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  HD Separation Mastering

HD Separation Mastering provides unprecedented control to optimize and enhance your music. Appropriate refinements are made to separated portions of your mix. This method helps preserve the musical tone or dynamics of your music more than any other process. It works on the needs of the music, not the needs of overall volume.

It's more precise than applying traditional equalizers and compressors to a complex locked-down 2-channel waveform. Separations do what multiband compressors DREAM they could do! 

How to make Separations:
Using Digital Audio Workstations or audio consoles,
no additional equipment is needed

First, record/bounce your final stereo mix as you would normally

This should be a 24 (or 32) bit stereo wav (or aiff) file at the same sampling rate as your session. Up to 96k accepted. The output level should be around -6 dbFS to -3 dBFS on your 2-track stereo meter. Do not zip, rar or otherwise data-compress any audio files.

a folder on your hard drive and label it with the name of the song you're working on [USE THE NAME OF YOUR SONG].

Name the file [YOUR_SONG_NAME] Mix.wav and put it into the [YOUR SONG NAME] folder (no brackets needed). DATE THE FOLDER.

Then, without changing any levels, any plug-ins, or anything else:

Make a stereo drum Separation (through your stereo buss, just like your regular mix)

Mute (or disable the outputs of) all tracks except the drums. Record (or bounce) this drums-only part of your mix to a 24 (or 32) bit stereo file (with all drum-related reverbs and effects). Go through your stereo buss exactly as you would for any normal mix. Dual mono tracks (which combine to stereo) or stereo interleaved files are accepted.

Don't change any plugin settings. Name the file YOUR_SONG_Drums.wav (meaning use your song title). 44.1k, 48k, 88.2k and 96k sampling rates accepted. Put it in the same folder [Your Song Name] as the stereo mix. Using your song name(s) helps identify and organize the Separation tracks. Do not zip, rar, or otherwise data-compress your files.

2) Make a stereo bass Separation (even if there's only one bass track)

Mute (or disable the outputs of) all tracks but the bass track(s). Record/bounce this
bass-only Separation "mix" (in 24 or 32 bit stereo - not mono - with all related effects) using your normal stereo buss (including any stereo buss processing).

Name this file (the actual song name)
YOUR_SONG_bass.wav and put it in the same folder as your approved stereo full mix. Do not make a mono track.

3) Make a stereo instruments Separation (always through your stereo buss)

Mute (or disable the outputs of) all tracks but the remaining (non-drum/bass) instruments. Record/bounce this instruments-only (no backing vocals) Separation "mix" (in 24 or 32 bit stereo (up to 96k) with all related effects) using your normal stereo buss (including any buss processing).

Name the file
YOUR_SONG_Instruments.wav and put it in the same folder as the other separated tracks. Use the actual name of the song (YOUR SONG is just for illustration). Do not zip, rar, or otherwise data-compress your audio files.

4) Make a stereo vocals Separation (include all effects, plugins, etc.)
Mute (or disable) all tracks but the vocals.  Record/bounce the vocals portion separately (24 or 32 bit stereo with effects) through your stereo buss. Don't change any plug-ins. Name the file YOUR_SONG_Vocals.wav and put it in the same folder. Use the name of your song.

The maximum number of Separations accepted is 8.

• Want it even simpler? Make 2 Separations: stereo all-Instruments and stereo all-Vocals (in addition to making the full stereo mix).  (Three  Separations don't really add benefit - go with 4.)

• This method adds about 15 - 20 minutes of mastering per song on an excellently recorded and mixed project. In some cases, it can be faster than traditional 2-track mastering. Every project is unique.

• SAVE MONEY - More costly than mastering refinements: improperly made Separations such as: not in sync, mono, different starting points, defective files (with tics), missing or duplicated parts etc. Studio time (minimum $50) is charged to load in replacement Separations -- or to re-sync out-of-time separations.

Remedy (1) : After making Separations, open a new DAW session and import these new Separation tracks. Listen to be sure you have included everything that's in your stereo mix.

Remedy (2): Make a sync "pop" or "tic" at the beginning of your mix which goes on every Separation. When making a new separation, load it into your "Separations Test" session to be sure it lines up exactly with all of your other Separations.

• Save more money: Don't make a lot of Separations. These basic 4: drums, bass, instruments and vocals are ideal. If you have serious DOUBTS about something in the mix, separate it.

Generally less is more. If the process requires additional tracks, we'll discuss it! Remember,
don't zip or rar data-compress your files.

• Separations, by definition, say that the sonic goal is about refining, not remixing. Remixing is to create something original; Separations are intended to be enhancements OF the original.

However: We can take a more thorough, more no-limits "remix" approach (example doing automated vocal moves). You will need to have the budget for the additional time required.

• Yes, Separations give you more options. Often people use this to their advantage. It sounds great. It can be simple or diverse. Your goals come first!

• Formats accepted: 44.1k, 48k, 88.2k and 96k sampling rates - 16, 24 or 32 bits
• MP3's, zip or rar files are not accepted. Use uncompressed wav's or aiff's.
• Copy your files to a flash drive, data CDR(s), DVD-(minus)R
iPod or other data drive for delivery to the studio

Traditional Mastering

A 2-track mix is processed through a single audio path - into a stereo mastering system

Separation Mastering
2 or more separated portions of your mix (example: instruments, a cappella vocals) are summed in a source computer and processed through a single audio path - into a stereo mastering system

HD Separation Mastering - Exclusively at Vestman Mastering
2 or more (preferably 3 to 6) separated portions of your mix (example: drums, bass, instruments, vocals) are processed through 4 independent Discrete Class-A analog audio paths - into a separate, unique proprietary summing device and high-precision stereo mastering system

Problem: Making a loud CD master requires that the highest dynamic peaks of a mix (usually the drums) must be lowered (limited) in order to raise the overall volume of the audio (to avoid clipping distortion). Often this changes the tone or apparent level of the drums in the master. This kind of peak limiting is almost never needed for vocals or support instruments.
HD Solution: Process the drum peaks/transients differently than the vocals. This eliminates unnecessary artifacts imposed on the vocals by the drum processing. The warmth and natural character of the vocals and other instruments are retained.

Problem: Vocal de-essing (removal of high frequency "ss" or "sh" bursts) is commonly needed in mastering, particularly when a full mix needs more clarity. Drums, however, are often muffled when de-essing is "globally" applied to a full mix.

HD Solution: Vocals can be de-essed and clarified without changing the tone and dynamics of the drums or other instruments. Support instruments are warmer and more musical when they do not "share" the same processing chain as the vocals or drums.

If you separated the bass as well as the instruments, vocals and drums, you have now recorded five files including four Separations and the stereo mix into one [Your Song] folder.  All files must be in stereo - each bounced the same way through your stereo buss output.

(Your Song) Full Mix.wav
(Your Song) Drums.wav
(Your Song) Bass.wav
(Your Song) Instruments.wav
(Your Song) Vocals.wav

Important! Be SURE you leave your computer automation ON for each Separation so that every sonic move you make in your stereo mix is retained in the Separations. 

Don't change any aspect of your mix - this is only a process
   of turning off and on tracks (disabling/enabling).

Start the song at the exact same place at the beginning of the song

Organize your files - each song should be "Saved As" a Separation session. Take your original song's session and "Save As" [YOUR SONG] Drums • [YOUR SONG] Bass • [YOUR SONG] Instr • [YOUR SONG] Vocals. Possible issues can be avoided.

If you make new Separations for a song already being mastered, be sure to DATE the new files so we can easily differentiate them from the first batch of files.

If you are recording "wild" onto a separate computer or Masterlink, clone
a cue "tick" (like a drum cross-stick or other percussive sound) at the
beginning of one track that is within each set of Separation
We will line up your tracks using your sound cue.

Key: KEEP A COUNT OF ALL THE TRACKS YOU ARE MUTING/TURNING OFF. Every element in your mix, every plug-in, every automation move, every musical component should go into the Separations. When recombined together, they exactly add up to the stereo mix. (Note: if you've used stereo buss compression, each separation will be less compressed than the full stereo mix. When recombined in mastering, this compression will be restored.)

Check your Separations: Load them into a new mix session. The combined Separations should sound the same as your stereo mix file, but just more open and less compressed.  You may see "overs" in your stereo meters from the Separations because the transients come through more. This is normal, although "overs" are not as common when a good amount of headroom is left in the original stereo mix.

• KEY: The better you like your stereo mix, the fewer Separations you'll need. Four or five is ideal. The more concerns you have about your mix, make a greater number of Separations. The maximum accepted is eight (plus the stereo mix)

Vestman High-Definition Separation Mastering - The Technique

HD Separation Mastering allows us to reconstruct your mixdown using the Separations - to enhance separate elements in the analog domain - without compromising other elements within your mix.

HD Separations open up the sound and improve the transients, musicality and dimension. Each layer can be made to have more articulation and better imaging than a standard stereo format. (More about WHY here.)

We listen to your 2-track mix and A/B compare it with your Separations to ensure that the intentions of your original mix are honored. 

We use
non-destructive, totally recallable mastering enhancements that enable us to produce everything from light sonic retouching all the way to
practically transforming the final master for you.

Save time and money:

• LOAD YOUR SEPARATIONS INTO A BRAND NEW MIX SESSION. ALSO LOAD YOUR STEREO MIX, but MUTE the stereo mix. LISTEN to your "summed" Separations, and then SOLO your muted stereo mix. Compare the sound of your soloed stereo mix to your Separations. CHECK TO BE SURE EVERYTHING IS PRESENT IN YOUR SEPARATIONS.

• Do NOT change the sampling rate from the original mix session!  If your system is 48k, make 48k-24 bit files.  If your system is 44.1k, make 44.1k-24 bit files, etc. 

• Flash drives are the most convenient, but you can also bring in a hard drive with your Separation folders. If you bring in DVD-R's use DVDminusR... not DVD+R.

NEVER make zip, rar, or any kind of compressed files. Uncompressed audio always sounds better.

Note on loud rock projects:

We HIGHLY recommend that you separate your drums into three Separations: [Your Song] KICK.aif -- [Your Song] SNARE AND TOMS, and [Your Song] OVERHEADS.aif (overheads).  Your Overhead Separation should include ALL hi hats and cymbals and room tone that you have blended in your mix. The Drum Separation should be ONLY drums

We encounter more issues with cymbals than any other drum-related sound.  Softer crashes and open high-hats makes an amazing difference in the sound and it saves money and time.  (DRUMMERS: hit the cymbals - especially crashes and open hats softer.)

Vestman HD Separation are better because they:

• Eliminate the need for alternate mixes - gives you more creative control

• Produce a more musically pleasing, more transparent 3-D sound

• Restore elements that can be lost when "slamming" levels are desired

• Resolves mixing debates, eases studio deadlines and creative burnout

• Practically eliminates compromises associated with traditional mastering

• Maximizes the benefits of ideal acoustics and expert mastering engineering

• Can give you the sound of analog summing in the mastering room

"Separation Mastering is a non-destructive process. In the hands of a competent mastering
engineer, Separations can deliver much better results."
- Grammy winning engineer, Erik Zobler (Dianne Reeves, George Duke, Anita Baker, etc.)

"The clarity, punch, and definition is amazing. You made the project sound world-class."
- Joe DiBlazi, renowned guitarist, producer, LA, California

"Separations simply BLEW THE ORIGINALS AWAY! I was astounded."
- Caleb Magnino - Engedi - Bakersfield, California

"Separation Mastering is simply amazing. It's definitely the wave of the future."
- The Artist Grace - O.C. California

"Separations is quite a 'jaw-dropping' thing to hear. I'll never have anything mastered another way."
- Scott Menefee -
Copperdown - Texas

"This format makes so much sense for Indy artists who want a competitive edge."
- Laurie Morvan, The Laurie Morvan Band - Award-winning blues rock recording artist

Mysteria John Vestman mastered Lorna Lee - Intentcity Records Intentcity Records artist: Eden
"Using Separations gave our latest projects more dimension and fullness. We love the results."
Intentcity Records - Orange County, California

Created 03/09/05 Modified 3/11/13
How to record Separations
Chart of suggested Separations Layouts
Recording history and insights about Separations
CD Broker info (and how does CD Baby handle MFiT files)
What is remastered, Mastering for iTunes, and Sound Check?

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John Vestman is committed to the
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John Vestman, Don in the mastering room

John Vestman and Don Sundstrom collaborated
on defining Separation Mastering.  Check
more of Don's articles on
and career consultation.