Music Player Network

Previous Thread
Next Thread
Print Thread
Leaving Headroom, Not Doing Mastering While Mixing #3000612 07/28/19 04:16 AM
Joined: Jan 2000
Posts: 7,981
Anderton Offline OP
MP Hall of Fame Member
OP Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Jan 2000
Posts: 7,981
I've given seminars where I recommend that people treat mixing and mastering as separate processes - get the best balance when mixing, then use mastering to get the most out of that balance. I specifically said if you were going to send a file to mastering engineers, let them make the decision about what processors to use for mastering, rather than committing them to whatever you insert in the master bus.

I also recommended leaving some headroom for the engineer, and not to run everything up to zero. I know that in theory "doesn't make a difference with digital," but if the people mixing really are running up to zero, then they're probably hearing intersample distortion when they mix.

Well, someone on GearSlutz took MAJOR exception. You'd think I'd said that people should go and shoot stray dogs, but only after strangling little children. A "professional mastering engineer" said I had no clue what I was talking about, that headroom doesn't matter, and that telling musicians not to attempt mastering in the master bus prior to giving the file to a mastering engineer was stifling the artist's creativity. He also accused me of cheating people out of their money in my workshops (which is interesting, given that I do them for free) because my advice was so contrary to the real best practices that today's MEs use.

He basically felt that whatever the artist gave him was fine. He was incredibly incensed that I would send music back because I wanted it to be mixed without distortion (if they wanted me to add saturation, of course, I'd do that but c'mon...).

So am I really that clueless? Is advising musicians not to do faux mastering in the master bus, and to leave some headroom for mastering engineers, too old school?

Re: Leaving Headroom, Not Doing Mastering While Mixing [Re: Anderton] #3000712 07/28/19 09:12 PM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 8
StephenMarsh Offline
Member
Offline
Member
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 8
#1 you're not clueless
#2 'experts' of that sort were the impetus for building THIS forum!


Marsh Mastering
The Lathe Room
Los Angeles, CA
Re: Leaving Headroom, Not Doing Mastering While Mixing [Re: Anderton] #3000745 07/29/19 01:14 AM
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 9,096
davedoerfler Offline
MPN Advisory Board
MP Hall of Fame Member
Offline
MPN Advisory Board
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 9,096
Originally Posted by Anderton

Well, someone on GearSlutz took MAJOR exception.


NOOO, Really? wink

That's why we like it here at MPN, it's a very civil place. cool


A reason why I collect old keyboards is that I feel partly responsible for doing it, responsible for preserving history and being a custodian for these things
Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: Leaving Headroom, Not Doing Mastering While Mixing [Re: Anderton] #3000809 07/29/19 12:37 PM
Joined: Jul 2019
Posts: 5
Justin P Offline
Member
Offline
Member
Joined: Jul 2019
Posts: 5
I'm with you but this is definitely more and more of a battle each year. It's usually for a variety of reasons:

1) The artist/band didn't tell the mixing engineer they were going to use a dedicated mastering engineer, so the final mixes were sent with extreme peak-limiting which of course can't be undone in mastering. Sometimes it's easy to get non-limited versions to master from if you ask, or sometimes it's a big ordeal or not possible.

2) The mix engineer subscribes to "top down" mixing which is popular with the younger generation but I don't particularly believe in this. Yes, it's not a bad idea to throw a temporary limiter on your mix to see how it might react in mastering, but then of course remove this limiter prior to mastering, or send both version to the mastering engineer. I think if you want to create a great mix that will stand the test of time, and sound great on all formats and situations, mixing into a limiter is not a good idea.

If I do ask for a non-limited version to master from, there is a 98% chance the mix engineer will complain that the mix "falls apart" without the limiter. I usually don't say this to them but in my opinion, if the mix falls apart without peak limiting, it's probably not a great mix. But also, it's going to come right "back together" when peak-limiting is appleid AT THE END of the mastering process, after we've corrected any issues to the best of our abilities. Starting the mastering process from peak-limited material is likely to go downhill fast. Limiting is not exactly a tricky process. It's similar to pouring in a nail, so recreating what they've done is not exactly hard but again, AFTER any processing to correct issues and get all the songs on the same page.

The other complaint when asked to remove the peak-limiter is that there are a few stray overs, and they don't want to have to trim down their mix channels and screw things up, so that's why there is a limiter on there prior to mastering.

This is the easiest problem in the world to solve and requires no mixer changes. Remove the limiter and simply save the "in the box" bounce as 32-bit float instead of 24-bit and the peaks are preserved. This is possible assuming there isn't a peak limiter or other plugin that creates a ceiling at digital 0.

On more than one occasion a mix that was said to have "no limiting" turned into, well, there is a limiter but it's not doing much. My answer is to turn it off, save the bounce as 32-bit float, and that is something I can work with. So engineers have thought that putting the threshold to 0 was the same as removing the limiter. That would be a no unless the peaks are always below 0dBFS in which case, then you don't need the limiter. So just remove it completely and save as 32-bit float is my advice.

There are some people out there that think you can just turn down the file no matter what if you need/want more headroom which is true, but you can't undo the brick-wall processing and some people just don't get it no matter how you explain it.

Then they ask "how much" headroom I need. I tell them it doesn't matter, just don't use a peak-limiter, try not to hit 0dB so your monitoring DAC isn't potentially distorting, and save the bounce as 32-bit floating point and that will be ok.

It drove me to write this article:
The 6 dB of Headroom for Mastering Myth Explained

Last edited by Justin P; 07/29/19 01:31 PM.
Re: Leaving Headroom, Not Doing Mastering While Mixing [Re: Anderton] #3000854 07/29/19 03:09 PM
Joined: Sep 2000
Posts: 20,651
Dave Bryce Offline
KCFFL Champ '14,'16,'18
20k Club
Offline
KCFFL Champ '14,'16,'18
20k Club
Joined: Sep 2000
Posts: 20,651
My main reason for leaving headroom/not trying to do mastering in my mixes is pretty simple: I tend to really like dynamics in the music I record, and can totally hear that I'm not as skilled with buss compression (and EQ, for that matter) as my ear wants to hear.

dB

Re: Leaving Headroom, Not Doing Mastering While Mixing [Re: Justin P] #3000975 07/30/19 02:06 AM
Joined: Jan 2000
Posts: 7,981
Anderton Offline OP
MP Hall of Fame Member
OP Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member
Joined: Jan 2000
Posts: 7,981
Originally Posted by Justin P
Then they ask "how much" headroom I need. I tell them it doesn't matter, just don't use a peak-limiter, try not to hit 0dB so your monitoring DAC isn't potentially distorting, and save the bounce as 32-bit floating point and that will be ok.


Actually the reason why I ask for headroom is a bit sneaky. When people mix with peaks at zero, the intersample peaks when the DAC applies smoothing can exceed the available headroom by +3 dB or more. So when they're mixing, even though there's no distortion in the DAW, as they mix they're hearing clipping in the playback chain that gives a false idea of what the mix sounds like. When the master is set for True Peak at 0 or less, there can be subtle differences in the sound and even in the mix, which of course they think is due to the mastering smile.

If I ask them to leave some headroom when mixing and just turn up the monitoring volume to compensate, then I know they're going to hear what I hear. This also helps if time-stretched files are involved (e.g., acidized loops), because loops that seem perfectly well-behaved at their native tempo can create peaks up to +6 dB when they're stretched, due to the crossfading and phase issues involved with stretching.

Quote
If I do ask for a non-limited version to master from, there is a 98% chance the mix engineer will complain that the mix "falls apart" without the limiter. I usually don't say this to them but in my opinion, if the mix falls apart without peak limiting, it's probably not a great mix.


I wonder how many of them compensate for the difference in perceived level between the limited and non-limited versions. I still think the purpose of a mix is to get the best balance among the instruments, and if you turn up the level to the same perceived volume as the limited version, the mix won't fall apart. The limiting may bring up some room sounds and detail you wouldn't hear otherwise, but I don't see that as something that should kill the balance, unless they're using a LOT of limiting. I much prefer mixing without any limiting, and if it sounds good, then a little limiting just makes it pop a little more.

Quote
I think if you want to create a great mix that will stand the test of time, and sound great on all formats and situations, mixing into a limiter is not a good idea.


Amen!!!

Re: Leaving Headroom, Not Doing Mastering While Mixing [Re: Anderton] #3003172 08/14/19 12:59 PM
Joined: Jul 2019
Posts: 5
Justin P Offline
Member
Offline
Member
Joined: Jul 2019
Posts: 5
I've been meaning to get back to this topic but haven't had a chance. However, this project I'm working on today has prompted me.

This project is one of those where the band is doing everything wrong they possibly could smile

When I got the mixes, I asked if the mix engineer would be able to send non-limited versions. See attached screen shot of one mix. They checked and said he was out of town for 3 days but would send them Tuesday (yesterday). Tuesday night rolls around and the guy calls to say the mix engineer couldn't or didn't want to do that....wasting 4 days and of course, they want to send the project to manufacturing Friday. He could have just said that 4 days ago...LOL.

Better yet, they are pressing vinyl, with Pirates Press, at GZ. One side will be 25 minutes! I told them the chances of that sounding bad are almost 100%. They are aware but will wait to hear a test pressing to decide about removing songs or making it 3 sides. facepalm

I'm close to just refusing the project but I will do one pass and if it gets any worse, I will say thanks but no thanks and cut my losses.

It's almost always the fear that "my mix falls apart without the limiter" in which my answer is: Do a better mix, or deal with it and it will come back together when limiting is applied AT THE END of the mastering process.





Attached Files Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 7.48.53 AM.png

Moderated by  Justin P, StephenMarsh 

Powered by UBB.threads™ PHP Forum Software 7.7.3