Tim writes a monthly column for Oxford's Nightshift magazine:
Well hello people and in particular musicians and artists who make music for public consumption. I’m Tim Turan, mastering engineer at Turan Audio Ltd. In the following months i shall be dealing with technical issues regarding the final production stages of making music for release on a wide variety of platforms. CD, Vinyl, Cassette Tape, Download & Streaming.
I thought i’d start off with what is still the most popular format for physical release. The CD. The CD is not dead. It’s just resting after 35 years of hard slog providing music at the highest quality available to the general public, musicians and artists who believe in High Fidelity sound. Of the 400 titles i cut last year over 90% of them were physical releases, most of them on CD, the rest on vinyl and a few cassette tapes. For the amount of money it takes to buy instruments, rehearse, record, mix and master it seems most musicians want a physical ‘thing’ to show for the expense.
Now i get asked a LOT of questions by musicians about the CD format and so in this month’s column i shall address the do’s and don’ts of preparing your mixes for CD mastering and next month the subsequent ‘metadata’ that is now also required. It’s been required for the last 30 years but it is only recently that people have become aware of it. Ok, here goes …..
When supplying your audio to a mastering facility ALWAYS make sure your levels are at least -2db from peak (0.0). There has to be enough headroom to work with a track. If you see red lights on your meters in the studio … turn the faders down until there are none. Do NOT send tracks that have been peak limited and are slammed to the digital ceiling. The first thing i have to do is turn them down which loses resolution and quality straight away before i even start to work on them. In a lot of cases i refuse, knowing that there is probably a better version on the mixers system that hasn’t been made to look like a piece of LEGO when you look at the waveforms on the screen. You people with DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) know what i mean, so keep levels sensible.
Do check your mixes for faults, musical or technical. I will usually pick up on any anomalies as my clients can attest. This can lead to embarrassment, heartache and despair for the artist but usually ends in a headache for the mastering engineer. Checking your mixes will make life easier for everyone involved in the production chain and save a fortune on paracetamol for all those involved. So, faults include, glitches, pops, drop-outs (microscopic areas of no audio whatsoever), clicks, stereo channel imbalances, phase issues (too many to mention) and a whole raft of ‘shit the artist doesn’t want on the finished record’. Check the start and end of the tracks too. Did you chop the reverb tail off at the end for example I’ve lost count of the times i’ve had that one. Believe me, it is crazy some of the stuff i come across that the artist and mix engineer hadn’t even noticed. So pass a final critical ear before sending your material off for mastering. Also, if you’re sending your mixes off to one of those online mastering platforms EMastered, Landr, for example, no-one is going to cast a critical ear over anything or execute any fixes or solutions. So your mixes will come back still full of the ‘crap’ you hadn’t noticed but only louder!.
Label your files properly. If you know the running order of your E/P, Album etc then start the filename with a number, preferably using a leading zero. 01, 02, 03, etc. Also spell your track name correctly. I will use this info for the CD text and my session notes so that is what will end up on the finished product. If your half asleep engineer writes “Booby I love you” instead of “Baby” then i will put that into the CD text and it will be on millions of copies if you’re commercially successful. I will of course question this but there are probably loads of mastering engineers who won’t. So, CHECK your filenames. Next month i will deal with ‘METADATA’ … that evil but essential stuff that isn’t even music !!!