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Author Topic: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma  (Read 1613 times)

lek

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Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« on: July 03, 2005, 01:21:55 am »

Any advice on how to pick a mastering engineer (and mixing engineer for that matter)...

To me, the only way I'd know who I'd want to master my stuff is if SOMEONE MASTERED MY STUFF. Listening to demos and samples is great, but maybe the mix was already great. Or maybe the recording engineer, the musicians, the mics, etc etc were great. And perhaps they master someone else's style great, but not necessarily my own.
It seems top masterers wouldn't master a song of mine for free (at least I'm a little embarrassed to ask). Any suggestions?
Perhaps bite the bullet and pay 6 guys to master the same song and see which came out the best? (But I'd like to do the same with mix engineers). Damn expensive, but maybe I'd be set...
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danickstr

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2005, 01:39:01 am »

its not a bad idea.  and the good thing is that you will learn something from all of them, even if it is only that you don't like certain things about their equipment, style, etc., but this is all good info if you are serious about your music.  I would suggest starting with someone who has a lifetime of experience and paying for their expertise before dropping money on the "cheaper" alternatives.  Many top masterers are right here in this good ole' forum, so look around and be ready to travel out of your town.  Good luck!

cheers
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TotalSonic

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #2 on: July 03, 2005, 12:54:30 pm »

One way I would start looking is by checking out the credits of albums in your genre that you really like the sound of.  Since you most likely don't know the quality of the mix given to the mastering engineer this won't tell you the whole story - but at least will give you a starting point.  From there I would contact the engineers whose work you like and see whose vibe you like the best -  having good repoire and communication is obviously key - especially if this might be an unattended session.  From the experience and results of the first project with them you'll then know whether you want to do a second project with the same mastering engineer or not.  

Another way is to request that they give you a sample by mastering one short tune so that you can hear for yourself what the result would be on a mix you are familiar with.

Best regards,
Steve Berson

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jfrigo

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2005, 12:52:03 am »

I don't want this to be taken the wrong way, but it sounds like you are losing sight of the music through the potential minutia of the technical. Sure, 6 different mixers or mastering engineers will probably approach it somewhat differently, even with the same instructions. However, the ability of the song to connect with the listener isn't based on the precise length of the snare reverb or whether the mastering compressor had tubes or not. Trying six of each engineers is a waste of resources, mental and financial, in my opinion. Audio is just simply not that important. It's not an equasion that will strand the astronauts on the moon if we get it wrong. Yes, we should do our very best and be attentive to detail, but there's more than one "right" answer in creative pursuits.

You may like a few of the engineers' approaches, and be less impressed with the others. Of the few you like, they may be different but more or less equally pleasing for varying reasons. Let the music take over. Any of the three would probably be fine, even though you may choose to "rate" them. I know it's hard to loosen the reigns when you are so invested in a project, but try not to worry too much. Do the best you can to choose somebody who looks like they have some experience, sounds like they understand your direction, and then give it a try. If they really screw up, try someone else. If it sounds good, set it free. It's not worth worrying how four or five more guys might have done it differently and if one would have been 0.0265% better than another. I don't know, maybe I'm in a zen mood today, but it just sounded a little anxious to me.

I wish you much luck and sucess!
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lucey

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #4 on: July 04, 2005, 01:02:28 am »

pay a number of people for a single ... it's worth it

the one that gets you closest, and makes the key players most satisfied, is worth all the money .... "the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten"

I spend a lot of hours A/Bing great gear, and its costly and exhausting, but it's worth it.

subtlety and originality is the name of the game, not "anyone is fine".  a ME should not be a cookie cutter. it's going to matter who mixes more, but mastering is still unique.

i know a guy who hired two top named rock mixers to shootout a single, and it was HUGE in the final effort.  then he hired 2 MEs and it was less huge, but still important to the band.
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Brian Lucey
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lek

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #5 on: July 04, 2005, 09:19:00 am »

Thanks everyone.

To Jay and Brian with the differing viewpoints, here is my take:

Well Jay, I completely understand your viewpoint. I often lose sight of my music. Sometimes I listen to shit I've recorded through a crappy guitar amp simulator in my digital workstation and it sounds fantastic music-wise even if the sound sucks. Meanwhile, I just upgraded my entire front-end from low-end (and I mean low-end) mics, mic pre's, a/d's (audiotechnica at4033 not a bad mic though, yamaha digital mixer a/d's, etc to top of the line (crane song a/d, api mic pre, soundelux tube,aea mics). Perhaps none of that mattered.

When I listen to mixes I myself make, the quality of the actual song perhaps isn't any better with all of the new equipment compared to my old stuff. Depending on the day, sometimes I will get an extra smile out of listening to the higher quality of my recordings while other days I solely zone in on the vibe of the song and the quality doesn't matter at all. Some days I can't stand my own songs, some days I love them. Some days I believe I need fresh ears to mix my stuff, other days I feel like a control-freak and don't want anyone to mess it up. Definitely no absolutes in this liquid world of primordial energy flowing through the phantom channels of my mind.

More toward what Brian suggests: On the other hand, I'm a perfectionist and I want my mixes to sound as good and emotionally moving as possible, and was hoping a highly artistic mixer/masterer can help elevate my recordings. Perhaps I could do it all myself, but still feel that a top guy doing this every day will make better mixes (as I'm more a guitarist and songwriter), a top mastering guy a better master than me. I will probably go through with this whole process and see what happens!

By the way, the 'key players' most satisfied would be me, and anyone who hopefully will buy this cd (though probably more me, as many people I give my own mixes never question the quality of them!) Final thing is that money is a slight issue, and I have tons of more songs ahead of me (I have several hundred compiled from the last decade that I now want to churn out albums!). So the question is blow my load with a top mixer/mastering combination with one cd, or spend less and have enough for each ensuing album. Ah, who knows! Every other week I fantasize about giving up music completely, getting out my backpack and doing a non-stop around the world for a year and half, as opposed to my usual 2 month excursion.

Then again, as Jay said, "if it sounds good, set it free" I like that!

For anyone who just made it through this slightly discombobulated symphony of non-sequiturs, pm me and perhaps I'll try you out for the mastering!
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Lek
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bobkatz

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2005, 11:09:36 am »

Also, it's getting to the point where for a client I don't know, I have to ask them:

a) Do you want your CD to sound as good as possible and not try to push the level or

b) Do you want your CD to sound like "top-of-the-pops-band-choice"?


So, when you're looking for mastering engineers, you have to try to figure out if their work you're hearing reflects clients' requests as well. Then there's the personality, the chemistry, the philosophy.

My suggestion would be for you to send a 24-bit mix to several mastering engineer candidates to ask them to evaluate it and give their opinions on how it sounds and on what approach they might take to master it. Also, to be fair, give them a hint as to what you are going for, examples of albums you like in the same genre and whether you want to sacrifice dynamics or retain them.

After that, if you want the mastering engineer to give you a demo mastering of your piece, be prepared to pay a reasonable fee. Busy mastering engineers rarely can afford the time to do a demo. And if someone is not busy you want to question whether they are the one you should use. My approach in an audition is to charge, usually an hour's time, but take copious notes, as the work done on the demo mastering is a kind of "research and development" for the rest of the album.
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zakco

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2005, 12:51:37 pm »

Over the last few years I have sent my work to various (8 or more) mastering studios in the search for the right ME. "Rght" meaning someone that hears things like I do, is willing to take the time to listen to my questions and concerns, and above all has an opinion and is critical of my work.

There is nothing worse than hiring an ME that just tells you...."yeah it's great, perfect." when you know there are flaws that could be improved. I am interested in developing a long term working relationship with an ME who helps me hone and improve my mixing skills, not just give me lip service and take my money.

Several projects ago I did exactly what others are suggesting. I sent a single song to 3 different mastering houses for a comparison of their work  of their work. Two of them were willing to do 1 song no-charge, the third charged his regular rate. Upon recieving the 3 masters, I RMS volume corrected all 3 and did a blind test. With myself, the client and another engineer who's ears I trust. The 3 masters were all COMPLETELY different, varying wildly both tonally and dynamically. One of them was crushed, distorted and thin. One was slightly more dynamic, but overly boomy and bloated in the bottom. The last one was great. The instrument balance hadn't changed at all, it was just like my raw mix but better....clearer mids, tighter lows, airy top and louder but not distorted or lacking punch. Everyone who listened was in agreement. The differences were not subtle and the winner was clear.

I have since sent him several more projects and have not been dissapointed once.

Anyways, my advice is to compare several ME's work before deciding. Just be sure to equalize the volume of each before comparing. Otherwise you'll probably just pick the loudest one by default.

Just my 44.1 bits....

-Zak Cohen

Ronny

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Re: Picking a masterer (and mixer) dilemma
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2005, 01:23:01 pm »



Good advice on leveling the playback field, Zak.
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