space and depth
for each song using Separations is quite a 'jaw-dropping' thing to
- Scott Menefee - Copperdown - Texas
this process is one thing, to actually hear the difference is amazing."
Laurie Morvan, Lisa Grubbs - The Laurie Morvan Band
- Blues rock recording artists
huge difference in our final product. Our
songs jumped up several notches before our eyes. "
- Stayce Roberts, Smalltown/Hit City Records
were blown away
Separation Mastering format."
- Robert and Maria Veloso, "Midwinter Turns to Spring"
There are 2 common
ways that people are
to mute (or disable) the tracks that you don't want in a
particular Separation. For instance to make a drum Separation, simply
mute all tracks but the drums! To make a vocal Separation, simply mute
(or disable) all tracks but the vocals! ...and so forth. So long as
your "multitrack" (Logic, Digital Perfomer, Roland, Akai, Pro Tools,
etc.) is digital and your 2-track "mixdown" is digital (bounce back
into the computer, digital loop-back into the computer, Masterlink,
etc.) you can make Separations. Analog machines can
but contact us for details.
2) Solo the instruments you want to use in a given Separation. Each
time you solo a group or selected instrument, take careful notes and
write down what you've soloed and what you haven't - keep track of your
Another method is to assign your tracks to stereo or mono subgroups
- and send those subgroups to the stereo output (digital and analog).
Here's some examples:
• All the drums and their
effects are panned and
mixed in a normal stereo fashion and assigned (or sent) to a stereo
subgroup. Assign this group to the stereo mix output. Individual tracks
are not sent to the stereo mix - only the group output goes to the
• A bass subgroup including
effects is similarly
sent to the stereo output.
• All guitars and/or rhythm
are assigned in
stereo to a subgroup.
• Lead vocals w/ reverbs and
have their own
• Backup vocals, percussion,
brass/effect and solos,
etc. are assigned to a group.
of suggested Separations
Key: When you mute all
your groups, there
should be no sound coming out of your stereo mix. This
is a good test to be sure that you have assigned every track and every
related effect to a group.
a click or some peak sound just before the song begins. The same exact
click at exactly the same volume should be heard at exactly the same
time at the beginning of every recording pass. Each pass will become a
separate file that we will line up sample-accurately. Everything has to
play in sync. This isn't necessary if you are certain that you
are starting each and every pass at EXACTLY the same time. However, the
click is an excellent backup plan and we highly recommend it.
• Record your stereo
would and save it into a Separations Folder that is named specifically
after each song. The corresponding file could be named something like [your
song]full_mix.wav[your song]full_mix.aif (We prefer
SD11 files.) You don't need to put the brackets in the actual file
• Make another recording
pass, but mute
or disable all
tracks (or groups) except the drums. Be sure there are no effects from
any other tracks being heard on this group, other than drum effects.
Remember to include that reference click before the song starts. Be
sure that there is no reverb from that click. You've now created your
drum Separation. Name the file something like [your song]drums.wav
or [your song]drums.aif (SDII is preferred.)
• Make another
recording pass, but
mute or disable
all tracks (or groups) except the bass and it's pertinent effects.
Include the reference click and you've made your bass separation file.
Name the file [your song]bass.wav or [your song]bass.aif (SDII,
etc.) Leave off the brackets.
• Make another
recording pass, but
mute all groups
except the rhythm instruments. Check the effects.... include the click.
Name the file.
• Make another pass in
fashion for the
lead vocal group.... and so forth till you've recorded and named all
• Each pass must start
zero" even if the
sound on it doesn't occur till the middle of the song! Once there is no
more sound on that group, you can stop recording it.
• In some cases,
effects that are
will still be generating that effect, even if the faders are muted,
which is why all related effect returns must be sent to the group they
go with. You can also "disable" or "freeze" tracks so that no pre-fader
effects bleed into the wrong separation.
• Record each pass and
"Save As" 24
bit, if your
system will allow - even if you were at 16 bit in the recording
process. Don't ever record at 44.1 just because "it's going to end up
on a 44.1 audio CD." Always record at the highest resolution possible
for your needs. The files for your Separations should be stereo
interleaved when possible.
• Store each pass into
folder. Be sure to CLEARLY and systematically label or name all of the
files - these are your Master Separations. It is important that you
make separate folders for each song and clearly mark what song and what
files are within that folder.
• Use the 3-D's. Document, Describe and Detail. Organize your
materials and files!
Include a plain text or Word file in the folder with any notes you have
about each song - questions you may have - any notes for the mastering
engineer. The Separations eliminates the need for time consuming
alternate mixes - vocal up, vocal down, etc. because your notes to the
engineer can explain any options you would like explored during the
Be sure to include the
mixdown in that folder! That is the critical
ensures that everything meets or exceeds the sound of your final mix.
We will line up and A-B compare your Separations2-track
stereo mix to be sure that any mastering
enhancements retain the integrity of the mix - as would be the case in
traditional mastering. In the analog domain we can use the Nautilus
Commander which is perfect for these A-B comparisons. The A-B process
is KEY in this whole process and it's part of what makes this a
holistic system - not just another name for stems.
your Tip: it's usually
good to have a master fader on
your DAW mixing "console" to check your levels for digital overs
(clipping) but then remove the master fader when you are making
your final mix and your Separations. Very helpful: DO NOT try to max
out your stereo output level in order to make a "hot" mix - leave a
couple dB of headroom. You can always put your finished stereo file
back into a digital editor or Masterlink and bump up the level. The
sound is what's important, not the final level. (In fact, hotter
pre-slammed mixes can box the mastering engineer into a corner, if not
done carefully.) The mastering process will achieve your volume level
Important: Do not change ANY
levels in those subgroups when you are making your Separations. Change
nothing. Only mute (or disable) the various groups required to reveal
each one being recorded separately. When we line up your Separations in
our source DAW, all the levels you created will be the same in our
system so long as this procedure is followed correctly. You might even
wish to confirm that your files are correct ahead of time by opening up
a new mix session in your DAW system, loading in your Separation files,
and listen to be sure you've recorded everything correctly.
If you're using a common SEND going to your outboard effects, that
shouldn't affect Separatins. You simply keep the returns going into the
mix each time. The send level should keep the same amount of effect
whether you're mixing certain tracks to stereo separately or together.
If you want to test Separations, simply make a set and recombine them
in your DAW along with your stereo mix. If you mute your stereo mix and
listen to the separations, you should be able to SOLO the stereo mix
(all settings at -0- and hear a comparison between the two formats on
your own system. That way you can check to see if all effects elements
are coming out the same in both formats
Client Question) Is
it any more costly
to do Separation Mastering with vocals split into lead vox & backup
area to be careful with for sure. The more Separations, the more
possibilities for changes - which can be really good if you're into
it! It can add cost, but generally not significantly. For
instance if we need to de-ess both the lead vocal and backup
Separations, it takes only a small amount of time, like a minute or
two, to de-ess each Separation. But if there are noises in the tracks
or widely varying levels, then each track would require time to make
the individual corrections. Reblending lead and backup vocals takes
only the amount of time required to meet your goals. Always approach
your mix so that you like what you're hearing - our refinements should
be "icing on the cake" - not the whole bakery! As with traditional
mastering we can't predict what will happen until we're actually
working on your project.
NOTE: Somehow, one of our
accidentally turned off the vocal automation when he made his
Separations. The client was unable to do a remix, so we had to "ride"
the vocals in mastering. The result was really excellent and well worth
it - but it would have saved time had he checked his Separations to be
sure everything was done correctly!
Q) Should I avoid tweaking the .WAV files
prior to sending them to you (i.e. removing DC offset, audio errors,
etc.) -- I'm assuming the less I touch the better.
the happier you are with your tracks/Separations the better -
within the context of your mixdown goals. So if there's audio errors,
like tics or clipping (or vocal tuning), we'd rather have you take care
of that. We take
care of any sonic issues arising from DC offset.
Separations -- Concerns from Pro's
Mastering is the perfect solution for dealing with
recordings that need extra TLC. One of the
comments we get
engineers (after coming in for a Separation Mastering session) is that
they re-think how they will mix in the future. Knowing the power
and flexibility of Separations, they don't have to work as hard or
obssess over countless details in order to achieve the sound they're
that some stuff
in now from home studios, where everything has been mixed
in a DAW, has a different kind of 'not
very well done' feel compared to
what I used to get 20 years ago from analogue tape, and in some ways
it's harder to deal with." -Andy
Jackson, recording engineer for
David Gilmour, mastering engineer
understand how Separation Mastering works,
you can relax! You can really do less, not obsess and just make
an excellent mix - allowing the extra touch of mastering to take the
sound to the next level. When you take home the mastered CDR,
you're really hearing the final result and you can make changes
based on your exact wishes for your
help you avoid embarrassing
(and expensive) encounters
with your mastering facility." -Chris Gill - Future Music Magazine
one should ever have an "embarrassing" encounter with a mastering
facility. Why would you
ever be embarrassed? Because the mastering engineer believes your
mixdown can't cut the mustard in today's competitive music
market? Because that mastering engineer might send you home to do
a remix before he or she can accomplish your goals for you?
one should be embarrased when Separation Mastering is used, because the
flexibility and non-destructive recallability and control of the sound
is unparallelled. Yes in some cases, we have encountered cases
where the client went back to recut some tracks, simply because after
hearing their project clearly and disctinctly, it was obvious that some
errors needed repair. But the ability to make corrective
adjustments to a mix means you will have a more potent, professional
blend of your tracks when keen listening skills guide the crafting of
When you attend
your Separation Mastering
you will have a completed project and a greater understanding of what
makes a great mix happen. These situations are not embarrassing,
they are helpful, given the professsional goals of our clients.
Separation Mastering can be eye-opening and positive, particularly when
no one in the mastering studio makes you wrong for having done (what
you thought was) your best.
have discovered a world of options in our mastering sessions! No
longer are you tied down! Separation is
truly an essnetial aspect for digital recording. No teniamos idea
de lo que se trataba. Nuestra experiencia es que te abre atados a
la masterisacion tradicional. La Separacion es un aspecto
indispensable para la industria de la grabacion." -Medina,