What to Expect

Thank you for considering Lithium. Before uploading your tracks or visiting the studio, here are a few things you can expect: 

Mastering

If you plan to upload your tracks please provide the sample rate and bit depth of your tracks in an email. Please also give a description of how you would like your masters to sound. Audio samples are recommended.

If you plan to visit the studio in person be prepared to provide the same information. We will have a discussion about your tracks and my process.

You can expect your tracks to be tracks to be processed using only high-quality analogue and digital audio gear. Your tracks will be listened to with great care.

I provide a sample master of one track. After this sample is approved I will move on to subsequent tracks.

Mixing

If you plan to upload your tracks please ensure the following: 1) If using ProTools check that all of your tracks are named, 2) If you used a different DAW check that your stems are all named and start at time 0:00. In either case provide the sample rate and bit depth and a description of how you would like your mix to sound. Audio samples are recommended.

If you plan to visit the studio in person be prepared to provide the same information. We will have a discussion about your tracks.

I mix using as little processing as possible unless directed otherwise. I give the same care to mixing as I do to mastering.

I provide a sample mix of one track. After this sample is approved I will move on to subsequent tracks.

Production and Other Services

I require a consultation for all production, song writing and arranging, and audio restoration projects.

Payment

Payment is due ASAP after receiving your files. Cash, check, and cards are accepted.

Getting in Touch

Please call or email to ask a question or set up a studio tour.

612-819-7562
joe.finstrom@lithiummastering.net

Basic Mastering Techniques

Audio mastering is a straight forward process when you understand its aims and the techniques involved in achieving those aims. The aims of mastering are simple: 1) bring a mix within a standard range of loudness. 2) Ensure clarity and tonal balance throughout a mix. 3) Add interest to important elements within a mix when appropriate. 4) Properly deal with track metadata and sequencing (including fade ins and outs). Some of these aims are not essential depending on what the client intends to do with the final track.

In order to achieve these goals standard techniques or processes are applied to a given track. Equalization, Compression, and Limiting are the most basic of these. Other processes are often used as well, but will not be discussed in this post. Here is a brief description of how to apply these three processes in a mastering setting:

EQ

Equalization can be used to add clarity, tonal balance, and interest to a mix. In the case of clarity, EQ can be used to pull out frequencies that stick out or interfere with the overall sound of a track. Say a tambourine masks part of a vocal sound and makes the vocal hard to understand. By reducing the frequencies on and around the tambourine one can add clarity to the vocal. In another example, say the reverb on the guitars and vocals are making the whole mix sound washed out. By using a high shelf one can pull the volume of the reverb down to add clarity to the mix.

EQ can also be used to change the overall tonal balance of a song. High pass filters can be used to suck out sub harmonic information that can shroud a mix and make it less punchy. A high shelf can be used to add or subtract from the information in the high end including the “air” around a vocal, the attack sounds of percussion and plucked or picked strings, and much more. A mid-range parametric EQ with a wide Q can be used to add presence to vocals and guitars, among others.

Finally, EQ can be used to create interest. Vocals are often the most prominent part of a mix and it is possible in mastering to process the mix in a way that will make the vocal stand out and shine slightly. One way to achieve this is to dip out some of the low-mids and pull out a few decibels between 1000 and 3000Hz. This leaves the presence or meet of the vocal and the S, P, B, and T sounds untouched. As a final touch and EQ can be used to add a very small amount of air to the top of the frequency spectrum to make the vocal sound as though the singer is right in front of you. This can be done with a vocal or any instrument to add interest to a mix.

It’s important to remember using an EQ to master a mastering engineer is not only affecting the targeted sound, but every sound at a given frequency. For this reason it is common to boost or reduce by small amounts; anywhere from 1-3 dB or less. Making a series of small changes, as apposed to larger ones adds up to create the desired balance and clarity. It should also be noted that EQ can be used in many more ways than described here. Through the use of mid-side processing a mastering engineer can be quite creative when sculpting the sound of a mix. (That being said, in my personal experience in mastering less is more.)

COMPRESSION

Compression can be used in the process of making a track louder, making a track clearer, and making a track more interesting. Compression does this by controlling the dynamic content of a mix. This can be useful when preparing a track to be made louder by pulling down leading transients giving the  track a more consistent dynamic range. As a result the track will be hit less hard by a limiter or maximizer.

A compressor can also be used to make a track clearer and more interesting. One example of this is when wanting to make the drums more punchy. By using a compressor with a very short attack time (5-10 ms) and a medium decay time (100 ms) a mastering engineer can make the transients of the drums pop through the mix. This makes the drums not only more clear, but more interesting as well.

There are many reasons to compress a mix. In addition to wanting to control the dynamic in a general sense, or wanting to control the drum sound, one can also use a compressor to add presence to thin sounding guitars, control low end information, and more. Using a multiband compressor a mastering engineer can finely tune the ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, release) of individual bands and thus have dynamic control over specific parts of the mix.

LIMITING

In a mastering chain a limiter can be used similar to a compressor (a limiter is a kind of compressor after all), as described above, or it can be used in bringing the loudness of a mix to the desired level. By driving a signal into a limiter one can bring the dynamic level withing a certain range. When this is accomplished gain can be applied on the output to bring the track to the proper loudness (using a loudness meter).

There are attack and release parameters on many mastering compressors and limiters. These parameters can be used to add punch, presence, or glue a mix together. In a way, using these parameters is a way to adjust the overall tonal balance as well. Using a compressor or limiter in this way gives the engineer the ability to tailor a song’s sound to a genre specific tonal quality.

In summary EQ, compression, and limiting can be used in combination to raise the loudness level of a track, bring about clarity and balance, and add interest to a mix. These core aims of mastering can be accomplished by anyone who knows how to use these pieces of equipment, yet it is the professional engineer with years of experience who can craft quality masters consistently.

There is a science to and an art to quality audio mastering. These basic techniques are at the entrance of a trade that is both straight forward in approach, and complex in its specifics. Advanced mastering techniques will be discussed in a later post.

 

Why hire a professional?

Advances in audio hardware and software have made it possible for the novice musician and audio engineer to produce content comparable to some professional recordings. So, why would anyone hire a professional to record, produce, mix, or master their music? When purchasing studio time you are buying time with an experienced engineer, top of the line equipment, and an acoustically balanced space.

1. Experience

An experienced engineer has much to offer including an understanding of audio electronics, a trained ear, a musical understanding, and a unique point of view. When thinking whether or not to hire a professional consider the broader and deeper skill set that a professional brings to the table. These skills can make the difference between a lo-fi, DIY sound and a professional recording.

2.Equipment

Audio recording is a subtle art form. Performance aside, the slightest difference in color or character of the sound can have a large impact on the overall feel and quality of a song or album. From the sound source to the recording device the signal will pass through various pieces of processing gear. Each of these pieces is an opportunity to shape and color the sound. This includes everything from the microphones to the software plugins used. A professional studio offers quality quality equipment and software that is hard to afford as a DIY artist. Microphones, outboard gear, converters, and software all influence the sound. When the small differences make big differences it is worth paying a professional.

3.Environment

A professional studio is designed to provide a balanced listening and recording environment. Specific design choices are made to create an environment that allows an engineer to record, mix, and master sounds accurately. The ability to hear accurately is at the crux of good engineering. If the room you are in is distorting your sound, your recording and  mix will also be distorted. Tonal accuracy is hard to create in a home studio and is why many home recordings don’t compare with professional recordings. Paying for a professional recording environment is worth the investment in your project.

There are surely other factors to consider when deciding whether or not to hire a professional for your next project, but these three provide a strong starting point. Consider hiring a professional for your next project.