I’ve tried to answer the most common questions I’m asked about what I do. If there’s anything else you want to know, just get in touch.
How long does it all take?
These times are based on business days and from when we’ve finished all the initial consultations and I start the main process in earnest. I may at certain times have a small waiting list, and likewise you may need some time to finish things at your end, but we can fix a mutually favourable start time while we’re making initial preparations.
Mastering I like to take a couple of days over then send you mp3s for feedback. We might hit the mark first go or you may wish to tweak. Take your time to have a proper listen, but we’ll usually get the thing wrapped up in five days.
Mixing is a longer process. For big productions it can be a track a day, plus the time for you to have a good listen and us nudge things. A ten track album can be three weeks. You’ve spent all that precious time nailing the recordings – let’s take the time to get the mixes right too!
If you have a genuinely tight deadline then please let me know straight off the bat and we’ll see what we can do. I won’t leave you hanging if I can at all help it.
How do I send you my files?
I will send you a link for you to upload.
Are you happy to mix and master a track?
I am, yes, with certain caveats. Some may say it’s not ideal having the same engineer do both, and that is usually down to losing objectivity after being so deep in the mix process. Whilst that is true to a degree, I think it’s fine if you find a fresh perspective. I’m lucky enough to live near several friends with high quality setups, and I find that mastering in one of their studios after a few days away from it, allows me that fresh perspective. In fact, it’s not common, but should we find during the process that you wish to make a major change, such as “all of the vocals need to go up 1dB”, communication and subsequent tweaking with the mix engineer is far easier… ’cause it’s me!
I am unsigned. Can I get a discount?
I offer unsigned/self-funded acts a 20% discount. Please let me know when you get in touch.
Can I provide reference tracks?
Please do! Spotify or Youtube links are ideal. I welcome anything that will give me a more accurate picture of how you envisage the track sounding. It might be as specific as a vocal delay, or you just generally like the vibe – it all helps.
Am I limited to the number of revisions I can ask for?
In principle, no. As I’ve said previously, I don’t want tracks to be signed off until you’re completely happy (both of us in fact). All I ask is a degree of fairness on both sides: If after a few listens you’ve decided that you’d like the guitar solo slightly louder, then I’ll turn it up; or perhaps on reflection, you’ve decided the backing vocals need to go down, then I’ll turn them down; conversely, if the guitar volume is being tweaked up and down and we’re just going round in circles, at some point we need to draw a line. Further to that, any major changes, such as “please can you add in this 12-piece string section, unfortunately they all need editing and tuning” is fine, but clearly changes the job and requires a fresh quote. It’s a balance. We’ll find it.
Do you use digital or analogue equipment?
Both. Usually a mixture. I work on all sorts from Jazz to Industrial Metal and they both have a place. I’ve got lots of fun toys but I prefer not to list them all on my site like some dating profile.
I feel in this industry there is a lot of obsession with certain bits of kit and plugins, and there’s often an insistence from the client about using this and that. If you like the sound of my work, then it’s best all round to allow me to choose the best tools for the job, be it a Manley Compressor or a five dollar plugin. I want you to like the finished product based on how it sounds, not because I’ve used a Pultec EQ and you’ve heard they’re supposed to be the best for vocals.
It’s not the gear. It’s the pair of ears operating them.
What forms of payment do you accept?
Payment can be made to my UK bank account or via PayPal.
What do i need to give you?
Your DAW will be able to export each separate channel as an individual audio file. The exact commands will vary depending on which software you are using, but if you are unsure there are many step-by-steps guides on Youtube – or do the unthinkable and read the manual! The idea is that if they are all bounced from exactly the same start point, they will all sync together ok when I import them at my end. Please study this checklist and tips very carefully:
- Save your session with a new and relevant name, such as _FILE EXPORT
- If you’re not exporting from the very beginning of the session, make a note somewhere of which bar you are exporting from, and make sure it is EXACTLY THAT POINT every time – set snap to bar to ensure this.
- Export all files at unity gain with no automation or fades. On some DAWS that will mean returning all faders to zero, including the master.
- Switch off any normalisation – often a checkbox in the export dialogue.
- Switch off ALL PLUGINS and FX. I want the original, raw audio. Unless…
- There is a specific effect you would like to keep such as perhaps a sweeping filter that you really love and would be too tricky for me to recreate exactly. In these cases, please include both the FX version and the clean version, and label them appropriately.
- Please check the exported files are mono unless of course it is specifically a stereo channel, in which case I prefer integrated stereo to split LR mono.
- Please check that all the files have clear and sensible names. Rename if necessary. I’m after names such as: Kick inside; Snare sm57; Snare condenser; Bass DI;Bass amp; Main Vox; BV 1; Acoustic Guitar; Elec Guitar 414. Remember, I wasn’t there when it was recorded and trawling through trying to identify and relabel things myself isn’t a great start to the process.
- Stereo drum overheads switch left and right depending on which side you’re looking. I like to label them Overhead HiHat and Overhead Floor Tom which removes any ambiguity.
- Please give any recording notes that you may not have previously mentioned and that may not be exactly obvious from the filenames. Eg. “You’ll find six backing vocal files but there are actually only three parts but which have been double tracked”.
- I would prefer you export .wav files, although .AIFF are acceptable. Compressed files such as mp3 or aac are not ideal.
- Export files at the same sample rate and bit depth as they were recorded.
- Inclusion of copyrighted material such as sampling other tracks or dialogue from films is at your own risk.
Can I just send you my Pro Tools or Logic X session?
I would much prefer just the exported audio files. There are often issues with missing plugins and routing, and I have a very specific workflow and setup preferences.
Can I get extra versions, such as an instrumental mix?
Absolutely. If possible, please mention this before we start mixing.
On occasion, I actually recommend bouncing a second mix with the main vocal at a different level, to give the mastering engineer the option without having to request it.
In what format will I receive my files?
Unless a variation is requested, a stereo interleaved .wav file at the same sample rate and bit depth as the audio mix files supplied.
I hear that the “Loudness War” is over. How loud will my masters be, and will that be ok for streaming services?
Well the rise of streaming services has certainly moved the goalposts, and I’m seeing a lot of contradictory information from articles and music forums on how to adapt.
We’re all familiar with seeing the level indicators in our music software and as a rule they will be displaying Peak Level, ie. the loudest part of the signal. Whilst these are invaluable in making sure that the audio doesn’t clip, they don’t tell the whole story. A very dynamic piece may have several peaks that nearly hit zero, but may be relatively quiet overall. To get a clearer idea of how “loud” the track appears to us, we need to average the total amount of energy and measure it on a different scale – traditionally for mastering engineers that is RMS, and now more recently LUFS.
The Loudness War refers to the trend of the last thirty years to more and more extreme uses of compression and limiting, thus reducing the dynamic range and creating room to push that average level up without causing the peaks to clip. Let’s grab an example we can all relate to regardless of our musical tastes. TV adverts.
Have you noticed how loud TV ads are now? Especially when compared to that black and white film you’re in the middle of watching, which had it’s audio mastered in the fifties when it was made. It’s because the producers want maximum impact and so compress all the dynamics out and pump them as loud as possible. Music has very much been heading that way too, and in my opinion, reached the ridiculous. The good news is that streaming services are leveling the playing field somewhat.
Spotify, for example, has music ranging over 100 years of recording history and if you’re in shuffle mode that is just too great a dynamic range for a consistent listening experience. That means they need to either push some up, or pull others down – and the industry has gone with down. Radio stations also turn down for the same reason.
To clarify, I will always let the music dictate the direction we’re heading in. Rest assured that whatever the format, I’m not going to compress your lovely jazz quartet like I might a rock album. And likewise I’m happy to discuss an extra set of louder masters specifically for CD manufacture, and of course, Vinyl is a separate set anyway as the format comes with it’s own idiosyncrasies. But given that all the streaming services have chosen to attenuate at different levels, it does raise the question, should we be supplying a different master specifically targeting the parameters of each streaming service?
Honestly I don’t think it’s necessary. Chasing normalisation targets fails in a couple of ways for me. Firstly, we’re bowing to a bloody algorithm and not letting the music lead us in how we want the master to ultimately sound, and further to that, let’s not talk about compression and limiting like they’re the enemy – they’re a huge part of creating that “cooked” sound we all love so much. I’ve tried mastering to -14LUFS to suit the fickle constraints of Spotify and whilst it didn’t get turned down, it sounded weak and a bit undernourished, precisely because it hadn’t been made to lean into a limiter.
I’ve done extensive testing and I’m confident that I’ve found a good window for levels. One that won’t be penalised too harshly on the streaming sites, yet still allows us room to achieve that cohesive sound of limiters without the excessive flattening of the last twenty odd years.
I feel it’s better to accept the fact that everyone gets turned down a bit, and embrace that we can retain more dynamics, as we no longer have to fight the loudness war.
What do I need to give you?
Preferably the higher the bit depth the better, but most often I’m given 24-bit (although 16-bit is fine). Sample rate is most commonly 44.1kHz but others do come up, particularly with audio for tv and film. Please study this checklist and tips very carefully:
- A WAV or AIF file in the highest resolution you have. Most commonly I’m given 24-bit 44.1kHz, although other values are ok. Please don’t change the settings to higher values just at the point of bouncing the mix – it won’t increase the quality, only the file size. Whatever was initially recorded is fine.
- mp3, aac and other compressed formats whilst technically possible, are really best avoided.
- Please allow headroom and avoid any clipping. Ideally peak level will be in the -6 to -3 region. If the overall level does need to be lowered, pull the channel faders down rather than just the master fader.
- Remove any excessive master bus compression, limiting or EQ. It’s not unusual to apply some during the mix process, and in the hands of a skilled mix engineer, it can really help glue things together. It is however a very fine art and usually better to remove it completely, otherwise it just doesn’t leave me with enough room to work with. KEEP YOUR MIX FEELING DYNAMIC – I’ll do the compression and limiting.
- Allow a little silence and the beginning and end. I’ll cut the track to the appropriate length this end.
- Stem mastering – please include the stereo mix in addition to the previously agreed stems, all bounced from exactly the same point. If you’re not bouncing from the start of the session then setting “snap to bar” can be very useful with this.
- If I’m compiling an EP or album for CD or Vinyl manufacture, please include the order of the songs, CD-text and ISRC (if applicable) and any notes you may have about fades or song gaps.
In what format will I receive my files?
Stereo Interleaved Wav files with your specified parameters, usually:
- 24bit 44.1k for streaming;
- 16bit 44.1k for CD manufacture;
- 24bit 44.1k (and up) for vinyl;
- 24bit 48k for video
If you’re having CDs printed I can also include a DDP file, although you may have already made arrangements with your manufacturer to do this – most of them are happy to receive just the song files these days.
Can I get mp3, aac or other lossy formats?
Happy to supply mp3s at any bitrate, with encoded ID3 tags. However, if you’re using an online distributor, they require wavs and handle all the file compression themselves.
What is an ISRC code and do you need one before we start?
If you are producing a CD for commercial release then you may want ISRC codes, the international identification system for sound recordings and music videos. Each ISRC is a unique identifier which can be permanently encoded into a product as its digital fingerprint. It provides the means to automatically identify recordings for royalty payments. With CDs, the codes are embedded at the mastering stage, when your DDP file is created, so you will need to have obtained them before that.
If tracks are only intended for streaming and digital sales, your online distributor will provide them.
Can you provide a DDP file?
Yes, if required. Many CD manufactures are now happy to do the process for you – all you need to do is give them the audio at 16bit 44.1kHz, but if you prefer I can generate a DDP. Please make sure you provide the order of the songs, CD-text and ISRC (if applicable) and any notes you may have about fades or song gaps.