Crash course in mastering

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Crash course in mastering

Postby mylesgm » Sat Feb 16, 2013 1:39 am

As you know I'm in Swaziland and the level of audio engineering here is sadly below par. I've got a few projects on the go here but the budgets are also below par. So I need to master these projects sadly in poor studios to be heard mostly through radio or mp3 playing phones.

The upside is I have my UAD apollo here with some excellent UAD plugs and quite a selection of other good rtas plugs, most of the Waves stuff, the Pure Limiter and the Massey plugs so....

How do I do this thing called mastering?

I've seen/heard it done but only under the best conditions so give me some pointers given my circumstances.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby The Tasmanian » Sat Feb 16, 2013 8:36 am

You will be fine - Its easy most of the time - especially if you have tracked and mixed the gig.
just add EQ and compression (maybe a few in a row to stop plugs from doing too much)
Ive found the Massey L2007 the best (only) limiter by far for getting enough level for a master -its a must.
I also love my DMG Equality - and Equick EQ plugs - the first time Ive ever liked an EQ plug-in for boosting.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Ben M » Sat Feb 16, 2013 10:23 am

...
Last edited by Ben M on Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby wez » Sun Feb 17, 2013 10:42 am

I'll email you myles.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Barney Loveland » Sun Feb 17, 2013 12:43 pm

I've had good luck using the Massey Limiter for my occasional backyard masters, you can enter digits if you click threshold or output for greater control/repeatability. Sometimes the Sonnox limiter was better but generally the Massey does more by doing less if that makes sense.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby tony » Sun Feb 17, 2013 1:48 pm

I started using the Massy limiter a few weeks ago for putting a 'mastered sound' on some demo stuff, I was very impressed with how easy and how little I had to do.

For me it won't replace a real mastering process howeverI found it really helped my client get an idea of what their song 'could' sound like if they paid a professional mastering engineer (not me) to do that last step...plus the client can play there demo in the car on the way home and the level isn't terrible compared to commercial releases.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby wez » Mon Feb 18, 2013 3:49 pm

The Massey plug is OK but it's a long way from transparent.

The McDSP mastering limiter is not bad.

Baring in mind that all you're really doing when limiting purely for increased level is saving the client the tedium of manually turning up the volume. Still, i guess it's useful as a psychological tool - an uneducated listener will always prefer the louder version, and having to turn the knob further to get the same level has a very real psychological effect on most people - especially insecure artists ;-)

Also consider... 'mastering' - (and FWIW & IMO, none of what we're talking about here counts as 'mastering'.. 'post-mix tweaking' perhaps) - should be about prodding your mix gently with lots of little sticks, not bashing the shite out of it with one big stick. a limiter used in isolation (and for the sole purpose of matching 'commercial' levels) is a big stick.

of course it all comes down to what you are trying to achieve. but mastering is best thought of not as a 'thing' you do, or a process you apply, but rather as an exercise in restraint. try and clear your mind before you begin - if you can start from a position of having no preconceived ideas about what needs to be done to a mix, then you are less likely to be heavy handed and make a mess of it.

the hardest albums i have ever mastered were the ones that required NO compression, and/or EQ and/or limiting.

"easy most of the time"? sure... except when it's not ;-)
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby jkhuri44 » Mon Feb 18, 2013 4:05 pm

ive used PSP Xenon, its a very clear compressor...


As for mastering, why not wire up a shitty radio speaker from your DAW outs, get an idea of the radio sound....also, get some kind of broadcast simulator?? strapped onto the mains to give you a tone idea??
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby audioio » Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:40 pm

I'm nowhere near mastering, but I have had a lot of fun playing with the Waves C4 multiband comp... just being able to tonally tweak the dynamics is great.

I reckon you'd want to have a lot of confidence in your monitoring, whatever you end up using.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Chris H » Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:19 am

mylesgm wrote:As you know I'm in Swaziland and the level of audio engineering here is sadly below par. I've got a few projects on the go here but the budgets are also below par. So I need to master these projects sadly in poor studios to be heard mostly through radio or mp3 playing phones.

The upside is I have my UAD apollo here with some excellent UAD plugs and quite a selection of other good rtas plugs, most of the Waves stuff, the Pure Limiter and the Massey plugs so....

How do I do this thing called mastering?

I've seen/heard it done but only under the best conditions so give me some pointers given my circumstances.

Hi Myles.
Most has already been said but here is my 2c. I think you know most of this from watching Adam at work.
It's definitley a minimalist aproach where only eq adjustments are made to correct things not picked up on the monitoring chain you mixed on, or to have the mix translate to various playback systems So a seperate monitoring system and environment for mastering is a great start. I mix on the B & W's and master on Duntech Esquire's. Before i master I spend time over a few days listening to the songs in the car, through my day job system and the home lounge, you get the idea, in the order they will be on the finished album, making some notes re comparitive levels and eq. Most engineers treat their mixes as finished product sonicaly so mastering is for minor corrections and a bit of adjustment so the sound flows from one song to the next. Given this, sometimes during the mix things go not as well as they should due to the many variables...... a new room or new desk ..... rushed job due to minimal budget, inexperienced players / band, working too long and closing a job off in a rush etc etc. so mastering will be more of a fix up job.
The creative aspect of fade outs and gaps so the story of the album is not interupted by a gap too short or too long is an is a part of the job i do once the masted files are in the project. I use Waveburner for this compiling stage and Logic for the eq/dynamics stage.
For the level of the finished album, I use gain staging, eg, a 2 Db of limiting from the initial stereo mix in the DAW into a compressor ( I use the Avalon 747), then back into the DAW.Or for recasllability, budget i will keep the whole project ITB but the best results I get are with the outboard stage. When back ITB, sometimes I will set up a compressor on an aux, for paralel processing, so its compressing hard and bring it up a smidge under the main signal. This will alter the sound of the mix a bit so aproach with caution, but there is a lot you can do with this. Lastly, the final limiter on the master bus for 2 or 3 Db. I use Voxenegro Elephant for this. I master mostly at low level and have the original mix to ref to at the same loudnes as what i'm mastereing so I can A/B them as well as the little getto blaster. It's way to easy to get lost and over do the mastering so the A/B ing is esential for me as well as a walk away for fresh air when needed.
Hope this helps, and I owe you a PM so will talk soon.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Mark Bassett » Wed Jul 17, 2013 2:30 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHsRK0ln4VQ

If that's not a crash course, I'm not playing.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Kurt » Fri Jul 19, 2013 1:17 am

I heard very little difference in virtually any of the changes. Dunno about you but I would be upset if I paid someone heaps of money for magic fairy dust I couldn't hear. Obviously the volume difference was hidden by the input being loudness compensated, would have been interesting to hear the difference in level at the end but I'm guessing he only added a couple of db all up?

Mark wrote:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHsRK0ln4VQ

If that's not a crash course, I'm not playing.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby rick » Fri Jul 19, 2013 11:59 am

Ha I couldn't really hear any difference
While he was working
That was straight out of YouTube into Weiss converters
In my room

I could see what he is doing
It would be obvious to hear in the real world
But YouTube ain't real is it

More the actual dance of the process of mastering
Is the lesson to take away from that clip
It should be fast certain and thorough
I nail most songs 85 % on the first past
Then it might take 5 more mins or 5 more hours
To sort the rest out .
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Wiz » Fri Jul 19, 2013 12:47 pm

well, I dont hear anything changing...

does anyone else find it amusing, you (well I ) cant hear anything and the video is posted by AES ORG, which I assume is the real deal and not some knuckleheads you tube name, and gives this as the description


The audio reflects the real-time changes from input to output with the monitor switching and is level compensated.
The subtitles change quickly, so don't blink.



oh, the irony...
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby obutcher » Fri Jul 19, 2013 1:47 pm

Great video Mark.

You can hear the changes when he switches from input to output, but the on-the-fly changes are almost impossible. Good to know that there are guys out there that can hear/care enough about those subtleties!
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Mark Bassett » Sat Aug 03, 2013 5:52 am

Kurt wrote:I heard very little difference in virtually any of the changes. Dunno about you but I would be upset if I paid someone heaps of money for magic fairy dust I couldn't hear.


Whether you can hear the difference or not when you attend a session is ultimately irrelevant, but no one wants to say that. If you are of the belief that a mastering engineer should make changes to the sound of the record that are clearly audible to you, and if you personally can't hear a difference then you've been ripped off in some way, then the point of the process has been lost.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Kurt » Sun Aug 04, 2013 12:28 am

Sure. And if I pay a painter to do my house and my house looks no different I should feel like I wasted money either.

Mark wrote:
Kurt wrote:I heard very little difference in virtually any of the changes. Dunno about you but I would be upset if I paid someone heaps of money for magic fairy dust I couldn't hear.


Whether you can hear the difference or not when you attend a session is ultimately irrelevant, but no one wants to say that. If you are of the belief that a mastering engineer should make changes to the sound of the record that are clearly audible to you, and if you personally can't hear a difference then you've been ripped off in some way, then the point of the process has been lost.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby waitup » Sun Aug 04, 2013 11:27 am

I don't see many ways in which mastering is similar to house painting.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Sammas » Sun Aug 04, 2013 12:13 pm

Kurt wrote:Sure. And if I pay a painter to do my house and my house looks no different I should feel like I wasted money either.



That would only work if you exclude the fact that music is distributed and reproduced on different systems in different acoustic environments all around the world. Mastering is probably more like a photographer taking a photo of your house that best represents it regardless of where and on what the photo is viewed.

You are probably more likely to notice when someone does a bad job... rather than a good one.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Kurt » Sun Aug 04, 2013 2:25 pm

It's paying for a service. If that service delivers no appreciable difference then is it worth paying for?
As I said originally, it's a shame they didn't provide before and after without the level compensation so even those of us with painted on ears could hear a difference.

I guess in this situation what you're really getting is confirmation from someone else that the mix is good and has no flies in the ointment.


waitup wrote:I don't see many ways in which mastering is similar to house painting.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Sammas » Sun Aug 04, 2013 4:45 pm

Kurt wrote:It's paying for a service. If that service delivers no appreciable difference then is it worth paying for?


In a lot of cases... hell yes!

You don't withhold payment from a structural engineer because he made no changes to your architects house plans.
If anything you click your heels, smile and move on to the next stage knowing that there won't be any monumental mess ups in the future.

Quality assurance in itself is a service worth paying for.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby waitup » Mon Aug 05, 2013 10:07 am

Also, there's a lot more to a mastering than the audio stuff in that video... what about the preparation of the redbook master (adding ISRC codes, CD text), checking the master, doing the fades, creating vinyl versions etc.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Kurt » Mon Aug 05, 2013 5:51 pm

I know, but that's not what the video was showing. I was expressing my surprise at how much stuff ol'mate was doing that didn't seem, to me, to make a whole lot of difference. To me the "magic ears" stuff, which I can't do, is what mastering is for. I (and anyone a bit computer savvy) can do all the other stuff easily. I guess I want to be wowed by someone else doing the mystical, hard to do, room full of gear stuff ;)

Of course, at the level I work at, the conversation goes like this:

Me: Where are you going to get it mastered? <Local mastering guy> is good if you can't afford somewhere really flash.
Client: How much will it cost?
Me: Maybe $4-500? I can ring him and check if you like?
Client: Oh. Umm. Can you do it?
Me: I can eq it a bit and smash it through a limiter... I'm not a mastering guy though.
Client: Do that then.

I know traditionally (for want of a better word) mastering was the final check, spit, polish before pressing. These days it seems a lot of bands treat it as part of the mixing/getting the sound they are after. How often do you see Facebook updates from bands along the lines of "ZOMG just got our album back from mastering, it sounds awesome!!!1!", as if the end product is vastly different to what they sent off. I guess many of them have been quite involved in recording their own stuff, which means, for better or worse, that the mastering engineer is fixing lots of stuff so the result is actually a lot different. In this video there is obviously not much that needs fixing.

waitup wrote:Also, there's a lot more to a mastering than the audio stuff in that video... what about the preparation of the redbook master (adding ISRC codes, CD text), checking the master, doing the fades, creating vinyl versions etc.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Wiz » Mon Aug 05, 2013 6:38 pm

I dont think any of us, particularly on this board, hosted by a mastering engineer, underestimate the value that mastering brings to our and our clients projects.

I empathise with Kurts example of convresations, I have those regularly.

But I certainly was suprised about the video being presented in the format it was being presented with statements like...


"The audio reflects the real-time changes from input to output with the monitor switching and is level compensated.
The subtitles change quickly, so don't blink."

and it was presented with the statement "if thats not a crash course in mastering...."

I think it failed on all accounts. Here is why.

It helped no one, least of all the person who posed the original question.

Its not going to help me get my clients to get their music mastered, if I direct them to that they will think I should be selling steak knives for a living... (perhaps they would be right 8) ).

In that way, I think the video is an extremely poor representation of what mastering can do for music. Its target audience (and me) miss the point sonically.


then there is this and I quote:

"Whether you can hear the difference or not when you attend a session is ultimately irrelevant, but no one wants to say that. If you are of the belief that a mastering engineer should make changes to the sound of the record that are clearly audible to you, and if you personally can't hear a difference then you've been ripped off in some way, then the point of the process has been lost."

well, I cant hear the differences. I reckon I should be able to. Whether in the room with the guy or not. If I send off 10 tracks to be mastered .. when I get them back, they HAVE to sound different, for a start they should all match sonically or at least be closer, they will inevitably be louder, and should be consistent no matter what I play them on.. isnt that the whole point in the first place?

I have never attended a mastering session, but I have paid for many, and on forward clients mixes for mastering.

In every case, I have heard changes to the music, in fact I can't remember one single time that it hasnt come back sounding better, certainly when played on multiple playback systems. Thats the whole reason I pay a mastering guy, or my clients do.

If the original video hadn't made the claims that it did, or if that statement I quoted above wasnt made, I would have kept on my merry way. But it doesnt, it sells itself as you are a fly on the wall , and listen carefully or you might miss it..I listened, I missed it.

Please dont read anything I wrote thinking I am being antagonistic, I am not, and I tried very hard to write it so it didnt come across like that.
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Trent Griggs » Sat Aug 10, 2013 2:22 am

I'm a noob. I've recorded and mixed 2 albums for the same client. I told him both times that he had to have professional mastering fee in his budget because I wasn't willing to do that.
Rick mastered the first and the client went with Tony Mantz for the second as they lived conveniently close. Both engineers did a professional job and was worth the money. Of course during mixing I was mastering tracks myself to give the client for approval along the way. And when I compared my masters with the 2 professional jobs they didn't suck, or sound wildly different. But the professional jobs were better, and worth the money. It's that "room full of gear" that was mentioned before that definitely makes the difference. It's the headroom from that gear that you just can't get from plug ins, I don't care what anyone says. And I don't care if people say you can get real close either. Real close isn't exactly the same and I think with mastering this is important because the headroom from that high grade outboard adds not only air and openness, but more importantly it makes the mastered mixes robust in a way that plugs just don't do, and that "strength" is what you need your masters to have. I'm talking about turning a cd up loud on the stereo. Presuming the mixes were good, you can turn the professionally mastered product up real loud and it holds up. I'd argue that 99% of the time if you turn the Joe Bloggs plug in master up it starts to fall to bits waaaaay sooner than the professional job starts to struggle under the headroom limits of the listening system. This was the main thing I noticed from Mastering Professionally. They didn't sound radically different to my masters, but they had weight, depth, openness that was all subtle but cumulative, all adding up to making it sound more finished. But it was this "ROBUST" quality the mixes were afforded from the process which was most valuable to me. You could turn up the cd and it wouldn't shit itself early. My first listen outside of Ricks studio was on the headphone out of a portable cd player. I knew the mixes inside out by that stage and also knew where the weaknesses in my masters lay. I could tell instantly that the masters from Rick had none of the same weaknesses. They just felt stronger. Better weight. Better body and depth. Less distortion!! This could all be easily heard on a $100 portable cd player on headphones! If you can't tell the difference between mastering using some waves plugs at home on cans, or mastering going through legit Pultecs and Weiss conversion on big expensive monitors and boutique monitor amps in a purpose designed room I'd say that's a problem. All of those variables effect the end product far too much to not notice their effects as far as I'm concerned. And it's all cumulative. The signal goes through this bit of gear to the next and it's like it keeps getting sweetened and strengthened. Where I think the opposite is usually true for plugs. It degrades as it goes from one plug to the next and you start getting more distortion. Mastering engineer is definitely my friend!
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby Kurt » Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:04 pm

I think the variable that counts in this whole story is the engineer, not the gear. I'm sure Rick or any other mastering guy worthy of the name would do a better job than you or I entirely ITB.

Trent Griggs wrote:I'm a noob. I've recorded and mixed 2 albums for the same client. I told him both times that he had to have professional mastering fee in his budget because I wasn't willing to do that.
Rick mastered the first and the client went with Tony Mantz for the second as they lived conveniently close. Both engineers did a professional job and was worth the money. Of course during mixing I was mastering tracks myself to give the client for approval along the way. And when I compared my masters with the 2 professional jobs they didn't suck, or sound wildly different. But the professional jobs were better, and worth the money. It's that "room full of gear" that was mentioned before that definitely makes the difference. It's the headroom from that gear that you just can't get from plug ins, I don't care what anyone says. And I don't care if people say you can get real close either. Real close isn't exactly the same and I think with mastering this is important because the headroom from that high grade outboard adds not only air and openness, but more importantly it makes the mastered mixes robust in a way that plugs just don't do, and that "strength" is what you need your masters to have. I'm talking about turning a cd up loud on the stereo. Presuming the mixes were good, you can turn the professionally mastered product up real loud and it holds up. I'd argue that 99% of the time if you turn the Joe Bloggs plug in master up it starts to fall to bits waaaaay sooner than the professional job starts to struggle under the headroom limits of the listening system. This was the main thing I noticed from Mastering Professionally. They didn't sound radically different to my masters, but they had weight, depth, openness that was all subtle but cumulative, all adding up to making it sound more finished. But it was this "ROBUST" quality the mixes were afforded from the process which was most valuable to me. You could turn up the cd and it wouldn't shit itself early. My first listen outside of Ricks studio was on the headphone out of a portable cd player. I knew the mixes inside out by that stage and also knew where the weaknesses in my masters lay. I could tell instantly that the masters from Rick had none of the same weaknesses. They just felt stronger. Better weight. Better body and depth. Less distortion!! This could all be easily heard on a $100 portable cd player on headphones! If you can't tell the difference between mastering using some waves plugs at home on cans, or mastering going through legit Pultecs and Weiss conversion on big expensive monitors and boutique monitor amps in a purpose designed room I'd say that's a problem. All of those variables effect the end product far too much to not notice their effects as far as I'm concerned. And it's all cumulative. The signal goes through this bit of gear to the next and it's like it keeps getting sweetened and strengthened. Where I think the opposite is usually true for plugs. It degrades as it goes from one plug to the next and you start getting more distortion. Mastering engineer is definitely my friend!
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby rick » Tue Aug 13, 2013 11:00 am

That video shows kinda exactly how the mastering
Process is done at one end of town

Quickly efficiently conclusively and repeatabily

That really is what you are paying for at that level
Assurity

A guy listens to your track runs the 800 -1000 options
In his head on how things should go
Then tests out those ideas as fast or slow as he can
Give them a fair trial .. Till he just "knows"

I do another process as well where I compare the track
To the others on the record in real time as well
Which although not unique to my place its a rarer way of doing things
And usually somebody comments that its neat and
They haven't seen it before
( but a small precentage of us world wide work that way in real time and always have )

Sorry .. But the elephant in the room with that video
Is you are listening to a YouTube playback

And the fact we can't hear the mastering changes on YouTube
Is no surprise at all .. But I am surprised by the way some of you view
The value in what we do
The house painting analogy is kinda wierd .
I finish your record .. And prepare it for sale
No more no less
If the house is already erected in good shape
Painted .. Windows cleaned and the lawns are mowed there is not much for me to do
Cept to say.. " yep you nailed it ..Lets get it on the market ..
It's just like the other houses we have prepared for sale and
sold in your area .. I know this area well I know what is required ."

Those kinda sessions are quick and therefore cheaper
Like the YouTube video session

But the very next job by the same client could be a complete shitfight
New roof .. Total paint .. Extension out the back
New lawns ..
Etc etc

But more to point with that youtube clip
Where does everybody think the data goes with data compression ?
?

It gets thrown out

It was clearly a onsite conference demo and afterwards
Posted on YouTube as a fly in the wall event which is neat
But the audio ..? Come on why are we even talking about
It .. YouTube audio is lame

I have done thousands of jobs where it's unlikely
Anybody not familar with the material would ever hear What I have done
.. Little lone after conversion to a shitty
Lossy format

Those jobs are almost just q/c work
It's a big part of what we do At mastering Big part
But people don't see it or get it
But in many ways mastering is gloried quality control

Having the sense to say .. These mixes are spot
On ..they will translate perfectly
Why change them .. ? Is exactly what you want your mastering guy to
Be able to do .. To honour your mixes and your hard work

And also he needs to be able to say
"Except for track 8 that sucks ...in context
to all your other material it's sticking out
lets make the bottom end the same as track 7 shall we ? "

Does my mastering sound different or better then the source
Material .. ?
Well maybe 90% of the time I would say there is between
A 50% and 5 % difference and I am still in business after decades
So it must !

I reckon that you tube video is a 5-10 % difference and the resolution
Is just lost on the net .

You will also notice this particular mastering guy and forum owner is sure enough
About what's what to have said ..on first listen
"Well I cant hear what's going on
But I can see what's going on "

That IS how it mastering happens .. Mark was totally correct in posting it
he worked for me for so long .. he knows ..he gets it .

A fly on the wall lesson in Part of mastering process In real time by an assured engineer
Is shown in that video .. Doesn't matter if you don't
See or hear the value in it

That is pretty much what we are doing .
.
Rick O'Neil
I think we went to different schools together
turtlerockmastering.com
we listen
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Re: Crash course in mastering

Postby 440Hz » Sat Oct 19, 2013 9:05 pm

I LOVE how Rick writes this like a song/poem.

Mastery is in the art
Nic P
www.440hz.com.au
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." Hunter S. Thompson
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