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  • Mixing Question: How to hear past the Mastering

    Hi all,

    I came to the point where I had a mix for a song that I liked, and started playing various commercial songs to compare elements such as where instruments sit in the mix, etc.
    I generally don't try to emulate other mixes, but rather get ideas and comparisons.

    After becoming used to hearing my own mix and then playing some commercial music, I immediately noticed how much less "alive" and open my mix sounded in comparison. I understand that I'm comparing mastered tracks that have a considerable amount of compression and EQ with very high-end equipment and I have had the opportunity to see mastering engineers at work, so I understand what it entails.

    That being said, I am frustrated because I am having trouble deciphering whether the elements of brightness and compression existed on the commercial tracks previous to mastering, or to what extent they were affected by the master. In other words, I feel like I'm not comparing apples to apples because I am being fooled by the mastering.

    In playing with my mix, although I know it is not recommended, I did my own pseudo-mastering by adding some EQ and limiting compression and I instantly noticed a pleasant improvement. So, this brings me to my questions:

    A. How do you deal with deciphering mastering from a pre-master when listening to a commercial track?

    B. If I'm feeling that my mix sounds dull, is it more likely because I am being mislead by the mastering I'm hearing in other tracks or because my individual instruments in the mix need to be brightened before mastering?

    C. If I'm not planning on having a track be commercially mastered in the near future, would you recommend doing a home-master, or simply leaving it be?

    Thanks for the help and input. I can provide audio samples if anyone is interested.

    Nate

  • #2
    The results of mastering should ideally not be drastic other than volume.

    As a rule, I try to make my mixes so that all a mastering engineer needs to do is run them through a limiter. Sometimes I'm actually successful in that LOL. I take my mixes and make 'reference mixes' that are just the mix with a limiter on it to bring it up to 'commercial' volume to test out. I want to be able to drop that reference mix in with a bunch of other commercial stuff and not even notice. Then I know I'm good. I don't EVER rely on the mastering engineer to remove dullness or add sparkle or magic or whatever.
    Chris 'Von Pimpenstein' Carter
    Major label mixer & record producer
    www.vonpimpenstein.com

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    • #3
      +100 what Chris said. I also "test master with limiter" while I mix [while I write for that matter] and try to get it as good premaster mix as possible. I use "mastered" references like CDs to compare while mixing.

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      • #4
        Hi all,

        I came to the point where I had a mix for a song that I liked, and started playing various commercial songs to compare elements such as where instruments sit in the mix, etc.
        I generally don't try to emulate other mixes, but rather get ideas and comparisons.

        After becoming used to hearing my own mix and then playing some commercial music, I immediately noticed how much less "alive" and open my mix sounded in comparison. I understand that I'm comparing mastered tracks that have a considerable amount of compression and EQ with very high-end equipment and I have had the opportunity to see mastering engineers at work, so I understand what it entails.

        That being said, I am frustrated because I am having trouble deciphering whether the elements of brightness and compression existed on the commercial tracks previous to mastering, or to what extent they were affected by the master. In other words, I feel like I'm not comparing apples to apples because I am being fooled by the mastering.

        In playing with my mix, although I know it is not recommended, I did my own pseudo-mastering by adding some EQ and limiting compression and I instantly noticed a pleasant improvement. So, this brings me to my questions:

        A. How do you deal with deciphering mastering from a pre-master when listening to a commercial track?

        B. If I'm feeling that my mix sounds dull, is it more likely because I am being mislead by the mastering I'm hearing in other tracks or because my individual instruments in the mix need to be brightened before mastering?

        C. If I'm not planning on having a track be commercially mastered in the near future, would you recommend doing a home-master, or simply leaving it be?

        Thanks for the help and input. I can provide audio samples if anyone is interested.

        Nate


        I don't think it's at all foolish to experiment with some 'trial mastering' at home -- even if you'll eventually have a budget that will make sending the mix out for mastering practical.

        Having watched more or less first hand as "mastering" evolved from the highly skilled efforts necessary to run a variable groove disk-cutting lathe a quarter century ago to the current tweak-and-squash process we now call "mastering" -- I don't much buy into some of the claptrap some "mastering engineers" (a laughable term in many cases) put out in trying to hype their hastily invented job sector.

        Don't get me wrong... if a finished mix needs correction -- and, crucially, there is a budget that will justify it -- I don't think there's anything wrong with sending it out to a second pair of ears -- if they are a good pair of ears, attached to hands that know what to do, and sitting in a really neutral, carefully crafted monitoring environment.

        And -- while doing the preparation for CD-replication is not only far easier and no longer requires highly specialized, expensive equipment -- putting together a number of songs for an album and getting them all to fit together nicely, not only with consistent, musically satisfying levels, but -- much harder in cases where tracks were created in different studios or at different times -- with consistent tone and timbre can be extremely difficult, particularly if one only does it a few times a year.


        But -- seesawing around a bit more -- back to that second pair of ears thing... it seems to me that one of the key roles that today's mastering engineers are filling is in correcting EQ problems introduced by mixing in poorly treated mix environments. And then the guy is trying to fix problems in the mix -- by working on the finished 2 track master. (Which brings up the whole stem-mix send-out thing. Which starts really dogging the question of where the lines between different roles lie.)

        With that in mind, I, personally, would put the money I was considering plunking down* on third party mastering into tuning and improving my mixing environment, instead.

        Give a man a loaf of bread, he eats today. Teach him to fish, on the other hand...




        *
        And that is assuming that the project is a personal/spec project... not a budgeted project whose release is already arranged. In that case, I would do the most expedient thing to get the project completed in a timely, on-budget fashion.
        .

        music and social links | recent listening

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        • #5
          Everything i've read and heard has taught me that ideally, your mixes won't need any tonal changes during mastering. So if you're listening to stuff for reference, don't wait for mastering to make your stuff sound like that, instead, make your mix sound like those mastered references right now!

          Don't wait for them to brighten your stuff later, instead, start cutting lows out of different instruments now. Get your stuff spread out frequency-wise. Ideally, you shouldn't wait for mastering to fix anything, instead, you want to make your mixes so good that there's nothing that needs to be fixed.

          Then, the main role of a mastering engineer will be to have a set of fresh ears to catch things that you couldn't catch because you had been accustomed to it. But when you give it to a mastering engineer, you ought to be feeling like you can say "here ya go, you won't have to do anything except volume leveling, cuz this is a perfect mix."

          Yes, that is an idealistic way to go about things, but i think it's best.

          There's no harm in messing around home mastering it, and if you've got great mixes and you just need to master them to get the volumes up, go ahead and go for it! But as far as EQing in mastering, the reason why a mastering engineer works with EQs he's because he/she has new ears and can catch things you missed.

          That's the idealistic approach anyhow.
          For those who prefer to listen rather than read and who ask these questions: What underlying crimes were being investigated when Trump obstructed justice? Why wasn't he indicted? Why did Mueller discuss indicting a sitting president in Volume II but not Volume I?
          https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Muell...ook/B07PXN468K


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          www.steelphantoms.com/
          PM me if you want to give me a Deluxe US Strat with locking tuners and 22 frets for <$800. Fancy Strymon pedals welcome too!

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          • #6
            I understand the Jump youre talking about trying to get a mix right on a copy of a tune vs the original. Its difficult to know when a Mix is proper when A/B ing it to a masterd copy. The extra Compression, EQing and Limiting can put a razor edge on a well mixed song in the masterinh process. During mixing the final mixdown cant be overcompressed or normalized etc in order for the master to do their job. What I would suggest is using a compressor (Multiband if you have it) then a limiter in your mains effect channel to recreate the extra sheen of the masterd copy while mixing. Then when you think you have it right simply remove them before mixing down to stereo. the only thing youll have to watch out for is peaking the levels when theyre removed. The final stereo mix can then be masterd with the highest quality tools to bring back an even higher sheen.

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