Wow, it's April 1st! I actually decided to play a little joke on my partner Troy this morning. He's been an avid (no pun intended) user of Pro Tools for some time now and enjoys the workflow well enough to make it his DAW of choice. I've been back and forth with Pro Tools and Sonar for years (since the days of Sonar 5 and M-Powered 7) but have been personally pining over the Avid Artist series control surfaces for some time now. Well, I texted him all super excited because I had just received a shipping confirmation email from Sweetwater that said I had won a huge Pro Tools "Studio" giveaway that included a huge HD rig of rack gear and an entire console surface totaling some ridiculous made up number (perhaps $80,000). This is - of course, a prank.
His first reaction was, "but you hate Pro Tools!" He eventually figured out that I was April Fooling him, but not after I at least got him checking around online and looking at the Sweetwater website for the prize announcement and my name! Good times, good times.
So now that April is here and we're getting closer to our online mixing and mastering services launch, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on mastering. Last week we dove into some of my favorite resources for mixing and discovering artistic influences and how those can affect our craft and creative works.
Certainly the further we get into the commercial world of music production you're going to hear more and more about it, but when is it appropriate to know about it? When is a good time to seek a professional service? Instead of going to great lengths to define exactly what the mastering service is, let me instead make some points that could help steer you in the right direction to answering the above questions.
- If you're intent is to have musical content to sell in any capacity, you'll want professionals who understand how to master for the outlets you want to hit. Today's marketplace is pretty complex as there is a great range of mastering services and facilities out there.
- Are you planning to release your music on CD or vinyl? Will you want your music on digital distributor sites like iTunes, Amazon, etc.? Whatever your intent, whether single or a combination of these distribution methods you'll want to make sure your music content has the maximum impact without getting lost in translation from your DAW or project file to the end listener's experience.
- A large part of a successful career can be stemmed off of your musical content being your business card. When trying to book shows and get attached to tours as a performing act, the people you'll have to work to impress will want to hear what you sound like. Believe it or not, there are also some considerations to prep your content for other platforms like Soundcloud and Youtube that will help improve the sound quality as it gets translated onto those services. Whether you're using those sites to advertise yourself to get more shows or grow your audience, there's a clear difference between a youtube video that looks like it was uploaded from someone's phone-camera in the audience at your last live show, and a professional sounding, well produced video.
- If you're producing your own content and comparing your work to others, do you notice or struggle to get the same sonic impact that you hear on the inspirations you draw from? Mixing is a very large part of the end result in the sonic impact that we hear in a recording or commercial track, but the final stage is not only more transparent, it's also debatably the most critical stage.
- Even if you're striving to find a field or improve your craft as a producer or engineer, having a healthy knowledge of these roles and this final stage can not only improve your mixing game, but even work toward better, mastered versions of your work.
Now, at the previous statement of the difference between a well produced video and a live-show upload from someone's phone - that difference is pretty stark and i'm fairly certain you will have encountered both of those types of video uploads on youtube; you get the idea. Let me just clarify that a well produced video doesn't necessarily have to mean dropping serious money and building a commercial music video. What it will mean is taking the time to put the effort into building a video that still showcases your music to the best of it's ability.
Moving back to the topic of mastering, I’ve got a few favorite resources that have primarily been online-based.
Production Advice - Run by Ian Shepherd, a very prominent name in the mastering world as well as a huge advocate for dynamic range in the loudness wars.
Dynamic Range Day - pretty self-explanatory. While this site follows very similarly to Ian Shepherds main Production Advice site, there's a very significant importance I think it's worth mentioning separately as the topic of Loudness Wars continues.
Sound On Sound - A great website for a great trade magazine, they've been putting up a lot of their articles on their site to view freely, and the articles are always very well thought out and informative. I've started with a link directly to one on mastering I found very enlightening.
Youtube - it's become one of the most powerful resources online for free education. I would specifically suggest looking at Dan Worrall's demonstrative videos under Fab Filter's channel - while specifically oriented to show off these plugins, the concepts in which he approaches EQ and discussing briefly about the stage in which he's treating the music in them are all pretty great beginning level demonstrations to start diving into the world of mastering. Whether you use iZotope's plugins, your DAW's factory plugins, or Fab Filter's, there's no shortage of mastering focused how-to videos that demonstrate the plugins or tools you may already have access to. I would like to specifically point out that there is no 1 particular brand or set of plugins that will be "best", but if you're in the market to start purchasing plugins, definitely check out the videos before just buying up plugin after plugin!
As always, there are a ton more online free resources to get into, but at the end of the day if you're looking for somewhere to start, I would highly suggest these 3 as they're very accurate with their information, and deliberately so. If you have a hard time understanding some of the technical details, consider it a learning journey and be willing to expand your horizons: it will only help you get better with time and practice!
It's a given there will be a bunch of great resources on Youtube, and just the same as previously mentioned in the mixing article - consider other avenues for learning and networking. These can only help you pick it up even faster. Facebook groups like Pensado's Students often discusses topics on mastering as well, and if you take some time to find a social group on your social networking site of choice, chances are you might find more locals you can connect with. Happy mastering!