake, go for it. Keep that to show around and listen to.

SEND BOTH VERSIONS, eq'd and non-eq'd to the mastering house. Always back up your master mixes - like do two passes and always vault one of them. Then let the mastering house decide which they want to use. If it's a top of the line place, they'll want the one that is the original source. The extra stereo processing takes it down a generation and can box the mastering person into a corner... they may not be able to undo stuff that you've added.

Q) I want to know if it would be OK to add effects to my music tracks.


What effects can the studio use on my voice?

Oo, that's hard to say without hearing the song. Each song sort of generates a vibe that different effects help and different ones don't. I'd say listen to anything commercially available in your style and see what you'd like to hear. Delays, chorus units, vocal doubling, filtering, backwards reverb, dry, wet, spread, mono.... the list is endless. But be original - don't just copy someone else's sound.

I really think I need to use some compression and chorus.

Certainly can be a good way to go if it fits the song.

I told the studio that you guys need the vocals hot, but when they gave me a copy of the mix it sounds as the lyrics and the music are two different tracks (not blended).

Better to hand them a copy of a commercial CD you like and say, "Would you please mix it so it's similar to this." Their idea of "hot" and my idea of "hot" could be two different things. Always have a couple CDs on hand to compare the sound of when mix time arrives. Listen, compare, adjust. Listen, compare, adjust. Get ideas, try things, be creative, think of something no one else has. Listen, compare, experiment, adjust.

Q) I have a Roland 1680. Is it okay to mix your 16 tracks to the internal two mix down tracks? I also have an Otari analog deck.

Perhaps for making a reference CD? It depends on what the Roland can do. If you can make a mix-to-CD without going down a generation via a separate "stereo mix file", that's a good way to go for a reference. For your actual final mix, mix right onto that Otari (or 96k Masterlink)!

Should I avoid backing up 1680 data onto CD and bringing it back in?

Yes.. Work on fewer songs at once, mix, back up the files, and move on to the next songs.

Should I use my Focusrite preamp's EQ going into the 1680, avoiding the 1680 internal EQ?

Yes. The less processing in the 1680 the better - but do what you must.

Any tips on De-essing?

Male voices set for a lower frequency, like 2.5k, female more like 3.5 - 5.5, and just use your ears. Don't let the S's "lisp."

Considering that the 1680 in the "MTP" recording mode has a degree of internal compression, do you think it's worth considering recording in the "Mastering" recording mode?

File compression can be a trade off: less quality for more tracks. Let your ears be the judge and use the tool that works best for your applications.

It would be very difficult to have only 8 tracks to work with, if in fact there is also a loss of depth bouncing in this mode as well.

I'm working on a project now, where the client brought in a PC based recording. Well recorded, I might add. We compared the sound of the "mixdown mode" with the sound of the "2-track stereo mix file" (the one he would have burnt to cd) and the mixdown won by a landslide. All 4 people in the room agreed with certainty that a great deal was lost in the mix file.

Compare the "bounce" with a non-bounced version to see if you can tell a difference. Here's the challenging part: Will your speaker system reveal the detail needed to really hear what's going on. This is why I stress audiophile speakers, power amps and cables, not just the highly promoted studio "monitors" that are, granted, more affordable.

Listen to the hardness or smoothness in the snare drum. Listen to the decay of the reverbs and snare. Listen to the width and bigness of the bottom end. Listen for graininess or harshness in the mids and highs.

Sometimes, however, we have to give a little to get a lot more. If you have to give up some sonic resolution in order to gain more tracks (i.e. a more versatile system to work with) then I'd figure it's worth it. TIP: Consider mixing to your analog 2-track and then transferring your mix to the Roland, and then compare the internal bounce with the analog mix. Again, monitor system resolution is the key. That's the "lens" you're looking through, and you will only see as much as the lens is focused.

I'm very impressed with my Fostex VF-16. It does 32-bit internal processing, has 24 bit D/A converters, and 20 bit A/D converters. However the final product is 44.1kHz, 16-Bit. I'm still interested in enhancing the overall quality of the music. The VF-16 has optical I/0.

Optical is one of the least favored i/o's and can sound thin. AES is the best, SPDIF is next. If you must go optical, get the most expensive cable you can afford, or better yet, spend the same amount of money and mix to analog. Used units are very reasonable on ebay and other on line auction sites.

Which is the correct Crossover setting I must use to get a quality sound from a mastering processor?

If you are using it for multi-band processing, the crossover point changes for each song or project. Once setting might work well for something, but not sound good for another.

I was thinking of using a mastering processors like the dbx Quantum or TC Finalizer.

The dbx is better sounding, but very complex to operate. I had both, and only use the dbx now. I never ever use the presets, so don't assume that a preset will really make your CD right. "Mastering processors" don't come with 25 years of experience, but to just bring up the level and tweak eq, they're good. To send your product out for the best quality mastering, don't go through a mastering processor. It's too much of a good thing.

So what do you recommend for me in the absence of a mastering processor?

It depends on who's going to be listening to your project. Record Co's? Fans? Publishers? Radio stations? Club owners? Managment co's? In most cases, just use what you have and no one will be able to tell the difference, unless they have two versions in front of them to compare.

For my money, I'd buy a used $333-$500 analog 15ips machine, learn how to use it and make CD copies off of that. They'll be hotter and have that analong sound.

Will I gain anything by taking a 16-bit 44.1kHz input, converting it to 24-bit 96kHz, and dithering it back to 16-bit 44.1kHz?

Definitely not.

Is it okay to use the Otari's built in 1 K alignment tone?

See my page on 2 Track Analog Machine Alignment.

I heard it is better to run the reverb input hotter than the output for lower noise.

Run the input as close to clipping as possible for that exact reason.

Do you think it best to subtract high end from the plate reverb sounds?

Do whatever sounds best.

How important is it to get 3 (is 2 enough?) bags of flattened marbles [to isolate the speakers from the surface - ref: Studio Monitor Madness]?

Use 3 - 4 "marbles" per speaker - one bag otta be enough!

Is it okay to put the monitors on their sides or better to keep them straight?

Whatever gives you the best sound. Experiment so that you feel the most information is revealed to you. It takes pro studios years (sometimes) to get their monitors right.

Anything I should be cautious of in using headphones so much (apartment studio) compared to the monitors (other than fatigue)?

Without hearing the particular headphones, I couldn't say. Just take your mixes out into the real world via cassette and CD copies, and see what kind of results you get. Do what works. It just takes time to find all this stuff out, and that's why the best mastering guys all have 25+ years of experience - they've been down that road a jillion times.

It also seems interesting and worth mentioning to paraphrase the Russian philosopher P.D.Oepensky [that the best art is more complete if it incorporates a degree of understanding regarding science, religion and philosophy as well as the arts.] -Chet

Well said, and thank you for that!

Created 12/28/00 • Modified 06/26/01
Back to the 1st Q & A
Gads.... still more Q & A!
Should we not use any compression during the mix session?


8-Channel mixer with A-B functions