We've divided our FAQ (below) into three sections:
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What exactly is the mastering process? What happens?
In short, mastering sets the final relationships of all elements of a recording project. All 'finished' material is fed into the mastering system, adjusted, and spit back out again as one entity. And that project of yours is finally etched in stone. After mastering, no song, element, transition, fix, level, tone (eq), reverb, noise or pause can be changed. Done. Finito. You're history!
What should I bring to mastering?
All final versions of mixes, as well as any other needed elements. Safeties of everything. A final sequence. If the project is heavily edited, bring original source material.
How long will mastering take? How much will it cost?
How much is a car? How long will it last? Loading the mastering system will take CD running time plus a bit. Getting it back out about the same. In between we master the record. An extremely easy, well prepared album could conceivably be finished in 4-5 hours, including transfers. Most take between 7 and 9 hrs. Complicated ones take longer. Call us.
Can the whole band attend the mastering session?
Yes. Just bring lots of money to the session. Experience has shown that for each additional person at mastering, the time to finish increases exponentially! Bring the fewest necessary to get the job done right.
Is there such a thing as a 20-bit CD?
No. CD can only support 16-bit music. With care and special processes, however, most of the benefits of high-bit masters can be maintained and gotten onto the disk. High resolution recording and mastering is worth the effort, if budget allows.
Why do some CDs sound louder than others?
The apparent (or perceived) level of a CD is a product of all the variables adjusted in mastering, such as average level, eq, and limiting & compression. The quality and style of the original recording is also a major factor. Loudness for loudness's sake is a trap to be wary of, as changes in balance and tone, as well as loss of detail will occur. Talk to your mastering engineer. If you think the album needs to push the limits of good taste, say so.
How do I deal with the fact that my music sounds different on every set of speakers?
Choose a mastering engineer the way you'd choose a plastic surgeon. Check their work and prepare a list of concerns as regards your specific project. Artwork changes in different light. Pick a creative team that has produced results you like, and be prepared to trust that team. The right mastering engineer will share your concerns and know what to do.
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Should I edit the choice takes into a sequence before I go into mastering?
Better to bring the original takes on their original reels than to risk a generation transferring everything onto a new tape. Don't be tempted. Stay as low on the food chain as possible. Earlier generations, in digital as well as analogue, are more likely to sound better and be more reliable sources.
My music will need edits and fades. Should I do them in the recording studio, or wait for mastering?
Save all fancy stuff for mastering, unless you need an edit to do an overdub, or something like that. Keep extra transfers to an absolute minimum. Honor the data. Keep the music.
A critical percussion hit was accidently left out of a mix. Do I have to remix? Or can this be fixed in mastering?
Not a problem. Bring it in a separate element and it should be a quick fix.
One song has a click of some kind during a killer solo. Can I still use the solo?
Most snaps, crackles & pops will come out flawlessly using our NoNoise system.
Should I worry about countoffs and final ringouts at the mixdown or fix them at TuckerSound?
Leave 'em as-is. Having the original ambience before & after a song gives your mastering engineer more options for keeping good continuity throughout the album.
My material seems to be well recorded, but it doesn't jump or have much spark. What can I do?
Jumping and sparking can often be achieved with a good battery recharge. Otherwise, we may employ eq, a bit of compression, maybe a taste of reverb or ambience to open things up. Knowing how it was recorded may help us master it better.
What is the difference between compression and limiting?
Allow me to oversimplify: Think of compression as bringing Up something that is Down. Think of limiting as the reverse. So, imagine making quiet things louder without changing anything else, and you have imagined compression. Now imagine making a loud thing less loud without changing anything else, and you have imagined limiting. Now that you are exhausted from all that imagining, I can tell you it is much more complex than that. Some subtle, and not so subtle, textural changes occur. Things can seem denser; dynamic range can be tightened. Explain the concept of your music, and your mastering engineer will know what to do.
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What does a replication plant need for manufacturing?
Trust the process as little as you can. Send the best master you can afford. The 'best master' is one that needs no creative intervention by the plant. All you want the plant to do is to do a flat digital transfer at real time to glass master and replicate. This is what they do best. Asking a plant to do any mastering functions, including setting of track spaces and start/end locations, means that you will not know what your CD will play like until it is already manufactured. The most complete and secure format to send to a plant is DDP (Disc Description Protocol). Call for more information.
What are PQ codes? Who sets them?
PQ codes control the track location and running time aspects of CD tracks. They enable a CD player or digital distributor to know how many tracks are present, where they are, how long they are, and when to change from one to another. Placing PQ is a fundamental part of a mastering session. Should the next track play at once? In 2 seconds? in 15 seconds? PQ codes control this. Placing them correctly is the major issue in creating a "Red Book" standard master, which is what every replication plant wants.
What is the maximum running time of a CD?
The Red Book standard specifies a maximum time of 74:00. We can create CDs of up to 80:00 with a few minor compatibility and budget issues. Call.
What is the "Red Book" standard?
The Red Book itself is a published volume containing all the technical standards governing the operation and manufacture of compact disks. When a master is said to be 'red book standard,' it refers to a professionally prepared master from which a replication plant can do a direct flat, digital transfer to the glass master they will use to manufacture your CDs. The master will contain all subcodes, including the famous PQ codes, and its format, levels and data stream all conform to the published standards. This helps insure a good final replicated product.
Will the sound I get back on CD from a plant be exactly what I heard in the mastering suite?
Yes. Just choose your mastering facility and replicator wisely.
If we will be making vinyl or cassettes as well as CDs, should I be concerned about the different needs of each?
Most material nicely survives the transition from CD to vinyl or cassette. Level and EQ will be adjusted to be optimized for each medium. An exception might be a classical or instrumental project with huge dynamic range. Sometimes we'll recommend a bit of level adjustment in mastering; that is, bringing up the quietest pieces and easing back the biggest peaks. This being in the interest of vinyl limitations, tape hiss or distortion.
Are all replicating plants the same?
No. The usual rules apply: Get references. Get referrals. Try to avoid being solely price-driven. Note the quality of the reception you get on your very first call to the company. If they seem to want you, they do. If not, not. Trust your sense of things. Ask your mastering facility for a recommendation.
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