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Lesson 30 from: Gear Gods presents Studio Pass: Kurt Ballou

Kurt Ballou

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Lesson Info

30. Mastering

Lesson Info


When it comes to mastering your role is sort of relegated to um to being even with the band members I think you have even say in the results of mastering as any of the other band members dio and ultimately the final call for any of this stuff is up to the client. Um but you know it's your recording your mix it's your name on it you want to make sure that you're satisfied with the results in that sounds great so try to help the client understand what mastering is help the client choose a good mastery engineer if they ask you for for some recommendations you wantto recommend some people that you've I worked with in the past that you are happy with and think do a great job mastering your mixes than that you have a great working relationship with look lance air really they don't understand what mixing mastering iss they think it's they think it's part of the same process when it really really is different so make sure that they understand what it is about mastering that's different from mi...

xing and how it's going to affect the finished product of of their record and what what a mastering your engineer's gonna expect from them and what they can expect out of mastering engineer if you or any of your clients are really confused about the concepts of of loudness and of compression human limiting bob weston, who's bass player of shellac he has a mastering studio in chicago called us chicago mastering service and on his website, I've got a just a link to it up here. He has a really great graphical representation of what mastering iss and if I urge all of you to read it and it'll help help improve your understanding of mastering, let me also take this chance to plug jesse cannons, d I y mastering class. Yes, we talked about a lot of stuff. A lot of people turn up there, knows the idea of d I y mastering but jesse worked west west side music with alan dodges for I think, four years, something like that. So he's, one of the best in the business. There's no substitute for having somebody you know, like alan master stuff. But there's a lot you can do it home to. So check this out. Check out jessie's class. If you want to learn more about this. Alan is awesome. And jesse is awesome. You know, alan's mastered quite a few of my records, and so he really knows his stuff. And he's, a great mentor for everyone. Who's gone through that studio, so definitely listen to what jessi has to say and I'm probably going to contradict some of what he has to say but that's okay, we all we all have opinions that there was only one right way well, that's the thing about music is its eyes this amorphous sort of subject of thing we're talking about a lot of like really objective things like how do you place a microphone but like, who cares? You know it's all about how does this music make you feel? So you're doing all these technical tasks that I have a a very sort of subjective, amorphous goal so there is no there is no right or wrong answer, so listen to what jessi has to say and even though he's wrong and we're just getting started jesse um um, well, I'm actually gonna get into I think actually jesse has a lot of really awesome stuff to say and you can learn a ton from him and I actually do a bunch of d I y mastering on my own of my own recordings not to release them, but so that I can sort of understand the mastering process better so that I can be a better sounding board for the mastering engineers that I'm working with and I think that's actually a really great reason to do dio recording teo, I'm mixing india by mastering even if you don't don't intend to release that material to be able to learn about those processes and increase your vocabulary as musician understand these processes you can communicate with the people that you're working with better or maybe like, if you're like me, maybe you'll, uh, just find yourself working in music professionally, even though you didn't set out to, um so anyway bob weston from shellac, his his sight's great check it out if you want to learn more about what mastering is and if you need any records, master bob is fantastic and he has a a leif in his master's studio with a lot of studios don't have so few doing vinyl he's a good choice. Um, so here's my thing, that sort of, uh in a certain sense contradicts which, as he's talking about d I y mastering I think is awesome for demos and for for learning about mastering process, but I think if you have created a mix that you are super proud of and you want to optimize that mix, you really want a second opinion on that nick's whichever room you're working in, I don't care how great it is it's not perfect in whichever speakers you're listening on, I don't care how great they are, those speakers, they're not perfect, so there's a certain and also your ears are not perfect. And your opinions and taste or not perfect. So there's a bunch of variables involved in your mix process that are out of your control. You're not hearing everything that's happening in your mix because of the sound of your room and your speakers, and your perspective on the mix is clouded by all that stuff. Plus, your perspective is clouded by your personal tastes, so I think it's really important to have another person master the mixes that you're really proud of in a different space with different years and different speakers, because that's that's your second opinion that's that's the person who's going to catch every little thing that you didn't catch in your own. Maybe you have, like, you know, some standing ways building up a certain frequencies in your control or maybe your speakers, I don't have the great stereo imaging or, you know, have some sort of voids in certain frequencies. You might not catch some stuff that your master engineer in their room will catch, so I think it's great to have other people master your mixes if you can't afford it. And if it's a mix that you're really proud of, and in a lot of cases mastering isn't really that expensive, you have, like the dollar per hour figure. Is typically mohr than dollar per hour in a recording studio, but the amount of time that they spend on and just much less so even though someone's one hundred dollars an hour or whatever they might only spend for four hours are as opposed to the weeks that you spend recording a record brad boat, right ho I use quite frequently and jack control also there in carl safa they're all really cheap, very affordable guys, you know, you khun master around with them for a few hundred bucks, which really isn't a whole lot of money and I think it's worth it to have a professional, dedicated mastering engineer work on your record and mastering really is its own specialized discipline. It has a lot of overlap with mixing, but it's, a specialized discipline and on lee master engineer is really right for that and you're going to a better result with a great master engineer. Then you will try to do it yourself, but still I think d I y anything is awesome. I record music and play music and all that stuff because I want to do it myself, so if you want to get into yourself, go for it, but just be aware that maybe someone with more experience master might be better at handling your baby than you are. And sort of how I was actually with with converge mixes you know, I've nixed the last uh three converge albums or for three or four some like that but before that I had other people working on the recordings and mixing even though I was already a recording engineer at that point I knew that my, um my ability levels were not yet at the point that the product of my band could be where I wanted it to be. So despite the fact that I had more invested in those songs than the you know, the tracking mixing mastering engineers that we hired to do their work those people skill levels were beyond mine and it was it was more important to me teo get the product to be really awesome that it was for me to have my hands on every little step of the process. Okay, so another super important thing about mastering is thie sequencing of the album. You know, jesse is actually in the chat room. Oh, yes, uh, no contradiction because I totally want to fight him. Sorry about that. All right, we'll find something. Um well hi, jesse. Thanks for watching. Um so, uh, sequence yes, um sequencing an album. Well, you know, we used to listen to records on vinyl almost exclusively for for a number of years and one of things about vinyl is, uh, let's let's think geometry. Okay, so the record is spinning, say it's let's, say it's a forty five spinning forty five revolutions per minute and remember your, uh, your geometry class. And you know what? Um what a circumference is great it's a greater length of space going from, you know, point a all the way around to back to point day again when you're at the outside of the record, when you're in sot when you're inside, the record still spinning at forty five bpm, but one revolution of that record is a shorter distance. So, um, because of that at the outside of the record vinyls actually capable of kind of handling mohr detailed information that it is towards the inside of the record. So that's, why I like twelve inches, tend to have higher quality sound, then like ten inches and seven inches onda also faster spinning records are able to contain more high resolution information because it has to be there's more space to store those mechanical vibrations within the record, and because of that, typically, when people would sequence albums when vinyl is the primary format, they would put really sort of up tempo high energy songs at the beginning of each side, and then the end of each side would tend to have the mohr lower energy songs, the slower songs, ballads, acoustic numbers, more mellow type stuff. And that was just a function of the sound quality of the album, the dense stuff, the dense, fast off work, better on the outside of the record and the less dense stuff was ok on the inside of the records, sort of just happy accident pacing and albert works really well that way. It's nice to have the real high energy stuff to sort of set off the beginning of an album towards the beginning of the record and then a little bit of a break, kind of in the middle of the record and then beginning to be side, which is, you know, the middle of your your cd or whatever sort of bring it, bring it back to life, so you owe a lot of times we'll have your strongest songs that in position one and two on either side. So think about that stuff as you're creating a record, and also think about now think about who your audience is are the intimately familiar with with your band, and are they ready for your next record? Like if your neurosis, for example, or the melvins like you have, like a ravenous fan base that are going? Going to listen to the record from start to finish no matter what, and if you want to do a sort of sequence that eases them into the record and then peaks in the middle and easy thumb out, you could do that in because the people who love your band or, you know, they love your band and they're gonna they're gonna follow you every step of the way. If you're if you're ban is a little bit less proven, and you're looking to make a great first impression, then you don't want to mess with your audience, you know, you might want to front load the record a little bit. I know that that's a lot of people's pet piece, but I think that like the first two or three songs or super crucial, given some people even actually taught from nails, you know he does every time listens to record very first thing does track two doesn't care about the baloney that people are doing on track one he thinks that, like there's, a lot of like metal records have stupid one minute interest the beginning of nobody cares just give me some give me some good stuff right at the beginning of the record, so todd's gives to track two all the time, every time, well, almost every time listens to a new record, so your first few songs should be bangers depending on the length of the songs I'm assuming that the first few songs are the shore one's sort of show your audience that you mean business and then by the time you get tau tracks three or four maybe like you know, between somewhere between five and eight minutes into the record that's when you want to start showing some death so songs that are maybe a different tempo than was typical of the record or different feel for something that's a little bit out of left field you want to bring that in somewhere around three and four you don't want to save all the oddballs for the end because then people will just kind of shut off the record too early, but you want to kind of disperse that stuff throughout the course of the record it's really hard, especially in this day and age when people don't tend to listen to albums mostly listen toe individual songs it's really hard to find a sequence that will both keep people interested over the course of the entire album while also not being so diverse that it's off putting and you know like someone's in a certain meat and then you just kick him out of that moon right away and then send it back to another mood like it could be a little bit off putting, so try to make it you know a cohesive flow over the course of amalgam, so think about the keys of the songs as they as they as they relate to one another from from song song think about the tempos one one thing that I do related to tempo is if a song ends short or if a song ends without like a retard at the end sort of count out the ending of song won and then make song to come in on beat maybe it's to meet maybe it's for meat baby it's eight beats but it'll help it's a very subtle thing, but it will help the record feel cohesive if you don't just like fade out the end of song one wait five seconds and then bring in song too you know count time so that song to comes out of song won in a logical fashion and do that over the course of the whole record and make it feel like one cohesive piece of music if people a reason to listen to the whole album as opposed to individual songs and the final thing I want to say about mastering is to be accountable. If it's your mix on the record and the master isn't really turning out so hot, just be the first one to raise your hand and say, hey guys look it's not the master engineers fault or maybe it's not the master engineers fault maybe it's my fault let me try to mix this again um or say you know hey I I should have recorded this another way and I apologize but I think that this is the best he could do with master maybe ask the case but be willing to accept blame and if you have a trusting working relationship with your clients they shouldn't be too upset with you they should be you know again it goes back to keeping keeping them in the loop don't don't don't deflect blame onto them or to your master engineer just be willing to accept that maybe maybe things were your responsibility so that being said let's check out some of the mastering generations that happen with this record before I play any of these things I want to say that I kind of set I've turned down all the masters six and a half decibels inside pro tools so as I toggle between as I toggle between the different masters on dna mixes, you're going to hear them that's sort of close to the same perceived volume so because it it's really important to let your client know that you're mix volume is not the master volume you know a lot of times the first mix comment you get it's like dude it's not that loud but it's the mixed face it doesn't matter so use the volume on your stereo to adjust for that don't you doesn't matter the output of the mix so I've done a little bit of work inside protocols just to sort of compensate for that mix versus master volume and yeah and so let's let's check that out let me play I'll play you guys the um no I'm gonna switch over to um x or solar mode and I'll play you the final mix and then play you the three generations of the master the first one was very true to the mix on guys chimed in that they wanted still even a little bit glossier so this the second master was quite a bit glossier and cicely er I asked brad to go back brad boat right from audio seizure mastered it I asked him to go back and see if he could maintain that brightness but reduce some of the sizzle I think he actually winning with a dynamic hugh and sort of sought the hi hat frequency was able to kind of turn down that frequency whenever whenever the hi hat was being played so kind of neat trick of hiss so let's check out that one of the final mix in the toggle over to each of the three masters so keep keep that in mind is going to keep getting okay let's just go back to that last section and hear the difference between master two and three that's what the dynamic hi theo from back way remix remix ah it's super subtle but there's just sort of improvement in the sort of over the top sizzle happening in the high range. So, uh, let's just do another quick one where we go all the way from raw tracks. Oh, explosions. Okay. And then, uh, final mix and final master. All right, so it's, pretty much the evolution of what I did on this song and, uh, we have reached the end of my prepared material that is fan tastic. Yeah, love yea for kurt. Kind of early on when you were showing us the the evolution of the mix, like, really early on bright black earth and pettitte on point out, like, holy crap, if that was my final mix would be totally stoked on that pet on said me to s o the question is, how do you know when you're done, how do you know when you, like, are ready to pass it on to somebody else? And I need to stop working on it because we can work on our stuff forever? Yeah, that's, that's actually, one great advantage to working the analog domain is that the mix has to be done in a certain time, especially like I mean, I'm pretty busy in my studio, so I can't leave the gear patched in indefinitely, you know, like I'm flying home tomorrow and I start recording a band the very next day on then I'm going to recording them and I might have a day or two off and then I start on the next band so the mix really needs to get finalized within the time they've booked otherwise you know because I have to unpack everything and move onto my next project if you're mixing in the box then yeah mixes khun just drag on over and over and over again and so I think it's really important to sort of set limits for your clients make sure they understand that your time is is valuable and that uh they're sort of like a limit to how much you can dio and um yeah so just better but it's certainly a tough thing to manage the better the better recorded things are unless you have to do and mixing so as I've become more experienced at recording, I've become mohr brave in the choices that I make when I'm tracking tio push me in the right direction in mixing so I don't have to do quite a much while mixing and then if you're tracking a man lives, you could be even more brave because you really have a great sense of what the final mix is going to be why you're tracking it and that it's really just a matter of sort of balancing things and optimizing them um, yeah, that's awesome. Eso we've been here for two days, any kind of final thoughts, final thoughts, things that go on? Yeah, I think I kind of set it up at the beginning of this segment, my final thoughts, but yeah, it's really, uh recording is a is a super complicated thing. That's requires control of a lot of different elements, you know, you're dealing with human beings who have a great amount of emotional investment in thes songs they've created. These songs are a representation of who they are and they have if you are, whether you're a member of that band or a a recording engineer that's been tasked with recording this band, you have a great responsibility in order to help these people see their artistic vision through to the end. Hopefully you enjoy who the people are, and you enjoy the music they're making and can really invest yourself and enjoy the process of making songs with these people, and I would urge all of you too, you know, consider yourself additional band member in the process and to treat them and treat their songs like you would want someone else to treat your songs. If people see that you care and you demonstrate that you believe in what they're doing, then I will trust in you and your working relationship with them we'll be we'll be better on dh you know try to have fun and enjoy your life enjoy the music you make because if you enjoy what you're doing, the quality of your work will be will be much better and then in addition to that always keep your mind open and always keep your ears open to new techniques, new ideas, new equipment, all that stuff because in addition to all of these sort of, you know social tasks of recording and interacting with the human beings that you're working with, you are also required to do a lot of technical stuff you know you need to sought her and make cables and, you know, patch in compressors and equalizers and choose the the right equalizer to use in the right reverb it's ah it's ah interesting and complicated job because it has so many facets and it's true it's a lifelong pursuit and I if you're if you're into recording music, I hope you stick with it and I love you recognize that much like playing an instrument there's never a point that you have learned how to record you know you're always in the process of learning I like doing this classroom he has been a great learning experience it's helped me, you know, I've learned a lot from just talking with these guys and from the questions I've been asked but also having to organize my thoughts and preparation for this class's helped me learn about sort of the interdependency of all of the different elements of recording music. So it's been a great experience. And I hope you guys have all gotten something out of it. And I hope tio to see you guys doing things like this in the future. And hopefully, I can learn from you.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

GodCity Salem Impulses

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

I've been engineering out of my home studio for the past 7 years. I recently graduated from college for studio production and recording bands has been my main source of income for the past 5 years or so. Honestly, this course was incredible and completely worth the $100. Kurt Ballou truly understands the art and he really got me excited to be a recording engineer. I already knew a lot of the techniques and details he went over, but he presented his ideas so intelligently that I was happy to sit through the topics that focused on beginners. I'm not a huge metal or hardcore fan, but Kurt has amazing taste in the way he produces these bands. It's hard to listen to some of the releases today that have the life sucked out of their music with full-on drum replacement and crazy amounts of autotune. It was just refreshing to listen to an engineer who totally knows what makes rock music exciting. This class is worth checking out even just to watch a successful modern engineer show you the basics of his craft.

Fariz Junaini

This was a great course to pick apart the brain of The Kurt Ballou, but I felt some of the topics could be presented a little better and went more in-depth in like the framework of the mixing process. I fell like if you don't have an understanding of basic audio engineering you would be pretty lost but thank god I knew enough to get me through. But nonetheless, Kurt shared some pretty interesting techniques like the crossover method. Love this guy! Hope to see more of him!

a Creativelive Student

This course has been the most comprehensive I have watched concerning the art of audio manipulation. The points made in terms of phase relationships, mic technique, and polarity are valuable insight into getting good sound. My personal favorite was the way he edits toms. All the content is good stuff and well worth your money. Icing on the cake in the included IR samples. I purchased the course for $79. I love you Kurt!

Student Work