Q: What is Mastering and why do I need it?
A: Mastering is really two things. The first step of the process is making your music sound as good as it can. Careful spectral and dynamic processing can bring out the best qualities of your mixes. The second step is creating a master that works best for the way your audience listens to music. Whether it’s for digital distribution, CD, Vinyl, Film, TV or Broadcast, the right master will make your music sound its best wherever it’s heard.
Q: Does RFM have experience with my style of music?
A: Yes! With more than 30 years and 6,000 albums of mastering experience, I’ve worked with every genre imaginable. My clients cover the musical spectrum. Whether it’s pop, rock, alternative, jazz, blues, country, classical, dance, club, electronica, R&B, hip hop, rap, acoustic, folk, world or any other genre you can think of. From major labels to indies, from well known artists to local garage bands: you name it, I’ve mastered it.
Q: My studio engineer says he will master my record. Why should I use RFM?
A: There are many reasons most records are not mastered in recording studios by mixing engineers. Look at the credits on your favorite CDs or LPs. You’ll find that the vast majority were mastered by full-time mastering engineers in dedicated mastering facilities. Mastering is as different from mixing as building a sports car is from driving it. Different disciplines require different skills. I can offer a fresh perspective on your mixes in a reference listening environment. You only get one chance to hear it for the first time, and that can make all the difference.
Q: What does RFM need from me to complete the mastering process?
A: I can work with whatever format you’re mixing to. If you’re mixing to a digital format you can bring/send a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, hard drive, flash drive or use the File Upload tool on this site to send the files electronically. All formats are accepted – with a preference for high resolution interleaved .wav or .aif files if possible. If you’re mixing to analog tape, please make a backup and bring/send the ORIGINAL reels.
Here’s a list of information that will help in the process:
- Artist / Group Name
- Album Title
- Song Titles and Sequence
- Specific editing instructions such as crossfades, timing between songs, hidden tracks, inter-song ID marks, etc.
- ISRC information
- Enhanced Content
- On-line Database submission information
- Type and number of masters and reference copies
- Job Number, Plant Info and Matrix Numbers for Vinyl Projects
It’s also important to include any other notes that will help communicate how you want your music to sound.
Q: Most CDs show titles on my computer by mine does not. Can RFM help?
A: Yep. Media players like iTunes and Windows Media Player access on-line databases that store information for thousands of CDs. After I have mastered your CD I can upload your artist and album information so anyone who buys your CD will see the titles on their own computer.
Q: What is an ISRC and why do I need it?
A: It stands for International Standard Recording Code and it is a 12 character alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies each song on a CD. I can help you get this code and include it on your finished master. For a more detailed explanation, go here. http://usisrc.org/
Vinyl Specific Questions:
Q:One of the fist questions people ask is “can I use my CD master for vinyl?”
A: The answer is a solid “maybe.” If sibilance and other high frequency elements are well under control, there was not a lot of limiting done to the master and it has round, analog-like waveforms then it’s probably fine for vinyl. OTOH, if it’s excessively bright and/or it was heavily processed for loudness then it will be better to use a version that’s been optimized for vinyl. Some things that sound fine on a CD can sound bad very quickly on vinyl. Sibilance, high frequency mix elements and clipping create extremely jagged waveforms and a groove cut from a jagged waveform is difficult for a playback stylus to trace. When the stylus loses contact with the bottom of the groove the result is tracing distortion. It’s most obvious on vocal SSS sounds but can also happen on cymbals, effects or anything with excessive HF content.
Imagine the waveform is a smooth winding road and the stylus is a sports car. The car can handle the curves and stay on the road. Now imagine the road is full of potholes. The car bounces over those holes and it’s a rough ride. That’s what happens to a stylus on a record cut from a jagged or distorted waveform. And now imagine you’re driving a 1978 Pinto on that road. That’s roughly the equivalent of a lot of cheap turntables these days.
Vinyl is an exaggerator. If there is tone on the source there will be more tone on the vinyl. If there’s distortion on the source there will be more distortion on the vinyl. That’s the way it works. It’s a mechanical, analog format where the shape of the groove is the sound of the record.
Recommendations for Mixing for Vinyl:
- De-ess your vocals! I can’t stress this enough. Vocal sibilance is the number one problem I encounter on incoming masters. What sounds fine on a CD may simply be too much HF for a record. The more exposed the vocal the more likely it will be to distort. Listen to LPs from the ’70s and ’80s. Sibilance and HF content were well controlled (not to mention there was NO clipping) because engineers of that era knew the limitations of vinyl. Solving sibilance and HF issues during the mix is much more effective and less damaging than dealing with it in mastering and cutting.
- Please do not center the low frequency content. This is an internet myth that just won’t die. While it’s true that certain circumstances will require the low end to be narrowed, only the cutting engineer is in a position to know when and by how much – if any at all. Doing it in the mix or in mastering can unnecessarily degrade the sound of your record. I’ve been at this for a while and I’m very well versed in the needs of vinyl and even I don’t know if it will be necessary until I’m setting up the cut. Trust me on this one. Leave the LF issues to me. I’ll keep every ounce of low end that I can to make your record sound as good as it can.
- Assemble your master into one continuous sound file for each side including spaces and fades – exactly the way you want it to sound on the record. Please fill out and return my Vinyl Track Sheet detailing the song sequence, the length of each song and the total length of each side.
- Sequencing and sound quality: It’s a fact of physics that the outer bands of the record sound the best. Traditionally, the first band or two on each side is reserved for the most important, loudest or most dynamic tracks on the album while the inner bands are best for softer songs, ballads, that sort of thing. That’s because distortion increases and high frequency response decreases as the groove approaches the center of the disk.
- Keep the side lengths relatively even from side to side and within the limitations of the medium. The amount of music you can put on one side of a record is a delicate balance between level, bass content and the length of the music. One way to visualize it is with my Length / Level / Bass Triangle. As you can see below, more of one means less of the others.
For a pop / rock type sound, anything up to about 18 minutes on a standard 12” 33 1/3 LP side will sound great, 22 minutes is pushing it and 24 is really the max you want to go. The longer you go the less bass and level the record will have. Quiet songs or songs with very little bass will push that time out a bit. Excessive level or bass content will reduce the time. You get the idea. Here are my recommendations:
12” 33 1/3 RPM:
- DJ / Single levels up to about 6 minutes
- Hot levels up to about 12 minutes
- Standard levels up to about 18 minutes
- Lower levels up to about 22 minutes
- Even lower levels up to about 24 minutes
- Spoken word or quiet classical up to about 28 minutes
12” 45 RPM:
- Hot levels up to about 9 minutes
- Standard levels up to about 15 minutes
10” 33 1/3 RPM:
- Hot levels up to about 9 minutes
- Standard levels up to about 15 minutes
10” 45 RPM:
- Hot levels up to about 7 minutes
- Standard levels up to about 12 minutes
7” 45 RPM:
- Hot levels up to about 4 minutes
- Standard levels up to about 5 minutes
- Somewhat lower levels up to about 6 minutes
7” 33 1/3 RPM:
- Standard levels up to about 6 minutes
- Low levels up to about 7 minutes