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Question re mastering

Postby Nepean » 12 Mar 2019, 04:58

I recently recorded a solo piano jazz track using an acoustic piano sound on my Nord Piano 3 and a focusrite 2i2 and reaper. To me, the sound quality is fantastic. It's a quiet, thoughtful sort of track.

I paid a little bit of money for someone to master the track and to be honest I think I prefer the original version,which is slightly more mellow. I don't really know what I paid for.

My question is, not knowing anything much about mastering, is it really necessary to master the track? It sounds really good to me as the original version but I don't know anything about mastering so perhaps I don't really know.

Thanks heaps, for any tips, really appreciate it
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Question re mastering


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Re: Question re mastering

Postby SteveNordP3 » 12 Mar 2019, 05:25

Generally - if it sounds good to your ears, that’s what matters.

Mastering is probably best applied to an entire album though mastering a single makes sense if that’s what’s going to be distributed. Mastering is really just preparing the final recording for distribution. Across a collection of songs (whether EP or LP) you’re watching for some level of consistency - a sense of sonic cohesiveness for the project. Sadly - a lot of commercial mastering is really about getting consistent ear-splitting, highly compressed, dynamic-free volume out of a digital file. Boring and fatiguing because listening in a noisy car or while jogging seems to be the norm now. Remember when we used to sit in our living rooms - dedicating an hour or more to sit and listen to a vinyl record from start to finish?. If you listen to a traditional classical or jazz record, the dynamics are part of the value - it’s more like being there live. If all that gets lost in mastering for the sake of a common level of sound, that may or may not represent what you want others to hear. And perceived volume isn’t the only thing mastering addresses - consistent EQ, effects, color - these can all play a part in how it feels to the listener (who isn’t only listening to the songs - even if they’re not fully aware of the magic and ear candy they’re getting from the engineers too....).

A great mastering process - in the ears of an expert - can transform a good album in to a very engaging listening experience. So you might want to have some folks listen to both versions and share their reactions. Sometimes, artists focus exclusively on the performance - a great engineer and mastering engineer work to ensure the performance translates in to a compelling listening experience too.

Google “why master songs” or stuff like that. You’ll find tons. At the end of the day - if you like your recorded version better than the mastered version, save the time and money on the mastering process and skip it. Produce the sound you want. Just don’t miss the opportunity to ask the mastering engineer what he or she was doing, why they thought it was important, what they felt they were facilitating on the recording for the listener - and share your reactions. You might see value in it or you might not. There’s no right or wrong in these things!

Good luck and happy recording!

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Re: Question re mastering

Postby harmonizer » 12 Mar 2019, 06:35

Mastering is a type of compression which takes your final (uncompressed) mix as input, usually in WAV stereo format, produces a separate output file whose sound should "hold together" better, and will also boost the volume level. If it is done right, you will not notice any downside. There are videos you can find which discuss the common over-application of mastering compression in modern pop music, sometimes described as the "volume wars".

I have played around with "mastering" effects which are built into my Korg D3200, which is a traditional hardware-based multitrack recorder and mixer. Some of these mastering effects seemed to suck the space out of a song, particularly songs which had quiet passages. There is one mastering effect on the D3200 (I think it is called "Mastering Comp") which just works, which always improves the sound, and never does harm. I don't know how it works; it's just like a toaster which makes perfect toast every time. I have used it with success on quiet jazz ballads where just a sax and piano are playing, as well as with 3-minute rock and roll covers.
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Re: Question re mastering

Postby Nepean » 15 Mar 2019, 08:21

Thanks a lot for the insights.

I decided to just use the original without any mastering. Better, I think, to attempt to make art that you are deeply happy with than to make art that you are unhappy with because apparently someone else thinks it's better that way!
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Re: Question re mastering

Postby dhbp-nord » 15 Mar 2019, 15:06

Years ago I did a soundtrack for a documentary film that had many many synth tracks, when it came time to transfer, a lot of my FX choices got replaced in the final mix, I wasn't as happy with the end result.

When Paich/Porcaro (Toto) recorded the solo section for Rosanna they printed the entire keys mix including FX down to 2 tracks so no one could mess with it after the fact :-)

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Last edited by dhbp-nord on 15 Mar 2019, 15:07, edited 1 time in total.
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