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Is mastering still necessary?

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by samurai1993, Aug 6, 2012.

  1. samurai1993


    Jun 6, 2010
    I was just wondering, in this digital era, is still necessary? Because in the last years the only thing that mastering has done to music is create huge noise walls.

    If you're going to, lets say, vinyl, mastering is a must, because of the differences in dynamic range, but going from digital medium (let's say, a mixdown saved in .flac or any other lossless format) to another (CD)... if it sounds good, why do an unnecessary extra step?
  2. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    If you've mixed perfectly, the mastering engineer will hand you back your files untouched and tell you "good job."

    That's rarely the case when you're dealing with a talented mastering engineer with proper mastering grade gear in a properly treated room with highly accurate monitoring and metering.

    The idea that mastering is responsible for things being a "noise wall" is a bit off. Mastering can be done such that virtually any target db level can be achieved. The consensus by many is that louder is better, and therefore it gets mastered that way. It definitely doesn't have to be done that way. Things can be mastered with no post production dynamics processing at all. For instance; Jack White's album "Blunderbuss" was done with very little dynamics processing. If I remember correctly, it was mastered to -14db. Far lower than most commercial releases these days, but it definitely went through the mastering process.

    Ultimately the choice to master is yours. It's not necessary but it can be beneficial, or even possibly detrimental. If the latter is the case, just go back to your premaster copy. At the very least I run my final mixes through Ozone5 using Maximizer (IIRC3) to achieve the desires db's, the exciter to saturate the high end and accentuate detail, and the post equalizer to knock down excessive content in the subs and slews. All of this is based on mix-specific goals, and if I know I'll be doing it in-house, by myself, I'll mix into Ozone5 rather than slapping it on the 2buss at the end of the project after bouncing a stereo file.
  3. hmmm...mastering is more of a mathematical aproach then musical....those guys spend more time looking at diagrams then 'listening' to music,trust me..:D
    fun asside,it's not a 'must' by any means,but it's still good to have a pair of fresh ears at the end...you know,a pair of ears that were NOT involved in a 5-months period of your recording in a studio...
    better that way..
    and finally,the equipment.
    mastering studios have all those neat little rack units we all would love to rape day in-day out,multiband compressors,limiters,gaters,para eq's...etc.
    and,say what you want my friend,but i'd rather go with analog mastering,anytime:bassist:
  4. when asked 'is there any point in painting,now when camera is invented' Picasso answered '...i think NOW that point is even stronger'
    digital form is bunch of 1's and 0's....sure it's getting somewhere,over the years,and,opposed to analog,it's growing better...BUT,with sound it's tricky see?
    have you ever wondered WHY do they still use tubes in amplifiers?
    something that has long been discarded in TV,radio and all other industries?
    tubes overheat,break easily,can sound differently from day to day,too damn expencive,too damn fragile...and so on..
    BUT THE SOUND.......:hyper:
    same thing with analog mastering
    some people just LOVE the warmth of the sound that passed through all those little capacitors :D
    some things digital still cannot emmulate
  5. The 'digital age' doesn't negate the value of a talented Mastering Engineer with great ears.
  6. morgansterne

    morgansterne Geek U.S.A.

    Oct 25, 2011
    Cleveland Ohio
    I did an instrumental trumpet / acoustic guitar record that I recorded at home, mixed in a really nice studio. They were all great mixes with a bit of compression on them already and I could have gotten away without mastering, but when they came back, all the noise from home recording quiet acoustic guitar parts was gone. He didn't change much else but all the hiss was magically gone. (carl saff was the ME's name)
    Just recently I did a CD with/for my Dad doing poetry and jazz. He didn't have the budget to send to a ME so I spent a long time trying to balance the level of the vocal in each song, eq'ing to get the bass parts at an equal level, playing around with stereo spread, etc. It was a real PITA (unlike the mixing, which I love to do) and I kept thinking that a real Mastering Eng. could have done it twice as well in far less time.
  7. Corey Y

    Corey Y Guest

    Jun 3, 2010
    Digital recording really has nothing to do with the necessity for mastering. Unless you mean that anyone with a DAW can just put a brickwall limiter on the stereo buss pump up the volume. That would be equivalent to a sentiment of "Do we really need building contractors, now that Home Depot exists?". To use something that is more universal to everyone here, it would be like saying "Since octave down pedals with good tracking exist for guitarists, do we really need bass?". Those sentiments express the idea that that by having access to tools and material required to meet the barest of definitions for a task, you can achieve it with the same results as someone/something that's professionally dedicated to it. There's a lot involved in audio mastering beyond making things louder, it's a whole different goal and skill set involved than recording and mixing. Even if you exclude the idea of fixing issues/mistakes with the mix, which is a pretty substantial area to exclude. Mastering engineers shouldn't have to do that job, but they do.

    I have done my own mastering on some projects, usually just for my own listening pleasure. Something a little more than demos, but with far less care and effort than I would put in for a "real" release. They were passable, decent, but not great. The same way as I was able to build my work bench for my garage with 2x4s and MDF. It's solid, it's level (with a couple shims), but it's a pretty far cry from a piece of custom furniture a fine woodworker could create.

    As an aside, I used Carl Saff on my last recording project and plan to for the two I have in the pipeline currently. He does excellent work.
  8. samurai1993


    Jun 6, 2010
    Well, thanks to all the War of Loudness thing that's not so far of what most people does nowadays. Sure I appreciate a REAL mastering, being a part digital and a part analog process; my comment comes from the point of a country with no real musical culture, in which the possibility of finding a real mastering engineer tends to 0 (we have fine luthiers, though)
  9. Corey Y

    Corey Y Guest

    Jun 3, 2010
    The great thing about the internet and the state of modern business, location isn't always a factor. Carl Saff for instance, and I'm not trying to push him specifically, can do business completely online. You fill out a quote form, he emails you, you upload your lossless file format (usually .wav for me). You download a program that allows you to listen to the finished master (without downloading it for free without paying), then you can complete the transaction via PayPal. Several other very good mastering engineers work in a similar fashion.

    If you're using an analog format such as tape, it can certainly be a lot more complex and time consuming. If you're producing your unmastered stereo file in digital format and have access to the internet (which you obviously do), you can have access to very high quality professional mastering with very little inconvenience based on location. If it's a matter of feeling uncertain about what sort of product you'll be getting for your money, that's normal. The great thing about mastering engineers is their CV/resume is right there for you to check. Listen to the albums they've mastered and see if it fits the end result you're looking for. This makes it very easy to exclude the blown out loudness wars offenders. Honestly, those people are in the vast (but very visible) minority. Another easy way to find someone is to look in the credits of albums you DO like the sound of and see who did the work. The only other factor is payment, but I doubt that would be much of an obstruction, as hard working people are always willing to find a way to make sure you can give them money :)
  10. mpdd

    mpdd neoconceptualist

    Mar 24, 2010
    my friends psych bands stuff always needs mastered or it sounds like a broken vacuum cleaner or a car that needs a new fan belt
  11. corinpills


    Nov 19, 2000
    Boston, MA
    Having some guy run your mixes through mastering software for a few hundred bucks isn't necessary. having someone who has the experience and skills to make your mixes sound more like a finished product costs a lot, but it's what takes the music to the next level. I have never regretted the money I've spent on mastering.
  12. Yeah, in the projects I've been involved with, the mastering engineer's fresh set of ears is the greatest asset.

    Sure, with a bit of practice one can use the various mastering plugins to "increase volume" and "optimize the dynamic range", and that can actually be a good result much of the time. But a _good_ mastering engineer has experienced many more sets of speakers than you have, and knows what happens to audio when broadcast, and can come up with something that translates better to a wide range of systems.

    Even given the volume wars, a legitimate response could be "do one heavily limited master optimized for volume, and one master optimized for artistic concerns".

    The only real limitation on the process is whether you have the money to afford "good mastering". A super cheap mastering job, where the total cost is less than the number of hours of material times a good hourly wage, just isn't going to exercise the ears of the mastering engineer; mastering requires listening. If that's all you can afford, you might be better off not mastering it for now, releasing what you have, and saving up for better mastering later.

    Also, an appropriate reaction from the mastering engineer or the band, could be "This mix is not strong enough to warrant further mastering work, go fix the raw tracks". A good mastering engineer is willing to suggest this.
  13. mpdd

    mpdd neoconceptualist

    Mar 24, 2010
    exactly corinpills
  14. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    The quality of sound in music playing devices has dramatically decreased over the years.
    When 9 out of 10 people listen to music on a machine that can't reproduce anything under 100 hz, I say mastering is more useful than ever.
  15. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    All along the 80s and 90s, pop music was available in separate home and club mixes.
  16. lsimy

    lsimy Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2003
    Virginia, USA
    I challenge any tracking/mixing engineer (full time or musician doing the engineering) to be able to listen objectively at the music they have been slaving over for months or even years. There is no way unless the engineer takes a break long enough to forget everything they have cemented into their head over and over during the tracking and mixing process. What's worse are those who say they can and attempt to "master" on the same monitors !!

    I have packed it in as a mastering engineer. Business has been dry and very few seem to give a crap anymore. It is SO sad.

    A mastering engineer is a fresh set of ears and to the engineer and musicians and most likely a fresh set of monitors and listening environment.

    A mastering engineer will hear the subtleties the rest of the battered and fatigued ears won't catch. They will ask the necessary questions and be the last ditch effort to make sure that final product is ready for prime time. They make sure it goes to pressing properly and most have relationships with the plants. This is a fraction of what they do.

    It pains me to hear and read that mastering could be "skipped" and is considered "obsolete".

    At the very least, get a fresh set of ears and monitors in to listen to the final product.
  17. MrCincinnati


    Mar 6, 2011
    Mastering isn't worth it for most home projects because most home projects are mixed by people that haven't the first clue about mixing. This results in sending crap mixes (compressed/limited beyond salvation) of shoddy tracking to a lowest bid "mastering engineer" that wants your $100 so he'll just slap more crap on top.

    However - if you took the time (and likely money) to track your song(s) properly - had it mixed properly and want the best sound possible - like already said above - mastering by a real Mastering engineer with a genuinely worthy mastering studio is worth it.... that is if you value your time and effort sounding as good as possible and/or have a plan to recoup your funds through sales/touring etc
  18. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    Most all DAWs come with project that you practice mastering with.

    What I'd like to see is more music released as tracks that lets the purchaser master themselves.

    It's time to let fans take it farther.
  19. D.A.R.K.

    D.A.R.K. Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2003
    I'll chime in... as devil's advocate...
    i'm an analog nut job, hater of the loudness war,
    and believe in the old school of analog tape and desk, mixing and mastering.
    However, things change. I believe the mastering process is destined to become part of the mix buss ITB (in the box or computer only mixing) for the professional engineer.
    For other media, such as vinyl or tape conversions, you will of course need special tools and skill set, which usually incorporates a third party mastering engineer.
    Now any quality engineer has all the tools available at their disposal that "pros" use, as well as the readily available knowledge to negate the extra process as they mix.
    Mastering was created to make up for short comings in mixes, and to create a consistent product in the medium of the time (vinyl and tape).
    We are dealing now with a media that is more consistent (digital) and is a platform where the tools ITB are financially in the grasp of everyone more than ever. A few thousand bucks and you have what the pros use- not a hundred thousand like the old days. (A few grand is nothing to sneeze at for most, but we are talking about professional mixing here).
    Every little tracking house in my area offers mastering,
    so that is proof enough to me that those tools are already pretty much in place, and fast becoming a standard skill set.
    Having a third party evaluate, etc. is of course nice but why add another financial step to the process if you can do those things right the first time? Ideally a mix will be so good, a mastering engineer won't need to do anything, correct?
  20. MrCincinnati


    Mar 6, 2011
    There are great software emulations, however there's a big noticeable difference between an ITB mix of a mbox tracked project with a software master and a SSL/NEVE tracked mix of a SSL/Neve + outboard compressor/EQ/delay/verb mix and a master at a true mastering facility with a true mastering engineer with quality outboard gear.

    But - you're right - cost wise it's just not worth it for most people that would be recording in their spare bedroom.

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