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  iTunes, Remastered, Mastering for iTunes

If you’re on this website, you undoubtedly know that “Remastered” means the sound has been brought up to a more modern standard. This often means it's been made louder so that it sounds closer in volume level with newly released records. Sometimes this is a real treat for a mastering engineer, because in "hind sight" there can be some tonal improvements along with the volume increase.

But there's more than just the possible improvements made by remastering. On iTunes (and on this site) you have seen the blue image that says “Mastered for iTunes.” There’s a specific set of requirements to create mastered files for you that satisfy the requirements for this Apple high resolution format.

We are officially an Apple Certified mastering studio. And the MFiT format sounds very good, and it's worth the effort. Our certified MFiT system is real-time - and care is taken when a client wants this improved format. MFiT COMPLIANCE CAN TAKE ADDITIONAL TIME. It's an additional set of factors that go into mastering your project.

Ok, so what has led us to the goals and requirements of this new standard? Let's look back a bit....

The record label’s mission

The record labels have all pushed mastering engineers to use sophisticated electronics for hotter and hotter sound levels. As you have probably noticed, newer music sounds a LOT louder than recordings released 10 to 20 years ago. I started complaining publicly about this back in 1999.

The irritating volume problem

The listening public had to contend with some music that was mastered soft (from years ago), and more recent recordings that was mastered loud.  Consumers found it can be REALLY irritating when their favorite old music sounds way softer than new releases! It can drive you nuts with the music of 5 or 6 artists shuffling back-and-forth with really different volume levels!

Louder can make the sound worse

While louder remastered recordings can have their good points, the sound doesn’t always benefit. In some cases it’s cool, but in other cases, we hear more compression in music than at any other time in history. And look at record (music) sales. Yes, new formats/downloads/streaming/piracy has an effect on sales, But the sound (and the subtle tendency for our ears to get “tired” and “pushed in” by the more constant dynamic (decreased) stream of sound has an effect on our connection with the emotion and movement within the music.

This is the drawback of the “Loudness war” in digital audio. What happens is that the sound gets more boomy sounding - more sustaining and more “drone-ing” as it gets louder. And some of the snappy qualities of the music (air, punch, detail) starts to get all mashed together at the top end of the spectrum. Everyone's sound is a little less unique and flavorful when the mastering is really loud.

I wrote my original article about loud CDs in 1999.

I'll always say that tone & musicality rules over volume, and lo-and-behold, 16 years later many different articles are stating the loudness war is over - thanks in part to what's next here...

Recently, audio consumers and engineers have been complaining that the sound was less true to how music really feels. Case-in-point when Metallica fans rebelled against their too-loud "Death Magnetic" album production (made obvious by the Rolling Stone article about the Guitar Hero game -- which sounded better than their record!). Newer downloads didn’t sound as good as live shows (which used to be the other way around!).

Apple comes around

Eventually Apple started hearing the complaints. Engineers told Apple that they were forced, by record labels, into making “audio bricks” instead of fine recordings. Consumers would rip their headphones off when a huge loud song followed an older soft favorite. Nobody was happy.

So several engineers and Apple got together and brought us a new format called “Mastered for iTunes.”

But Apple did insist that the engineers had to use Apple’s own coded software before they would give the “Mastered for iTunes” stamp of approval. That’s pretty good marketing on Apple’s part. Create a name and a format that "corners the market" on how you impress upon people that your album sounds better!

And sure enough, it sounds better and the files are still small enough to fit on your iPod. It’s not perfect, but it’s really a step in the right direction. The mastering requirements to comply with Apples MFiT standard involve a few factors - which we carefully oversee. [Note: if you are planning on using CD Baby to distribute your music on the internet, see this page.]

Secret help is on the way, sort of

But there’s one more secret: it’s called “Sound Check.” It’s another part of the quest to solve that annoying “shuffle” problem because of the differing volume levels in digital recordings.

Sound Check software is built into all the latest versions of iTunes, and it’s designed to “level the playing field” of digital volume. Sound Check analyzes the overall volume level of a piece of music, and it gives it a “rating” if you will. Then, whenever that music is played on iTunes, it’s balanced and leveled with other songs that have been “tagged” with a volume rating. (Windows Media Player 12 has a similar feature.)

The result is that thanks to Sound Check, the loud songs are turned down, and the soft ones are turned up, and some stay the same -- all depending on the volume “rating” that the Sound Check feature gives the music.

Almost perfect?

There’s one catch. It’s not universal just yet. You have to actually have Sound Check “on” in your iTunes player in order to have that solution in your hands. Also, not every song in the entire world has gotten “the rating” just yet. But the good news is that iTunes Radio uses Sound Check as standard, so you’re covered on iTunes Radio. Spotify and Pandora handle this in their own ways and the details are too much to cover here. More help IS on the way with YouTube...

So while many of us still tangle a little bit with the volume differences of our favorite songs, we can at least know that there’s some good formats that will setting things down over a span of time. Getting computer companies and consumers and record labels and mastering engineers all on the same page isn’t easy!

Hard copy CDs are doomed?

Getting record companies on the same page period isn't easy. Even with the benefit of MFiT, many labels still master their CDs at smashed-to-the max volume - which if were transfered to Apple's required software, would FAIL Apple's specifications miserably because they would be too loud. This is a huge mistake by the labels. CD-to-iTunes copies made by consumers will have TONS of clipping distortion. An untrained hear won't shriek and run, but eventually people will feel like the sound isn't warm or silky sounding. Silky like the very same music download files that have been Mastered for iTunes.

If a music lover (who has a CD collection) anticipates great quality, they will be disappointed when and if they convert most contemporary CDs into iTunes (without serious custom settings). They will get digital clipping "overs" all over the place - one of the main things that Apple won't tolerate for an MFiT master file! The labels really want you to like the iTunes MFiT file over CDs because... well because it's all about Apple / iTunes market domination and back room label deals?

But looking forward in just the download-from-iTunes category, the right direction is in place. Hard copy CDs is another story. So between downloading remastered music, Mastered for iTunes and the Sound Check software, things are looking (or sounding) better (at least where downloads are concerned)!

If you look in the upper right hand corner of an artist’s iTunes Store page, you may see the blue image that say’s “Mastered for iTunes” - and that actually shows you that the artist took the extra step to make their music sound better on line for their fans! Here's why Separations are naturally in-sync with MFiT.

"Separation mastering totally enhances the sound field. It's a new journey in the way of mastering."
- Ice Green, producer for Gina Green, Ritestep Records

"We had no idea what to expect, but it seemed like the logical thing to do.  You were right.  We had more options, the sound opened up and we're happy with the results." - Rise

"The technology of Separations gives more vitality to the sound - it gives a new experience to my sound."
- Israel Lomeli, Hispanic Rock

"The clarity brought to our album using Separation Mastering was truly eye opening."
- Dan Kaulahao, Deal By Dusk

Cool info about the days of vinyl!

The older records (from the vinyl era) actually had more pleasing aspects to their sound because it didn’t get altered by sophisticated computer software and the high tech mastering technology that we use today. Sometimes less is more, and it’s VERY often that recording engineers of today really like OLD gear because, well it was simple and sounded good.

Regulations, please

Vinyl records had a built in “regulation” or “governor.” The size of the record. No matter how good the mastering engineer was in the old days, getting a louder pressing meant that the grooves in the record were wider. As the needle on the disc came around for the next revolution, the groove had to be farther in toward the center of the disc so the wide grooves didn’t overlap.

That meant if the record label or the producer wanted the record to “blow away” the competition by being louder, it would come at a cost. Extra wide grooves meant there was less room available for all the music. You either had to take off one of the songs planned for the album (because you ran out of space on the record) or you had to conform to a regular amount of volume, just like the other artists, so that you could put all of the intended songs on the record. Sometimes regulations (or physical limitations) are a good thing!!

Once the record labels and producers got more into the world of digital sound, they found out that high-tech electronic mastering gear let you “slam” more volume onto an audio file. “The gloves were off.” Everybody went nuts. The labels actually did themselves a disservice by pressuring the mastering engineers into making newer digital recordings much louder.

Who looks out for the consumer?

Pressuring the mastering engineers actually took some life and breath out of the music - in favor of blowing away the other artist’s music. It has been a dog-eat-dog sonic world for a years now, and many mastering engineers (men and women) wish it could be different -- for the sake of the consumer!

Music on ADHD

Many people are impatient with today’s music and they click from song to song, often NOT savoring an entire record as the artist intended the experience to be for the listener. Listeners aren’t even aware they are doing it. They are not as charmed, engaged, entangled with the music as before. “Loud” can take out some of the pulse (beating heart) that used to be so natural in the music we bought. And heck, the consumer doesn’t even get to smell the vinyl record coming out of a newly opened record jacket!!

Classic songs from the pop era still are engaging and young people often listen to older rock or funk or country or jazz recordings... And just can’t put their finger on what it is that makes the stuff SOUND SO DARNED GREAT! Well for starters, music with dynamics sounds better and feels better. It's the way music actually IS. Music is supposed to be TRANSPORTING. It takes you somewhere! It isn't supposed to just sit in one place. Louder mastering has more of a droning effect than music in the days of vinyl. Plus classic recordings contain other great elements.... like great SONGS by great ARTISTS who’s music sounds natural and actually takes you somewhere!

No complacency please!

The good news is that some companies do listen to the consumer, and at least come up with some improvements so that we listeners enjoy “the soundtracks of our lives.” And it will keep getting better as computers keep getting faster, inventors and engineers keep using their talents, and as long as consumers let their thoughts and feelings BE KNOWN.

Which is the same for politics, food, entertainment, health, environment, treatment of animals, respect for the elderly, aid for the sick, etc. Get the word out there and ALWAYS strive to make the world a better place, and it will happen eventually.

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Mastering Procedures

How to prepare for mastering

Creative changes

Even More Secrets of Mixing

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How to create Separations

Illustrated History of Separations

Great reference CD's

Getting a bigger sound recording

Eq Settings that make a mix come alive!

How much compression?

Should I have the pressing plant make the glass master at 1X?

Stereo widening techniques

Differernt opinions in the studio

Backup your masters!

How to Align a 2-Track Analog Machine

Career Consultation

Created 11/22/14 • Modified 12-5-14
Mastered for iTunes white paper
Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG)
The AAC file
Info about Sound Check
Windows Media Player Normalizer
The Spotify community asks...
Loudness war more Spotify stuff...

Mastered For iTunes - Apple Certified

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HD Separation Mastering
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