With over 25 years experience in cutting records, I have an intimate knowledge as to what does and doesn’t work when it comes to vinyl. I offer a no fuss, straightforward (pre) mastering service for people wanting to send masters away to be cut, ensuring the project has a far better chance of achieving a faithful reproduction.
Mastering has changed dramatically in the last few years, and as technology and habits change, it will continue to evolve.
In the early days, we were told that the RMS level of a CD should be -12 db, below the 0 db which is the absolute ceiling for digital media. This allows for 12db peaks which reflect the actual peaks in music recorded to tape, given the tendency of tape to compress extreme transients.
Then as spectral compression and look ahead peak limiting became more available, levels started to rise and rise, until now its common to achieve -4db ‘peak’ RMS – which sounds like a contradiction but isn’t, and a true RMS of around -6 to -8. But, is it still music?
WHY did we go down this route?
Some would say, because it wasn’t good if your mix sounded quiet on the radio or in the club compared to everyone else’s. We called it the loudness wars, and it has badly damaged a lot of music
And then we wanted everything everywhere all the time, and so to help store all these options we threw away 90% of the information and just kept the outlines of the music, and scraped away the detail. I’m talking about mp3, as you probably guessed. As Peter Gabriel succinctly put it – we spend years with the best equipment in the world trying to make great sounding recordings and then people listen to it on terrible convertors having ditched most of the content.
Its a pity, and its a worry as well. I am glad people have started using headphones rather than ear-destroying – buds. Its a move in the right direction.
Anyway, to get on with the point…
The louder a song is, the less dynamic range it has.
In the extreme case, compression artifacts – (sounds created by the compression process) – start interfering with the music.
I usually back off a bit from that position unless specifically asked not to.
What I do in mastering
- First I listen carefully to the artist and producer to find out what they want to achieve.
- top and tail the tracks, put them in order, work out the fades, and gaps.
- listen to all the music with that in mind and develop a strategy for achieving their desired effect.
- Then we start to process, whatever is necessary to achieve the desired effect.
Sometimes I finish the session, send the producer away to listen to a ‘first master’.
Then have a second go a few days later after all the interested parties have had a chance to contribute their ideas.
On the other extreme, I re-jigged a lo-fi CD the other day and it only took 2 hours. The company was well pleased!
Oh yes, you can have it really loud if you want – but there are trade-offs. I did a 50 or so song compilation for Shock which got a ***** review in Rolling Stone.
I had to get some garage recordings up to the standard of Hoodoo Gurus at their peak – that was a challenge, it was all hovering around the – 4 mark. LOUD!
Yes, loud it was. Sold well though.
If you want to master something, get it right, and still eat, drop me a line. We can talk.