Since mastering comes up a lot here I asked my good friend Lou Hemsey (composer, virtuoso classical guitarist, screen writer, all around good guy and last but not least, mastering engineer) if he would write an article on mastering and he graciously accepted. I have included his bio at the end of this article.
MASTERING – “What’s The Deal?”
by Lou Hemsey
louhemsey [at] mac.com
1. Dynamic Range:
Ah, here is the most misunderstood issue of them all; when to narrow the dynamic range as opposed to keep it wide.
If you know (in advance) your use of the cue or track in a Film or TV show, then we’re way ahead of the curve.
If it’s going to be featured out in the open, and you know it for sure, then a wide dynamic range is the take; not ultra wide, but wide nevertheless.
If it’s like most situations, part of the overall sonic mix at the time, then we want a narrow dynamic range so the film mixer can put it where he or she wants it, without too much riding of the fader.
Nevertheless, wide or narrow, level is coming up. How much depends on the use. And by what means is the domain of a good Mastering house/engineer.
And here is the second misunderstood issue of them all; he who has the loudest cue wins!? Or does he?
Everybody knows that over the years the average level of all things contemporary has come up quite a bit; great for heavy rock, not so good for Jazz or anything super dynamic. But all is not always as it appears.
I have had great success with almost the opposite approach. A careful setting of the digital ceiling on dynamic material, with gentle compression ratios. . will render a great level setting and still give the listener the emotional sonic ride of the musical mix.
Yes, it will have great aural arc up and down, yet be less than the original, and be louder, but still retain the emotional content.
Conversely, not slamming hard rock till it dies, will render the listener a higher degree of loudness than super slammed, ala total flat-line peak wave form.
Make no mistake, your tracks need to have more bits in the bit-stream than you will get without mastering; but the application of limiting, compression and the like must be handled with an understanding of what’s really going on as well as the end usage.
How one would handle an end usage for Radio as opposed to a Film or TV mix, while similar, would be much different. Just like Mastering to disk for eventual pressing to vinyl is different eq and level than for CD.
3. Bit and Sample Rate:
For Film and TV, you want 24 bit 96 kHz ideally, followed by 24 Bit 48 kHz. Of course you can deliver absolutely anything you want, but that involves conversions by good software or so-so software, you won’t know, and you don’t want that. My advice to most composers and sound designers is to ask the mastering engineer/house to master both “NATIVELY.” If you are attempting doing the mastering yourself, do not make the 96 kHz version and then down sample from that for 48 kHz. Of course it will work, but not sound as good as making the 48 kHz version also “Native”
For CD’s and digital downloads, you want to provide 24 bit 176 kHz, ideally, for the mastering engineer to work with, followed by 24 Bit 88.2 kHz. From either of those sources, you will get a 24/ 44.1 and a 16/44.1 for digital download, or CD.
It’s worth mentioning that on many a high end digital download site, they are offering selling the high-res 24/176.4 kHz and the 24/88.2 kHz for download as well as the 44.1
4. Mastering Gear:
If you notice how many plug in manufactures offer great sounding plug-in’s that boast how they emulate great analog gear. . . The operative word is EMULATE.
When you choose a mastering house or particular engineer, you are getting the best of both worlds, or at least you should… Great tube and Class A Analog Mastering EQ’s Limiter’s Compressors in conjunction with Great Digital gear. That is today’s sound, he said all knowingly ? .
Point being, you definitely hear the difference between something mastered all digital and the combination of the two: What is the biblical saying. . . ” We reap what we sow;” You get my point.
Oh, and for you home Mastering guys, the old adage still holds up. Only one D to A through the absolute best converter you have: do you analog “stuff,” and then only one A to D, again, through the absolute best converter you have; at a HD Sample Rate and 24Bit.
A. Once in the Digital world, never leave there again, under penalty of Death.
B. Do all your mixing at HD resolution. And then bring it as needed.
C. Work at even sample rates divisible by 2 or 4. . . If working digitally at 192 kHz; then only come down to 96 kHz or 48 kHz: even math no shaving or funky algorithms. If working digitally at 176.4 kHz; then only come down to 88.2 kHz or 44.1 kHz:
5. To Master Or Not To Master:
Obviously, cost is an issue. If you know you will be licensing your tracks out, or at least feel like they will get around, then by all means the money spent for the mastering will definitely pay off. You will be ready with both the HD sample rate 24 Bit files as well as the SD 16 bit files. They will be used over and over again, and will sound great in any environment. It goes without saying that if we’re talking about record tracks, the answer is definitely, yes.
6. THE ARTIST
In the end, it all comes down to the soul and heart of the Mastering Engineer. His ears should reflect a total grasp of the Technical and the Creative. I’ve always tried to lock in to what the Artist gave me and take it from there; not take over, but take it, lift it further: So far, so Good!
“Creativity is the Master. . . Technique is the Slave. . .
You can’t have the Former. . . without a total mastery of the Later.
Technique lies at the beck and call of the Creative waiting to do what the boss (the Creative) envisions. “Now where getting somewhere.”
Hope this helps a bit.
Louis F. Hemsey: mini bio and background
Lou graduated from The Mannes College of Music in York City, majoring in composition and classical guitar. As a virtuoso classical guitarist, Lou performed in various renowned venues on Broadway ranging from: “Man Of La Mancha,” to the Metropolitan Opera stage and orchestral guitar duties in Alan Berg’s complex opera, “Wozzeck,” and Rosinni’s, “Barber Of Seville.” His musicality led to solo performances at the prestigious “Carnegie Recital Hall, as well as touring across Europe concretizing in seven different countries. Lou was formally trained at the Mannes College of Music in New York City, under the tutelage of the celebrated Russian guitarist and violinist; Lenonid Bolitine, earning a Bachelor of Music in Classical Guitar and Composition.
At the same time, he was one of the “go to guys” as a super creative Composer, Arranger and Producer in the New York City recording world of Pop, R&B, and Rock Record work, as well as composing and arranging numerous national commercials for: Coca Cola, Gulf, Exxon, Miller Beer, Lowenbrau, Loreal, NY Times, Lincoln, Six Flags, NBC, and CBS to name a few. Lou has earned many awards for his composing and arranging of record work and Clios for his commercial work.
After moving to Los Angeles, his expertise spread to CD Mastering of Records and Score; as well as film pre and post production; working with such companies as Disney, Universal Pictures, Sony, Miramax, Hollywood Pictures, Dreamworks Records, RCA, Arista Records, Geffen Records, Interscope Records, BMG, Heads Up Records, Alligator Records, Pacific Blues and many other Indie labels.
Some of the recording artists include: Mary J. Blige, Cher, Beck, Tracy Chapman, BB King, Blink 182, Weaser, Phillip Bailey, Shaggy, Marion Meadows, Sammy Hagar, Michelle Branch, Sublime Live, K CI and JoJo, Chris Rea, Glen Frye, Soul Decision, Semisonic, A* Teens, Anita Baker, Joe McBride and many other major recording artists.
A sample of Lou’s mastering of studio film scores and post production credits include work on The Academy Awards Selection Mastering for such scores as: The Incredibles, Pirates of the Caribbean, Step Mom, Toy Story 2, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Village, Armageddon, Meet Joe Black, Ladder 49, Home On The Range, The Haunted Mansion, Under The Tuscan Sun, Prince Of Egypt, just to name a few.
This year HE RECEIVED A LATIN GRAMMY for Mastering:
Artist: Ilan Chester
Album Title: “TESOROS DE LA MUSICA VENEZOLANA” (A six CD Box Set)