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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

How to get people to come to shows

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Tim Sweeney, one of the music industry’s most sought after experts and consultants, offers this advice….

A few weeks ago a new artist called me and asked how he can get more people to a new venue he wanted to play. The booker told him as the opener he had to bring 25 people. Not an overwhelming number by any stretch. The only problem was he was averaging 5-10 people per show.

I asked him what he had done to promote his previous shows. He sent me copies of his emails or should I say, “show announcements.” He discovered about 2 percent of his mailing list responded to his emails and he wasn’t sure if anyone was ever coming to a show. With that in mind, I told him let’s start with a basic idea, go through your mailing list and make a list of fans you feel you can count on to really support you. He came back with a list of 57 people who lived in the area of the new venue. I told him to start calling each one. For the people he didn’t have phone numbers for, simply email them a note asking them to call him, nothing else.

We talked in great length about what his conversations should be about and also we wrote a new email to go out to the rest of the list. While he first complained about the amount of time it would take to call everyone, I reminded him of the joy of playing to an empty venue.

To make a long story short, 39 people came because of the phone calls and another 16 came from the new email. Then as life goes, he learned some other important lessons that night at the show.

As the “opener” he brought 55. The person who played after him brought 10 and the “headliner” brought 4. Not only did the booker get mad at the other artists, he gave their money to my guy and told him he would pay him double if he played there next month as the headliner! The other artists asked him how he got so many people to come. They said they had sent out emails like they always did and didn’t know why people didn’t come.

The comical ending to the story is that the artist sold 21 CDs to the people including fans of the other artists and even one to the writer from the newspaper who always ignored him. The writer told him he was there to review the headliner but came early because he really liked my guy’s email about the show. Good thing he called all those people and connected with them more personally then an email!

The moral of the story? Most likely you got someone’s email address from talking to them in person. You had a connection with them for them to give it to you. Pick up the phone whenever possible and continue the relationship. You call the bookers to get a show, the press for a story, industry people to see if they reviewed your music, call your fans!

– Tim Sweeney (www.TimSweeney.com)

The New “Press Kit”

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

The “Press Kit”, which typically includes a demo, photos, printed reviews, the artist or band’s biography, etc., is now available electronically, and artists are using the electronic press kit (EPK) and artist profile to replace the traditional method. Either in digital or online format, an EPK is available to anyone at all times, and is a far more cost effective way to present your music. Tim Sweeney, one of the music industry’s most sought after experts and consultants, says: ” Get rid of your Press Kit. Finally focus on creating an Artist Profile that will best represent you to radio, retail, press, clubs and online.”

According to Ariel Hyatt’s Music Think Tank article, The ugly man behind the curtain in music publicity…the cost of submitting a traditional Press Kit equals this: 500 Press Kits in the Mail = $2,500, a publicist’s 3 month retainer = $9,000, Extra expenses = $1500, a whopping total = $13,000. The article is written to expose music publicity’s “dirty little secret”, the resale of promo CDs distributed to music journalists on the promo list. The unethical practice revealed in this article, adds to the already growing mistrust in the old way of doing music business. “40,000 CDs come out every year and that means hundreds of thousands of CDs will be mailed out for review consideration.” According to LAweekly.com: finding anybody in the music business to actually talk about this vast and ever-fluctuating underground economy is tough….. Ask a publicist what he does with unwanted promos and there’s usually an awkward pause, as though you’d just asked after his porno collection. Few are willing to go on the record regarding their income stream for fear of being blacklisted…..“Everybody sells them, let’s be realistic,” says one prominent L.A. music publicist.

The ever more acceptable DIY music career allows artists greater control, and spares the monetary and emotional expense of using a traditional music publicist. Tim Sweeney also offers this piece of advice: “Throw away your press kit and one sheet that “supposed” publicists and radio promotion people think is right (but only signifies you as a non-priority that people can ignore) and create an Artist Profile. One that talks about who you are as an artist and what your music is about.

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.

The Free Thinkers

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

In search for insights on “Free” digital music, the music industry’s Kevin Arnold was asked his perspective on the value and future of free music. The CEO of digital distributor The Independent Online Distribution Alliance (IODA) had this to say:

” We definitely believe Free has value in a number of ways for music. First and foremost, in the way it has almost always been used in music and in many many other consumer businesses: as a free sample to introduce a product to new users.  Just like the handouts at Costco, tasting at a winery, or swag bags at conventions and parties, labels and artists have long given away music in the form of samplers and promo CDs, free performances, and outlets like radio and MTV.  In the digital world this act has value in ways that we’re still learning and consistently surprise us.  Who would have thought that the free giveaway of Nine Inch Nails’ last record would end up with it being the top selling album at AmazonMP3 last year?   The important thing with this type of (promotional) Free is that it is done on the artist/content owner’s terms, and that they can control the process to manage the value of the effort and get what they want out of it.

Beyond the promotional Free are the more recent attempts at commercial offerings that “feel like free”.  This covers pretty much everything from the massively popular streaming sites like MySpace, Playlist, and imeem to ideas like ISP-endorsed free file-sharing or newer models like PlayAnywhere from Catch Media. The key difference is that these platforms aim to offer not a few sample tracks but rather full releases and catalogs. In exchange, content owners expect to get paid for the use of the music.  These models still have a long way to go towards providing monetization levels that most content owners are comfortable with, and many unanswered questions as to whether these services help or hurt other online sales models remain.

Good old-fashioned free P2P file sharing can also be valuable in some cases, generally for the developing artist in accordance with the “give-it-away-until-you-can-charge-for-it” theory.  But this should be done at the discretion and control of the artist or label, ideally with some measurable results, be they emails from new fans around the world or more people coming to your shows. In any case, only the content owner can decide if any of these flavors of Free work for them or not.”

Kevin Arnold tells us that although free is a good way to go, its important to manage this practice with discretion and control by the artist or label. Monitor and measure the results of the give-a-way, by new fan e-mails or an increase in attendance at your shows.

Giving free music is a way for the artist to create a fan base, and creating good music is every reason for a person to be a fan. This is definitely a good place to start.

Metric Reaps Their Success Independantly

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Metric has finally released their first album in four years! Not only did they release it without a record label, but their new release named “Fantasies” rose to the middle of the U.S. pop chart. Metric managed to rake in an enormous amount on iTunes, also tapping into Canadian arts funding grants.

Since its release on March 31st, the new album has sold 9,000 digital downloads in the U.S.  In the music industry these sales may not seem like much, but take into account the 15,000 downloads the band’s co-manager said was sold internationally, these numbers indicate the success of this album. Thanks to iTunes, and sales on the bands own website, Metric has already grossed more than it did on the band’s 2005’s “Live It Out”, which sold more than 45,000 copies.

Metric is learning from Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. The members of Metric, and their co-manager, figure they could never offer their fans an album at 13-15 dollars per unit if they had released it while being backed by a record label.  If they had produced their album through a record label, they would have made 22 cents per dollar, rather than seeing the 77 cent per dollar profit they see now.

Metric’s album release was handled by Redeye Distribution. The firm’s director of marketing, Josh Wittman, said the band sold somewhere around 3,000 physical CDs in the US the first day!  Metric is a band with a fire in it’s belly, and definitely is paving the way for other Canadian artists much like them by showing how with dedication and the right assistane, you don’t need to be tied down to big corporations to turn a profit.

www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ct-music16-2009apr16,0,7581416.story