John Vestman CD Mastering

Mastering Procedures

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First I'll listen to your project to see how much needs to be done, taking into consideration your budget.

Usually I will begin sound enhancement using analog eq, compression, limiting, de-essing, phase correction, width enhancement, multi-band compression and level correction. (Level correction is quite powerful, and I discuss it in detail on my Surprising Differences page.) After hearing a few songs and marking down all settings, I'll begin loading each track into the Sonic Solutions digital system.

I can process the songs in any order, but it works well to do it in the order it will end up being on the cd. If I can tell that I'll be needing to do complicated equalization or editing, I'll load the songs directly into Sonic prior to processing (in that case I'll use both the automated and manual eq).

Now we have a waveform in the Sonic digital editor. The Edit Decision List (EDL) is actually a visual display of your music. As the next few songs get loaded in, I can begin cleaning up the beginnings and endings of the songs at the same time. On the computer screen, I can zoom in and see the very beginning, for instance, and create a fade-in that's appropriate for the song. We can listen to the song (via playback) while another song is loading in (via record).

We never know up front how long equalization and other enhancements will take. It depends on how consistent the mixes are, and how many songs. 20 short songs totaling 45 minutes takes longer than 10 songs totaling 45 minutes. To do your music justice, I should listen 1-2 times (or more) to each song. Sometimes, after processing and loading in the whole album, I'll decide to re-eq one or two songs after getting to know the overall tone of the album.

As each songs goes to the Sonic, it makes it easier to check each song for consistency. Sometimes additional refinements aren't needed, but sometimes it's like putting an extra coat of wax on. Everything shines up and falls into place. Each song will now be having an influence on the others. AND, we can make everything as consistent as you like, OR leave things unique and different if that's the vibe you're after. Think about these things before you come in to master.

At this point in case #1, more editing and creative work can occur. In case #2, I'll do a capture file that takes all the processing settings and locks them into the computer. In either case, it's now time to set the Track Id's for the cd (they can go anywhere you like) and handle any last minute ideas.

I'll cut you a real-time master/reference cd, now that everything is ready to go. (It's a full-on master that is ready for you to reference at home and decide if you want any changes. Listen to your cd on *several * systems (maybe even a dj system). DO NOT take it back into the studio right away and see how it sounds there! See my page on Studio Monitor Madness to see why. Your cd was designed for the real world. Take it there first. Listen on boom boxes. Listen in the car. Listen on a couple home systems. Compare it with other commercial cds.

You are now at a new level of objectivity where you will hear things you haven't heard before in your mixes. Remember, you're not mixing right now - you're not focusing on the bass, the tom fills, the fade-in to the sax solo, the verb setting of the Lexicon or the Harmonizers. You're hearing it in the context of the sound of the neighbors vacuum cleaner coming in your window. Your kids are putting soap in each other's hair and your wife/husband is asking you where the washcloths are. Or you're in the car, and your 50 Hz boom-elevator is set for "deaf" and your muffler just dropped off your car from the spl (sound pressure level).

Now your mixes have more clarity, consistency, and presence. You're gonna hear that tubular shaker that you thought was lost under the drum kit. Well, depending on what's done in mastering, you'll either hear a big difference, or it will sound just like before, depending on your preferences as we work together (some mastering studios prefer that the client not be there, and may even charge more if you are there).

Your cd may be perfect just the way it is. Or you may want some changes like spacing in between the songs, or a different fade. Or you may get other ideas, now that 3 or 4 people have heard it, which is a good idea.

KEY: I keep all the settings for your project in the computer, and most changes at this point are EASY and FAST! With a few clicks and turns - voila! Some changes can be more involved.... it's depends on each project.

Now I'll make you another master/reference cd. You take it home, give it the real-world check-over, and now it's perfect! I then recommend cutting a backup master (usually included in my package prices) just in case anything should happen between your hands and the pressing plant (er... or the record company). Hey, the Fed Ex airplane could run over it, ya know...

I guarantee all my masters. I can also make cd clones for you at a reasonable cost, in case you need a couple copies right away. So now you're on your way to having a superb cd that compares with commercial cds - and the ball is in your court to make it a HIT!

© Copyright 1998 - 2000 John Vestman
Modified 11/11/00
More about compression
Info about Eq'ing to multitrack
Info about cutting a hot cd
Before-after waveform display
Visual example of creative mastering techniques

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