The Reluctant Mastering Engineer

Dec 1, 2007 12:00 PM, George Petersen, Executive Editor


Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

Not far from the Mix offices is a busy facility called Infinite Studios that's been run by engineer/producer Michael Denten for more than two decades. Walk inside the place and you're greeted by a warm lounge area with walls covered by Gold and Platinum records he's recorded and mixed. These days, the fact that a single-room, owner-operated pro studio can thrive — or even exist at all — is probably worthy of some special recognition, but that's another story.

Over the years, Denten has developed relationships with top mastering houses on both coasts, and has always been pleased with the results. After completing the edits and sequencing his mix files, he'd hand the data file off to the artist/management, who would take the project to one of several mastering engineers he recommended. It was a winning combination, and he always looked forward to getting promo copies of the releases and checking out how the project sounded on CD.

Awhile ago, he played back a disc that sounded awful. It was his same mix, but sounded boomy and shrill, with a nasty edginess. Wondering who mastered this, he checked the album credits, but no one was listed. As it turns out, a friend of the artist offered to master the project as a way of saving money. Evidently, there was no one at the label who could hear the difference, so the test pressing was approved (yet another story in itself) and the less-than-pretty-sounding new release hit the streets.

Now here's the rub: Typically, high-end projects end with pro mastering services; lower-end projects might be self-mastered, but often would benefit from the touch of a professional mastering engineer. It seems unusual that major-label releases would meet with home-brew mastering; it's hardly a recipe for success.

The solution — at least for Denten — was to begin to provide mastering services for his clients who were in a budget crunch. It wasn't something he necessarily wanted to get into, but he did have the tools, ears and environment to do the job, and after hearing his slaughtered mixes it was a solution he could live with. And Denten's not alone in this arena. A mix engineer at heart, “I held out for a long time, trying to avoid what other studios were doing,” Denten says.

For Denten, entering the mastering side on his own projects is easier than working with outside mixes as he already takes the approach of “mixing for mastering”: never overdoing the bass, while avoiding squashing the mix and leaving some latitude for the mastering engineer to use.

The preferred route is working with a dedicated mastering facility. Clearly, this is not possible in every case, and while Denten's solution works out for some of his projects it's not necessarily the right choice for every project. These days, album production seems more complicated than ever, but one thing is unchanged: After weeks or months of making hundreds of key decisions during the production phase, mastering is still a critical part of the final sound. Your project deserves the best you can afford, so evaluate all your options carefully.

Acceptable Use Policy
blog comments powered by Disqus

Mix Books

Modern Recording and Mixing

This 2-DVD set will show you how the best in the music industry set up a studio to make world-class records. Regardless of what gear you are using, the information you'll find here will allow you to take advantage of decades of expert knowledge. Order now $39.95

Mastering Cubase 4

Electronic Musician magazine and Thomson Course Technology PTR have joined forces again to create the second volume in their Personal Studio Series, Mastering Steinberg's Cubase(tm). Edited and produced by the staff of Electronic Musician, this special issue is not only a must-read for users of Cubase(tm) software, but it also delivers essential information for anyone recording/producing music in a personal-studio. Order now $12.95



Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine takes you straight into the studio, with new product announcements, industry news, upcoming events, recent recording/post projects and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

MixLine Live

Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine Live takes you on the road with today's hottest tours, new sound reinforcement professional products, recent installs, industry news and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Wire, a virtual press conference offering postings of the latest gear and music news, direct from the source. Visit the The Wire for the latest press postings.