For those of you dying to hear a sneak peek of the new Heather Mae Album I’ve been working on over the last 6 months you can get a free MP3 of one of my fave songs from the Album when you sign up for her Mailing list here…
I could not be more thrilled with how this project turned out, especially given some of the challenges it presented. In my desire to provide Heather with the record of her dreams on a shoestring budget, and on a very tight schedule, I agreed to record, mix, master, and produce the record myself; processes that are usually completed by multiple sets of fresh ears, but somehow the creative process worked through me and I am delighted with what we have created. I fully expect to see Heather accepting a Grammy soon, so catch her in a sensible sized venue and get your CD (or anything you fancy) signed while you still can!
Talking of which I hope to see many of you at Heather’s CD Release Party & Concert on September 28th, 2012 at Ebenezers Coffeehouse in N.E DC.
It’s the oldest trick in the mixing book, and any of you that record have probably done it at one time or another. You burn a mix CD or MP3 and then run around to all the music systems you can find – in the car, the kitchen boombox, the home theater system in the living room. This is a really important step and well worth the effort. Once your mix sounds great in the studio, we need to be sure it sounds great on all systems – not just on a $1000 pair of studio monitors.
But what if it does need some changes to the mix? Then you go make then, burn another cd or MP3 and start the process all over again. This starts to get pretty time intensive given the time it takes to render the mix each go around. So how’s about this simple solution that allows you to audition your mix on all of the systems around your house from within your DAW – allowing you the ability to make any need changes real time, and immediately review them on all your music systems without the need to burn CD’s or MP3′s.
1) Buy an FM Transmitter – it can be as simple as Car FM Transmitter designed for playing your MP3 player on your car stereo, or as elaborate as an FM Transmitter designed for sending your signal around the whole house. The price will range fro $20 to $200 depending on which approach you go with. Of course, the distance that the signal will travel will vary accordingly and if, like me, you have six-layers of sheetrock soundproofing your studio; you will likely need the more expensive solution.
2) Connect a stereo output from your DAW to the FM Transmitter and set the frequency to a free frequency band (one that is not being used by a radio station). Set up your DAW to play your mix on a loop so that you don’t have to keep coming back to hit play.
3) Now you can tune all of radios in your house that are within reach; to this frequency, and audtion your mix.
4) Make note of any changes in the way the mix sounds on each system, and make any tweaks you like back at the DAW.
The other great advantage of this approach is that you get the opportunity to hear how your mix sounds over the FM waveband. i.e. Would my mix sound good on the radio?
I hope this tip helps save you some time, prevents unnecessary drink coaster creation (CDR waste), and helps improve the quality of your mixes.
Mastering is the final step in the production of a client’s music and should be employed regardless of whether the final product is to be released on CD, distributed digitally, or used in any other form. Mastering is one of the most important steps in the audio production process yet it is the one that is understood the least, and hence it is often not given the full attention that it deserves. It is quite common by this stage of a client’s project that they have already spent way over their budget on recording and mixing, and they will often make the mistake of thinking they can forgo this step, or find somewhere cheap to do it. The purpose of this month’s blog entry is to discuss the purpose of this stage in the audio production process, show you the tangible benefits of mastering with some audio examples, and provide some pointers on where to go for your mastering needs.
What exactly is audio mastering?
The high level purpose of mastering is to prepare the audio for its final intended audience. As such the first question one has to ask is where is this audio track going to be heard? The approach that you will take with the mastering will differ depending on if the track is going to be used on your website (where it may be heard through some tiny speakers), broadcast on the radio, or sent to a pressing plant for CD manufacture. So be clear on the material’s purpose and be sure to communicate this to the mastering engineer if you are working with one. If you are working with an external mastering engineer and he/ she hasn’t asked you about your project’s goals – how can he or she help you meet them?
Mastering your audio will usually require the following steps:
Tidying up the beginning and ends of the track
Removing any noise or digital errors from the track
Balancing the equalization of the sound
“Gluing” the mix together (using compression / tape emulation etc.)
Making the audio levels appropriate of the output medium (CD, Radio, Web etc.)
Enhancing the flow between tracks by adjusting the spaces between them
Ensuring your music sounds great on any music system
Adding IRSC codes if the music will be released digitally
Adding CD text data if the music will be released on CD
If your project is being prepared for CD manufacture it will also require creation of a red book compliant copy of your CD. This is the final master copy that will be sent to the pressing house.
Hear the difference
The most noticeable qualitative benefit your project will gain from the mastering stage is clearly audible. If you give your work to an experienced mastering engineer with great set of ears; he or she will transform your material and present it at its fullest potential. The following video shows some work I have been doing recently for Justin Matthew of The Iternals. The audio examples demonstrate the audible improvement that is possible through mastering.
How to find the right Mastering Engineer
So how should we go about selecting a mastering engineer for our project? Firstly resist the temptation to cut corners or save money here. If you are just starting out your project make sure you leave budget available for mastering with an engineer whose work and ears you respect. If you have yet to find a mastering engineer whose work and ears you respect, it’s going to require some research on your part; listen to samples of the engineers work, visit his facility for a tour and demo, or ask to hear before and after examples of his work. Some mastering engineers (me included) may even offer to master your first track free so that you can hear how your project will sound through their gear and ears. Bottom line - If you’re not blown away with what you hear - keep looking! Please please please, do not send your work off blindly to an engineer or online mastering facility without first auditioning their work. In one of my early bands we spent $500 on having our CD mastered at one of the most revered studio’s in the world by an engineer we had never met, nor knew anything about; only to be disappointed by the end result.
The word “master” implies experience, skill, and wisdom. All mastering engineers worth their salt are respected for these exact qualities which combine to provide a refined set of ears through which your project will sound its best.
For a detailed discussion on how to find the right engineer for your project and whether or not to DIY – you may find this article I wrote valuable.
If you have any questions on mastering or any other part of the audio production process please do post comments below, or feel free to e-mail me using the contact form. If I can be of service to you and your audio project I would be honored. If you are local you are welcome to come and visit The Green Room, or if you are based elsewhere in the world I can give you a tour via video. I offer same-day mastering service, and provide a sample of your first track mastered for free with no obligation, to help you hear the benefit my ears and gear can make to your project. Please contact me here to discuss the specific goals of your project.