That "studio" sound
What is that last little bit of polish that producers add to a recording? It seems that, no matter how good a musician is and no matter how sophisticated their equipment is, something done at a local studio sounds like a Ma & Pa operation.
a good engineer and lots of experience. profesional mastering also helps.
basically, everything, from the gear to the various people working on it, are top notch, there's no 'weak link' so to speak. whereas on lower budge recordings, you're more likely to have not been able to drop Xhundred dollars to hire that mixing guys who has brilliant ears, or to replace the U87s that got bust halfway through recording, or to get your guitar tweaked to perfection, or, or......
making an album (of professional quality) is much closer to making a big movie than a lot of people realise. everything has to be inplace and everything has to be top-notch.
and that's what they have over us.
Ra Er Ga.
Ninjazz have SuperChops.
Compression, EQ-ing, balancing, mastering, you name it. That's why they do what they do. They can, hopefully, recognize what a recording needs to give it "that" sound. Whatever "that" sound is. There are many stories floating around about the producer Phil Spector who would walk into a control room, turn a few knobs on and existing recroding, and completly change the sound.
"Music so wishes to be heard that it sometimes calls on unlikely characters to give it voice".
Hey Gerry and Arjen!!!! this topic needs your input. I mention those names because they have the best sounding recordings.
the final touch IS mastering techniques. I haven't a clue as yet. my recordings sound like sis and bro. not even up to the production values of mom and pop.
I'm no expert, and I have no idea how much you know, so ignore the bits you know and set me straight on the bits you know better ;)
After the good musician and good equipment, the first steps are to seperate the instruments in the EQ. The 'hump' in the frequency graph should, more or less, be in a different place for each instrument, and there shouldn't be any gaping holes. Overlapping sounds like mush and gaps are tiring on the ears. The better they all fit together, the smoother the sound. I find you can bend the rules quite a bit with heavy panning, and tricks like having a dry instrument panned to one side and all/most of its wet sound panned to the other, but I still can't do it
I've heard good things from several places about har-bal. It's a tool to take that EQ graph and smooth it out 'like the pros', without all the manual tweaking of the individual elements (I don't think it's just a big EQ, I think there's lots of jiggery-pokery going on underneath the simple-looking bits :)). I've only tinkered with it a little, but it worked wonders for me. I was listening to a piece over and over again on the way to and from work to try and work out what it needed, and it was really quite tiring on the ears. I ran it through har-bal quite conservatively, and didn't notice any specific difference between the two, but it sounded better. I stuck the new version on the player, and it was only after the journey to work that I noticed the biggest difference - no ear fatigue, whatsoever. Result!
It's all about the guy behind the console. That and the fact that you haven't been sitting behind the console listening to it a thousand times. I guarantee you some engineers listen to their comercial releases and still hear "mistakes" once in a while. IN the end it is all about the engineer and usually the mastering just pushes it over the top. I don't care what anyone tells you. Unless you've been doing it for years, mastering is best left to a professional. Sure you might be able to make your recording sound better but a seasoned pro will make it sound as good as it can possibly be. Given of course that you have done a good job recording and mixing your project.
Thanks everyone for your insight.
Despite my grizzled appearance and my advanced age, I have no idea what "mastering" is. I know that records are made from master recordings, etc., but I believe a master and mastering are two different animals, correct?
Mastering is the overall EQ'ing leveling of the final mix. Once the engineer has produced his final mix and there is no more changes. He or someone else adjust the over all EQ, Cuts frequencys that over lap. adds compression to the overall mix and much more to produce the "CD" Quality you hear today.
No matter where you go.... There You are! Law of Location
in addition towhat leear said, if its an album (or anything with more than one track), mastering involves making sure allt racks are of a similar volume. Mastering also (nowadays) generally involves further compressing tracks to make them as loud sounding as possible, although this is much to the chagrin of many pro's in the field.
Ra Er Ga.
Ninjazz have SuperChops.
A master is the result of the mastering process. Which is more complicated than we can discuss here.
I don't care what anyone tells you. Unless you've been doing it for years, mastering is best left to a professional. Sure you might be able to make your recording sound better but a seasoned pro will make it sound as good as it can possibly be. Given of course that you have done a good job recording and mixing your project.
Doesn't that go for practically everything in life, including cooking dinner, fixing the roof or even playing guitar in the first place? And is it not so that seasoned pro's became seasoned because they didn't listen to advice like that?
Seasoned pros likely interned with a seasoned pro at some point. You can go ahead and master if you like. It will be hit and miss. The problem is that it takes practice. Sure you can't practice if you don't try. I'm not saying don't try but if you want something to sound professional, either you need to be one or you need to hire one. There are subtleties that are difficult to hear. A person with perfect pitch would be better equipped to tackle mastering as he would be able to say,"there is distortion at 7kHz. How can I fix that". For the vast majority of us who are just dabblers, we're hunting butterflies with an elephant gun. You could probably sweep a range with a good parametric but without trained ears, it might still be difficult to hear where the problem is.
Especially when we are "in" the project. We might hear the guitars and think man, they sound awesome, why does it sound like garbage in the mix though? It's not as easy as just running your mix through a plugin(as many would like to believe). There can be some seriously surgical editing going on. Knowing the tools is a part of that. Having the tools is another but mostly it's in the ears. Mastering engineers don't just make the mix sound better, they fix the problems that you missed or ones that you couldn't have avoided, even with a good mix.
So, go ahead and master your mix but if you end up wondering why it still doesn't sound professional, it's probably because you just haven't put in the time to recognize what the difference between a good mix and a great one is.
and more on mastering...
One needs to consider the target audience and the target audience's listening equipment. It's become a lot more complicated these days. For example, one would likely choose to master for different characteristics for
high performance audio system versus
MP3 with home speakers versus
MP3 with earbuds versus
MP3 (on PC) with PC speakers versus
FM radio in a premium car system versus
FM radio on a boombox versus
and so on ...
As Hue mentions, there is a lot more to mastering than just EQ. Nearly every available mastering process is (optionally) frequency dependent: Stereo image processing, delay processing and multiband dynamic processing (e.g., compression and expansion). The last often go by fancy names such as "Aural Exciter." There is a fair amount of processing that can be done to reduce artifacts if the material is expected to be encoded as MP3, WMA or AAC (lossy codecs). There may be more than one mastered version for different broadcast, distribution or media channels -- FM, iTunes, CD/WAV. While I don't know this for sure from personal biz experience, I doubt the mastered version of a song is used to press CDs is the same as that sold over iTunes or Amazon on-line. It just makes sense.
For the home recordist, who doesn't have access or understand all this processing, there is one simple piece of advice to get you started in mastering: Do your mastering on the speakers you think your listeners will use -- home hi-fi, computer monitors (think MySpace), earbuds or boombox or ??. Better yet, listen to your candidate masters on all of these to understand how different they will sound. You will hear amazing differences across listening devices. Some instruments disappear; vocals may blare or become unitelligible; bass can kill or become wimpy. Then you will need to decide for what listener/listening equipment to optimize the sound. Mastering is tough stuff!
-=tension & release=-
compression, verb, and eq is the final touch that makes all the difference. Then there is the mastering process which is what most people are looking for when they think studio sound