Tips, Techniques, Examples about my favorite musical instrument, the Twelve-String Guitar.

If you play guitar check out Playing Technique, or Strings / Setup. There are also some interesting posts about guitars at, you guessed it, Guitars.

If you want to spread your musical talents around, you will find some good info at Recording.

Marketing - meh - I'm probably the world's best bad example. Although you could find funny stuff there.

I've made some music videos through the years, and you can find them and other interesting music at Music I Like, Music I Play.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mastering a CD

I was shocked when I played my very first CD, no longer available, in my car. It sounded, frankly, embarrassing...boomy and not very clear. I spent some time checking the next CD in several systems and it sounds nice and clear wherever it's been played, and even sold a few copies on CDBaby. But I decided to have my last CD professionally mastered.

Mastering is the last audio step in creating a CD and is nothing more than preparing stereo audio files to be put on an album. It sounds simple but I think there are some tremendous benefits for the home recordist to having this done by someone else. First, fresh ears: I don't think I hear my tune the same as you do. I've played it a hundred times or so recording it and you just pop it into your car player. Second, room coloration: even if I can step back and hear the tune as you hear it with fresh ears, I'm listening in the same room where it was recorded; you are listening in a different environment. My room problems may be doubled if I listen in the same room that I recorded in. Your room may have response problems, but at least they are probably entirely different problems than my recording studio.

Mastering Engineers are trained to hear and adjust the sound so it will sound good on a home theatre system, in a car, or over ear buds. Here's an example from my last CD, 12-String Cycle. The first is unmastered and was recorded with matched mc-012 Octava microphones in an ortf configuration about a foot from the guitar. I increased the volume a bit to match the mastered copy. It is the first 22 seconds of "Joe Turner's Blues", a piece in Ab:

Unmastered (about .5 meg ogg vorbis file)
Mastered (about .5 meg ogg vorbis file)

The mastering was done at Naiant Studio in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, USA. I sent the Mastering Engineer, Jon O'Neil, some sample guitar tunes whose recorded sound I particularly liked, and mentioned that I wanted to hear more detail in the strings on my pieces...I wanted to hear separate octave strings. I think he did a nice job. On the sample you can hear the bass thump at the end of the clip is cleaner in the mastered version and even the unison strings have a nice chorus-like sound that you don't hear in the unmastered version. But better than this - the CD sounds good on any system it's been played on.

Mastering a CD can cost thousands of dollars and I don't expect to sell a million, or even a few thousand CDs, but I asked around. Jon happens to be an active member of one of the online recording forums and his opinions and suggestions about music always seemed to be accurate and helpful. When I asked, he was willing to master my CD for a good price. I sent him 2 data CDs with 24 bit 44 khz wav files. I had done no processing on them after recording and editing out the bad bits. I don't have confidence that my software will not mess around with the bits in a bad way, and I depend on professionals like Jon to have equipment that is far more stable and reliable than mine. After some back and forth with samples and suggestions, he sent me one master CD and one CD copy to use for the duplication service. The master CD is filed away along with the original raw wav files. You can purchase 12-String Cycle here. I'm confident that it will sound good in your system.

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