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What is audio Mastering and why is it so important?

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Many of our artists ask us why they need to master their songs, so we thought we should write about this important finishing touch in creating music.

Mastering is the final step in the music production and engineering process, the polish that makes the difference. It can determine if a song sounds great and professional, or poor-quality, making people want to press Skip or Delete, or consider you a low level artist.

So What Should Mastering Do?

  • Evens out song volume levels and EQ or tone individual tracks to balance all the songs
  • Raise the overall level in a way that is not destructive to the dynamics and prevents distortion
    (There is a great debate about this in the digital age, watch this video and this one for more)
  • Correct minor mix deficiencies with equalization (top mastering engineer Bob Katz shows you this here)
  • Enhance flow by changing the space between tracks, or mix tracks so they blend together
  • Eliminate noises between tracks or other issues such as hiss, hum, clicks, even distortion
  • Add additional data such as ISRC codes, CD-Text information
    (Artist, Title, and Track Names that can be displayed by some CD players)
  • Dither audio a process that ensures when a high quality mix is reduced to CD quality or MP3, the lost data does not cause strange issues. More details in this video
  • Create what is called a ‘Red Book Master’ that conforms to industry standard specs for duplication
  • Most importantly, Make your music sound great on any sound system

In the time we live in with modern technology, mastering is more important than ever!

Why Is Mastering Important?

1) Compression & Reformatting: These days, music really takes a beating. Files are compressed at different quality levels using various technologies, sometimes repeatedly, user after user. Files are imported, converted, compressed, exported, broadcast, shared, burnt, downloaded and then reformatted for the next user experience. There are dozens of public and specialized music formats used by various digital retailers, subscription services, internet radio and websites.

The point is, each of these processes change something. They often exaggerate things such as high frequencies (cymbals will sound more brittle) or eliminate some low end (bass and drum warmth) or just make the whole thing seem flat and lifeless.

2) Playback: OK, take all those variables above and multiply them by all the headphones, ear buds, car stereo systems, iPod docks, computer speakers, home stereos, TV speakers, and worst of all, mobile phone speakers (the number one way much of the world hears music now)
Will that song sound great on Dr Dre headphones and Apple earbuds?  On a mobile phone and in the car? How about in the club? A great master will ensure consistent and pleasing results when played ANYWHERE.

3) Professionalism & Impartiality: A fresh set of ears, using a different pair of great speakers and gear in a new environment, ensures professionalism and impartiality required to prepare songs for the modern world.  It’s less about opinion and artistry, and more about ensuring survivability and maximizing flexibility.

It is important to address the attempt in mastering to match an overall sonic quality as it compares to other artists within the genre as well as volumes. This has led to a destructive ‘Volume War’ the results of which can be seen in this video and this one.

A lot of people these days think mastering is about using some limiting software after watching a youtube video. Let’s make something very clear here. Mastering has little to do with using software to trick the listener into thinking your music is mastered! It is most importantly about the ears of the audio engineer who is doing the mastering. And in my opinion, if the audio engineer has been working in this field for less than 10 years, they probably don’t have the ears to be able to do the job right. Secondly, mastering is about some highly specialized and expensive tools used to do the job right, which may include analog equipment as well as digital software.

All to say, Mastering is more important than ever and every artist should make sure every music release is professionally mastered before unleashing it to the world.

– Pro Soul Studios audio engineer, Jarome Matthew

Trent Reznor’s thoughts on illegal downloading

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

“OK. The record business is broken. The model is broken.” I’d go through periods of having to look in the mirror and say, “Let’s see. I just made an album I spent a year working on. I turned it over to the record label to get manufactured. It leaked, and I’m online, just boiling furious, at fans who’re talking about how much they love this new album, that they just stole.”
And then I’d think, “Wait a minute. They’re not standing outside my house, bootlegging copies out the back of their van, y’know, to make money. They’re sharing their excitement about songs I’ve written, and music I’ve done. And they’re excited about it. And I’m pissed off at ‘em, because what? They didn’t wait until a month from now, when they’d have to drive to a record shop (if they can find one,) to buy a piece of plastic they don’t want, then rip it back to their computers, to…man, this sucks. Ok, something’s not right.” Or they can buy it from iTunes at a lower bit quality, which at that time was also copy protected, which I was originally strongly against.

It becomes very clear, if you can remove the emotion from the equation, that, OK. The delivery system is broken. And the relationship between fans and artists and record labels is also broken. I thought I was smart enough to get that right. What I learned is it consumed… The following years coming up to the present, have been spent trying to experiment with different business models.

First and foremost, spending time paying attention to what consumers want. You know, it all sounds like market research and boring marketing-type crap, and it is, but it also became clear: nobody else has figured it out. And managers aren’t gonna tell us what to do, and record labels, it’s clear they don’t know what to do. And the internet at large, their proposition that everything should just be free? That’s great if you’re a kid at home, it’s not so great if you’re a content provider that’s thinking “OK, how am I supposed to keep doing this if everything is just free?” That’s not right, in my opinion.

…rethinking how one makes money. If I’m gonna go on tour, and here’s a concert ticket, I’m hoping you come see, you know what? I’’’ throw the record in with that, it’ll all come into the same pot. Rethinking different ways to get your message out to people, and also trying to be consumer friendly. What do people want? They want stuff that’s not copy protected. OK. They want to be able to share it with their friends? OK. They’d like higher quality digital files? OK. They’d like to feel like they’re getting some sort of value for their money? I understand that. OK.”

Read the full source of this quote here.

Pro Soul launches new sound studio in Beijing, China

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

We’ve done a lousy job at blogging or updating our site lately…
This is partly due to some staff changes and our work with pioneering new strategies for our new and existing artists, but primarily, it’s because of a number of  large developments that Pro Soul Alliance hasn’t shared much about… until now!

After doing some work in China over the last few years, Pro Soul has been working on setting up a world class studio in Beijing over the last year. This is not only a massive undertaking, but a very challenging one in China, as the standards, resources, and experience in this area are still quite limited.
We are excited to announce that after many months of design, construction, development and adjustment, Pro Soul Studios Beijing is now completed and we have begun using it already!

Here’s a photo of the control room:

Here’s the recording booth. It’s professionally built to completely isolated from outside sound, and is large enough to fit a full live band:

Since the studio is in a renovated traditional Chinese courtyard building, we were determined to keep the feeling that was originally there, which was quite a challenge acoustically as there is a lot of glass including a glass roof! But whatever wasn’t perfected in design, we were able to compensate with sophisticated hardware/software system that corrects anomalies and imperfections in the room for my monitors.

This has allowed us to create what we feel is one of the most unique studios in China if not the world!

Everyone who has visited say this new studio is not only unique, but inspiring, both Chinese and foreign artists, so we are very pleased. Take a look:

outside, front entrance:

inside before construction:

studio entrance door:

stylish and comfortable, rear of control room:

Recording booth:

Producer, founder of Pro Soul Alliance, Jarome Matthew:

All the equipment has been imported into China for the best possible quality, no fakes or imitations! Just the real thing, Apple, Neve, JoeMeek, Neumann, AKG, Sennheiser, RME, Mackie, Alesis, Tannoy with Mogami cabling and Neutrik connectors all the way! This is driven by Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic with Waves, Audio Ease, Spectrasonics, Native Instruments, East West software to name a few.

Many of these are recent additions to Producer Jarome Matthew‘s existing range of classic analog and cutting edge digital equipment, making this new studio in Beijing the most powerful, highest quality studio he has worked with in 20 years as a music producer, composer and audio engineer.
We’ve put a huge amount of time, trouble and great expense to make this one of the best, top quality music and sound design studios in Beijing.

It wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of many wonderful friends and clients in China, you know who you are, Thank you so much!

More exciting news and developments for Pro Soul Alliance in 2012, keep an eye on us!

All the best for 2012 for you and your work.

Spotify: What is it, and why it’s US launch is significant to the music industry

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Though users in Europe have been reaping the benefits of Spotify since 2008, music lovers in the United States got their first taste for the first time a few days ago, when it officially became available in the U.S..
Created in Sweden, At first glance, Spotify must appear like yet another overtyped streaming music service, but upon further investigation users will find that it could very well be the future of the music industry.

It’s not that Spotify is unique, it just blends some of the best features of several competing streaming media services. Like Google Music, it uploads music you own to a cloud library, and like Qrocity allows you to stream full albums and songs from a database of millions of songs to a wide range of devices. Like Amazon Cloud Player, you can even access it from a wide variety of devices, including your PC, Mac, tablet, or smartphone. But most important of all, it’s like Pandora in that it’s free, subsidized by ads.

Basically, it’s the ultimate way to get, discover, and listen to music.

The foundation of the service is the computer software player, an iTunes like portal that is attractive, powerful and flexible. The interface feels good, presenting songs in an organized list, with a side bar that displays your library and playlists, playback controls and artwork.

When you first start the software, all you’ll encounter is the music you already have localized on your computer, but there is a much larger cloud library that you can explore…

Unlike digital marketplaces like iTunes or Zune, however, Spotify doesn’t present the cloud database as a storefront, but relies on search, an listing of most popular songs and albums, and social interaction amongst users for new music discovery.
The Top Lists present 100 of the most popular songs and albums on the service, which can be filtered by locale (U.S., U.K., Spain, etc.), and a New Releases panel shows off the newest additions.

But what really drives the service is social interaction and search. Spotify integrates with Facebook, which allows users to find friends who use the service, and share public playlists with each other. It also allows users to copy direct links to their custom playlists, which can be shared publicly (to users who sign up for Spotify)

Browsing custom playlists from friends is a great way to find out their tastes, but using the search tool to dig into the larger database is the best way to expand your library.
Spotify has built a library of over 15 million songs, with 10,000 new tracks added every day. Currently the site’s foremost publishing partners include Sony Music, Universal, EMI, Warner Music, and many others.
In searching for music on Spotify, we’ve found most or all of the tracks we’ve been looking for, with only a few limited instances where we couldn’t.
The biggest names in music? They’re there too. Most have their entire catalog available.

Adding songs to your personal library is as simple as dragging them to a playlist, and there’s no limit.
Once you’ve built a large library, you can take it on the go using the Spotify mobile app for iPhone, iPod touch, Android smartphones and tablets, Windows Phone 7, and WebOS.

Of the various versions of the app we tried, all had surprisingly speedy high-fidelity playback, even over 3G. Browsing music using the mobile UI was also pretty intuitive, though obviously browsing thousands of songs is preferable on your desktop or laptop.
The one catch, however, is that only users who pay a monthly subscription fee will be able to stream their complete music library on their mobile device. While the app will allow free users to browse the Spotify library, only premium users will be allowed to play tracks, and flag songs to be cached for offline playback.

The fee for unhindered access is actually pretty reasonable, however, at $9.99 a month, which grants you unlimited offline mode playback on both your PC or your mobile device, as well as higher audio quality and the ability to remove ads.
Of course, nobody likes paying monthly subscription fees, but the beautify of Spotify is that the core service of unlimited access to the larger streaming library is free, so if you decide you don’t want or need a premium account, you don’t lose any tracks you’ve organized. For six months, the free version of the service will offer unlimited playback, but after that it will limit users to 10 hours of playback and only 5 plays per song each month.

For those who don’t care about mobile access and offline functionality, but loathe ads and want unlimited access, there’s a separate option called Spotify Unlimited that costs $4.99 a month and eliminates ads.
If you’re cheap like us, however, you’ll want to stick with the ad-subsidized version. The ads really aren’t that bad. Over the span of two hours, music playback is usually interrupted around twice, and the ads are less than a minute. They were actually not annoying at all. The audio ads either advertised functions of Spotify or played a sample of a song available.
There were also banner ads built into the player, but we hardly noticed them.

What does all this mean for the music business and the future of music?
If you used Spotify, we think you would know the answer, basically it fulfills the need of the music lover that has existed ever since the release of a $18.99 CD with one good song on it. It’s quite simply, the legal solution to music piracy.
Music fans want their music when they want it where they want it without restrictions and limitations, or a hard drive of files that gets filled up and won’t fit on your phone iPod…
And best of all, the music creators all get paid!

If your a music fan, get on Spotify now (let us know if you can’t because you don’t have an invite, or your in a different country, we can help…)
if your a music creator, contact us if you want help getting your music on Spotify.

Innovative marketing genius, or distraction from music?

Monday, August 31st, 2009

“Moldover’s new CD, over 3 years in the making, not only delivers gorgeously diverse music with meaning and musical mastery, it completely redefines what it means to “play an album”… Moldover’s CD packaging itself IS a new musical instrument! The CD is mounted on a custom designed circuit board, intricately patterned and powering a “light-Theremin”. Yes! You play the artwork and it makes sound! Only the musical supervillain genius of Moldover could develop something so stunningly innovative.”

Moldover got a little grumble over at Hypebot though – When Marketing Overshadows the Music – the author states: “This YouTube video shows just how innovative and fun the packaging is, but fails to do almost anything to showcase the music that Moldover says took three years to record.” Hypebot readers’ comments didn’t quite agree with the author’s opinion: “Look, it’s totally awesome what he did and if you think it “doesn’t focus on the music” enough… I would ask you, has the conventional major label delivery system been focused on “the music” at any point in the last 25 years?” Another reader thought the album’s circuit board and video an “awesome tech artifact, a good viral video” – and two readers exchanged digs between themselves (virtually, of course).

Whether the “Marketing Overshadows the Music” or not – one reader summed it up “they pulled a viral stunt that will get people talking about them.” Indeed they did! These days, artists have to get people’s attention amidst countless other distractions however they can. When marketing is fun, it’s a win win situation – and fun is what Moldover appears to have had marketing his music.

Is Music for free really a good idea?

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Last week we blogged about giving away music as a promotional tool for artists.

We’re further writing about this because it’s becoming common practice. What is all this talk about just giving it away? Well, typically, artists who give away their music generally generate more income than those who don’t. Why? Simple, the general population loves free stuff! Once given a free CD, the consumer listens to it, likes it, and tells a friend. That friend then tells another friend, and so on and so forth. Exposure.
It’s all a part of the number one rule of music business, one that the record industry has forgotten: Hear, Like, Buy. In that order exactly.

Circulating free CDs allows the artist to reach a broader audience, creating a fan base, eventually resulting in sales and popularity! But it isn’t just the music industry that utilizes the “freebie” marketing strategy. Television can be live streamed on the Internet. Movies, music, video games; you name it, the Internet has it. A man by the name of Chris Anderson of the Wall Street Journal is convinced that people will pay to listen to live streamed music from their iPhones. Why? Well, if there is an application for the iPhone a consumer must purchase to listen to live streamed music, most consumers will do it.  A growing number of people depend on their iPhones for all sorts of things, including the Internet. So, what does this mean for the general artist?  What exactly are your rights? How do you protect your slice of the apple pie?

At Pro Soul, We help our artists build a growing audience, earn income even when giving music away, and avoid costly mistakes without giving up any of the rights to their music.