One Of Us: Mastering

Towards the end of our mixing process, I had been looking around for someone to handle the mastering of the CD. I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to that myself. For a few reasons – I don’t have the specialized plugin’s hardware or acoustic environment to do mastering. Its normally a good idea to have someone who is a specialist in mastering handle this anyway since they may find and be able to fix subtle problems that you may overlook. Its also great to get another pair of ears on the final product.

One of my colleague’s at work recommended a friend who ran a mastering Studio in NYC so I checked him out. After checking out his work and talking with him, I decided to go with Oscar Zambrano from Zampol Productions.  I gave Oscar one of my final mixes and he did a sample master mix which I was impressed with. I am not a fan of excessive compression in masters (especially with jazz) and I liked what he did with the test mix I gave him. His mix sounded transparent but louder which is what a good mastering engineer does.
The specification was for him to master at 24/96K and deliver the final master in CD format as well as raw mastered 24/96 files. This would allow me to consider later releasing this in high definition DTS format on a DVD.

Around Oct 1’st I finally ready with my mixes. I first did rough masters in SONAR to get an idea what the mixes would sound like with basic dynamics added. Right upto this point I had no compression on my master bus whatsover. So I added the Boost 11 plugin from SONAR 8 to my master bus, and dialled in a 3-6 dB boost to get a preview of what the mixes would sound like with a compressor on the main bus. It sounded nice but I had to make a few subtle tweaks to the bass to account for the gain boost, since adding compression can subtly alter the balance of various frequencies in the mix. Once I did that the mixes were sounding very close to what I wanted already, so I was confident that Oscar would have good source mixes to work with. I then exported all the mixes from SONAR (after removing the compression) to 96K/32 bit wave files and uploaded them to the zampol web site. I also sent him a bunch of my test master mixes so that he would know the sound I was shooting for, along with some other artist CD references for mixes that we like.
I also “discovered” ISRC codes around this time! If you want to submit a CD for digital distribution you want to embed ISRC codes onto the disk at mastering time. This is important for royalties management via radio air play as well as digital distribution. So we registered for our own ISRC codes and generated them.

Around end October after a few scheduling delays, I got back some preview masters from Oscar – they sounded very good. I had a few minor requests to tweak EQ and track levels but besides that it was very close to done. He also found a couple of bugs in my mixes that we had not noticed before – A couple of clicks due to bad cross fades. Good ears!  He made the edits and sent me the final PMCD image. (pre-master CD image that is used by the duplication house to produce the final CD’s). A job well done.

It was time to send it for duplication! [Next -> One Of Us: Delivery]

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