Posted on

How Do I Make My Podcast Sound Better? – Podcast Mastering

How to sound good on a podcast – that’s the goal of many aspiring creators. You create and record valuable content, edit it, and stream it… only to hear that it doesn’t sound as professional compared to some of your peers. There’s so much content available these days, listeners will switch off quickly if your …

Choosing The Best Mastering Volume – How Loud Should My Master Be In 2021?

There are several different opinions on the question of “What is the best volume to finish my master?” (or for the more technically minded “What LUFS should I master to?”). We can’t avoid mentioning the famous loudness wars in this article either, and the direction music mastering is heading. After many years spent racing towards the loudest master, is the loudness war over?
Having been a professional mastering engineer since 2006, I have a few opinions. I’m going to give my perspective on these questions and explain about LUFS, peak and true-peak (with as little jargon as possible).

The end point is finding the ultimate recipe for the best mixing and mastering finish for your music, and how to win the loudness war in 2021 and beyond. …

Do I Need Mixing AND Mastering? Stem Mastering? Or Stereo Mastering For My Music?

If you are wondering “How can I make my music sound better?” You may be considering taking your mixes to a pro, but are wondering what service your money is better spent on: professional mixing vs mastering, stem mastering or stereo mastering. …

Producer Interview Series – Context

In this new series I interview some regular Fat As Funk mastering clients who have some interesting stories behind their music. Here we chat with Context – a producer and MC who has released records on Sony, and is also a university lecturer and author. We’ve had the pleasure of mastering several banging tracks of …

“Hottest Record In The World Right Now” – Tommy Farrow – Let’s Just – House Music Mastering by Fat As Funk

“Hottest Record In The World Right Now” – Tommy Farrow “Let’s Just” – Mastered by Fat As Funk …

can you use digital masters to cut vinyl records

Can You Use Digital Masters To Cut Vinyl Records? – Or Do You Need Separate Vinyl Masters?

Releasing a vinyl record is an expensive business. It’s tempting to cut corners where possible to save money, and inevitably the question gets asked… “Vinyl mastering – is a separate master really necessary? Or can I use digital masters for vinyl music?

Short answer = You need a separate vinyl master for the best results.

Often masters created for digital use (Streaming/download/CD) are accepted by the pressing plant, so technically it’s OK to press on vinyl, but the end result is disappointing sound quality.

Using masters optimized for digital use to press vinyl will usually result in a slightly flatter sound, less dynamic range, various levels of distortion, skipping needles when playing back, and less overall “life” on vinyl – a crying shame after spending so much money on getting the records pressed!

It’s definitely worthwhile getting proper pre-vinyl masters made. …

Producer Interview Series – Arrival Sound System

In this new producer interview series, I interview regular Fat As Funk Mastering clients whom I’ve got to know over the years and have some interesting things going on musically.
First up is reggae producer Hal, from the Arrival Sound System, who has recently released the sublime album “Voices”. A collection of blissful positive dubwise vibes, featuring a variety of different vocalists. …

can mastering fix a bad mix

Can Mastering Fix A Bad Mix?

“Can mastering save a bad mix?” is a common question. The short answer? = Yes…. to an extent. It’s always better to fix your mix at the mix stage, rather than waiting to fix the mix in mastering, but what if you don’t have the project file anymore, and still love the track. Do you …

Album Mixing and Mastering – thoughts on how to do it right

Mastering an album requires subtlety, intuition & a certain sprinkle of black magic that can only come with plenty of experience. …

Music conference success tips for trade fairs

Music conference success: 31 tips for music industry trade fairs

How to make it in the music industry? Whatever musical path you choose, you will find lots of new opportunities by attending music industry conferences that happen around the world. We have some tips to help make the most of a trip. …

try free online mastering demo

Online mastering free sample: get free track mastering on your mix!

Humans are the natural choice to master your music – A.I. bots are getting better all the time, but they can’t feel the rush of a hot performer, or the anticipation of a bass drop. An A.I. bot will never shed a tear when the violins rise up, or a surge of energy deep within them from a wicked riff. You can… We can. …

How to prepare a track for mastering: tips from a mastering engineer

One of the most common questions we are asked is “how do I prepare a song for mastering”. It’s an important stage to get right, as the quality of audio going into the mastering chain makes a big difference to the final result of the master. When you’re looking for the best song mastering services, …

Fat As Funk – streetwear & lifestyle merch now available!

Show the world you live a Fat As Funk lifestyle with our dope new range of apparel. Ideal for chillin’ in the studio or around town. …

Mastering your DJ Mix : the next step in becoming a djay pro!

Now there are more opportunities than ever to become a professional DJ – and it’s a more crowded market than ever before because of it! So how do you get your mix to stand out to listeners, booking agents and promoters on common platforms like Mixcloud, Soundcloud, Spotify etc? Mastering is an overlooked step that makes you stand out as a pro DJ. …

“hottest record in the world right now” mastered by Fat As Funk.

Honoured to have mastered “prayer” by Prospa on Stress Records, named by BBC Radio 1 Annie Mac yesterday as her hottest record in the world right now …

Mastering professionally for 12 years!

Time flies. Fat as Funk is 12 years old in a couple of weeks. A lot has happened. We were one of the very first to offer free mastering tasters back in 2006, and since then have had the pleasure of working on over 10,000+ tracks! We’ve seen the rise of some of our regulars …

Posted on

How Do I Make My Podcast Sound Better? – Podcast Mastering

How to sound good on a podcast – that’s the goal of many aspiring creators.

You create and record valuable content, edit it, and stream it… only to hear that it doesn’t sound as professional compared to some of your peers. There’s so much content available these days, listeners will switch off quickly if your audio isn’t up to scratch.

Podcast mixing and mastering is the answer to your question of “How to fix podcast audio?”

The human voice is what our ears are most attuned to hear, so any minor podcast voice problems are immediately noticeable to any listener, even if they can’t detect what exactly the problem is.

There are a tonne of podcast audio editing tips on the internet, but even if you read it all, crafting your final podcast audio processing to get professional, radio quality results takes a lot of experience and confidence to know what sounds “right”.

Sometimes there is problem noise on the recording (Air Conditioning, computer fan, loud traffic etc.), maybe your voice volume is not consistent, and some words are too quiet to hear. Perhaps your sound FX are jarring in tone compared to your voice over. Maybe your podcast audio levels are not balanced between the voice and music. Or commonly, the whole thing is just too quiet.

How To Improve Podcast Audio Quality

The main things you can do to improve your podcast voice over is to record in a reasonably “dead” room (without a lot of natural reverb), use the best quality condensor microphone you can afford, and record your voice at a good level without distortion. Once you have done these basic steps, the task of getting the final product to sound like a professional podcast is the tricky bit.

Interviews via Zoom and other chat apps are common now, but unfirtunately Zoom podcast audio quality is poor. We can improve your podcast audio quality no matter where your source audio came from. We can also remove wind noise from location interviews.

Using a compressor on your voice to even-out the volume of your voice out is relatively easy – but doing it transparently, so it doesn’t sound “wierd” to the listener is quite a bit tougher. Even a slightly wrong setting on voice compression makes it sound odd to the average listener, and can sometimes even enhance any background noise present on the recording.

The Easiest Way To Improve Your Podcast Audio Quality

You may prefer to spend your time developing your content instead of stressing about this stuff, and leave the podcast audio post production to us.

We can fix podcast audio problems and get your content sounding amazing. It doesn’t cost a fortune either.

We can also edit and work magic on any audio issues in general – enhancing badly recorded audio, breath noise removal, and we can remove unwanted background noise from a recording while leaving your voice in tact and sounding natural.

Get in touch and let us know what’s wrong with your audio, and we will help. We can give you a free demo too, so you can hear how good you could sound with no risk.

Posted on

Choosing The Best Mastering Volume – How Loud Should My Master Be In 2021?

There are several different opinions on the question of “What is the best volume to finish my master?” (or for the more technically minded “What LUFS should I master to?”).

We can’t avoid mentioning the famous loudness wars in this article either, and the direction music mastering is heading. After many years spent racing towards the loudest master, is the loudness war over?

Having been a professional mastering engineer since 2006, I have a few opinions. I’m going to give my perspective on these questions and explain about LUFS, peak and true-peak (with as little jargon as possible).

The end point is finding the ultimate recipe for the best mixing and mastering finish for your music, and how to win the loudness war in 2021 and beyond.

How loud should my album be in 2021? – Here’s The Short Answer:

Your master should be finished to the volume it sounds best at, with consideration to what’s expected by the listener for the genre. That is the sweet-spot.

You were expecting a measureable number? I’ll get to that, but there’s more to what’s the best mastering volume than one easy answer. I’ll tell you what is not the right approach:

It is NOT wilfully hitting a streaming platform’s published targets without a second thought for what’s right for the genre (more on this later).

It is NOT trying to get the loudest master just for the sake of it (or to “beat” your mate’s track), sacrificing dynamic range and punch in the process (never confuse volume with punch).

These days it’s best to go for what works best for your album, not try and fit in to other people’s shoes. This is not a “wooly” answer – there is no single right dB or LUFS answer. I’ll explain further…

(If you really need numbers now, skip to the “What’s the best LUFS for mastering?” section below.)

Playback Methods Have Changed

These days people consume music in more ways than ever before. From beautiful full-range systems to terrible speakers built into a phone. The playback medium matters too – if music is streamed from the internet, played from a CD, hard drive, vinyl or even old-skool cassette tapes which are now a “thing” again – all the formats have subtly different ways of handling the dynamic range, tone and volume of music.

The best mastering has to sound great on all these devices – that’s one of the biggest challenges for a professional mastering engineer.

A major part of this, and a long-running debate among record labels, producers and all the best mixing and mastering services is “How loud should my master be?“.

You have probably heard the term “the loudness war” – the unofficial battle between record labels asking mastering engineers to push the intrinsic volume of records to the maximum – trying to be the loudest track on every mixtape, and a louder CD than the previous.

This has been a hotly debated topic since the mid-90’s. One camp likes the more compressed, slammed, thicker, heavier finish – but at a cost of dynamic expression.

The other side prefers the more dynamic, bouncy, open, vibrant finish – but at the expense of aggressive volume.

This all got really silly in the early-mid 2000’s, with many album casualties being pushed so much they were transformed into worse versions of their original mixes due to over-agressive limiters being pushed way too hard.

Even naturally heavier genres like hip-hop, rock and dance music suffered casualties in the loudness war. Often the worst atrocities being committed by the biggest bands (Metallica “Death Magnetic” is probably the most famous, with legendary mastering engineer Ted Jensen actually distancing himself from the end result).

Most music will lose power and be made to sound weaker by pushing the intrinsic volume ever-higher. This sounds counter-intuitive, but is true. Without dynamic range there is no punch. Volume without punch is just noise – just annoying. You can always push louder – but there will always be a cutoff point where pushing louder is no longer an improvement.

Of course, different genres of music differ in their requirements. Mastering dance music will generally need a lot more heft than mastering jazz music or mastering ambient music for example. One of the reasons the loudness wars became such a problem was that many mastering engineers were applying far too heavy compression and limiting to softer material, killing the dynamics and making it sound crushed and lifeless – totally unnatural for the genre.

Cue listener comments like “the mastering is too loud”.

Often, I’m sure this was at the insistence of the client, not the mastering engineer’s decision (as a professional mastering engineer we can advise, but the customer always has the final say).

I often have new clients approach me with poor-quality masters done online by an automated service. Often some of the issues come from the track being too pushed, or not enough (usually too much). Setting the best mastering level for music relies on more than just numbers. AI is getting better all the time, but you still need a human for the subtle bits.

So how do you know what loudness is right for your music?

Before We Proceed – The Simplest Explanation of LUFS on the internet!

What are LUFS? Jargon-busting answer:

When artists ask “How loud should my master be”, what they probably mean (technically speaking) is “What LUFS should my master be?”

What are LUFS? = LUFS stands for Loudness Units relative to Full Scale (or just “Loudness Units/LU”). They are a way of measuring the intrinsic volume of a piece of audio, relative to 0dB – which is the absolute loudest signal possible in digital audio – in the same way that a cup can only ever be filled up to 100% full, and no more.

A cup with 100ml capacity can only ever hold a maximum of 100ml of water, if you try to add more than 100ml the excess just spills out, losing water. The same theory holds in digital audio – an audio file can only ever have its volume filled up to the maximum, and you can’t go beyond the finite limits without losing data (as if it spills out over the edge).

In digital audio, some key knowledge is that 0dB (Zero dB) is NOT silence, it is actually the loudest you can go. 0dB is our “full” loudest point, and going quieter is measured in minus numbers (so -25dB is actually quieter than -3dB).

Now we’ve got these basics out of the way, what do LUFS do and how are LUFS used?

Practically speaking, a LUFS measurement tells you the perceived loudness of a piece of music across a sustained measure of time, and this LUFS measurement is the most accurate reflection of how “fat”, “full” or “hefty” the track will sound to the listener, compared to similar tracks, when played through the same Soundsystem, at the same volume.

LUFS  are also very similar to the more famous dB/decibel. Actually, in practical terms 1dB is the same amount as 1LU. So if you lower the volume of something by -3LUFS, you could also say you reduced it by -3dB.

So what’s the difference between dB and LUFS? Both LUFS and dB can be used to express a measurement of difference between 2 things e.g. “take the vocals down -2dB from where they are now“, or a fixed volume reference (e.g. “the neighbours registered a noise complaint of 80dB”.

The most important dB vs LUFS difference from a professional audio work perspective is that the dB scale represents how much air pressure a sound will produce over a very short time, and needs to be referenced to another point (which is standard air pressure) to get a measurement.

In contrast, LUFS is a unit of measurement measured from within the audio, relative to the loudest it could possibly be, and measured over a longer time.

So the LUFS measurement is more similar to measuring how much water we have in our cup with 100ml capacity. LUFS is measured backwards from full-scale (full capacity), so using our 100ml cup analogy again, if we had 90ml of water in the cup, you could also say you had the capacity of 10ml left, or -10ml to full capacity. If you only measured backwards to 0ml capacity left (a full cup), then if you had 60ml water in there, the spare capacity measurement would be -40ml.

Same idea for digital audio measurement: digital audio can only ever go to a maximum point before clipping (the cup overflowing), which is always referenced at 0dB (our full capacity). Both dB and LUFS are measured like this. So a measurement of -5dB means you can raise the volume up another 5dB before the audio clips and data gets lost (the cup runneth over). A measurement of -10LUFS means there’s a limit of another 10LUFS before the audio is the loudest it could ever possibly be (the full cup again).

But dB is measured only in comparison to another part of the setup. To invent a random example: your bass guitar is at full volume, and has -3dB headroom going into AMP #1 before distortion. But if you patch it into amp #2 it may have -8dB headroom, because the amps are built differently. So the measurements are accurate, but not as translatable.

Whereas LUFS for mastering is measured from within the audio file, using 0dBFS (full scale, or the loudest it could possibly go: our full cup analogy again).

LUFS could be viewed as a more modern, improved version of RMS which gives an average volume of audio. I’m going to say it – nobody really uses RMS much in mastering standards these days (apart from a few stragglers), so I won’t bother going into RMS beyond this mention. Use LUFS instead.

Measuring audio using LUFS gives a more accurate picture of the track volume over a longer time (often the entire track is measured and represented, sometimes just key anchor point sections). LUFS are the best unit we have to measure audio loudness in 2021 but it’s still not “perfect”. You still need a pair of experienced, human ears to translate this stuff beyond the numbers.

If you mastered an album of reasonably varied tracks all to a rigidly set LUFS level, without using your ears for a final check to see if it sounds right, you would probably find the album isn’t as cohesive as it could be.

LUFS are really useful, but your ears are still needed for a final check in the real world, as so many other factors come in to play, like tempo, instrumentation, vocal styles across the album etc.

For example, it’s very common for a track to have a radio mix + an extended mix. Chances are both these tracks will have different LUFS readings – because if the extended mix has a longer intro, longer breakdown and longer ending, the LUFS measurement will take ALL the audio into account, and so the extended mix will probably have a lower LUFS reading than the more concise radio mix….. which will lead to Spotify + other systems that use an automatic volume-levelling system to adjust and then play the two mixes with different volumes.

Also massively important is If the initial anchor point of the album is not chosen correctly, the entire foundation of the album may not be optimised. This is another factor where a human brain will always beat AI – because it hinges on an emotional response.

What’s the difference between Peak Level and True Peak?

The Peak Level of audio is another separate measurement of how loud your track is, and combined with LUFS gives a realistic picture of how your track will compare in the real world. Peak Level is measured in dB, and it’s how loud the loudest single peak of your track is, relative to 0dB (the absolute loudest it could possibly be in digital audio – the full cup). This is slightly different to how LUFS is used, but they work hand-in-hand.

Although LUFS and Peak are both measured relative to 0dB (how much capacity is left available to fill), Peak level sounds different overall to a LUFS measurement, because Peak Level is only measured at the one loudest point of the WAV, which can be a super-short sound (like 1 loud snare hit), rather than LUFS which measures the overall loudness of the track over a longer time.

Imagine recording an instrument with -7dB headroom, then suddenly someone slams a door taking the recording level momentarily up to -0.1dB. The bang is 6.9dB louder than the instrument, but the recording never clips (0.1dB peak headroom left before clipping).

This recording would technically be -0.1dB Peak Level: almost as loud as possible before digital distortion, but when you listened to the audio it would still sound quiet until the door slam – because the door slam is the loudest bit. So the Peak Level on its own doesn’t give an accurate real-world indication of how a listener would perceive your audio.

A LUFS measurement of the same audio would show a more accurate real-world result of somewhere around -6.4 to -6.9LUFS (depending on various factors including how long the measurement was): this measurement more accurately reflects the overall quiet nature of the audio file in the way our ears would perceive it.

The LUFS measurement would not ignore the big hit of the door slamming, but that 1 big hit wouldn’t massively skew the entire measurement like it would for a dB measurement.

So what’s the difference between Peak and True Peak?

Digital audio is very accurate these days, but it’s not bulletproof. Sample rate is how many times the audio waveform is measured (or “sampled”) per second. So a sample rate of 96kHz samples the waveform 96,000 times every second. Sometimes the point where the audio is sampled happens either side of a waveform peak, so the recording misses the exact level of the peak.

Imagine if you were watching someone throwing and catching a ball outside your window. You could see the ups and downs of the ball, but then if it was thrown higher above your window view, you would miss seeing exactly how high it went – because it went beyond your maximum vision. If the top of the window frame represents 0dB (the loudest we can measure) the actual height the ball reached, out of your vision, represents the true peak.

So bizarrely, audio that is badly clipped can actually have a positive True Peak of +dB. Which is only ever a bad thing, and not actually part of the sound – more of a measure of how much signal has been lost, but still taken into account by streaming platforms to avoid the possibility of clipping at the consumer end. This contradicts what I said earlier about digital audio being unable to go beyond the 0dB level, but understand a positive +dB True Peak measurement is not the same as proper audio. It is a measurement of how much data has been lost at that point.

Masters that have been pushed hard and finished to -0.1dB (the old standard), without a special limiter that deals with intersample peaks, can have True Peak measurements of +4dB or more – a major issue for streaming platforms, as you will read.

That’s the simplest explanation of LUFS, Peak and True Peak without getting into the technical jargon I promised I’d avoid.

What’s The Best LUFS For Mastering?

It’s never a one-size-fits-all approach, but if you really want numbers (of course you do), I often find somewhere around -9LUFS to -11LUFS to be a good level for many styles of electronic and rock music.

For mellower material, I often finish somewhere around -12LUFS to -14LUFS.

However, depending on the intentions of the artist, and bearing the genre in mind, I will finish anywhere between -5LUFS (for insanely fat “pushed” sounding electronica) to -15LUFS (for gentle ambience).

Note: these measurements are for music designed for playback by consumer – I.E. record releases. Different, very specific standards exist for broadcast TV and mastering audio books etc. (but that’s for another article). Here we’re just talking records which have no rigid standards we must adhere to.

So, what LUFS is correct for mastering in 2021?  = Whatever works best for your album or song and gives just the right amount of weight, bounce, bump n’ grind, the break point where joy happens – that’s the ideal mastering LUFS target in 2021.

Hang on a minute buster! I thought Spotify/Apple/Youtube said you HAD to finish your masters at precisely -14LUFS, or they’ll kick your butt! What gives, Chum?

Settle down, imaginary sceptic, I’ll explain:

What’s The Best Mastering Level For Streaming?

In 2021 music streaming services rule. The CD format is becoming rarer every year, and although there will always be vinyl fans (me included), it’s no longer a common commercial format for most artists. So it obviously makes sense to master with the main method of music consumption in mind.

Most streaming platforms like Spotify, Soundcloud etc. now have “normalising” (automatic volume levelling) built-in. This a great for the listener, because if you are listening on shuffle mode and an industrial rock track comes on after a mellow blues song you won’t suddenly be hit with a louder volume and have to rush to turn down the volume control.

There are a couple of different volume leveling systems being used, but the general idea is that they analyze the tracks intrinsic volume in LUFS, before adjusting the playback volume to compensate, thus leveling out the listening experience.

Many streaming platforms like Spotify, Tidal etc. state an “ideal” mastering level of -14LUFS, with True Peak of -1dB.

A track of -10LUFS, True peak of -1dB would have the Spotify playback volume turned down -4LUFS to match their standards of -14LUFS playback volume. A track with less headroom than -1dB causes a further playback volume reduction to compensate too, as it will adjust until the song also plays back at -1dB True Peak.

This “turning the volume down” is also known as the “Spotify Loudness Penalty”. More on that later, and why it’s less scary than it sounds.

You would think if you set your mastering output to -14LUFS with True Peak of -1dB then it’s already totally nailed, right? Sometimes, yes absolutely. But in the real world nothing is ever that simple, and if you follow that idea for every track or album, then you may not get the results you want in the end.

Most electronic, urban and rock music sounds a little weak and thin at -14LUFS, compared to the majority of records in their genre. For example, if you mastered a house, electronica, heavy rock, drum n’ bastype of track at -14LUFS, it will sound pretty lame compared a similar track that was finished at -10LUFS.

Understand that the -14LUFS track doesn’t just play back -4LUFS quieter, but SOUNDS less “full”, less “finished”, less “ballsy”, less “fat”…. you get the picture.

When I first learned about digital streaming targets a while ago, I started mastering music finished for those specs. Every electronic, dance, heavy rock or trailer music track I finished to -14LUFS got the same response from clients: “It sounds great, but can you squeeze a few more dB out of it?”. I explained about the targets, but they wanted more “ooomph”. In seriousness, I actually agreed.

So for these heavier genres of music I stopped finishing them to an arbitrary number, and went with my gut and ears again instead – no more volume boost requests from clients.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think some forms of music definitely sound better around -14LUFS. Mellow acoustic music, singer songwriter, some orchestral, lighter reggae, light jazz, piano music and several other genres will certainly not benefit from being too “pushed”, and a -14LUFS finish may be appropriate.

Sometimes genres blur, certain sounds or instruments will lead the focus, perhaps it’s a drum-heavy track, or there are no drums at all, just an ambient drone. What if there is an album full of variation?

With so many variables, how do you decide what LUFS to finish at? This is where an experienced professional mastering engineer will make the call, and find the best finish for your track or album. Confidence, knowledge and an instant understanding of what is “right” which comes from years worth of experience.

For example I estimate I have completed around 39,000 hours of studio time (30 hrs per week average over 25 years, since getting really in to music production aged 16 in 1996. Probably more hours as I used to pull a lot of all-nighters in my youth).

The Problem With Only Using Numbers To Set Your Mastering Loudness

So much more needs to be taken into account than just aiming for a measurement. The tempo, orchestration, how it was recorded, the intended audience, the intended playback settings, the customs within each genre and the spectral and dynamic balance compared to other tracks on the same album should all have a part to play in the final loudness decisions. There’s no meter yet that can measure all those things as accurately as a trained human brain.

The various different streaming platforms are still refining their auto-volume leveling systems, and there is still a lot of debate over what is the best method to use, and ideal target too. These published streaming LUFS targets should be viewed as moving goalposts, and a guideline, not an unbreakable rule. They could change next year!

So, let’s take Spotify mastering LUFS standards for example. They state – 14LUFS as the ideal mastering level. So a -14LUFS master will essentially bypass the auto-volume leveling system and have no adjustment in playback volume when played on Spotify.

If you analyze your favourite dance, hip-hop or rock tracks (even new releases on major labels), I’ll bet you will struggle to find many that are actually finished to -14LUFS. I suspect you’ll find numbers more in the range of -12 to -8LUFS, maybe even down to -6LUFS : a long way off the published “ideal” -14LUFS streaming targets. Why is this? Surely if streaming is king, we must all follow their demands?

These real-world standards are partly due to 20+ years of the loudness wars, but also because some styles of music just sound “better” when they have been pushed a little harder. We as listeners have come to expect that full-fat, hefty sound from some genres, and often that needs a slightly higher LUFS master.

But that’s where auto-volume-leveling come in, right? Won’t Spotify iron out all these differences and make everything sound the same level anyway? So if you master to -14LUFS it will sound better than a track mastered at -11LUFS, won’t it? Sort of, but it’s more complex than just numbers.

In a real listening situation the listener’s perceived loudness of a track is very heavily weighted on on other factors beyond just LUFS and dB. The instrumentation, treble energy, punch of the bass, timbre, vocal performance (or if it’s an instrumental track) and the mixing style are all variables that combine to change how the listener perceives the track. Plus the listening environment itself has a major bearing beyond just a LUFS measurement.

Example: If you play 2 heavy electronica tracks back to back. Track A is finished to -9LUFS, track B is finished at -14LUFS. Let’s say you turn up the playback volume for track B by +5dB, to compensate for the mastering differences, so in theory, both tracks should sound the same volume…. What happens? Track A will still sound “fatter” to the listener, even though the playback level is technically the same. This is because there’s more power within the track itself, it’s “stronger” than the -14LUFS alternative.

Other camps will argue that the dynamics will be punchier in the -14LUFS master Vs. the -9LUFS master at the same perceived volume, and that is true… but dynamics punchiness is only one factor, and isn’t always the most important factor to consider for some music genres.

The lines can be blurred about what is “more important” in a track – dynamics or weight. This is key.

For some music, open punchy dynamics easily sounds best. Sometimes you want that “pushed” hefty feeling and sacrificing some dynamic range is a better option. It’s all to play for, and anyone who clings to one rule for all is missing the point – the mastering approach should be fluid, and optimised for the individual aesthetic required.

This is the indefinable sweet-spot of which I speak. This is the magic feeling we must capture in our master. What is right for the track, or album in a wider context. An AI online mastering service can’t define this – AI has never been raving, never crowd-surfed, never excitedly hugged its mates in a sweaty heap at a gig…. you get the idea. There’s more to enjoing and understanding music than numbers.

If 2 hypothetical heavy electronica tracks were played back-to-back on Spotify, the underlying volume of music in the room would be nice and level, but track A (-9LUFS) might well sound fatter and fuller than track B (-14LUFS). Probably NOT the artist’s intention for track B, aiming to sound fat!

Also, streaming services will turn audio down based on Peak Level, but currently they won’t turn it UP (remember this may change if/when they change systems)! So if you master a track to -14LUFS, and leave -2dB True Peak (as is preferred by some platforms), then it would sound -1dB quieter again than a track finished at -14LUFS with a TP of -1dB when played back on some platforms that prefer a TP of -1dB..

This volume-leveling can backfire in a more extreme way when faced with extremely dynamic material, like orchestral music which can have a long build of quiet followed by a few scattered big hits, which will actually then be affected by a built-in limiter on streaming systems to protect against unexpected clips like in this example – what are the chances that the arbitrary limiter response will fit your music musically? Hmm.

The recent house banger “Let’s Just” by Tommy Farrow (Stress Records) hits around -7LUFS in the chorus, sounds fat, loud, lovely and is a massive hit. But -7LUFS is a lot louder than Spotify’s preferred -14LUFS. Will that make it less favourable to Spotify’s algorithms? No, as he has made the front cover of the Spotify House Music playlist.

Likewise look at the runaway success of the Lau.Ra tracks Wicked & Don’t Waste My Time (Needwant). Both of these have been dominating the electronica charts, are all over a load of Spotify playlists, and are finished at a meaty -4.8LUFS: almost 10LUFS louder than the official Spotify guidelines (this extreme level was at the artist’s request by the way, but I do agree it sounds dope in this instance).

I’m not saying this super-pushed finish is the right approach all the time, but it does prove that the Spotify “Loudness Penalty” we touched upon earlier doesn’t penalise discoverablility, which is an important distinction to make.

I’m usually against pushing a track to these extreme LUFS levels unless the artist requests it or it really suits the track. But it proves anything can be possible and still get a great result if done well.

Dynamic, bouncy and open Vs. Tight, fat and solid. A good mastering engineer will advise, but at the end of the day the customer needs to be happy first, so we will always enable the artist’s vision, and at the end of the day, the customer is always right.

Loudness Targets For Different Streaming Platforms

In the interests of giving you complete information, here are the suggested levels when mastering for streaming. If you’ve read the article above you’ll understand there are more factors at play in the real world, but here they are anyway:

ServiceLUFSTrue Peak
Apple Music-13 to -15LUFS-1 dBTP
Amazon Music-9 to -13 LUFS-2dBTP
CDNo “official” standard-0.1dB
Club SoundsystemCan be up to -6LUFS-0.1dB
Deezer-14 to -16LUFS-1dBTP
Soundcloud-8 to -13LUFS-1dBTP
Spotify-14LUFS-1dBTP
Spotify Loud-11LUFS-2dBTP
Youtube-14LUFS-1dBTP
Published streaming loudness “targets”. Accurate as of early 2021.

How To Win The Loudness War In 2021 And Beyond

Looking at the long term picture, it seems important not to base your mastering decisions entirely on arbitrary number targets decided by streaming platforms (which are not totally agreed on yet, and will probably change several more times over the years).

It also seems like a bad idea to push for insanely loud LUFS for the sake of it when it’s generally agreed that auto-volume leveling is a good thing, and will only get better as it advances.

Shouldn’t we still fight in the loudness wars? = Not any more (if you ever should have in the first place). Pushing your mastering too hard for the sake of winning the mythical “loudness wars” has been proven many times over to be an exercise in futility, and will ruin the dynamic detail of your track for a “quick hit” of volume.  The loudness wars were also from a time when people bought a physical CD – when did you last buy a CD?

Nowadays with automated volume-leveling becoming more common in both playback systems and streaming services, it is less important than ever to try and be the loudest on the block. Also, don’t forget that every music playback system in the world has a volume control (and it’s usually the biggest dial right in the middle too).

Why permanently set your album masters for an outdated competition, for an outdated format, which was a bad idea in the first place? Or for a digital playback service that will probably change their standards several more times in the next few years.

All things considered, it’s often not the best idea to finish your master based on only the LUFS measurement given by a streaming service either, without giving priority to what’s best for the music, and the confidence to know what works best for the individual album.

It’s not usually the best approach to push your record beyond its sweet-spot just to be “louder than track (x)”.

Modern mastering standards allow you to let go of some worries:

Don’t worry about pushing it crazy-loud for the sake of competing in a phony war and sacrificing your dynamic range.

Don’t worry if your music slightly exceeds the suggested Spotify loudness targets, it will still sound awesome.

Don’t worry that your mate did a DIY home-master using headphones and free plugins that’s louder than anything you heard before… and louder automatically means better, right? (wrong).

Remember the old mastering engineers saying “it’s not how loud you make it, but how you make it loud”. Very true.

In a nutshell – the BEST mastering volume target for 2021 is What sounds best for your record based on what you want to achieve artistically.

We are happy to advise you which route to go beforehand, or explain our decisions afterwards.

We always mix and master for the level that suits your music best for your music, and will always make sure you love your final masters 100% – whatever the final LUFS!

With remote working now the accepted ideal, it’s no longer important to only think about “mixing and mastering services near me”, we have clients across the globe.

Upload your track to Fat As Funk now and try our mastering for free!

Mind Map of why Fat As Funk Mastering is one of the best mastering engineers

Advertising

Posted on

Do I Need Mixing AND Mastering? Stem Mastering? Or Stereo Mastering For My Music?

If you are wondering “How can I make my music sound better?” You may be considering taking your mixes to a pro, but are wondering what service your money is better spent on: professional mixing vs mastering, stem mastering or stereo mastering.

Below is an easy flow chart to help you decide, and we will briefly answer some common questions like what is the difference between mixing and mastering? What is stem mastering? We will explore stem mastering vs mixing and mastering.

Pro Mixing and Mastering packages:

Send us your recordings and we will transform them into a record! Get your mix as close to your vision as you can, then export your individual instrument stems (as many as you need) and send them over. Make sure you export all the parts from the same time, so it all lines up (usually from the very start 0:00).

We will give it a luxury analogue mixdown using our old-skool analog desk, valve hardware and 25 years of studio experience. We will then master lovely new mix and deliver you a radio-ready album you will be proud of.

Stem Mastering:

What is stems mastering? Stem mastering is like a mini-mix and mastering approach. It can optimize something brilliant, or correct a few difficult elements.

If your mix is pretty damn great already, and you just want to optimize it, then group the various elements together before exporting. E.G. group all the drums together in 1 stereo file, all the vocals in 1 stereo file, softer instruments, heavy instruments etc. Usually around 5 or 6 stems works well for most tracks. We will mix them back together, tweaking the individual parts so they sit perfectly together, use analogue summing then a fat analogue master for awesome results.

We can also save a mix using stem mastering. A classic situation is having a great backing track with a vocal or lead guitar that just doesn’t quite “sit right”. Or maybe you are not confident in you Sub/kick balance. We can stop your headache and ease your pain for pretty low price. Just bounce us an exported mix with the problem elements muted, then export the tricky elemements soloed. E.G. [Main track No Lead Guitars / Lead Guitar 1 / Lead Guitar 2] or for a dance track [Sub Bass / Kick Drum / Bounce Bass / Everything Else].

Stereo Mastering:

If your mix is already perfect and you are happy with it, then just send it over for straight-up stereo analog mastering. We will treat your mix like a queen, pamper it, give it some love, fatten it up, polish it shiny, make it sound expensive (but it won’t cost you too much). Fire it over. and we will deliver your awesome results.

Now you know what approach would suit your music best, upload your files and we will work some magic on your mix, and deliver you that pro sound you crave.

If you want to order stem mastering, simply choose “stereo mastering”, and add the number of stems you require using the “add stems for stem mastering” product.

UPLOAD YOUR FILES HERE

Advertising

Posted on

Producer Interview Series – Context

In this new series I interview some regular Fat As Funk mastering clients who have some interesting stories behind their music.

Here we chat with Context – a producer and MC who has released records on Sony, and is also a university lecturer and author. We’ve had the pleasure of mastering several banging tracks of his over the years, and he’s an all-round interesting fella.


What was the first moment in your life that really stands out as the driving force behind your musical path?


My Dad used to be in a band playing in pubs and things when I was younger so we would play guitar together. My little brother had a drum kit so we used to do learn songs so I’ve always loved music. But in terms of writing my own stuff, I started off doing battles for some fun, but it really started when I first moved out of home. I was working in a call centre in Norwich, living with my girl and my mate in a fairly skanky house and I just wanted to make tunes about my life. The UK hip hop I was into at the time felt really abstract and I wanted something that spoke to lads like us.


How long have you been writing & producing music?


I started properly releasing music seriously with a tune called ‘Off with Their Heads’ which came out in 2011
Off With Their Heads:

What tracks are are you most proud of, & why?


There are two that stand out. One called ‘Drowning’, which to be honest was mainly for the video. We shot the whole thing underwater and it was just an incredible experience. For an unsigned rapper, I still think that video is crazy all these years later. The other one was getting to work with Mike Skinner for his remix of ‘Small Town Lad Sentiments’. He was always a bit of a musical hero of mine so getting to work together was a bit of a dream come true to be honest

Drowning:

Small Town Lad Sentiments with Mike Skinner

When in your musical life have you felt the most nervous?


Filming that underwater video was insane. I had a panic attack 20 feet underwater. That was pretty scary!


What was the most inspiring gig/festival/club night you went to in your youth? & what stood out as being special?


There are a few that jump out. It wasn’t even really my youth (!) but the first time I went to Amnesia in Ibiza was unforgettable. It was Eric Prydz and Above and Beyond. Mindblowing night. One I really remember was when it was insanely late and we were still out and we stumbled totally by accident on a night which used to run at Cable called Jaded. It started at 5am and ran until 2pm the next day. Completely insane nights.


Have you been to any music industry conferences (MIDEM, SXSW etc)? If so, what aspect/s did you find most valuable?


Recently I’ve actually found myself being invited to speak at a lot of these panels mainly about my work on mental health and the music industry. I did a research project called ‘Can Music Make You Sick’ which was about the struggles of a creative career, and that’s taken me all over the world to speak about it. I tend to find the artist panels a bit misleading to be honest and overly positive. They tell artists that everything about music is great and its never been better or easier to be an artist. I feel that whole techno-positivism a myth and totally unhelpful for young artists generally.


I read your report which was very insightful and helpful. The first 8 bullet points raised really sum up what it’s like living in this precarious, addictive, rewarding and draining pursuit that we call the music business. As well as mastering, I make music too of course, & it’s been the biggest source of both joy & pain in my life. The juxtaposition of pride & self-revulsion, joy and pain is intense. When you get a “win” it fuels hope and brings excitement and money, but that can quickly be replaced once more with feelings of hopelessness and anxiety for the future. It was actually very comforting to read so many quotes from musicians feeling a similar way and that these feelings often go hand in hand with being a musician. The study, in true music form, also made me feel a little bad at the same time in the sense that if this is who we are, there is not necessarily long-term escape from these feelings… But at least now I can stop TRYING to escape the feelings, & instead embrace them (in a way) and figure out coping strategies, and focusing on the positives instead of feeling crushed. I found this a hugely positive change in mindset, and in a weird way made me feel better about the low points of being a musician in general, and more determined to relish the great bits, of which there are many – enough to overshadow the crap bits anyway. I can’t wait to read the full book when it comes out on the 28th September!


Has being a musician affected your personal relationships, either in positive or negative ways?


This actually speaks to a lot of what I’ve been doing in my research over the past few years. Music is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I’ve met some incredible people and its led to many of the things I do now in my professional work as an academic. On the other, you have to acknowledge that being a career musician can be extremely destructive on your personal relationships and actually can be really unhealthy.


Have you had to diversify much across your music career, in order to pay the bills at times? What else have you done while building up your music career?


Alongside making music I am an academic. I lecture at both Goldsmiths (University of London) and Westminster University. There was a period of time where music was my sole income, when I first signed to Sony and got a fairly decent advance – but that doesn’t go very far in London!


What aspect of the music industry have you found hardest to gain traction in? And how did you overcome the resistance?


To me the biggest challenge, being from outside London was contact acquisition. Getting to know the people at radio and the journalists etc. It wasn’t hard I would say – it just takes a long time to figure out who’s who and how to play the game. It takes years


Tell us about a couple of musical breaks you had that really made you feel you’d progressed forward in your career.


Moving to London was the best thing I ever did. To be honest I wish I had done it sooner. That led to me signing with my manager which was a big deal for me. The biggest thing really was signing with Sony and the cash hitting my bank after years of being completely broke. That was a huge achievement for me. I also loved performing at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Norwich, because it was in my home town. That was special

Are there any good Music books that you have learned a lot from & recommend?


My book called ‘Can Music Make You Sick’ will be out this year! Hopefully that interests people. Otherwise, my favourite one is probably ‘The Triumph of Music’ by Tim Blanning. Really interesting history of musicians role in society.


What’s your favourite movie soundtrack? Why?


The soundtrack to Jackie Brown is vibes. SuperFly by Curtis Mayfield too.


Your top tip for aspiring musicians?


Make sure you have someone close to you who’s opinion you really value and respect, and then when they give you their opinion, listen to them. Every artist thinks that they do is amazing (generally) – its important to have someone around to balance you out!


What are your upcoming musical plans?


Well, I returned the answers to this interview with a new track for Fat as Funk to master! So when that comes back, I’ll be dropping that!

Thank you for your answers!

All musicians should read this initial study: Can Music Make You Sick? https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/the-study/.

Context’s book “Can Music Make You Sick” – the complete and expanded study on musician’s mental health is released on September 28th.

If you are a musician who needs a little help, including free therapy (much faster than through other channels) visit this site: https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/

Posted on

“Hottest Record In The World Right Now” – Tommy Farrow – Let’s Just – House Music Mastering by Fat As Funk

Honoured to have mastered “The hottest record in the world right now”, as decided by BBC Radio 1. This absolute banger is out now on Stress Records.

Update: front cover of the Spotify House Mix for Tommy Farrow – Let’s Just

Fat As Funk Mastering will get you the sound quality needed to blow up on Spotify and anywhere else. Try us for free on your mix right now – upload here

Posted on

Can You Use Digital Masters To Cut Vinyl Records? – Or Do You Need Separate Vinyl Masters?

can you use digital masters to cut vinyl records

We’ve had several jobs recently remastering audio for vinyl, so I’ve written a short article about why it’s important, explaining the difference in mastering for digital vs vinyl, and answer common questions such as “Can I use digital masters for vinyl records?”.

Releasing a vinyl record is an expensive business. It’s tempting to cut corners where possible to save money, and inevitably at some point the question gets asked… “Is a separate master really necessary for vinyl? Or can I use CD masters for vinyl music?

Short answer = You should really use a separate vinyl master for the best results.

Your Masters that are created for digital use (Streaming/download/CD) are the no-compromise, perfect sound quality version you as the the artist wants. On digital platforms, and on CD there are virtually no creative limitations to what can be achieved in the stereo mix and master, as digital playback systems can deal with it.

It’s not the same on physical vinyl. If you try to use the digital master on a vinyl cut, suddenly you might find that awesome bass effect sounds quite different, or worse makes the needle skip. You may find the sparkly upper midrange now sounds a lot more harsh. You’re sure the digital master sounds punchier, more vibrant, more alive. What’s up?

Often masters for digital are accepted by the vinyl pressing plant, as they are technically OK to press on vinyl, but the end result could be disappointing sound quality which may sound less vibrant than the same masters listened to on digital streaming platforms like Spotify or a CD.

Using masters optimized for digital use to press vinyl can result in a slightly flatter sound, less dynamic range, various levels of distortion, skipping needles when playing back, and less overall “life” than on the digital masters – a shame after spending so much money on getting the records pressed!

Why Does Dynamic Range Matter So Much When Pressing Vinyl?

What is dynamic range? = a measurement of the difference between the absolute quietest sound, and the absolute loudest sound that something is able to represent.

An unplugged electric guitar can play very quietly, but can’t go very loud at all, so it has a low dynamic range. A drum can play just as quietly as the guitar, but of course can go way louder, hence a large dynamic range.

Related to mastering: A slammed, super-loud EDM Pop master would usually have much less dynamic range than a space-jazz epic.

Different mediums have different dynamic ranges too. CD, vinyl, cassette and digital files all have different limitations of dynamic range.

In contrast to what you might expect, the louder and heavier the digital master is, the flatter, quieter and generally more-rubbish-sounding the vinyl will usually be! Why? Because the dynamic range on vinyl is massively less than is available on digital formats, so compromises must be made at the pressing plant to compensate for your massive digital master.

So although many people feel vinyl sounds “better” it is scientific fact that in terms of dynamic range, digital can handle louder-louds, and quieter-quiets.

Without getting bogged-down into too many boring academic details and variables like dithering which can skew the measurements, let’s quickly check out the difference in the dynamic range of 3 common mediums:

24 Bit WAV digital audio (common “studio” quality for recording and bouncing final mixes pre-mastering): a dynamic range of 144dB, which goes from really-bloody-quiet, right through to thunderously loud!

16 Bit WAV (CD quality): dynamic range is 96 dB, so you see there’s dramatically less possible volume difference between the loudest sound and the quietest sound. 48 dB is a lot of difference.

Vinyl: Can vary dramatically, but it averages out around 80dB dynamic range, with some wriggle-room. That’s much louder-quiets, and quieter-louds available on vinyl!

You can see that only taking into account the factor of dynamic range, there are big differences that should be accounted for when mastering for vinyl.

If you are absolutely in love with your existing fat digital master, we can adjust it for you to suit the vinyl medium specs and translate beautifully in the way you want and expect.

Mastering for vinyl records is a very worthwhile part of the process. For a comparatively small extra charge, you can have faith that your tracks are represented as well as possible, and you won’t ever be wondering if your record could have sounded a bit better if you’d got the additional pre-vinyl mastered versions…

Case Study – Preparing Digital Masters for Vinyl



A client wanted to use his CD masters for vinyl pressing, and sent them to us, as the pressing plant warned them the cut would have issues because the masters had been pushed quite hard, and had some low-end phase issues. He didn’t have the unmastered mixes anymore, so needed to use the existing CD masters.

Often CD masters have been pushed hard for volume at the expense of dynamic range, and this could lead to a compromised vinyl cut sounding flat and lifeless. Of course, they are also at 16 bit too.

So we did a little restoration: We restored the dynamic transients from the original CD masters, increasing the dynamic range, restoring life, bounce and natural energy, and ensuring a stomping vinyl cut!.

Look at the picture: Blue waveforms = original masters, Orange ones = after we restored the dynamic range.


Notice how the lower waveforms look more open and natural now. The transients have been delicately & naturally restored. You can see how the natural subtle energy has been given back, and the life breathed back in.

He was happy with the overall sound of the original masters, so we were careful not to mess with the tone and only adjust the technical aspects, including increasing dynamic range and transients, ensuring there was no low-end phase problems, checking the upper-mids and high-frequencies carefully to ensure they wouldn’t sound harsh on vinyl, and providing some extra headroom.

To the listener it sounds very much the same as the previous masters, but the new files are much more suited for the vinyl medium. Mastering for vinyl specs will give a better quality cut, and generally soundbetter.

Using Digital Masters For Vinyl – A False Economy

So to answer the question “can I use digital masters for vinyl records?” = Maybe, but why risk making the vinyl sound rubbish to save a small fraction of the overall cost? It’s like buying a house but not a bed.

If your test pressings come back sounding bad, and you realize it’s the digital masters at fault, you will have to order (and pay!) for more test pressing next time around. PLUS the cost of getting proper pre-vinyl masters done next time around too!

Vinyl pressing plants have long lead times already (6 weeks is pretty standard), and small delays can cost extra weeks in the real-world. We dipped our toes into being a vinyl broker once and it was a nightmare with the ever-changing lead-times, so it’s important to send everything off right first time and save yourself time, money and hassle in the long run.

Make Your Vinyl Sound Fat As Funk!


Fat As Funk has been mastering for vinyl since 2006. Whether it’s remastering old recordings for vinyl, getting fat digital masters with proper pre-vinyl masters made at the same time (for a massive discount), or remastering already-mastered material to be optimized for vinyl – come to Fat As Funk!

Our mastering for vinyl price is the same as for digital if that’s the only format you want, and if you want an alternative master for digital use done at the same time, we can do this at a huge discount.

Cost example: If you get 10 tracks mastered for digital it’s £230 all-in. You can get proper pre-vinyl masters done at the same time for only £10 each/£100 – a saving of £130 when bought at the same time!

You can try our online mastering free, just upload a track. When you are ready for full mastering, consider getting pre-vinyl masters done at the same time if you are getting vinyl pressed, or even just a few custom vinyl record dublates.

Advertising

RANE Twelve & Numark Scratch Mixer Deal. Mmmmm.
Or just the Numark Mixer is a great upgrade if you have a set of decks already.
Traktor control vinyl, a modern DJ essential.
Native Instruments Traktor Scratch A6 USB Audio Interface is a winner.
Hold it down. Put a record weight on it! MasterSounds Turntable Vinyl Record Weight
Dr Suzuki Slipmats. The one time you want to be slippin’
Posted on

Producer Interview Series – Arrival Sound System

In this new producer interview series, I interview regular Fat As Funk Mastering clients whom I’ve got to know over the years, & have some interesting things going on musically.

First up is reggae producer Hal, from the Arrival Sound System, who has recently released the sublime album “Voices”. A collection of blissful positive dubwise vibes, featuring a variety of different vocalists. A perfect refresher from the stressful world of today.

What was the first moment in your life that really stands out as the driving force behind your musical path?


Buying my first DnB 12”. I think it was by Peshay. I can’t remember the name but I can remember what it looks like… That was the first step into DJing which led to production, learning keys etc.

How long have you been writing & producing music now?


Since age 15 so that’s coming to 20 years in august, I had no idea that much time had passed!

What album/track/collaboration are you most proud of, & why?


The album I’ve just finished which you mastered! An all female voices reggae album called… Voices Its definitely the best thing I have ever made!

Was there a particular piece of equipment/unusual instrument/recording technique that stood out as especially important during the making of that session?


It would be my new Ableton Push! Having gone through loads of different controllers and keyboards over the years I have finally found something that bridges the gap between human and computer! Music music making so much more of a collaboration, before I always felt separate from the computer and with the push it feels like the computer has become an instrument. You can fly around your DAW at a lighting speed and scroll though scales without changing your hand shape and then add tracks/plugins and mix and play and more and more.

Ableton Push


Are there any moments in your musical life where you still feel really nervous?


I still feel nervous before a live show or in fact a live stream. Standing behind the controls ready to play your original music is like opening yourself up to the world and as an introverted person that always makes me nervous and I actually hope it always will, it is what makes playing this game worth it!


What aspect of the music industry have you found hardest to gain traction in? And how did you overcome the resistance?


Getting booked for shows or festivals, it has been very hard to cope with so much rejection! Sending countless emails off into the void of no reply or worst getting a reply that leads to nowhere. The only way to overcome the resistance was to teach myself to care less or cultivate no attachment. Its still exactly the same game but it doesn’t reduce me to a depressed wreck anymore.

Tell us about a couple of musical breaks you had that really made you feel you’d progressed forward in your career.


So there was this one gig at Shambala festival, I think 2018, on Sunday night at 10pm. When we arrived at the stage the venue was empty and as it was Sunday I thought it was going to be a real let down but just after we started this stream of people came in, there had been the closing fireworks not far from the venue, we ended up playing to well over a thousand people who rammed the tent and jumped and danced for the whole hour. Life changing!
The second would be Goa Sunplash in India, I made contact with the organizers through a friend in Nepal and went and played the January festival three times over consecutive years. It’s a great festival with a mixed audience from around the globe and a lot of great reggae musicians come to play, unlike the UK where its unusual create links with other artists, as often they leave straight after a festival gig, here as we’re all on the beach in the sun far from home. There was a great opportunity to meet and mix and build relationships with other dub heads.


Do you want to share any funny/shocking/surprising/scandalous stories you have from on tour/in the studio/around the music industry? Please change the names to protect the innocent/guilty!


The only one I can think of would be a show at One Love festival where I thought our stage time was 2pm and Delroy the mc was super late, more than usual so I had to detour to get him, we arrived after foot to the floor mad driving at five minutes to two to be told that it was actually a 2:30 stage time and that because they were having problems with security that the festival wasn’t open yet anyway! We played our gig to a completely empty tent. But it was funny and we did a really good show!


What excites you most about making music nowadays, compared to what excited you when just starting out?


Its exactly the same, that buzz when you’ve just got a really good loop going or a singer send you a test vocal on one of your tunes and you feel all energized.


What was the most inspiring gig/festival/club night you went to in your youth? & what stood out as being so special about it?


Mad Professor Glastonbury 2002 or 2003 Sunday night in lost vagueness with this huge pile of speakers, it sounded so good and was wobbling all my organs. Every now and again the professor would leave the stage for some reason and this younger guy would sidle over and crank up the bass with a naughty look on his face, then professor would come back and notch it down again, this continued for what seemed like hours! Banging!

What was the first studio technique you learned where you thought “wow this is next level!” & really felt like you had advanced your technique a notch. & what was the equipment/DAW you learned it on?


It would probably be either the power of side chaining or mastering Melodyne. Both on Logic, although I am now a complete Ableton convert.

Do you have a favourite microphone/s? What do you like about it?


I don’t own many microphones but I do really like the new one I bought recently, Aston Origin fixed large diaphragm condenser. It sound super smooth at the high end and gives me everything I want from a vocalist or instrument and it is very fairly priced!

If you’re in a recording session & inspiration drags, what gets you back in the creative zone?


Well it used to be a little smoke but these days it’s a bike ride, if I’m working with another human than it would be a cup of something and a snack.

What are your favourite headphones to produce/DJ with? Why do you like them?


I don’t have any favorites, I bought some £300 focal ones that I thought sounded pretty good until I bought some £30 Sennheiser at an airport and discovered I liked them far more. But in general I now hate headphones, as I’m pretty sure that they are responsible for my tinnitus.


Has traditional music theory been useful to you?


I would say yes, a good knowledge of scales and chord positions speeds things up, since buying the Push I have started to approach music in a completely different way sort of based on traditional theory and sort of not. My teachers always said its good to know the rules (theory) to understand how to break them.


What was the first bit of kit you acquired that you were insanely excited by, & when?


Probably my first Pa speakers when I was 14, three way with a 15” for the low end. Loved them, I still have the 15” drivers the boxes are long gone.


Who were the first few musical artists that really turned your head & influenced your work?


Bob Marley (of course), Dreadzone, Zion Train, Mad Professor plus all of the Drum and Bass and Jungle.


What, if any, cultural aspects influence your music most heavily? E.g. films, politics, art, regional influences, religion etc.


Sound system culture or rave culture, as a youth I went to a lot of free parties in the woods.

Yep, I enjoyed those parties. Good times raving with you back in the day. I dug out an old photo from 2009:

Has being a musician affected your personal relationships, either in positive or negative ways?


It has been the central theme of my life so I would say it has affected all of my relationships hopefully positively I can’t think of any negative impacts from my perspective but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.


Got any predictions for what the next big sound will be?


I wish but even if I did know what would be popular next I would probably still make the same kind of sound that I make now. I sometimes try to push outside my box but I always end up making stuff that I like that sounds the stuff I like. If that makes any sense maybe.


Do you have a particular workflow you usually start with? Or do you find a sound or groove that grabs you & just go from there?


I put a lot of work into a really great template in Ableton and so it all starts just with a jam, could be drums first or chords or bass.


Have you had to diversify much across your music career, in order to pay the bills at times? What else have you done while building up your music career?


I work as a sound engineer, lighting designer and general show tech which has very fortunately paid my bills and allowed music to just be a passion in my life.


What’s your current favourite instruments?


Again it’s the Ableton push! But that’s boring so my next one is a little coconut Kalimba I bought in Kathmandu (with a contact mic built in!) followed by my mouth harp twanger thing and my melodica!


Are there any good Music books that you have learned a lot from & recommend?


The music lesson by Victor Wooten is a nice story with lots of tips about how to be musical and avoid being confined by notes and scales.

What piece of advice would you give someone about to self-release a record?


Make double sure you’re super happy with the mix and master and read all of the criteria for distribution, metadata, image formats etc very VERY carefully!

If you could go back in time & give your younger self some important advice, what would it be?


Get on with it! Practice! Don’t get too attached!

What are your favourite festivals? Either to play at or go to as a punter?


Shambala just has the best people and amazing music! Boomtown is the most awe-inspiring and also has great music and Goa Sunsplash is on the beach in Goa and has reggae – ’nuff said!


What’s your favourite movie soundtrack? Why?


Tough one! Probably Jurassic Park, I love john Williams and that theme is just killer.

What’s the most essential bit of music kit that has helped define your sound?


Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate basically is my sound in all the various presets. I do tweak them a bit once I’ve got my part recorded but mainly I find my sound in their sounds. Obviously the mix has a massive impact so I would have to throw in the Waves Platinum bundle now as well.

What’s the most precious thing to you in the studio (not the most expensive!) & why?


My hearing! The tinnitus has got a lot worse in the last year and I wish I had been more careful. I now have very expensive earplugs and mix at low levels but the damage has been done!

Your top tip for aspiring musicians?


Look after your ears! Practice non-attachment!

Do you want to shout out any musical mentors that have helped you along the way? How did they help you?


I live with a bass player called Simon Lovelock, over the last 8 years he has been a constant source of support and also has incredible musical knowledge and is always very willing to help over or have a listen to whatever it is I’m making.


Apart from music what else do you enjoy doing?


Carpentry, I like building speakers and furniture. Also lying around in hammocks on beaches or walking in mountains.

What are your upcoming musical plans?


I’m currently promoting my new album “Voices” (mastered by Fat As Funk), then I have a remix album for my sound system in Nepal out sometime. After that, just keep making music!

Any last words?


Where words fail music speaks

Nice. Thank you very much!

“Voices” By Arrival Sound System is out everywhere NOW!

www.arrivalsoundsystem.com

If you make bassy, dubby, slinky, funky music too, try a free mastering taster from Fat As Funk.

Advertising

Posted on

Can Mastering Fix A Bad Mix?

can mastering fix a bad mix

“Can mastering save a bad mix?” is a common question. The short answer? = Yes…. to an extent.

It’s always better to fix your mix at the mix stage, rather than waiting to fix the mix in mastering, but what if you don’t have the project file anymore, and still love the track. Do you have to settle for a rubbish mix? No way!

What can mastering fix?

To understand this, we need to have a quick understanding of what mastering engineers do, how mastering works, what mastering a song does and of course why mastering is important.

An experienced (human) mastering engineer will give your music the professional finish you want.

The quality of your final result is a reflection of the entire process back from the first time you pressed “record”.

But great mastering can skew the reflection in your favour, like a flattering fairground mirror.

Common mix problems yield different results:

  • Bad mix room problems and inexperienced mix decisions can often be evened out dramatically.
  • Mixes that are badly clipped and have no dynamic range can have their bounce restored and sound alive again.
  • Badly recorded instruments, or an overall “dull” sound from using cheap mics can be enhanced and enlivened.
  • Hiss can be removed, with varying results ranging from totally flawless, to just a bit better.
  • A flabby bottom-end can be tightened up beautifully, still retaining the weight and heft (still talking about audio here).

dynamics restored to an audio file which was over-limited and clipping
Restored dynamics from an overly compressed limited mix

The Art Of Compromise

Mastering a bad mix is the art of compromise. It’s a delicate process of balancing unbalanced material.

“Can mastering make vocals louder?” Yes, but depending on how the song has been mixed, it may bring up another element with them…

“Can you make my £20 microphone sound like a £2000 microphone?” Nope. But we can probably make your £20 mic sound like a £200 mic!

Got an album you recorded on a cassette 4-track 25 years ago, and want to dust it off and finally get it out there? We will make it sound way better, absolutely… but obviously it will never sound like it was recorded at Abbey Road. Embrace your lo-fi roots and enjoy the “best it can be” result.

Far too much sub, but a weak kick? We can sort it out. But necessarily as well as if you supplied the kick and sub as separate stems (or used our mix evaluation service to fix it yourself at home first).

The Bad Mix Challenge – Try Us!

We love a challenge, and can make drastic improvements to even the most appalling, lost-cause mixes.

The difference can be astounding. Try our free online mastering for your bad mix, and see how much better we can make it!

Or if you still have the project file, consider our mix evaluation service and fix the mix yourself at home.

Posted on

Album Mixing and Mastering – thoughts on how to do it right

In this day of the disposable digital-only single culture, the release of a proper, full album is a thing of beauty. An album remains the best place to showcase your musical works and demonstrate who you are as an artist.

Our album mastering service is where we really demonstrate our skill too. Mastering an album requires subtlety, intuition & a certain sprinkle of black magic that can only come with plenty of experience.

Even if you have a mixture of soft & heavy songs on the album, the end result must make them flow perfectly together, & smooth out any discrepancies between mixes. This must be achieved while keeping your original preferences & ideas in mind.

Highly dynamic, subtle music must be blended flawlessly & sensitively into an understated work of art. By contrast a bass-heavy, banging album needs to hit the listener hard and loud all the way through. The skill comes in minimising the compromises needed on each track to join-up different tracks naturally. A compilation album is the most extreme example of this problem, but most albums have some variation that needs smoothing out.

Be Beyond Binary – Feel The Music In All Stages

Whatever the music needs, an experienced mastering engineer can intuitively make it happen – they must feel the vibe first to know the best approach to master an album!

The best album mastering service is a human expert. Mastering an album is not a “1-size fits all” task that can be properly achieved with technical metering alone. It’s important to trust your gut – where the music is felt.

No A.I. online mastering service (like eMastered or Landr for example) can actually feel music in the same way as you the artist did when creating it – by definition A.I. automatic mastering can only ever see it as digital binary code. Musicians think and feel beyond binary.

A.I. online mastering is getting better, but there’s a big difference between an unfeeling computer algorithm making decisions based only on maths, Vs a human music lover with soul thinking “that 2nd guitar riff is fu**ing wicked – I’ll bring that out!”.

Analogue hardware is another essential part in achieving next-level sound quality across your album. Especially if the track was produced 100% “In the box” as so many are these days, a lovely mastering-grade analog tube EQ for example, can enhance it sweeter than any plugins could, and bring a certain “magic” to the sound that is still not-quite “there” yet with even the best plugins.

Your finished album should sound cohesive, level matched & with appropriate pauses between tracks (or seamlessly if you prefer). Softer songs shouldn’t feel overly pushed, and banging tracks should feel fat and hefty – and most importantly should both sound “right” when played together. This is where experience comes in.

Dynamic range won the loudness wars – celebrate!

Mastering in 2020 is a little different to a few years ago. Physical CD releases are less common every day, and streaming services are using sophisticated auto-volume leveling to even out playback between songs.

This means that trying to max out your tracks to compete for the ultimate perceived volume blast is thankfully no more (although we are fully equipped to max out the volume if you want).

Nowadays, a more dynamic, quieter master will sound punchier and hit harder on streaming services than a super-compressed crunched master. This is a good thing. Most music sounds better with more dynamic range. Also with services such as Spotify Loud, listeners have a certain amount of control over the perceived loudness of playback.

These auto-volume leveling systems are only going to get better, so it really makes sense to master your music for ultimate sound quality for your individual album, not just maximum volume. We recommend this approach, and will finish it the modern way unless you ask us not to – if you have other ideas, we are happy to oblige you.

Pressing Vinyl Or CD?

It’s important to finish the album slightly differently for a vinyl press run too, so the vinyl version translates well in keeping with the version finished for digital. There are a few key differences in the mastering finish if it’s going to be pressed on vinyl to avoid problems with the cut, and make it sound great. Often using masters that have been finished for digital use will lead to a less dynamic vinyl cut, and not “kick” as hard as you’d hoped. We recommend getting dedicated pre-vinyl optimised masters in the same session (for only £10 each).

If you are having a CD run made, you can then optionally deliver a DDP file to the pressing plant. A DDP is like 1 special zip file with everything needed to make a CD, with all your ISRC codes, credits and title metadata embedded. This is not essential, but some pressing plants request them, and it is the neatest, most secure way to deliver your album.

Let’s Go Far Out For A Moment

Loz (our mastering engineer) is a zen practitioner and generally esoteric chap. He uses barebow archery, meditation and other ways to clear his headspace when the computer gets too much, and comes back to the job with fresh perspective and clarity.

We feel this gives us an edge which, in our opinion, helps make us one of the best mastering services around (especially when you consider our highly competitive rates). These visceral approaches really come into play when finding the correct natural point in an album to start work from, and in the final levelling and “tying it all together” thus making the final result flow together beautifully (spoiler alert: you can’t just rely on a LUFS meter to level out an album properly).

Trying not to be too much of a hippy about it, but perhaps music is a tangible expression of the living, all-connected energy of the universe, and when musicians are totally buzzing during a recording, they are channelling that energy during their flow state – reflecting their synergy with the universe at that time. That’s when a track turns from good to awesome.

When the hairs on your neck stand up and you feel your blood run cold from hearing your great new song on a fresh head, or you just know that this take is “the one” while you’re recording it – that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what needs to be channelled during mastering an album. Why throw all your magic to an A.I. tech company’s cash-cow, (essentially just running your music through a meter-adjusted plugin preset chain) just to save a small amount of money right at the end of your creative process – one of the most crucial stages. Get a human expert instead who can feel your music.

Fat As Funk – Est. 2006. – Album Mastering Experts

Fat As Funk offers great rates on album mastering, & you can order with confidence knowing that your carefully crafted studio mix will stand up as a complete work you can be proud of.

You can try our online mastering free. Upload your track today for a free stereo mastering demo!

If you want to test our stem mastering before committing to a full analogue mix+master, you can buy some stems and try it at a greatly reduced cost! (Stem mastering is like a mini-mix+master).

We usually hit the sweet-spot first time, but rest assured that if you feel any adjustments are necessary, we will gladly tweak our work for free. We insist on our clients being thrilled with their masters, as we want you to tell your friends how pleased you were with all aspects of our work. If you’re happy with your album, we’re happy.

We would love to transform your recordings into a record! Try us today and level-up your sound!

Advertising