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FAQ: Frequently Ask Questions

John, I am relatively new to the Mastering deal, and productions in general. What are Separations?  My real goal is to bring all these tracks together in the same range.  -Mike
 
Separations are making files of the basic elements in your mix - stereo drums, instruments, vocals etc. and sending them to us along with standard 2-track mix.  We have more control over the tonality of your music when we can "operate" on the different parts vs. digging into a stereo file.  It's an amazing format that solves quite a few issues that folks have at mix/mastering time.

As producer on this project, I am finding it difficult to "match" the songs from track to track.
 
Every song has it's own "flavor" and by the end of the project, every mix leans in slightly different directions.  It's common for different songs to appear to have different vocal levels that don't match up, even when they felt perfect at mix time.

Separation Mastering eliminates that concern, because you can't go wrong.  You mix it the way you feel it, and we can correct any song-to-song projection of the vocal.  It's all recallable, non-destructive and it puts the ideal match of  technological flexibility and time-tested expertise at your disposal at a reasonable price.

John - The band wants to know how can we be sure that you'll get us the sound we're looking for? - Steven

Good question! Tell us what you're looking for!  It helps if you send us a clean copy of a couple commercial CDs that you love the sound of (or a "compilation CDR copy" of 3-5 songs from different artists). This gives us an exact idea of what you like in your area of music. During your session, we'll refer to the commercial CDs you send just as if you were here.
 
Note any particular things you'd like us to work on in individual songs, or any over-all emphasis. Let us know what characteristics you like about the reference CDs you include. Let us know how detailed you'd like us to get. We comment and communicate with you about your project, so expect that we'll all be on the same page all the way.

It can also be helpful to read these articles:

Unusual: We sometimes offer suggestions or ideas that are not usually approached in regular mastering practices.

For instance, we might suggest a shorter intro for a song if it's especially targeted for airplay or publishing demos.

We might suggest tightening up some aspects of the playing on the tracks themselves, especially at the entrances to phrases.

We might suggest cloning a better-performed section and insert it in place of another section.

Especially when we have Separations, we can give a lot more creative input than just "EQ, levels, and compression".

WE ARE NOT MARRIED TO OUR IDEAS.

Your goals are our goals, and we do not take it personally if you prefer your original idea.

If you would like us to make any suggestions as far as song order or mix ideas, we're at your service.

John, would you listen to one of our songs? I'd just like an opinion from someone well educated to decide if its even worth our time or money to make a full album. -Jon
 
Our opinion shouldn't be the "measuring stick" by which you decide to do your project or not. If you love your music, and if others would enjoy listening to it on CD, if their iPod would welcome your music, then follow your mind and heart. Some projects sound like platinum to us, and some don't -- but it's all about your dreams!  In the end, all who were involved in your project will have grown - it's a great experience. 
 
Will there be uncertainty? Sure, why not? Nothing teaches life navigation any better than just stepping up to the plate and taking a swing.  Let the process motivate you.  Rejecting yourself will never give you a smile.   Honor your vision, but keep it in balance.  Don't sell the farm or put yourself at great risk.

Key: Imagine what it would feel like once the project is done.  Will you be more excited or less if you had a completed CD in your hand, ready to promote, ready to share, ready to sell?

Often when we make the decision based on what we'll gain, versus what we stand to lose, the choice is clear.  Then just set your intentions - your firm direction - your ability to make things happen and draw in the support you deserve.  You'll be surprised how many people want to see you achieve your dreams....

May the force be with you!

Would it work better if the finished mixes were sort of flat, or if they were brighter, leaving the balancing to the mastering process?
 
Make it as much to your liking as possible. Listen on different systems, in the car, on the roof, under water, whatever. If you like what you have, you're good to go. Don't try to pre-guess or pre-set for mastering. Don't compress or limit the stereo buss (unless it's the only way to get your sound), but certainly compress as needed on individual tracks. Don't worry much about the loud volume levels of commercial CDs.  Mastering tackle's the volume issue.  It's always helpful to do level-matched A/B comparisons to reference CDs in the studio too - don't be shy - do critical listening into the mixes of commercial recordings.  If you send in Separations, you're particularly in good shape because refinements to the separated musical elements make for excellent musical balance and an improved CD master.

I will soon have more compressors to mix with, but this project now will be uncompressed, so will that be a problem to master properly?
 
Not really, especially if you send in Separations.  We can address the compression of the individual elements very effectively here.  Meanwhile, you can use the old school technique of riding the faders on individual tracks (manual compression) to a good degree - and if you get a mix that you're happy with, we'll just make it even better!

My mixes sound good in the studio, but not at home or in the car.
 
A) Sounds like Studio Monitor Madness!

We have recorded the drums in "flat" (no EQ) with a Finalizer. Did we screw up?? -Clayton
 
If you like the sound you have now, that's the most important thing. It's not the method that counts, it's the results. I prefer to EQ to the multitrack master, some engineers prefer cutting all tracks flat and EQ'ing only at mix time.

Do we need to MIX at our studio or can you do it?
 
We can recommend talented engineers who work in Pro Tools, Nuendo, Digital Performer and more.

What is the preferred format for mastering - 1/2" reel-to-reel, DAT or audio or data CD?
 
After Separations, we prefer analog 1/2" or 1/4" reel-to-reel - 96k Masterlink 24 bit data CDRs - 24 bit DAT - AIFF files or WAV... loop-back files - but it's all good. Check out this chart.

I am interested in knowing what kinds of options are available, such as Dolby.
 
If you go analog for your mix, do not use Dolby. Just go elevated +5 or +6 at 30 ips. I have some cool secrets on alignment that your engineer may get into. Some people do like using Dolby SR at 15 ips, so that's something to consider, but it's not common.

Is it good for me to include info about my mics, size of room, processing equipment, etc.?
 
It's just helpful for us to know what the multitrack format is (2" tape, computer, DAW software, etc.) and the mixdown format (1/2" , 1/4", wav files, Masterlink, etc.) All the mics, room, and processing gear isn't important unless there's a specific problem that we find as we're going along.

Can you give more suggestions?
 
Take a look at additional articles that might help.

Is it possible for us to be present during the mastering process? Even though we live in southern Mexico, we are willing to come to you.
 
I've had clients from Mexico, Brazil, New York, New Orleans and Israel come here to attend sessions. There are a couple reasonably priced motels close by the studio. I look forward to hearing your project!

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