What are your rates?
The standard rate is $35 per track. This assumes normal song lengths of 3-5 minutes. If your record is one 50 minute epic, or 2 dozen Minutemen covers, get in touch and we'll figure out a fair rate. I don't charge for revisions (within reason), and standard shipping is on me. If you need a disc overnighted via Fedex, it's $25.
What formats do you accept?
You can upload your mixes or send me a disc. A zipped folder or data cd/dvd with wav or aiff files is best. 24 bit (or 32 bit float) files are preferred over 16 bit, but if an audio cd is all you have, that's fine. MP3's are not suitable for mastering, you really want to have a high-resolution file, but again if that's what you have and you insist then we'll make it work. I can also accept DAT tapes if you're a 90s stalwart.
What is it you mastering people DO anyway?
Simply put, we make it sound better. We take a collection of mixes and make sure they work together as a cohesive whole that translates on a wide variety of systems, from Ipod earbuds to audiophile speakers and everything in between. Typically this involves using equalization to smooth out any frequency imbalances, compression to 'glue' the mix elements together and enhance low level details, and limiting to control peaks and increase overall loudness. Those are the basics, naturally we have other tricks up our sleeve should the need arise. We finesse the fade ins/outs and the transitions between songs so the record flows nicely. We put in the track ids, pq and ISRC codes and run a series of quality checks to ensure a master that is ready for duplication.
Can't I do that myself?
You COULD, but what we mastering engineers really do is LISTEN. We provide fresh ears and an objective opinion. You've just spent countless hours working on your mixes, you've heard the songs a million times, and obsessed over every detail. We're hearing the songs fresh, on really high resolution speakers, in an acoustically treated room, where we've sat every day for years. I still mix records occasionally, and I definitely prefer to send these to someone else for mastering, because by the time I finish I'm too close to the mixes, and I want the perspective of an unbiased listener with experienced ears. With the number of records being made at home these days, in potentially very compromised acoustic spaces, I feel the importance of mastering is greater than ever.
OK, what CAN I do to help?
Make awesome mixes. We can sometimes work magic in mastering, but you don't want to rely on mastering to fix a weak mix. Don't mix in a vacuum, test your mixes on a variety of systems and make sure you're happy with them.
Listen for the consistency of the sounds within the mix. For example, a mix where everything sounds a bit dull is easily fixed in mastering, a gentle boost of the high frequencies will bring everything up. But a mix where everything sounds a bit dull except for a really bright hihat or tambourine is a problem. That gentle high boost that makes everything else sound nice will make that tambourine an icepick in your ear, and generally this is not what we want for our listeners. To that end, listen for vocal sibilance, "s" or "t"'s that jump out of the mix. We can ameliorate this with a de-esser in mastering, but as everything we do in mastering affects the mix as a whole, this is better addressed during mixing, with a de-esser on just the offending vocals.
Listen closely for unintended distortion. INTENDED distortion is great, but lots of other little distortions can find their way into a mix, and these can be magnified by the mastering process. Listen for vocal tics, mouth noises, bad edits, etc. Also watch out for digital clipping of any kind, whether it be at the A/D converters during tracking, plug ins during mixing, and the master fader. To that end...
LEAVE SOME HEADROOM. Sorry for yelling but it's important. There's no need for your mix to peak right at 0dbfs, -3 to -6 is plenty. If you track at lower levels (say, peaks at -12dbfs. That's right, peaks.) from the start, you'll have much more room to manuever in the mix, and you won't be running out of headroom on the mix buss/master fader.
If you're using a compressor on the mix for aesthetic reasons, that's fine, but PLEASE leave off any kind of limiter/maximizer/whatever. Limiting is best done at the END of the mastering process, mixes that come in heavily limited really tie the mastering engineer's hands, and limit (sorry) how much we can do with the track...really smashed stuff tends to fall apart quickly when any mastering processing is applied. Basically, don't worry about making your mixes LOUD, leave that for mastering. And on that note..
Can you make my cd the loudest ever?
Sure. But keep in mind that loudness comes with a price. The louder it is, the more compression/clipping/limiting that needs to be applied. A LITTLE of all that stuff can be done in a very transparent manner that retains the integrity of the original mix while giving a significant boost in overall level. But too much can wipe out the subtlety and detail in a mix and make it fatiguing to listen to. Especially over the course of a whole record. The Internet is rife with discussion of "The Loudness Wars". Google it, put on a pot of coffee, and sit down for hours of reading if you're curious.