Mastering a Song: For the Album or as a Single? Don’t Make this Mistake!September 8, 2018
My DIY Producer Stand Mod for the Sterling Modular Studio Desk.September 16, 2018
First of all, I am speaking to guys who are new to the producing/beat making game. Pros already know the information I am about to share. And this is not trying to make anyone look bad - it's genuinely a teachable moment. But I see it enough and personally deal with it enough that I wanted to put this out there for guys that need an edge in their game.
As an engineer who works with tons of artists, producers and other engineers in the industry, I see all kinds of standards, trends and practices going on when it comes to how audio is recorded, processed and managed. We're very much in a Do-It-Yourself era with the advent of the digital audio workstation and all the amazing virtual instruments and plugins at our fingertips.
Traditionally, recording and producing music was always reserved for those with big budgets from major labels. Studios were booked for months at a time with some of the best skilled engineers in the game at the controls. There were many practical standards followed from studio to studio that ensured the best possible sound was being achieved. Those days and experiences are long gone and we're left with YouTube videos of varying competence, schools which are pretty expensive, and word of mouth which is sometimes correct and sometimes not. Many guys just start experimenting with a DAW and MIDI controller and never get any formal training on what standards are still practiced today when it comes to audio engineering.
I frequently get sent projects from artists that have bought a beat from someone and got sent a 2-track WAV mix of it. The artist then tracks their lead vocals, adlibs, hook tracks and other minor stuff they want in the song. Zip it all up and send it to me to work it over and make it sound like a great mix.
If you only send a "mastered" beat to an artist that purchased it, you're going to piss off the mix engineer and make yourself look like a complete amateur.
Why this is an issue is because the beat is clipped (distorted) to get it louder, it's killed most of the dynamic range, making sonic tweaks to it is difficult and there is very little room to appropriately mix in vocals with it. The song's potential is compromised at this point and the Mix Engineer Gods are angered.
But I get it. That Waves L2, Ozone, or FL Limiter makes the track sound loud and commercially competitive. It's the reason the artist got hyped over it in the first place and you SHOULD use it to showcase and sell your work. Now all you have to do is send an "un-mastered" version with the original so that when the artist's engineer tells him "We can't work with this", he'll be able to say "Oh, I forgot to send the other version of the beat that the producer gave me. My bad.".
It's as simple as that. Send a 2nd version with the loudness processor(s) removed from the stereo bus and nobody will even question if you're an amateur.
Here's some FAQ I get regarding this.
Can't the mix engineer just drop the level of the mastered beat to fit the vocals in?
Actually, he's going to have no choice but to drop the level. That still doesn't change the amount of dynamic range in the beat though - that's pretty much set in stone after you hit it with a maximizer/limiter. You've added clipping to the beat and that can't be fixed or removed. And getting the final released product as loud as the mastered beat you sent is going to be a challenge filled with compromises.
I don't want some other engineer ruining my beat. How do I prevent that?
If you send them a mastered beat, the song is already having its potential limited from the get-go. If you send them a well-engineered mix, that's going to give the engineer options and the ability to take the song to the end zone for a touchdown. Which of these 2 scenarios is better for your career?
Some engineer posted on the internet that you shouldn't use a 2-track WAV and lay vocals over it. Is that true?
It's not that you shouldn't. It's that the mix engineer has VERY limited options on how they can make the final product sound. It can be difficult to predict how a vocal will fit with a beat until the vocals, hook and other elements are added to the song. Something in your beat could easily compete with the any of these elements and the only thing the engineer can do is try and use some surgical EQ or multi-band compression to try and make room for everything. It's a compromise. And the artist's creative vision for the song probably differs from what you had in mind when you made the track. No opportunities to do breakdowns, add other cool effects to individual elements, etc. I get it though. Artists don't want to pay for track outs because they are cheap. When the option is available, ALWAYS use the track outs. When the 2-track beat is the selected option. Send both versions.