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  Mixing Solutions!

Many studios today still have the same mixing issues as they did 10 to 15 years ago! Why? (1) many monitor systems (and room acoustics) don't reveal all that you need to hear and (2) some engineers tend to get into tunnel-vision while mixing... understandably so. There's more to know now....

A quick Do-Don't checklist:
1. Do leave 3-4dB of headroom to prevent digital clipping (those pesky red lights/hidden ear fatigue)
2. Do keep the crash cymbals down. Best: the drummer should play their crashes softer.
3. Do make the kic a bit louder than you think it should be (better yet, make Separations)
4. Do de-ess the vocals (compress the high frequency peak SS's without compressing the rest of the signal)
5. Use careful compression on bass (manually riding faders is a great solution) so it's even sounding (VU meters help)
6. Set plug-ins so that you can bypass them and not hear any gain change - only a tonal change
7. Carefully compress the vocals so you can hear all the lyrics and there is a natural evenness to the sound
8. Don't over-process stuff. Sometimes less is more. I know, the big mixing guys say ignore the manuals, turn the knobs to 20.... (but remember, many of them are talking about the knobs on analog gear...)
9. Do break more rules (like #8.... but not #1)
10. Do compare your mixes with commercial CD's (not to duplicate, rather to distinguish)
11. Don't try to make your mix as hot as commercial CD's (that's the mastering engineer's job)
12. Do use 24 bit data files (AIFF, SDII, WAV) instead of audio CD's for your masters.

Cool mix formats:
• Mix to analog tape
• 24 bit Masterlink (internal hard drive sounds better than making CD-24s)
• TASCAM DV-RA1000 for your masters or
• 24 bit loop-back data files - record back on to your DAW instead of "bouncing"

"Using Separations was a great experience - it made my songs come to life."
- Brad Rosenblum, OC, California

"I am thoroughly impressed with John's Separation Mastering technique. The width of the sound achieved along with the other adjustments is the difference between typical versus outstanding sound."
-Todd Griffithe, California

The Gear Checklist:

1. A good source (like the musician's actual sound and performance) is more important than the kind of mic
2. A good all-in-one "channel strip" (mic pre, eq, compression) is just as important than the mic
3. A low-jitter clock and good A-D and D-A converters are just as important as the mic or the channel strip
4. The converters and cables (analog and digital) are more important than the kind of workstation software
5. The monitor system is just as important as all of the above, because it's the "lens" you look through to determine how to set all of the above. Example: If you system has too much high end, you'll tend to eq everything slightly dull. If the bottom is mushy, it will take weeks to figure out what really makes low end tight and punchy... because nothing will sound punchy even if it is punchy!
6. Subwoofers are more important than 10 dates with a hot babe (well, maybe 5...)
7. Summing in the analog domain lets you use your prized analog gear at mix time.

The tunnel-vision cocoon: Low resolution monitoring fogs your viewpoint
Ever had that situation where you get caught up in a blur of sound, an onslaught of frequencies and decisions, and then the mix just doesn't blow you away in the car? It's studio monitor madness to be sure, but it's the resolution of the source (the "front end") you're feeding into your monitors too.

It's not surprising on a typical console to find that the feed to your control room monitors (the monitor buss) goes through so-so quality chips and other extra electronics that can make the sound more cloudy, edgy, and less defined. By hearing less depth of the true mix, it can mask your decision-making ability. People without a console (who simply send a stereo output directly to their monitors) aren't hampered by those chips, but they also don't have the flexibility to monitor different sources for real listening comparisons.

The key: Now you can hear the important tone-based distinctions between your mix and a commercial CD - and not end up in a volume battle. Is it a good idea to A-B your mixes? Take it from the EQ magazine interview with Stephen Marcussen where he said, "... just put in a [commercial] CD, see what it is you like about the CD and go for it." Tom-Lord Alge also stated, " can help to put up records that you like, compare them whilst you're working and try to copy the sound. I've done that."

Important: Mastering studios have great reference monitors, but it isn't just about speakers - it's the whole system - the preamp (like the monitor section of a console), the line-level cables, the power amp, the speaker cables, and the speakers, and the acoustics of the room all play a part. What begins to get you out of the fog is the monitor controller that feeds your speakers.

Trap: A console with blurry or masked resolution may cause you to buy speakers that are too bright in order to compensate for that foggy sounding console....or... a brittle sounding console can cause you to pick speakers that are soggy on the top end, which then smoothes out that edgy console sound.

The ideal method is to use the best source possible, and then choose the next piece in line that compliments that first part of the audio chain. In other words, start with the best analog signal (from D-A converters or a console's stereo buss) going into a high-resolution monitor controller like the Nautilus Master Technology NEMO DMC-8. Use the best cables you can afford. Next select a power amp or powered speakers that are clear and clean sounding - not edgy or brittle. The next part of the signal is the room and the placement of the speakers - be sure there aren't too many reflective surfaces or absorbing materials in the room. There are lots of diffusers available on the market that keep the sound from slapping back, yet still keep some air and openness in the control room. When all is said and done, enjoy your system and make the music the most important thing, not the gear.

Date created: 5/07/03 • Updated 5/28/05
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