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tiam says

Gareth could we get a follow-up on this thread ;) Im really curious to hear the final result and what master you choose :)

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unseenbattle Volunteer moderator says

Hey Gareth,

Just listened through everything multiple times. Great song and mix by the way…

Here’s my 2 cents worth:
1. I had a hard time comparing #2 since it wasn’t the same length as 1, 3 and the original.

2. I’d go with #1 because it sounded like it kept your original intent for the piano intact and actually enhanced it’s placement in the mix a bit.

3. All 3 of them definitely squashed it, so if you’re not happy with the dynamic range I’d give all of them a second chance to bring back some of the dynamics.

Just my 2 (or less) worth of cents. ;) Good luck with the whole project.

John

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garethcoker Reviewer says

Hello all. This is kind of a rambling post, so please forgive me. I’ll try and structure me thoughts in the best way.

So a month on, I went with the guy who mastered #3.

Number 1 was…yours truly.

Number 2 would have cost $500 for the whole album.

Number 3 cost me $1,500 for the whole album and that was at a ‘friends’ rate (my mixer was friends with the guy).

I was least happy with number 2. Sounded too much like a club mix, which wasn’t the point of the brief (or the project).

My mixing engineer and I came to the conclusion that the master needed to be somewhere between version 1 and version 3.

It’s worth pointing out that brownhousemedia’s master was excellent. (brownhousemedia is Tim Brown) The only reason I didn’t go with him is because I wanted someone who was based in LA so I could actually hear what they are hearing in the their own studio. That said, anyone who is looking for a high quality and good value mastering job, should go to him, because he clearly has the ‘ear’ to do a good job, which is far more important that what tools you are using (though they help).

Version number 3 was done by Dale Becker @ Bernie Becker Mastering. They have a pretty solid reputation and they bent over backwards to accommodate my needs. The album is a tough one because it’s not your basic rock/pop record. There are a lot of intricately-layered (and incredibly well-arranged ;) ) pieces that if over-limited just don’t sound smooth at all.

That said, I went with Dale for the whole album, because he clearly had the ability and the sensitivity (and the work ethic) to get the right balance, and my mixing engineer told me I wouldn’t regret it! After a few revisions, he nailed the sound, and the album is very very smooth and well-balanced. Balancing orchestral / electronic elements so they don’t sound cheesy and fake is very difficult to do well, and thanks to a quality team I’ve finally been able to finish the album.

It might be worth pointing out that I think Enlightenment is the track I enjoy least on the album (though I don’t think it’s bad), so I figured if this one would sound good, the rest would follow.

The album, along with the game it’s been written for will be released in the next couple of weeks.

Plugins with mastering will do a really good job, I probably could have used just plugins to master the album, but there’s no substitute for going into a studio, and listening on the best gear. If you have good ears, you can hear instantly all of the things that are wrong with your music.

That said, I also learnt from this that unless you’re willing to pay for someone VERY good, you should just do the mastering yourself. The people in the mid-range (I auditioned more than those 3 guys in the original post), are by and large, not that great. I was hugely disappointed by most of the test masters I got back and equally amazed at prices they were charging for their inadequate work. I feel like some of them were just throwing their music into a mastering plugin and making it louder, increasing the bass and treble, and that’s it. DONE . Not quite that simple.

If you are taking on a big project like the one I have just done, (50 minutes of music in total), you should budget for it accordingly at all phases. If you do everything yourself (composing, mixing, mastering) you’re going to end up exhausting your ears and not make informed decisions. This was the first time I’d ‘outsourced’ mixing and mastering, and while it cost me quite a bit up front, I’m very happy with the result. The only thing that would make it better is having live strings on top, which will happen in January in Seattle. Mixing cost me $4000 and mastering cost me $1500.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of composers who will have great careers doing everything themselves, but when you start to work on bigger projects with deadlines and producers to report to, there won’t be time and there will be too much pressure to do everything yourself. If it’s a personal project then you can do whatever you want, but when the clock is ticking, I genuinely believe your music will suffer (whether you notice it consciously or subconsciously) if you don’t get help. There’s a reason why even John Williams has an orchestrator (Conrad Pope), and Hans Zimmer hire the BEST people in the business to realize his vision. It’s almost impossible to do everything yourself WELL (though it is much easier than it was even just 10 years ago).

Finding a good mastering engineer who doesn’t cost $20,000 was a real challenge, but I’ve also learnt a lot about my music from outsourcing the process even to someone who doesn’t cost that much, and that is priceless.

Don’t be fooled by a mastering engineer who has a massive gear list. It’s the person’s ears that count the most. We spend so much time in front of our computers looking at mixing consoles and stereo analyzers that sometimes I think many people working in the industry are looking at screens to ‘listen’ to their music. This is why I recommend Tim Brown. I don’t care what gear he has, because he clearly ‘got’ my track, and that’s the product of having good musical sensibilities and a good ear, which are the things you should always value most if you want someone to work on your music. That’s why the top guys get paid the big bucks.

Plus, you only have to look at his Audiojungle sales to see he knows what he’s doing ;)

The ultimate question is, would I hire Dale again, and the answer is yes. This album was a unique one because in terms of instrumentation it is a bit ‘out there’. That said, if I had the money, I’d be interested to find out what the difference between hiring Dale and someone like Erick Labson. And for short-run projects / single tracks, I would definitely hire Tim. Tim, if you were in LA, I’d hire you full-stop!!! (or if a company pays me to go to where you work I’d also hire you for anything!).

Hope this was helpful. Thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts and demo masters in this thread.

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BrownHouseMedia says

Gareth,

Thanks for the kind words and endorsement! I am really glad you were able to get the sound you wanted on your project. If you have the budget it is always nice to get someone else to master, even if you do everything else (produce and mix) on the project. When I produce albums I always try to use a different mastering engineer (even though I do mastering) because that last set of ears can really make the project sparkle and fix things you might have missed.

Let us know when the project is released. I really enjoy your work and would like to hear the completed project!

Thanks,

Tim

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tiam says

Thanks for a great review end evaluation of the masters made. I would love to hear the final result!! :)

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thesecession says

Really nice track Gareth! #3 is the best to my ears as well. What did you use for the piano if you don’t mind me asking? Its sounds gorgeous :)

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garethcoker Reviewer says

lolz – I can’t even remember. I wrote the track back in May. I’m mid-project right now but I’ll look it up tomorrow.

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garethcoker Reviewer says

The piano from this track is actually a really simple piano patch from Heavyocity Evolve.

The patch is in the folder

4 – Tonality And FX / Melodic – Piano / Steinpan.nki

It’s great for tracks that need a ‘lead’ style piano sound because it has that slightly cheesy/campy Robert Miles compressed piano sound. Also most of the low-end is filtered out.

I would never in a million years use it for more organic sounding stuff or solos, but for this, it worked great.

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