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Hi guys

Presumably like many other folk, lockdown has inspired me to dust off my gear and start making tunes again after a couple years of being lazy. I've got a few finished bits that I'd like to have mastered.

How do you guys handle the mastering side of things? It seems there are tons of options available. Are you sending your stuff to proper engineers? or the dudes that operate on sites like Fiverr? Are automated mastering services such as LANDR any good? Do you do the mastering yourselves?

I'd be interested to know what route would be best for my shit.

Thanks!

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If anyone wants to submit a 16/32 bars segment of a track of his/hers for us to do the ultimate WATMM EKT mastering crash test death match, I’m in.

My first proper EP got mastered by Nilesh Patel at the The Exchange, as strongly advised by my then sort-of-mentor / publisher Pedro Winter. It was expensive, the guy had the most amazing résumé and o

Somewhat related... My man Bizzy B (legendary OG Junglist pioneer) has been putting up production videos, largely focusing on Jungle/DNB tips, but the info applies to just about every genre. Rece

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I’m much better at mastering tunes by other artists than mine. Having a fresh pair of ears to finalize your work is key here.

LANDR’s pretty awful IMO.

We can sort something out if you want, feel free to drop me a PM.

Edited by Nil
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I'm in the same boat. I am making tracks that really make me happy but I get embarrassed by how my finished work sounds next to shit I really respect in terms of production quality (Clark, Aphex, Machinedrum, etc).

After struggling with applying mastering tidbits to my own tracks, it seems like a bangin choon idea/arrangement/etc is only 20% of the battle. What difference does it make how good the song is if it's anemic as fuck? Anywayz, following thread...

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^And I'd say the mix is more important than the final master. A bad mix won't be saved in the mastering process.

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IMO, mastering is as much about standardization of the medium as it is about translation of the music. When the music allows it, you can make it sound amazing with the confidence that it'll sound pretty great on most playback devices.

A great piece of music and engineering can lead to a stellar, lush sounding finalized tune. It's so easy to fuck shit up when mastering though.

I'm doing more and more mastering work, genuinely enjoying it really. I spend most of the sessions listening and acting accordingly. I'm lucky I now know my monitors like the back of my hand : they tell me what to do, they voice the music wisely and usefully.

Edited by Nil
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Thanks mate, I'd love to master a Melted_Self release ! Just sayin' ;D

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My experience boils down to a few things:

It's much more important to mix well. Especially now that the streaming services are level matching tracks, the loudness war is mostly over, except on SoundCloud or Bandcamp which is where you'll most likely hear bad self-mastering. Most of what mastering does can be done better in the mix stage, and most compression and EQing can be done better by setting track levels properly. Earliest of all you've got the track recording itself, which is even better to focus on. Try to go as early in the process as possible. 

It's very easy to mess things up, usually by overdoing something. Your ears constantly play tricks on you, and when you first start using various gadgets your brain thinks "turning things up" (doing more processing than you need) makes for a better mix. Steve Albini plays Scrabble during mix sessions so his hands don't have to "do something" to the mix all the time until he actually reacts to something that sounds off. 

Self-mastering is the most reasonable option for a lot of artists, but so many people mess it up, usually by misapplying compression. You can get away with just mixing into a limiter, and most people should leave it at that and focus on the mix. 

As for myself, almost all my masters in the past were bad and now they're the only versions of the tracks left. The main issues were too much compression & loudness and trying to match popular tracks which lead to harsh treble and thin individual elements (from hipassing too much). 

These days, for my tracks I don't do anything during the mix, I just level match until I get the sound I want. After it's complete, I use the mixanalog service for some glue compression and the tape machine, which tends to flatter my tracks without doing too much damage. If I were to put out some kind of album I'd definitely send it to a professional. It's not impossible to do it yourself and you can do a decent enough job with practice and reading up on stuff, but getting that really good master is SUCH a damn hassle. I'd rather spend that time composing. 

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46 minutes ago, Nil said:

I’m much better at mastering tunes by other artists than mine. Having a fresh pair of ears to finalize your work is key here.

LANDR’s pretty awful IMO.

We can sort something out if you want, feel free to drop me a PM.

oh yes, nice one! I'll be sure to hit you up once I finish up this batch.

 

4 minutes ago, chim said:

These days, for my tracks I don't do anything during the mix, I just level match until I get the sound I want. After it's complete, I use the mixanalog service for some glue compression and the tape machine, which tends to flatter my tracks without doing too much damage. If I were to put out some kind of album I'd definitely send it to a professional. It's not impossible to do it yourself and you can do a decent enough job with practice and reading up on stuff, but getting that really good master is SUCH a damn hassle. I'd rather spend that time composing. 

mixanalog sounds interesting. How does it work exactly? Do I upload stems and mix on their gear, then get the tracks mastered elsewhere?

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Mix and EQ is pretty much most of it.

Lockdown has seen me in a fairly creative flurry but the mastering process has made me feel fairly shoddy about the release I have planned.  I wanted the whole thing to be totally DIY - a snapshot of the covid lockdown and what I could achieve - but a lot of the time I lilsten back to what I have recorded and I just don't like it any more.

Have read up a fair bit on EQ, mastering, filters, etc... some really interesting work methods out there.

I guess the online services are fine if you have a 4/4 house track where you want "pumping" bass and side chained vocal compression.  Not sure they will cater much for noise inspired industrial dronecore.

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Just now, Kennylogg Bubblebath said:

mixanalog sounds interesting. How does it work exactly? Do I upload stems and mix on their gear, then get the tracks mastered elsewhere?

It's like using an online wave editor, you upload your track (multiple stems in one project isn't available yet) and control the gear remotely using their interface which basically mimics a DAW. You hear the result in real time and when you decide to bounce, the service pauses to render the full track on the gear and sends you a Wav. 

The service is in early stages and bugs out occasionally due to wonky code and heavy traffic hours, plus stuff like the oldest tape machine needing occasional maintenance & can run out of tape and rewind mid session. But the support team is great, if something craps out you get your spent tokens back and the final results are usually terrific with minimal effort. I really like their new Elysia compressor as it does wonders on minimal transparent settings. 

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All the weekly stuff I put on Soundcloud is mastered by myself, the chain is basically sum everything below 120 (or 250, can't remember) Hz to mono, then AirWindows ButterComp at 40, full wet. Then render from Live with normalization. I usually try to listen to the render after that to see if it is too loud or something like that, but for quick and dirty seems to work.

Occasionally I get the dumb idea that something is really good and worth a proper release, and then I want to have it mastered properly by someone who has more fancier gear and knows some stuff. The first albums I did I went to a real mastering guy, but my experience was that the processing ended up amplifying some mix mistakes. I decided after that point that I need to find a way to have a more productive/constructive back-and-forth with the mastering person so I could stop making mixes with dumb problems.

So far that seems to have worked well. 🙂

I am not under any illusion that my stuff will have a "real" physical release any time soon (tapes don't count) so I am not chasing any platinum producer touch, but just nice to have the aspiration of doing better every next release.

Anyway once I spend the effort to "properly" mix and finish a record I am sick of it and don't want to listen to it much anymore. It's more important to have a kind of milestone out there that "hey this was what I felt was good enough to put out back then". Who knows maybe I still hate it 5 years later, but maybe I got lucky and some tracks are actually good. 🙂

Edited by thawkins
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My first proper EP got mastered by Nilesh Patel at the The Exchange, as strongly advised by my then sort-of-mentor / publisher Pedro Winter. It was expensive, the guy had the most amazing résumé and of course the vinyle sounds amazing. All we did was sending the mixes via Yousendit + cash via bank transfer, and received the lacquers and a CD with the 16/44,1 wav. Candidly enough we didn't ask for a digital only master, it was meant to be on wax first and foremost. The files one can stil buy via iTunes & co are the vinyle masters. It was back in 2008 so I didn't really know what to expect anyway hehe

My 2016 Ellipses mini-LP was mastered by a close friend, who's been specializing in mastering for the last decade. At first, he mastered the single without any input from me : it sounded pretty good, but way too squashed to my likings. So I attended the session for a revision. We first spent half an hour talking and listening to / picking the right references (I remember we kept Squarepusher's DYKS and Aoki Takamasa's See that girl). Then he absolutely nailed it, using all sorts of luxury outboard for color and slight rebalancing, and as little limiting as possible. Compared to my first EP, it was about communication, and trusting someone else's ears and skills (rather than his impressive résumé).

I don't know if the gear is that important (monitoring is though !), pretty sure a great ME can achieve amazing results with stock Logic / Pro Tools plugins. Great outboard / plugins can help getting there faster though. Keep in mind an average session is roughly an hour per track, so workflow / reliability is key here.

Now when I'm mastering other people's works, it comes down to 2 different types of clients : some wants their tune to sound absurdly loud no matter what... and the others. I much prefer the latter hehe. A little limiting done elegantly can sound pretty great, it's just too bad when you deliver an already loud enough master and that the artist wants something Skrillex loud (even if his/her/their tune is vastly different).

On my own tracks, I can get some pretty great results now (especially now that I can confidently offer my mastering services to others). But having another human involved for that last final round can be invaluable. I'm readying a EP, completing its third / final tune it as I type. I've yet to discuss with the label who's going to master it. I might do it myself actually, or at least give it try. I wouldn't be surprised if someone else does it better though : fresh ears 😄 

Edited by Nil
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Those who self master here,  do you use saturators,  clipping plugins,  if so which?

I often self limit, but never quite achieve good loudness levels imo. 

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4 minutes ago, plugexpert said:

I often self limit, but never quite achieve good loudness levels imo. 

Compared to what? 😉

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3 minutes ago, Nil said:

Compared to what? 😉

Compared to anything else lol,  don't want my .Wavs to look like brick turds in soundcloud,  mixing overall isn't the problem though the bass can be problematic. My monitors dont go below 50hz and not sure how headphone bass corresponds to real world subs 🙂 . CUrrently finding my car speakers a good reference for mixing.

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When it comes to bass frequencioes, more often than not I've found it's more about making the harmonic(s) stand out (say somewhere between 150/300Hz) while disciplining the very lows / fundamental than literally inflating the bottom of the spectrum. Subs eat headroom like nothing else really, and aren't always that useful to a track.

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56 minutes ago, plugexpert said:

Those who self master here,  do you use saturators,  clipping plugins,  if so which?

I often self limit, but never quite achieve good loudness levels imo. 

I've experimented with hard clipping but never got transparent results. The most effective ITB solution I've used is a limiter chain using Voxengo Elephant and then Sonnox Oxford. Elephant is very fast acting and has a soft clip that's transparent. Oxford is a very precise customizable limiter and has an "enhance" function that's basically a saturator but more cleverly programmed. That method gets stupidly loud as both limiters complement each other avoiding the artifacts and ugliness, no pumping etc. You'd be surprised how many ITB ME's use multiple limiters, another method is using several ones shaving 0.5dB each to avoid the artifacts of excessive limiting. 

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Somewhat related...

My man Bizzy B (legendary OG Junglist pioneer) has been putting up production videos, largely focusing on Jungle/DNB tips, but the info applies to just about every genre. Recently, he’s been giving pre-mastering tips, mostly aimed at beginners. 

 

 

 

He is definitely worth a watch/follow (if anything, to check out his “Amen Therapy” live sets... honestly, they have been some of the biggest sources of joy for me throughout this whole pandemic quarantine situation). 

Edited by J3FF3R00
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Have also done much of the above - had tracks professionally mastered, tried mastering myself and used online services

Have never really had experiences where the professionally mastered track blows me away from how it already sounded mixed, seems its just a damage control scenario for most making the levels suitable etc. however in saying that I'd say if you built up a good relationship with a mastering engineer who you felt you could have an open dialogue and go back and forth with you could most likely make a good track sound even better - but in my experience its usually with professionals who are trying to bang them out to bang more in and dont have the time to be walking through it holding your hand, unless you have the extra money to spend!

Would agree that doing it yourself can be a dangerous tight rope walk, and sort of self defeating when you put so much time into bringing the song to the final stage and then just half ass it (purely because you dont have the correct knowledge to judge it)

Have been working on a release and was thinking of just using an online service, did a test with LANDR and it sounded fine, didn't seem to make it any worse to my ears, and if all its going to do is 'balance sonic elements of a stereo mix and optimize playback across all systems and media formats...'(quote from landr) then i'm happy enough :cisfor:

6 hours ago, Nil said:

LANDR’s pretty awful IMO.

could you elaborate on why you think so? Would be interested to know your perspective, having all your experience. Has there been any similar online mastering services which you thought were decent?

One potentially silly question for you: I recorded directly onto a Tascam 244 then transferred the tape stems to my computer for final mixing - would using the likes of LANDR be sacrilege and in some way undermining the original quality of the recordings or should it not make much of a difference as the stems have already become 'digitised'?

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I'm pretty convinced that swapping files between the persons involved in that topic / on that forum (lots of super talented folks around here I must say, freaking awesome to listen to your tunes you guys) and mastering each other tracks will sound better than LANDR or any automated mastering services.

Because having someone listening carefully to your track, and reacting both technically and emotionally to the music is crucial here. I'm not sure any form of AI can engage with the tune. Moreover, not all tracks need to have the spectrum of pink noise, or the absolute lack of dynamics one can hear on way too many mainstream releases ?

When I gave LANDR a try (that was for Ellipses IIRC), the result was extremely harsh and squished too death, lifeless ear piercing shit. Was my mix perfect ? Certainly not, but the difference with a proper mastering session was significant, day and night difference.

I'm not sure I understand your last question though ?

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Thanks for that - food for thought! shall rethink using LANDR now...may try some minimal mastering myself and A and B them to see what each is doing.

The main thing which attracted me to it was being able to upload a full albums worth of songs, knowing they'll be equally 'processed', therefore probably sounding more consistent then If I would have mastered myself...also the price, €39 for a months worth of mastering vs. €50/60 per track...but as always I guess you get what you pay for :cisfor:

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The ideal mastering session would be the mastering engineer using a combination of extensive experience, understanding of your artistic goals, and a very neutral listening environment (mastering is the one area where IMO it's not possible to do good work without very high quality equipment, even if it's just the monitoring - DAC, speakers, room design and treatment - for fully ITB work) that everything sounds good and doesn't have any technical issues, and not actually needing to do anything except maybe set the final level. If a mastering engineer has to FIX anything then the mix wasn't ready.

 

In practice, almost every mix is going to have issues but not actually  needing mastering is the goal.

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