Mastering for Music Libraries

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  • #25688 Reply

    Hi TerlinguaMusic.

    There’s a lot of fantastic feedback here. I do quite a bit of mastering aside from production music. (I recently took 3 months off from writing to build a mastering room in my place if that’s any indication of the perspective my reply is coming from…)

    Regarding Loudness:

    I personally wouldn’t suggest aiming for a particular decibel value in terms of gain reduction on your limiter as some have suggested, but instead would highly encourage you to buy a few albums or singles by the big exclusive production music libraries. Many of them have albums for sale on Itunes. (Extreme Music and Immediate Music both have many albums…)

    I would pull a few tracks into a session or wave editor and use a level meter to see what RMS or LU value they aim for on release. RMS/LU value is critical in mastering…
    And as Eduardo pointed out, your best souding tracks almost always get picked. There’s so much well produced music available that people have developed an equal, if not dominant bias on fidelity… (I can understand why as harsh or thin mixes are fatiguing…)

    Regarding the question on whether libraries master your music:

    Non-Exclusive libraries do not. What you’re hearing are codec artifacts from low reoslution audio compression. (I’m sure there may be exceptions out there, but none I’m aware of…)

    Some exclusive libraries do master your music however. It depends o their model… If they’re backend only than typically you’re your own mastering engineer. If they also sell albums or have any retail avenues then often they will. That being said it really varies from Exclusive library to library… Usually they’ll give you specifications if they’ll be mastering it but email them if unsure…

    Regarding Bit Rate and Sample Rate:

    44.1 is the most common. Some ask for 24 bit others 16, but 16 is the most common… There are a few libraries that request 48k, but typically they’ll specify…

    Hope that helps…

    #25689 Reply

    2016. Music that is not mastered fairly loudly will fall short in comparisons. If your track is up against another and not as loud – you (often) lose – even though the production, composition, performance, etc. may be better. The people choosing music in 2016 are getting younger and younger. Somehow, I seem to be getting older and older…. 🙂 Go figure.

    These younger folks are not used to hearing dynamic range in music. They are used to loud and smashed. After losing some tools to upgrades, I ended up going much more analog in my mastering chain. A VariMu is helping a lot.

    Get em loud! It’s about making the cut when the music is auditioned unfortunately — NOT how it’s going to sit under dialog. I used to never compress / limit orchestral recordings. Those days are gone now. Even stuff I submit to Disney needs to be mastered pretty hot or it gets bounced back for remixing / remastering.

    Saddens me to say it, and I often like the music less after mastering, but it’s the reality in 2016. And yes, I’m licensing LOTS of cuts each month.

    #25690 Reply

    thanks for the great replies.

    My guess was that the sound libraries had virtually installed compression and aural exciter across the virtual two-mix of their playback engine. I can see how low-bit MP3s would kinda sound like that.

    I’ve already fought the loudness wars in the CD world, and accepted defeat in the late 90’s. The loud track wins. I suspect that if I was doing orchestral music, I’d be slower to admit defeat.

    – having your own mastering room, with the proper playback gear and acoustic treatment is a luxury that I look forward to. Congratulations.

    I’ve got some nice mid-level JBL near-fields and sprung for some honest headphones, but I’m well aware of the difference.


    #25691 Reply

    Another question – how do you master your tracks?

    Most of us don’t have dedicated mastering rigs. Right now, I’ve got a template in Logic for mastering mixes.

    My signal chain is:

    1. Tape emulation compressor
    2. EQ
    3. Multi-Band compressor
    4. Aural Exciter (used sparingly if at all, on the “add air” setting.)
    5. Adaptive Limiter

    I’m writing/recording 2-3 tracks a day, so I’m working way too fast for granular mastering. My goal is just to make the mix pop and sparkle.

    #25693 Reply
    Mark Lewis

    My guess was that the sound libraries had virtually installed compression and aural exciter across the virtual two-mix of their playback engine.

    Music libraries would be shooting themselves in the foot if they did this. To present something in an audio preview that sounds substantially different than the file that is delivered to the customer would be really bad form and would cause numerous customer complaints.

    #26840 Reply
    MuchasMusic Matt

    As a new library start-up in the UK i’m finding the skills of library writers differ hugely when mastering. We offer to master where needed and offer advice when we believe composers have blown their tracks to *£$t! Everyone has their own ideas of what they are trying to achieve when mastering/finalising but our ultimate goal is good music across all genres. We look at each track individually unlike mastering an album as the music won’t be consumed in the same way. Final levels an standards are important but we tend to push stuff less harder than in the commercial world. Again the biggest issues we have are the differing skills of each composer and how music is supplied to us.


    #26841 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    That’s an interesting response- other posts on this site from library owners seem to suggest “louder is better,” and that not maximizing loudness will hurt sales.

    What sort of end users is your library focusing on?


    #26848 Reply

    Matt’s reply is actually quite sensible. I’ve certainly heard my share of tracks that were overcooked by the composer, and depending on the usage there are level standards that crushing your music offers no benefit to.

    It’s like cooking, you can always re-heat something undercooked, once it’s overcooked it’s overcooked… Basically it’s easy to add loudness, but restoring an overcooked track will never sound as good as something that wasn’t overcooked in the first place…

    That being said, there was a thread here not too long ago that found that louder music tended to sell better on non-exclusive marketplace sites. But I suspect that phenomenon is part age/loudness bias, and part smaller projects where the editor or creator isn’t familiar with level standards, or doesn’t have too much experience working with sound…

    EDIT: Thanks @TerlinguaMusic. Although it took some time, I’ve only been at this full time for 5-6 years… If I managed to make it work I’m sure you’ll get there with persistence… best of luck and hope things are going well for you!

    #26851 Reply
    Mark Lewis

    library owners seem to suggest “louder is better,” and that not maximizing loudness will hurt sales.

    I think you might be extrapolating suggestions for common sense compression and mastering techniques into whipping out the L1 maximizer and cranking the waveform until it is a solid black bar.

    If customers can’t hear the solo violin intro to your super hybrid orchestral track then they are going to move on in a few seconds before getting to the meat of your composition.

    I have also seen a few composers who don’t even normalize their mixes let alone master them properly.
    I’m pretty sure that is who the library owners are referring to, not composers using accepted common sense mixing techniques.

    #26853 Reply
    MuchasMusic Matt

    Hey TerlinguaMusic,

    We’re a bespoke music studio stepping into the library word as we speak. We’re UK based and and Exclusive administered by the MCPS. Our main clients are currently with the advertising world though we’re working with composers and clients on building tracks for TV, Film and Game use too.

    We’re trying to keep things simple and focus on the music and marketing though the mastering, distribution and licencing detail all get in the way at some point. I’ve decided not to make a consistent general level across the board and will look at every track individually. The genre, mix, general idea of track placement and instrumentation all affect decisions in mastering. Some of our current tracks are waiting to be remixed and mastered but are currently on the site as we’re not officially launching for a few months yet. When writing bespoke we’re often in contact with the production houses and more often than not we don’t push things hard. We like to preserve dynamics and let the end producers do their thing whether it be for cinema, TV or Film. I guess the question here is as mentioned above, do higher levels make your music more likely to sync? In the NE world on sites where end users could be anyone then this may well be the case. I’m not really interested in this though. As an exclusive library and have an idea (often relationship) with end users and production houses I believe it’s right for us to focus on the songs and marketing/supervision rather than fight a loudness war that doesn’t theatrically exist in the library world.

    As I write this we’ve just had a Drum&Bass track mastered for us within an inch of it’s life. It actually sounds pretty good, very intense and hard but It will eventually be placed onto a spotify ad. The mastering house have also supplied us with a more dynamic master at a few db lower. It’s likely that we’ll be using the latter.

    Just for the record, I write and mix and am not a trained mastering engineer though often those measly budgets mean we’re finalising the tracks ourselves. We’re learning everyday.

    #26854 Reply
    Michael Nickolas

    It’s like cooking, you can always re-heat something undercooked, once it’s overcooked it’s overcooked… Basically it’s easy to add loudness

    I always worked under the assumption that adding loudness with a L1 type of plug-in was a once only thing. Files should not be processed in this manner twice. If you want to add loudness go back to the original file. Same with “overcooking”, go back to the original file.

    #27823 Reply

    I came up in the electronica scene, and we’re probably to blame for the loudness war being what it has been. When I was releasing artist albums, I wanted them loud, but I also didnt just wanna brickwall everything and have sausage waveforms.
    I must admit I’m confused by all the many types of meters around now. I understand peak meters and RMS meters, but this new LUFS standard, although in theory a Godsend for ending this unsustainable loudness war, it’s confusing to know how to get a totally accurate picture of your tracks loudness.
    I keep my interface at the same volume so I know comparatively, whats loud and what isn’t.I limit anything that bleeds in my DAWs mixer, export, then run it through ozone with a little limiting and maybe a bit of maximizer, and careful of peaks, without destroying dynamics.
    I have some great little meters like klanghelms VUMT deluxe, and a free meter called Youlean loudness meter, but I’m still not overly sure just how loud my music is.
    And then there are K meters and VU meters.

    From what I’ve read, itunes, spotify , youtube and broadcasters will all be turning tracks down to comply with new rules to stop adverts being louder than programmes etc…so if they’re gonna turn them down, why make them loud to start with. I try to aim for somewhere in the middle now, but my methods aren’t very accurate and I just use my ears. Audio fidelity should be all important. Ego made us want to be louder than everyone else, but surely a pristine, fully intact idea is more important.

    #27867 Reply

    Good morning everyone! This is a really good topic for discussion, and comparing our findings!! Coming from the Record/CD side of the business, I too was in the mindset that “Louder is Better”. As well, I have found some things that I would like to share in the hopes of “helping others get a ton more placements and/or re-affirming something that someone was feeling about how the process gets the better result”.

    1) Several versions of the same track, with some of the versions broken down to the most minimal of parts.

    2) Know what you want to do with “the Cue”. Do you want it in the forefront, background, trailer, SFX, etc.

    3) If you want to mainly focus on TV/Film backgrounds, “know how to write cues that stay out of the way!” Cues that “invade the Vocal/Narration space” will not get the placement.

    4) Sparkly, or edgy Lead music parts invade the Vocal/Narration space. Have alternate mixes ready to go

    5) Master to sound “polished, but not too aggressive”. I hear a lot from EDM Composers that they are getting far less placements. Keep in mind you are not in the clubs..

    Just throwing in a couple of cents, and hope it helps.

    #32441 Reply
    Erik Veach

    I’ve been mastering tracks for music libraries for nearly a decade now (out of the 18 years I’ve been doing audio mastering professionally) and I can tell you that some of them actually do bother to have their material professionally mastered…likely it’s more of the ones whose music actually makes it into the larger commercial world.
    I would recommend that you: 1. present your best mixed AND mastered track to libraries you’re trying to get picked up by as a regular contributing composer. 2. Once you get picked up by them, ask if they want your mastered or un-mastered tracks…do they do their own mastering?
    I’ve had to send back some of the tracks provided to me by some libraries since the composer had obviously tried to master it themselves and it was so far off the mark that I wouldn’t be able to re-master it into any reasonable form worth sharing. Honestly I think that’s at least a portion of the reason libraries have had me do mastering for them – it’s a final check of the sound by an experienced professional before they release it. It helps them make sure everything they have available for licensing meets a minimum standard – someone who can finish the final touches and say “yes, this sounds good and will be well received” or “no, this sounds crappy and will reflect poorly on your name”.
    I’m sure those library sites that have a lot of aurally excited tracks for sale probably run them all through some plug-in setting that at least provides a level of consistency for their customers, but I’ll bet the level of their typical customer is probably on par with that kind of treatment of the sound. Maybe they’ve found a good niche and it works, though. I’m not judging. If it works for their customers, that’s super.

    Erik Veach

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