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Recording question: Mastering

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Cool Beans 24 Apr 12 - 04:32 PM
Kara 24 Apr 12 - 04:45 PM
DebC 24 Apr 12 - 04:47 PM
Will Fly 24 Apr 12 - 04:49 PM
Maryrrf 24 Apr 12 - 04:53 PM
Kara 24 Apr 12 - 04:53 PM
Kara 24 Apr 12 - 04:55 PM
Maryrrf 24 Apr 12 - 04:56 PM
Kara 24 Apr 12 - 05:03 PM
Big Mick 24 Apr 12 - 05:31 PM
GUEST,999 24 Apr 12 - 06:09 PM
DebC 24 Apr 12 - 06:10 PM
Dan Schatz 24 Apr 12 - 06:20 PM
Acorn4 24 Apr 12 - 06:30 PM
Dan Schatz 24 Apr 12 - 06:32 PM
GUEST,999 24 Apr 12 - 06:56 PM
johnadams 24 Apr 12 - 07:09 PM
Bernard 24 Apr 12 - 07:35 PM
John P 24 Apr 12 - 09:20 PM
matt milton 25 Apr 12 - 05:10 AM
doc.tom 25 Apr 12 - 05:55 AM
matt milton 25 Apr 12 - 07:07 AM
Cool Beans 25 Apr 12 - 10:43 AM
Bernard 25 Apr 12 - 07:58 PM
GUEST,Howard Jones 26 Apr 12 - 02:58 AM
Acorn4 26 Apr 12 - 04:40 AM
GUEST,matt milton 26 Apr 12 - 05:15 AM
Bernard 26 Apr 12 - 10:43 AM
Bernard 26 Apr 12 - 11:22 AM
GUEST,Hookey Wole 26 Apr 12 - 11:33 AM
Bernard 26 Apr 12 - 12:05 PM
matt milton 26 Apr 12 - 01:05 PM
treewind 26 Apr 12 - 01:28 PM
GUEST 01 Dec 12 - 12:00 AM
GUEST 01 Dec 12 - 12:07 AM
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Subject: Recording question: Mastering
From: Cool Beans
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:32 PM

The engineer who recorded and is mixing my CD recommends that I get it mastered--not by him: he believes in involving another set of ears. The CD is just my voice and guitar, with another musician and/or singer on four of the 17 tracks. It sounds good to me, with consistent sound levels from track to track. Mastering is expensive. In your experience, has it been worth it?


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Kara
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:45 PM

Hello Cool Beans

I am working on doing some recording and wondering the same thing, in fact I am not sure what mastering actually is, do you know?


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: DebC
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:47 PM

For myself, it was well worth it. I think whether to master or not is dependent on what your goal with your CD is. If it is a vehicle to further your music career, then by all means spend the money, IMO.

Also, if you are looking to get radio play, many of those DJs can tell the difference between a mastered and non-mastered recording.

But even if those aren't your goals, a mastering engineer has superior equipment and can fine tune all the little stuff that might have gotten missed in the mixing process. My producer calls it "Fairy Dust Sprinkling". :-)

This all said, I have heard a lot of recordings that have not been mastered and because the music is SO EXCELLENT, the audio quality wasn't at the top of my list.

So it really comes down to a personal and possibly a financial decision.

Debra Cowan


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Will Fly
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:49 PM

Mastering a record involves taking the "raw" tracks and creating (for an album) a consistent sound footprint - adding/subtracting EQ - panning to give a sound spread, etc.

Another pair of ears is always useful - but the original artist should also not let his/her ideas be overridden...


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Maryrrf
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:53 PM

I couldn't afford mastering, but I'm very happy with the way my CD turned out. One of the things mastering does is makes sure the volume levels are similar in all the songs, so the listener doesn't have to keep adjusting the volume, and it's also a general tweaking and polishing done by another set of trained ears. If it sounds good to you (and you need to play it on a variety of sound systems to make sure) you are probably good to go. I think mastering is more important when you've got complex mixes, effects, lots of percussion, heavy bass, etc.   I'm sure there will be other more informed comments than mine on this topic.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Kara
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:53 PM

Isn't panning and EQ-ing done in the mixing process?


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Kara
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:55 PM

I worry that what mastering does is make it sound the same as everything else.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Maryrrf
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 04:56 PM

Kara, yes I think it is but the mastering is like a second fine tuning of all of that.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Kara
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 05:03 PM

Cool, Bean, can we hear a track or two to see what we think of the sound quality?


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Big Mick
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 05:31 PM

Several oversimplified answers here, but DebC, a thorough pro, gave you the best one. Mastering is part science, part art. The science is what the others have alluded to. It is making sure the sound levels aren't all over the board. Mixing and mastering, as was pointed out, is where levels withing the recording are set. This is so there is the proper balance between the instruments and voices, etc. Mastering then would apply some EQ to bring the master levels into sync. The art comes in at this point. I payed a fair amount of money to have our first CD mastered and was pretty disappointed. They overcompressed everything. I made my mind up that I would never send something to be mastered again. On the second CD, I sat at the console with Paul Mills as he mastered. He is as good as it gets. We had some dialogue, but I would trust him completely with or without my being present. What is the takeaway? If you are going to have it mastered, and DebC gave you the criteria as to whether you should, make sure it is someone who shares and understands your sensibilities. Sandy Paton (legendary owner and recording engineer for Folk Legacy) hated mastering, he felt like it stole the soul of folk music acoustic instruments with compression. Yet if you listen to Paul Mills work, you know that, in the right hands, it is a wonderful tool.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: GUEST,999
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 06:09 PM

Mastering is to mixing what coitus is to foreplay.

1) Read the above posts, and pay special attention to the details in Deb and Mick's posts.

2) Do NOT let the person doing the mastering over-ride what you want. It is your CD.

3) There is too much overly compressed stuff out there. Don't let that happen.

4) Be there at the mastering session.

If you've done a good job in the mixing process, mastering time should be proportionally less expensive. From what you describe, CB, it should come in about $300-400.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: DebC
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 06:10 PM

Mick makes some excellent points that I missed. A mastering engineer should be someone who is familiar with the kind of music you are recording.

Charlie Pilzer of Airshow mastering is mastering my next recording. I trust Charlie with my work; he has worked with a whole bunch of very fine musicians and he mastered my second recording, Dad's Dinner Pail.

Those Folk Legacy recordings were in my mind when I said that sometimes the music is so good that mastering didn't make a difference. Sandy liked his music on the front porch; Folk Legacy certainly reflected that and that's a GOOD thing.

Debra Cowan


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 06:20 PM

I didn't master my first CD, but I did with my second, and it was so worth it. In my case the mastering engineer, Charlie Pilzer of Airshow (also one of the very best), also did most of the mixing - and played bass! He's a joy to work with.

Kara asked about panning and eq. Yes, that's mainly done in the mixing process. In the mastering process the work is done with just two tracks - left and right - so that any eq added affects a whole song (or indeed the whole album). In mastering the engineer will help you create a CD which is enjoyable in different environments (ie, the car, your house, the radio, an i-pod), and eliminate extraneous pops and noises. If there are significant mistakes in the mixing, the mastering engineer should be able to catch them so the mixing engineer can fix them. (You'd be amazed at how often this happens). In the end, you'll have a recording that people want to listen to, not only because of your performance, but because there's nothing in the audio which is subtly discouraging them.

With the right mastering engineer, your CD should end up sounding more like you than you do! Will it be completely natural? No, but we gave that up the moment we took the human voice and instruments and put them into a recorded medium broadcast into a room with two pieces, to be listened to while people do the dishes or drive home from work. What it will do is present you in the best possible way to the world.

So yes, I'd be a vote in favor of mastering - your CD will represent you forever, so it's worth the investment to do it right. What I would NOT do is have a folk CD mastered (or recorded or mixed, for that matter) by someone who doesn't understand and love folk music. You need someone who can understand what you want, who will listen to you and also talk to you clearly.

Good luck with the project, CB!

Dan


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Acorn4
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 06:30 PM

From what I can make out, mastering also involves the use of a thing called a "limiter" which brings up the softer parts of the recording so they've got more presence - lessens the contrast between loud and soft?


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 06:32 PM

Wow, Deb. I think Charlie's ears must have been burning. We were both singing his praises at the same time!

Dan


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: GUEST,999
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 06:56 PM

Right, Acorn4.

Examples of possible actions taken during mastering:

Editing minor flaws
Applying noise reduction to eliminate clicks, dropouts, hum and hiss
Adjusting stereo width
Adding ambience
Equalize audio across tracks
Adjust volume
Dynamic range expansion or compression
Peak limit

To finish mastering a CD the track markers must be inserted along with ISRC, PQ codes,[further explanation needed] text and other information necessary to replicate a CD. Vinyl LP and cassettes have their own pre-duplication requirements for a finished master.

That is from Wikipedia, but it's fairly clear and accurate.

The whole article is at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_mastering

The part you mention Acorn4 is in the bottom line; it's called Peak Limit.

What is seldom mentioned is the time between songs on the CD. IMO, using a flat "There will be 2 or 2.5 or 3 seconds between each song" is a mistake. Some songs may require more. It has to feel right to you, CB. After everyone else has done with your work, the name they remember is yours. You get the applause and you get the boos, not the other people who did stuff. That's also why you get the last word, and the bills. If the various people along the way do not understand what you want to hear then find others who will listen to you. Best wishes to you.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: johnadams
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 07:09 PM

Some good comments made so far.

Another thing to understand is that there are lots of different settings that can be applied to the mastering process. If the mastering engineer is using a particular mastering software it can have a bewildering array of choices, and only a few might be relevant to your music. If the mastering engineer is doing it 'manually' then a good understanding of the needs of the musician is essential - and the musician should be consulted during the process.

When Doug Bailey and I mastered the last Old Swan Band album at Wildgoose, we re-mastered four times (if I remember correctly) before getting the required result. Even then, the tracks didn't sound as fresh and vital as the original raw mixes but they would be more consistent on radio and on a variety of playback systems so it was worth doing rather than not.

I've had stuff mastered in my absence in the past, especially in the old days when I recorded for Decca and the producer 'knew best'. It can be demoralising.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Bernard
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 07:35 PM

There is another issue that you may have to learn by experience...!

A major 'trip hazard' when burning a master for CD production is the failure to test for the inherent errors in the master CD itself. There are plenty of web pages on the subject, but in short you must keep the C1 errors down as low as possible ('acceptable' is often given as 220 per second!!), but there should be no C2 errors at all, or the CD plant will reject the master. 'Jitter' is another consideration.

It is not enough to burn the CD then verify it, believe me! The verification process corrects read errors on the fly, just as a CD player might - and it just isn't good enough for a glass master.

I use a programme called 'Opti Drive Control' to check my masters, but not all drives are supported. You may have to burn in one drive, and test in another!

Plextor and Lite-On burners are favoured by most mastering engineers. You also need to use the highest quality CD stock, and burn at the speed recommended - often as slow as 8x. Some CD houses still ask for 4x, but that can often throw up as many errors as faster (16x or more) speeds.

Discuss all this with your CD manufacturer BEFORE you start mastering - it will speed up the lead time no end!

As for the overall sound of your CD, bear in mind most people will listen in the car more than anywhere else, so make sure you do, too!


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: John P
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 09:20 PM

One way to think of mastering might be to think of how much better you sound when you have the opportunity to play a live show with a sound person who is a complete master. Many sound people get a really good mix and good overall sound, but every once in a while you get someone who makes you sound like a million dollars. Mastering is doing that on purpose to your album.

I recommend it, as long as you stop the mastering engineer from doing anything you don't like the sound of. I also highly recommend enlisting the aid of a friend whose ears you trust and who has been through the whole experience to go to the mastering session with you.

Always work with an engineer who knows and loves acoustic music. A lot of mastering people who do more commercial music even out the overall levels by using a lot of compression. Compression is a useful tool when it is needed, but I would tend to apply it to specific instruments on specific tracks in the original mix if if that seemed the best way to clarify sound of the instrument. I've only used it on two or three tracks out of five albums. Acoustic music has a lot of dynamic range and too much (or any?) compression at the mastering stage, which affects all the instruments, can do serious harm in that regard. It often makes the album sound contrived to me, besides decreasing the joy of hearing the instruments get quiet and loud the way real instruments do.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: matt milton
Date: 25 Apr 12 - 05:10 AM

"The CD is just my voice and guitar, with another musician and/or singer on four of the 17 tracks. It sounds good to me, with consistent sound levels from track to track."

Unlike many people, I don't think mastering is essential. The fact that you've recorded your CD in a studio, with a proper mix engineer, is the main thing. Chances are your CD already sounds 5000 times better than all the CDs out there that were just recorded at home and then mastered. An awful lot of recording engineers do a quick "master" (in the sense of upping the volume levels to close to mastered levels) anyway.

Find a CD that is a comparable setup to yours (just voice and guitar etc) that you think sounds really good. Play it next to yours. Does yours still sound good to you? If so, don't bother with mastering.

If, however, you decide there is anything you think can be improved about your recording, then get it mastered. It needn't be expensive - I can recommend some people if you like.

One thing most online mastering engineers do these days is offer a free sample. If you don't like it, or think it's unnecessary, don't do it. The one thing that can be said about mastering, is that it is increasingly cheap these days.

But if you could post two tracks somewhere (soundcloud, say) to compare, I'll take a listen.

If you want to hear opinions from pro sound engineers, then post your question on the site Gearslutz.com, where all the sound engineer/mixing geeks hang oout.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: doc.tom
Date: 25 Apr 12 - 05:55 AM

Of course mastering isn't necessary - but what do you want? JohnP has given a brilliant analogy above. Beware of producers/engineers who think that mastering involves adding a lot of compression SO THAT YOU CAN PLAY THE WHOLE THING LOUDER - you lose a lot of colour and dynamic. Know what you want to hear - but find someone to master it that you trust and work with them.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: matt milton
Date: 25 Apr 12 - 07:07 AM

"As for the overall sound of your CD, bear in mind most people will listen in the car more than anywhere else, so make sure you do, too!"

It's funny, I hear that said a lot, but I've never actually read any statistics/numbers to corroborate it. Not being a car-owner, and not knowing many car-owners, I always wonder if it is really true.

I think if you're a musician who is making every penny count, you are better off spending money you would have spent on mastering on marketing and publicity. Remember - sending out review copies of an album costs money. Even in this MP3-centered day and age, a folk music magazine or festival organizer is still more likely to review or listen to your album if they receive a CD on their desk, rather than an easily ignorable link to a website. You need to reserve a decent wedge of money for promotion, otherwise that great-sounding album is worthless.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Cool Beans
Date: 25 Apr 12 - 10:43 AM

Thanks, all, for your wise counsel.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Bernard
Date: 25 Apr 12 - 07:58 PM

We often receive CDs for air play without track durations listed, which isn't helpful when you're trying to put a programme together.

Bear in mind a track of between 3 and 4 minutes duration is far more likely to be played than a 6 minute one!!


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 02:58 AM

Whether or not you have it mastered, I would recommend you listen to the final mix on as many different speakers as possible. When my band made our CD we found it sounded quite different on different systems, and it took a number of further tweaks to find a mix which would work reasonably well across the broad.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Acorn4
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 04:40 AM

One problem that I ran across was that when I panned the tracks right and left and then played them in the car, you got different instruments when sitting in the driving or passenger seat - unless you sit right on top of the gear stick, you don't get the sound you intended.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 05:15 AM

"One problem that I ran across was that when I panned the tracks right and left and then played them in the car, you got different instruments when sitting in the driving or passenger seat - unless you sit right on top of the gear stick, you don't get the sound you intended."

I don't even regard that as a problem. That's stereo! Even more than that, it's real life: you hear things from where you are. If you're listening to an orchestral performance and you are seated on the left, or on the right, you will hear the instruments you're closest to. I used to really like listening to Beatles albums in the car, hearing one side (hence, one set of instruments) really strongly, then at traffic lights hearing the full mix.

Most of the mixes I hear that impress me have instruments in discrete, specific places - often hard-panned right and left, or thereabouts. It reserves a big space for the vocals dead-centre. So long as the vocals are in the centre, it doesn't matter if the acoustic guitar is hard-right and the mandolin hard-left.

Anyway, because in the OP's case, it's a sparse mix, mainly just voice and guitar, so it doesn't matter. You'd have to actually try quite hard to mix that perversely enough to make the stereo spread an issue.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Bernard
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 10:43 AM

Matt... are you aware that most Beatles' re-issue CDs have the 'radiogramme stereo' tracks in their mono version? I was aware that the Beatles themselves didn't like the early 'stereo' versions...

For those who don't understand the term 'radiogramme stereo', the early stereo 'music centres' were in a big box with a speaker at each end... a lot of pop music was released with the vocals in one speaker and the instruments in the other, each with a little reverb of the other channel to give a 'stereo effect'...

When I'm doing a mix-down I always try to feature the main vocal dead-centre, although it's not always what the client wants until I can convince them!

;o)


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Bernard
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 11:22 AM

I've just had a look around the 'net, and it seems there's a lot of criticism about Goerge Martin's abilities with stereo mixing...

I may be wrong (!!), but he was the recording engineer, and may not have had as much involvement in the final product - the record company would have been more interested in market trends to boost sales. I'd guess the mono mixes were down to him, as they were done first for the single releases.

The general public were buying stereo systems for the first time during the 1960s, and had fixed ideas about what constituted 'good stereo'... hearing something different in each speaker was perceived to be 'proper stereo'!!

Sorry about the thread creep!! ;o)


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: GUEST,Hookey Wole
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 11:33 AM

Sonic Exciters & Enhancers...

Not sure of the extent to which they are still used & abused in mastering ?

[It's a few years I stopped reading "Sound on Sound" every month]

But I've got piles of CDs from the 1990's that were rendered almost unlistenable
by major record labels inflicting their near religious belief that recordings would be improved
by being artificially 'excited & enhanced'...

Who the f@ck actually enjoyed the ear fatiguing overemphasised harsh upper mid and treble frequencies.

Only 10 years ago, I remember a local low cost vanity production studio owner
automatically running every mix he produced through the factory preset 'enhancements'
in a new Alesis 'magic box' he'd got cheap somewhere and believed would impress his gullible music tech illiterate clients;
then handing over the finished master on a 'modern state of the art' mini disc.

.. and of course he immediately erased the multitrack tape for reuse.


Just mucking about, I discovered I could get similar 'pro sounding mastered' results by running a 2 track demo cassette
through the auto level recording audio inputs of a bog standard Sony VHS Hi-Fi video recorder....


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: Bernard
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 12:05 PM

Hah! ;o)


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: matt milton
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 01:05 PM

Yeah, I know that a lot of those early stereo mixes were pretty daft and unintentional, as it were. I read somewhere that they were based on a classical music (orchestral) standardized way of mixing at the time. I still enjoy hearing things in isolation like that though.

Maybe a better example would be the late 60s/early 70s recordings on the Hi Records label. Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson. They are fantastic sounding. The only thing dead centre are the vocals. Everything else has its own stereo place, including the drums.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: treewind
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 01:28 PM

Wot Matt said: the standard technique in 60s was a three track master tape, with vocals on one track and the rest of the backing mixed live to stereo on the other two. Then for the final stereo mix the vocal would be panned dead centre. They didn't have tape recorders with more tracks, but that system gave them full control of the vocal sound which was the most important track.

The Beatles St.Pepper was hugely innovative in using 4 track tape with a lot of bouncing and overdubbing. I'm pretty sure George Martin was the brains and ears behind that, and he had an uncanny ability to hear what the incomplete partial mix should sound like so that it would fit in correctly in the final mix, and that skill was needed because because each stage in the production process was irreversible.

Then the tape machine makers went 8 track, 16 track, 24 track and multiple synchronised tape machines and it all went mad...


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Dec 12 - 12:00 AM

Jon Gordon.


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Subject: RE: Recording question: Mastering
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Dec 12 - 12:07 AM

Jon Gordan is the master at mastering. He listens and his gear is always up to spec.


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