Digital Mastering Checklist
Please provide a link to a host of your choice with your source files. DROPBOX, GOOGLE DRIVE etc are all fine. WETRANSFER preferred.
All files should be sent as 24bit WAV files at their original native sample rate. DO NOT convert any files for us. We prefer our methods for SRC [sample-rate-conversion]. Please DO NOT send MP3 or any other lossy codec to be mastered. Mastering MP3's yields terrible results.
Since we only provide mastering services, our rates only apply to album or single mastering. To save money we encourage artists to master albums with us. Contact with questions.
We return processed files using WETRANSFER
ArtisanDior was one of our first clients in Tennessee. His singles range from Major Lazer to Mike Sweep.
It is best practice and highly recommend before asking for mastering to be performed, we need to get an overview of what is possible in achieving a hi-fidelity master, or possibly, why some choose a lo-fidelity master, learn about some of the tools we recommend for helping recorded material sound its best (mostly keeping the material 1st generation when possible), and discovering ways to optimize your environment for the best listening experience to make proper judgments of your master, and learning what it takes to send in the best possible mix-down to have mastered. There are a lot of information guides online which misinform the public on how a mix-down should be properly sent in for mastering and what mastering is. A couple of emails sent, or a few minutes spent on the phone with us, can really help make a better master. As any studio setup along the journey, no matter who you choose, is only as good as its weakest links; some foreknowledge in knowing how to identify these links will definitely help with creating a satisfied customer experience. We understand that not every situation can deal with every weak link in the production phase. And most projects come with time and money constraints. The point here is to bring awareness to our clients.
Spending some time optimizing these links is time well spent, whether it be you or the engineer you've hired. This is something mostly agreed on by top mastering houses, and it also distinguishes us apart from others. If you adopt our philosophy, you are paving a path to a great master, and a listening experience for you and your fan base to hear the difference our pro-advice can make on your commercial releases. Let's start with the final mix...
Two questions often asked about the final mix output:
1. Mix-bus compression: should mix-bus compression be done in mixing or mastering?
Answer: Yes, mix engineers! Compress! Downward bus compression can be often misused and not perceived correctly due to improper monitor environment (a weak link). However, we assume that you have correctly built such an environment or you have sent your mix to someone else who has the proper environment to handle different signal processing tasks. We recommend that mix engineers get into the habit of using proper mix-bus compression. This will allow us to dynamically process less and still achieve the desired quality and average output level. Think of downward bus compression as a really good paint job on a car. It's better to have many thin coats of paint, rather than one thick coat. Coat one, the primer coat, is compression applied to the tracks in the recording and mixing stage. Coat two is mix-bus compression. The third coat is the mastering compression that we will apply. If you send us a mix that's had only one coat, we will have to apply more compression in mastering to achieve the desired finish, because the average RMS level is still too low. Compressing properly in three stages prior to mastering will increase the average VU level dramatically. Three coats will provide a better finish with more luster and will last a lifetime! Mix engineers are encouraged by our lab to do what they do best and not allow us to reign in on their parade with so-called rules of mastering. The only rule is a question: does it sound good?
2. How much headroom should I leave for the mastering engineer?
I often see this 6 dB of headroom as a magic number rule without science or practicality backing up this number. There are two primary types of signal levels that exist on the Y-Axis: RMS (loudness) and peak (transient). Both are forms of amplitude which is also visually represented on the Y-Axis. And there are two levels related to the logarithmic dB and/or the weighted LU: relative and absolute. More often than not, 6 dB (that magic number) is a peak relative level. It is only absolute when we attach a suffix to dB, as in, 6 dBFS, 83 dBSPL or +4dBu. A peak headroom of -6 dBFS is unnecessary for every track because then you have this notion that all peaks need to be tamed or turned down by 6 dB, or that the loudest peak needs to be turned down by 6 dB, etc; this is never the case, and when you do see a sausage waveform where are all peaks hit the same target, it is usually dance music (there's a reason for this). In the digital domain (PCM samples) you have an absolute level of 0 dBFS. This is the highest level your signal can be turned up without clipping. By allowing transient peaks to breathe (headroom) is where you get your brilliant sheen in mastering. The higher the peak transients extend above the RMS level (to a point), the more brilliant of a sound you get. A mastering engineer can easily tame any transients that might need attention. It is important to understand this concept because songs are not usually static, or white noise by nature, nor do our ears work linearly. This is where the understanding of what we call "dynamics" comes into focus. A song that is dynamic tends to be naturally louder - it is less fatiguing to listen to - it also performs better across many playback systems.
Mix engineers will often send over two mixes: a dynamic mix and the mix the record company wants to hear at a very [!] loud level. [Note] Sometimes we can work with the loud final mix but this is not preferred. RMS is how we think about loudness in signal processing. Telling someone to lower the relative signal by -6 dB is probably still loud if that RMS signal is close to full scale loud with no peak headroom, or no dynamic range; this is the headroom that is often eaten up or consumed by too much downward "mix-bus" compression (usually a VCA style compressor that squashes transients and increases perceived loundess); so the proper headroom is based on the track's needs. By locating the loudest section of the song and keeping peaks at 0 dBFS or just below full scale will be satisfactory for the mastering engineer. The idea is here is NO clipping and dynamic range (peak to RMS ratio)! The loudest section of the the song's RMS should then be around, ideally -14 dBFS RMS for mastering but even -10 dBFS RMS is optimal for proper mastering headroom. These targets are on a track-to-track basis. The new standard for PCM metering is K-scale metering. So -14 dBFS RMS would be displayed as 14 LUFS or K-14. LU (loudness unit) is similar to the dB (decibel) in that it is relative; the FS in LUFS makes it an absolute value related to full scale digital PCM K-metering. The adoption of the LU is based on the VU metering standard, where the 0 VU (about -18 dBFS) could be then be moved in the K-scale metering to K-20, K-14, K-12, or even K-10 depending on the style of the song and the desired loudness in the master for that particular song. This actually gives songs peak headroom on your meter! Allowing you to hit the RMS range set below full scale and a generous or reasonable peak headroom, which ultimately leads to a more dynamic song! A more brilliant louder song if so desired! And a standardized target for broadcast, streaming, and a physical copy for commercial release.
Here is our list of weak links in every production phase that should be addressed (including microphones for recording). In mastering we are particularly looking at least four weak links in our own environments and suggest you consider these weak links of your own environment when listening to the master we return back to you.
Our ears. The way sound is perceived changes with listening levels (Fletcher-Munson Curves).
Loudspeakers. The way sound is perceived can change significantly with poor speakers.
Room acoustics. The way sound is perceived can change significantly with poor acoustics.
A-to-D and D-to-A converters. Digital audio artifacts can significantly change the fidelity of sound.
Mastering is one of the most frequently used yet misunderstood terms within the music industry, and yet a critical step in the production process. It is one of the final steps your music takes before reaching consumer playback. Mastering, like most art forms, is a subjective process, yet, scientific in methodology, which is why at CCAudio LAB we understand that choosing the right mastering facility and engineer for your project is an important decision. We will walk you through our process from beginning to end, paying close attention to your unique mindset or goals, and taking every measure to ensure we provide results that sound remarkable. Our exceptional care, attention to detail, equipment, and, most importantly, the experience that we provide will successfully bring your musical vision to realization. Often younger producers and fledgling engineers approach me with final mix they are not quite confident about, and through the process of mastering they soon discover where things were sub-par in their production process. You can learn a lot from just investing in two hours of a mastering engineer's time. The best place of course would be in the lab together, unfortunately, we do not offer attended sessions.
CCAudio LAB utilizes high quality digital software and hardware technology in each of its first class listening labs; we are completely digital, providing services such as restoration, remixing, formatting, duplication, DVD audio, authoring, and encoding. Our comprehensive facility is designed to provide each client with the best experience, sound, and results possible. Specializing in providing careful attention to both the technical aspects of music production and post-production, and the unique needs of an artist’s/mix engineer's original sonic signature, CCAudio LAB has worked with a handful of independent artists from all over the United States and worldwide. We know that artists want to use the best engineers, best equipment, and most reliable services for a reasonable price. Artist's trust CCAudio LAB for every project because we are known for consistent results.
CCAudio LAB is committed to providing clients with an approachable experience that creates unparalleled results.