MM - Just curious, can you ...

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Music Afficionado
Member Since: Aug 12, 2008

tell if something is a good master withouth hearing the orginal unmastered version? Take for instance a single song (now I know you cant judge the mastering in context to the other tracks on a an album (volume, fades, eq, etc.)) but do you listen to stuff on the radio, TV, CDs or even stuff on-line and think either:

1.) whoever mastered that did an incredible job, or
2.) whoever mastered that had no idea what they were doing...

or is that impossible without hearing the original recording? Just curious.

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MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


Apr 26, 2010 01:00 am

I suppose it's fairly simple to tell if something is "good" by if it's good or not.

If it's "bad" then sometimes it's hard to tell who screwed it up... Although it's sometimes easy to assume - But it's still an assumption.

Member
Since: May 29, 2010


May 29, 2010 05:16 am

Every professional Mastering Engineer CAN say if a mastered tune is good or bad mastered; who (mixing or mastering engineer) has screwed it or made it better; is it coming from bad or good mix arrangement, performance, recording etc. This is possible by understanding (and knowledge about) the features that a properly mastered mixes should have! I don't believe somebody can name himself/herself a ME and CAN NOT say what makes a master good or bad one! You can find more information about this by reading this article here: hizproductions.com/index....20&Itemid=2

Dimitar Dimitrov
HiZ Productions studios

MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


May 29, 2010 09:53 pm

Critical listening skill have nothing to do with being able to tell if something was mastered well or simply mixed well (or ideally, both).

I can always assume - I'll probably be right most of the time. But I can't come out and say "This recording was screwed up during the mastering phase" without having the reference of hearing the mix.

Anyone who says he can without fail is fooling himself.

I've heard some pretty bad mixes come out sounding pretty decent (and there's no way of knowing "how it got good" without listening to both). I've also heard a fair amount of great mixes come out sounding like crap (and again, who to 'blame' for it is difficult to establish without a point of reference).

Member
Since: May 29, 2010


May 30, 2010 09:47 am

Every good and skilled ME is able to tell if something is mastered well or not because he/she should know enough about processes like mixing and recording; composition, arrangement, musical instruments and their nature, room acoustic etc. Or at least about next very basic components of a obviously wrong mastered tune:

- Breathing/Pumping Compressor/Limiter (ME responsibility);
- Wrong Intro/Verse/Chorus/Ending Dynamic (ME responsibility);
- Wrong Spectral/Wideness picture (ME responsibility)

The critical listening itself teaches us how and what to listen before make a statement about the quality of a tune. That's why this article is on our website!


Dimitar Dimitrov
HiZ Productions studios


MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


May 30, 2010 11:15 pm

Breathing and pumping - Wrong dynamics - Wrong spectral or stereo image -


The mastering engineer's responsibility...?



Look - I've only been doing this for about a quarter of a century - But if those are the mastering engineer's responsibility, you must be doing some other job.

Don't get me wrong - The mastering phase can most certainly enhance or completely screw up any of those aspects. But listening to a single recording, one can only guess at which phase something went haywire.

A lot of people hold Ted (Jensen) responsible for the new Metallica.

I can tell you without question that those recordings sounded crushed to bits long before they wound up on his desk.

And I'm not about to take credit for some of the amazing recordings that come through here all the time... I'll take credit for keeping them that way maybe - I'll take credit for pulling a rabbit out of my hat occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) - But you sound like one of those "hype the mastering" guys...

Nothing personal...

On another note -- I don't mix often anymore - But when I do, I want the mastering** guy to do what mastering guys are supposed to do. I want everything leveled out, I want them very gently massaged into sitting well holistically. I certainly don't want him messing with the dynamics I worked so hard on, I don't want him messing with the stereo image I established. To paraphrase Massenburg, I want to pay him to tell me what a great bunch of mixes I sent in.


Anyway -- To set the responsibility of those critical aspects of a recording at the hands of the mastering engineer seems terribly, terribly misguided. Critical listening is critical at *every* stage in the recording process.

** I would hope it goes without saying that I don't do my own mastering - More correctly, I don't do my own post-processing.

Member
Since: May 29, 2010


May 31, 2010 07:01 pm

1. If eq+compression+limiting (set in some kind of chain) and "just make it louder" is all that mastering should be - than yes, I do some other job! But the final result is all what I care about. Yes, I take some part of a producer's job sometimes, but there are not many people out there who can afford a big-name producer. Many mixing engineers don't know haw +1dB vocal up can change the whole picture in mastering! It is not my responsibility to send the mix back to the mixer if something is wrong or just I can make it sound better? I don't believe! I will keep doing it!

2. Listening and analyzing songs, recordings, albums etc. is a part of our job and we should know how to listen and how to interpreter the overall sound if we want to know how to master properly. A good ME should have special abilities, skills and knowledge to be able to do this. Here are only few of them which are most important when analyzing a recording:

- Ability to recognize which one compressor (of many used) is pumping;
- Ability to say which FX (of many used) blurring the sound;
- Ability to know where does this weird interaction between intro, verse, refrain, solo and outro come from;
- Ability to make a difference between bad composition, bad arrangement, bad performance, bad recording, bad mixing, bad mastering and bad producing

That's why Critical Listening and understanding what exactly it means is so important. How can we master if we don't know how and what to listen? If somebody is involved in audio mastering (and knows more than this above) how he/she can't say why something sounds good or bad and what(who) causes it, since I can?

So, let me be a "hype the mastering" guy...

High-end audio mastering is a big deal and IS NOT just loudness! I don't have time and any itch for debate here...

And for the record - nobody in our studios blames T.Jensen! May be we know how to listen... :-)


MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


May 31, 2010 10:28 pm

I never said mastering is about 'loudness' (as it's usually the last thing on my mind).

But all these things you list as being important for the mastering engineer as if it's his own special skill shouldn't be reserved for the mastering engineer -- The tracking engineer's job has FAR more impact on the recording than mine. As does the mixing engineer's job. At least, it certainly should... Is the mastering phase a "big deal?" Sure, why not. But so is every other phase in the process.

Quote:
And for the record - nobody in our studios blames T.Jensen! May be we know how to listen... :-)


Sorry - I don't buy it. You don't have some special magical listening skill that tells you *who* smashed the mixes. (There. I said it).

Byte Mixer
Member
Since: Dec 04, 2007


Jun 01, 2010 03:06 pm

I've been following the "debate" for a couple posts now, and I feel like there's a certain amount of logic involved here. Though I'm not a mastering engineer, I thought I'd chime in anyway, since I think there's something that isn't being grasped. I'll probably end up saying the same thing MM has been saying, but a bit differently.

Basically, if someone hears a finished product, and have no other reference, not the original tracking, not the mixed track, but only the mastered, final product off a CD Album, Record Album, what have you: Logic would dictate that you cannot determine which part of the whole production process made it good or bad, and not where mistakes were cleaned up. Unless you were involved on some level and have heard the references the best guess you've got is a shot in the dark.

Gestalt theory: The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts, and that is certainly true in music production.The entire production process is what brings a piece of music, or an album, together as a whole, and you cannot discern at what stage this or that happened unless you were there. As MM said, guesses and assumptions can be made, but they cannot be guaranteed no matter how good at critical listening a person may be.

Look at it this way. Someone snaps a photo. (or it could be a graphics artist doing work for a game, or print, model photo shoot, whatever) A passerby or artist or other studio guru sees the final produced image, and they really likes certain aspects of it. But...question is, did the original photo have those aspects? Were they added in during the doctoring? Were they present, but merely enhanced and brought forward during the touch-up? Guesses can be made, but there's really no way to tell with 100% certainty.

That's the concept being painted here I believe. No matter how keen an eye (or ear in this case) a person has, it is absurdly difficult to pinpoint whether a detail or aspect in a soundtrack was introduced at the tracking, mixing, or mastering stage unless you have heard, were present and/or involved with the other reference materials.

That's how my logic works, and that's what makes sense to me at least.

http://www.unitedmusicians.info
Contributor
Since: Nov 11, 2007


Jun 01, 2010 05:52 pm

The only debate I see is this:

Is the mastering engineer responsible for troubleshooting a mix?

In the indie market: Could be useful...not to me...but maybe to an artist who doesn't know what a good mix sounds like and wants to pay someone to tell them.

In the professional market: No...it is never the job of a "Value added" service to blame the chain.

Member
Since: May 29, 2010


Jun 06, 2010 04:33 pm

Look - recording, mixing and mastering are different processes! If I know what exactly they cause to sound, than I can say why a mix (or master) sounds good or bad. These things are different, the goals are different, the methods of work are different! That's why they are separated on different stages! So, if you know what happens with sound on every one stage than is absolutely normal to know what is screwing it, right? Otherwise how someone can blame somebody for a bad result? Or adore anybody for an excellent sound? Strange, really....

MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


Jun 06, 2010 06:18 pm

Geez, man --

Here's the issue --

You have a really great sounding recording - Did the mastering engineer make it sound that way or did it sound wonderful when he got it and he just stayed out of the way?

YOU CAN'T TELL.

You have a really mediocre sounding recording - Did the mastering engineer take a fairly bad sounding recording and pull off a little audio wonderment or did he take a really nice recording and screw it up?

YOU CAN'T TELL.

You have a really bad sounding recording - Did the mastering engineer mess with a perfectly wonderful recording or was he presented with a really bad sounding recording that still sounds just as bad?

YOU CAN'T TELL.



Sure - You can guess. You can make an educated guess in many cases that might be right. But it's still a guess.

Member
Since: May 29, 2010


Jun 06, 2010 07:00 pm

I said what I said. I won't repeat it.

MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


Jun 06, 2010 08:20 pm

So to keep it clear, you're saying that you can listen to a recording and gather without a doubt what phase in the process any anomalies occurred?

formerly known as 'dB Masters'
Administrator
Since: Apr 03, 2002


Jun 06, 2010 08:24 pm

For the record, I am loving this "debate". haha.

Member
Since: Mar 12, 2008


Jun 06, 2010 10:31 pm

haha, that was fun.

www.cavvystudios.com
Member
Since: May 31, 2010


Jun 07, 2010 04:42 am

MM, just a somewhat unrelated side question for you...

In your opinion, is it possible to become a skilled mastering engineer by trial and error, tutorials and mentoring, etc. or is it necessary to go to school for it?

MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


Jun 07, 2010 01:40 pm

Mastering School...?

Kidding aside - Some of the worst engineers I know went to school for it. To the point where on the rare occasion I'm interviewing interns, I'm biased against several of them (schools) because of their interesting (for lack of a better term) teachings.

It's all about listening skills and those two rules of audio --

1) No matter how developed your listening skills are, you are limited by the accuracy and consistency of your monitoring chain (period).

2) No matter how accurate and consistent your monitoring chain is, it is limited by the potential accuracy and consistency of the room (period).

I can probably teach a monkey to hook up a compressor. But I can't teach anyone what something really "sounds" like... I can coach them, I can opine, I can give examples of this and that, I can try to help someone develop those skills -- but it's so "not for everyone" that it's really difficult to approach -

There's definitely a "chicken or the egg" scenario involved.

I *do* think that a generous amount of tracking & mixing experience makes for a better mastering engineer -- You'll probably notice that most of the better mastering guys had at least a decade behind the board before they moved into (or in my case, got throw into, kicking and screaming the whole time) the mastering process. Learning at the "track level" gives such a better understanding of "how a mix works" than simply listening to a mix... Although intense study of single-point recordings is just as important IMO.

Long story short (too late, I know...), I don't think there's a substitute for practical experience, preferably in an intern-like position. There's a lot of details and "book learning" also - but the "skilled mastering engineer" needs to have the potential to make use of those skills in the first place. No one can teach that.

formerly known as 'dB Masters'
Administrator
Since: Apr 03, 2002


Jun 07, 2010 01:44 pm

"I've never let my school interfere with my education" - Samuel Clemens

www.cavvystudios.com
Member
Since: May 31, 2010


Jun 07, 2010 03:01 pm

Right on. You confirmed what I was thinking, but I'd rather hear it from someone like you who really knows the business. I appreciate you taking the time to provide such a detailed answer, that was really helpful for me. Forgive me if I pick your brain too much, just one more question for now... Are hardware processors absolutely necessary for proper mastering or are professional and pleasing results attainable simply with a powerful PC, Steinberg's Wavelab and some Waves plugin processors?

www.cavvystudios.com
Member
Since: May 31, 2010


Jun 07, 2010 03:06 pm

"I've never let my school interfere with my education" - Samuel Clemens

I love that quote. Another one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is "A man who doesn't read has no advantage over a man who can't read", but I like to balance that out with a quote from Einstein: "Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. "

formerly known as 'dB Masters'
Administrator
Since: Apr 03, 2002


Jun 07, 2010 03:18 pm

Ultimately, it's all about exercising the gray matter...it's not about people telling you what is right or wrong, it's about experiencing it and deciding for yourself.

www.cavvystudios.com
Member
Since: May 31, 2010


Jun 07, 2010 03:38 pm

I agree and this thread confirms what I was thinking. But it's comforting to hear it from people with a lot more experience and expertise than myself. Thanks guys.

formerly known as 'dB Masters'
Administrator
Since: Apr 03, 2002


Jun 07, 2010 03:43 pm

By and large, though obviously not always...I have found the teachers and/or professors have ended up teaching because they can't actually make a living at doing their "area of expertise"...I am guessing Alan Parsons didn't teach because he was too busy DOING...professors ended up teaching because Alan Parsons was too busy taking their work...for the sake of example.

Some things are cut and dry, there is a specific science behind acoustics and sound, but it is very subjective in terms of what's "good" and what's not.

MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Member
Since: Aug 05, 2008


Jun 07, 2010 05:09 pm

Quote:
Are hardware processors absolutely necessary for proper mastering or are professional and pleasing results attainable simply with a powerful PC, Steinberg's Wavelab and some Waves plugin processors?


Too much of a loaded question. IMO/E? I'm not about to give up hardware. If I honestly thought I could get the sound I want from software, I'd have a much bigger house for what I'd sunk into (and continue to sink into) hardware.

But the long and the short goes back to those "rules" --

No piece of hardware could even hope to be as important as the monitoring chain and the room treatment. Full range, standard-throw, standard dispersion loudspeakers (I just traded up my B&W Nautilus 802's because they really didn't sound "real" enough) and proper bass management.

The first place I worked at where I was hired with "mastering engineer" in my job description had a really nice sized room, but it was (a) covered in foam and they had (b) nearfield and midfield monitors that were (c) improperly placed (d) without a shred of low end management (except for those awful foam-corner things marketed as "bass traps" - which I used to keep behind my bass traps).

4 gigantic no-no's just from walking in the room.

Skill & experience can only take you as far as the chain and the room will let it take you. I had enough of the former to analyze the space to some extent and enough of the latter to pick spots in the room to make particular adjustments -- For example - there was an absolutely gigantic null at around 120Hz at the .38 spot -- I don't care how good your hearing is... If there's a colliding null of around 30dB at a particular point in space, you aren't going to hear that frequency properly at that point in space.

Of course, only a foot or so away, there was a 10dB peak at the same frequency... It was pretty easy to figure out why everyone only used the nearfields - But then again, you're limited to what the NF's could reproduce.

Not that these 'rules' don't apply to every recording situation - Not just mastering. EVERY professional studio is built around the monitoring chain and the room.

Geez, sorry about the rant...

Anyway - Back to the point -- Without a doubt, I'd rather use Reaper and whatever native EQ's and dynamics controls come with it in a properly set up space with true high-fidelity speakers than using the best hardware in the world in a bad room. The solid monitoring chain (let's just include the room in that as the two are tied together) trumps everything. Everything. EVERYTHING.

Specifics... Wavelab and Waves... Wavelab is a very capable program. I have it (V6), I use it rarely and occasionally - It's a "Swiss Army knife" to some extent. But it just doesn't fit my work flow. I know several guys who use it as their main DAW and that's fine with me. I'll probably upgrade to V7 when it comes out as I have a few "guest" engineers here occasionally who use my place when they're in from (wherever - One is from Germany, one from Portland, etc.). But it's just not really for me.

Waves... 15 years ago, they were the sh*t. Now, they're overpriced sh*t. Okay, maybe that's a little hard... I sold my Waves license some time ago and I don't miss them a bit. The bundles were good "bread 'n butter" bundles for busy studios who wanted just about everything in a simple GUI. There might be 3 plugs that would get typical use in a mastering scenario and then there are better plugs to use anyway.

What they need to do is work on the WUP and start taking piracy seriously (I've seen some estimates that over 90% of "users" are using pirated copies). The pros will keep leaving in droves until that's taken care of.

But that's really for another thread...

formerly known as 'dB Masters'
Administrator
Since: Apr 03, 2002


Jun 07, 2010 05:18 pm

IMO, not that I have nearly the experience on MM, it depends what you need...there are some awesome software plugs from Waves, Sonic Foundry (well, now Sony, I guess), and others that do the job well...the problem comes in if you try to do too much with your PC and power of the CPU runs low...spacial effects take a TON of processing power and RAM, being able to offload that to hardware processing saves a lot on your CPU and RAM.

Like most things in audio production, the real answer is "it depends". ha.

I love Wavelab myself and have done a multitude of mastering jobs in it, with Steinberg and Waves plugs...but then, it works for me...it doesn't work for MM...so part of the answer is what works for ya too.

Typo Szar
Member
Since: Jul 04, 2002


Jun 07, 2010 11:57 pm


Im not mastering engineer or even well.. engineer of any sort but i just wanted to chime in to this discussion as its veered towards something ive been mulling over myself for a while.

I think in terms of the "home recordist" or more accurately the "aspiring engineer" the question of hardware or software is completely unneeded. At the end of the day, ur gonna get wat u can afford, and since software is only getting cheaper, ur gonna see alot of ppl with software.

This actually goes with wat both MM and dB said, is that ultimately is all about u the person doing the project and how well u can do it and how well ur hearing. If ur aspiring to the professional level do u really want to be "good coz i have this plug" or "good coz i own this compressor", ofcourse not, ur good coz ur good and u can pick up anyhing that works half way decent and use it to its full potential.

Just to cut this rant short im gonna skip to wat ive been thinkin about in this whole software vs. hardware thing.

Wat most ppl i think associate with hardware is "vintage" or just u know "accepted" atleast. ppl want to get "that sound" from that recording they love or wat they hear all the time. Im starting to find it funny coz nothing starts off as "vintage", everything had to enter the market and prove itself at some point, and some were successful and some werent, but ultimately ppl had to take them into the studio and play with them and find out. So y do ppl just have all these preconceptions with software and the digital realm? Maybe none of the plugs have "proven" themselves yet, but it doesnt mean they wont, it doesnt mean there will not be some programming genius who invents the Neve equivalent plug of the future. A plug that will forever be sought and revered and so coveted that everythign recording with that plug on top of it will autmoaticaly make ppl think its "better".

Ultimately i think ppl have to stop tryin to get things that r suppose to sound like something and start making their own sounds. I think ppl have to start using plugs in a way that however they "sound" (cold/brittle) watever works with wat their doing and stop chasing the whole gold standard.

I actually find it ridiculous that so many plugin manufacturers spend alot of time and money bringing out digital versions of hardware, down to their look and feel. Do they sound good most of the time, yes, and they do the job. but y r we spending so much effort trying to recreate things instead of moving forward? Wat if everyone new car that came out was a "reissue" of the Model T Ford?

Ppl have to move past the whole "i bought this gear coz i want that 70s sound" and more towards "i used this weird new plug to make my own sound".

edit0r
Member
Since: Aug 17, 2004


Jun 08, 2010 04:28 am

Quote:
monitoring chain


COMPLETELY AGREE. I have just finished listening to approximately 30 albums back to back on a pair of 7 grand speakers in a nice room. Completely changed my life and my approach to mixing.

Really want to listen to MM's set up now... :).

Member
Since: Jun 05, 2010


Jun 08, 2010 05:56 pm

You can't obtain a great master from a crappy mix. You can't obtain a great mix from a poor capture. Not to mention the artistical performance. Audio is a chain which reflects its weakest link. Every engineer tries hard to get the best results from the provided elements.

But I know MEs which refuse some artists or mixes because they don't fit in their quality standard. When your art is from no help, you must refuse the job. At that time you're a much better ME than which who accepts producing a piece of s~#@t.

When on a pressed CD you hear an unpleasant ess, who(s responssible ? The singer, the mixer or the ME ? My response is both. But since the ME is at the end of the chain, he has to do his best to solse the issue. If nobody notices the de-essing, he's good. If he destroys the cymbal, he's bad.

A good production highlights the artist, Nobody must notice how complex was the mixing or the mastering.

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