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'Bear Basics - The Masters Series Pt 3: Preparing for a Mastering Session' by Tony Mantz

Author: Tony Mantz
Thursday, February 2, 2006
If you are reading this………thanks a lot! It's been a while my last instalment and much has happened. I'm in the throws of building a new facility in Brunswick, Melbourne. I have some interesting tales to tell about building 2 studios, but I'll save them for another time. Something tells me there's gonna be a whole lot more……but I digress.

Well in the last 2 columns we have talked a bit about mastering and what it is (briefly) and how to look for a mastering engineer.

OK…so you have selected your mastering engineer and are ready for the big session. You need to prepare. Yes. PREPARE! There are things you need to know and do before you step into your session.

You need to put your final mixes onto a CDR, DVD or hard drive. It's important to have your files well organized and well labelled. People may do many different mixes because they aren't sure whether they are hearing things correctly in their room, so in order to cover their bases, they make some alternate versions to compensate. This is a good thing, but make sure have the different mixes well organized and labelled, especially if you're gonna send them to the engineer and you won't be in attendance.

I've received a hard drive with mixes named in such a way that I was just totally lost because there was just version 1, 2 , 3 etc instead of being labelled by WHAT it was that made it different. For example, instead of using a numeric identification, use the term 'vocal up' or 'bass down' or 'snare up' etc.

If you're working on the meter and you're spending all this time chasing stuff down, it can get a bit pricey and it is unproductive. I once had a session where there were 300 files sent for a 12 track album. It was the biggest nightmare of my life as the client was interstate and I couldn't play stuff over the phone because, apparently, there were subtle changes. The session took more than 14 hours over 2 days, as well as many e-mails and phone calls. Over half the time was spent sorting out the mess. Sure, I got paid for my time, but I would rather be mastering than imitating a sonic sleuth.

Make sure you give the mastering engineer some headroom. In other words, when you mix your track remove any limiting (a device used to get music LOUD). Sure, do a version of a mix with limiting on for your own reference or to play out, but also do one without it so the mastering engineer can apply his own. Chances are you may have over-cooked your version. Goodness knows, every one loves LOUD choons!

Let me put it another way: the lights on the master buss (or meters) shouldn't be right up at the 0 point with no movement. Another way of checking is to look at the mix in question on your computer. It SHOULDN'T look like a solid block of cheese.

Sending an over-slammed mix to the ME, or using it as your actual master really puts the ME behind the 8-ball, because it allows them little or no room to work with.

Have a good idea what the final sequence will be and if you're not sure, ask the ME for suggestions. Remember it's one of the reasons you engage an ME - for the objective third party input.

If you want to take some reference material to compare it to that's OK, but don't use it as the actual benchmark you're trying to achieve. A ME can't magically make your recording sound like a multimillion dollar production, especially if you have done it at home on a computer. Not that you can't get a great result on a computer in a bedroom. Quite the contrary….. lots of my clients make music this way and you'd be amazed at the results they pull.

A reference can be handy if you are unfamiliar with a certain room, so listening to something you are intimate with will allow you to create a better frame of reference, thus allowing you to make suggestions to the ME with confidence.

Just remember it's better be a trendsetter………not trendy, so don't be obsessed with sounding like (insert artist here). Like I tell my clients "Let's make a rekkid that someone will take<