Quick-Start Mastering Guide

This is the “Quick Start” Mastering Guide for anyone coming to the Playground for mastering. A more detailed discussion of the mastering process is in my “Full Mastering FAQ” article on this blog.

Q: What format do our mixes need to be in?

A: Formats for the masters are simply in as HIGH a resolution as possible, and WITHOUT any sort of MAXIMIXER or MASTER MIX COMPRESSION on them. In fact, you can try to aim your final mixes to average about -3db on the meters, and -6 db is still acceptable (and even -10db is FAR more acceptable than any clipping whatsoever). Whatever you do, do NOT let the left or the right meter peak, even once during a mix, if at all possible; leave the volume to the experts!

Also, do not change the resolution when going to final mix either. If you recorded at 24-bit and 96K, then mix down to 24-bit and 96K, so as little to no dithering and converting happen. If you recorded at 24-bit and 44.1K or 48K, make sure you mix down to exactly that format.

That being said, we really discourage bringing in 1/2″ Tape Masters! – There are so many differences in machines, not everyone understands proper bias as well as test tone formats, so, since no mastering engineer has ever been able to consistently tell the difference between a mix recorded directly onto 1/2″ tape at 30 ips, and a mix bounced to a stereo 24-bit / 96K, and then transferred to 1/2″ tape, leave that to us as well. If you decide it’s needed (but at least read my article on “How Digital Does Analog Better than Analog” for arguments against it), then we can use our extremely finely tuned 1/2″ ATR machine that’s been modded and tweaked by Mark Spitz here, then transferring back to digital through our crystal clear converters here.

So, formats from our MOST FAVORITE to our LEAST FAVORITE are as follows:

1. 24-bit multiple mono WAV
2. 24-bit stereo interleaved WAV
3. 24-bit AIFF (any stereo format)
4. Any other 24-bit format
5 30 ips 1/2″ tape (but not in all cases)
6. 15 ips 1/2″ tape
7. 16-bit WAV multiple mono
8. 16-bit WAV stereo interleaved
9. 16-bit AIFF
10. Any other 16-bit format

An unacceptable format is a CD that will play in a CD player! Make sure you bring in a CD, DVD, or EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE that has your mixes in a raw DATA format (like WAV or AIFF files). In other words, Red Book CD’s will make it difficult for us to do anything with.

Also, you can often bring your original Pro Tools mixes in as well, and we can convert them to 24-bit, 96K for mastering. But, we need to know the plug-ins you used ahead of time to see if we’ve got the same ones. We are seeing more and more bands give us mixes of the music on 1 submix track in Pro Tools, and the Vocals on another submix. Just let us know what you prefer, but honestly, any final in 24-bit stereo will give us plenty to work with…as technology increases, I think it’s easier to get obsessed with the details of resolution, and although it’s important, it won’t make or break your record; the overall mix and music itself will!

Q: Do we need to be there for mastering?

A: No, not at all! Most bands use our 100% online workspace (See “Wavefront’s Online Workspace” here). We then master on our time within the schedule we set in advance, and post the final product in our SSL-protected private workspace. You are free to comment, make notes, and offer any needed changes during the entire process. We go back in, fix, and repeat. Some bands send the material in advance, and then come in for just a few hours for the “final tweaks” and listening. It’s really up to each band and their location as well as preference.

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