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.
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].
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.
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.
“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).
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.
Travel is a big adventure, especially when attending a music business conference.
In this article I outline what you should expect from music industry trade fairs and music networking events. I give a load of tips learned along the way, and also provide you a handy list for packing, a flight checklist and a hand-picked list of extras to make your travel easier and more efficient.
Many of these tips are useful for a general business conference, networking social or trade show in any industry.
The big question: how to make it in the music industry?
There are numerous careers available in the music business. Whatever path you choose, you can find a professional advantage by attending music industry conferences that happen around the world.
A lot of aspiring musicians become disillusioned with the industry. The feeling of “it’s not what you know – but who you know!” is a constant source of frustration among artists.
So – how do you actually meet the people you need to know? One route is international business networking at Music industry Conferences like SXSW, Amsterdam Dance Event, MIDEM, Reeperbahn, The Great Escape Festival, or one of the many smaller, more intimate networking events.
There’s every music deal to be found at these events: Information and contacts for how to get a record deal, how to get a publishing deal, connect with music sync companies or a music supervisor, find a suitable music management company or hire promotion in the music industry. Even information for how to start a record label yourself.
These events give you the chance to mingle with top-level music executives from the biggest music companies in the world, alongside hungry indie start-ups and independent music hustlers from around the world. Information and opportunities exist for every kind of deal imaginable.
You will gain a solid grounding across the music industry and see opportunities for growth in your business.
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.
Mastering bots don’t have the soul that your music does. Hire a human for this crucial last stage.
You cantry online mastering for zero cost (from a human expert), with no obligation to buy. We want to make your music sound amazing.
There’s nothing to lose, and the potential to make your music sound nice and expensive, for free!
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