Mixing vs Mastering: GRAMMY Pro Studio Summit Insights

Demystifying Mastering: in the Big Easy
Left to right: Michael Romanowski, Eric Boulanger, Geoff Emerick, Chris Bell, Jonathan Wyner (author)

I’ve been working one way or another in the music business for more than three decades, and I am surprised and slightly embarrassed to admit I had never been to New Orleans. I was invited by the Producer & Engineers Wing of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (or NARAS, the organization behind the GRAMMYs) to speak to their membership at the Memphis chapter's GRAMMY Pro Studio Summit about the topic ‘Demystifying Mastering’ (something I’ve been doing for myself for the last thirty years!). I was joined by fellow mastering experts Michael Romanowski (of Coast Mastering, Berkeley, CA; http://www.coastmastering.com) and Eric Boulanger (The Bakery Mastering, Culver City, CA, http://thebakery.la) and we were shepherded through by our moderator Chris Bell (Echophone Studios, Shreveport, LA, http://www.echophonestudios.com).

The panel aimed to provide a few bit of the ‘nuts and bolts’ involved in mastering. The main focus was to help the attendees understand the core activities and especially the values that make up professional mastering. Many people find themselves wearing multiple hats in the course of their work, but most are more familiar with recording and mixing and don’t have a clear picture about where mixing ends and mastering begins, what the relationship is between the two, and how to approach the scenario when you’re required to do both. By understanding how expert mastering engineers approach their craft and think about what they do, mixing engineers can glean some insight about how that is different from listening through their mixing brain. They can also make good decisions about when they prefer to recommend that someone else master a record they are mixing in the best interest of their clients’ work.

A couple of takeaways:

  • Bringing in a new set of ears at the mastering stage offers new perspective and a chance to collaborate —something that is increasingly difficult as engineers are working in the silos.
  • Whenever possible run your mixes at sample rates of 88.2kHz or higher.
  • ALWAYS run your mixing sessions at a resolution of 24 bits.
  • If an issue appears in mastering that is mix related, it is best to re-mix rather than try to ‘fix-it-in-the-mastering’.
  • Educate yourself about metadata tags related to various distribution formats.

Two things that struck me most about the community there were:

  • How strong the musical culture is. The ‘voice’ of the music made in Memphis and New Orleans has such a clear voice and integrity rooted in a truly American art form.
  • In light of the above I was amazed to find just how open-minded the music producers and engineers there are to ALL Styles. This was shown in part by the response to Geoff Emerick’s talk early in the day about his work with the Beatles. The audience was eager to hear stories and asked questions reflecting an intimate knowledge of the Beatles work. Later on they were equally engaged in a tribute to the life, production, and music of Legend Alain Toussaint.

The event took place at a wonderful studio called Esplanade Studios (http://www.esplanadestudios.com/) built out in a church space.  It’s just beautiful!  The building is 14,000 square feet, replete with a huge recording space that can comfortably accommodate an orchestra, a fully functional church organ and three small separate production and mastering rooms.  A testament to the large room:  When Geoff Emerick played examples through the PA into the live space they sounded fantastically clear and focused.

Special thanks to Deston Bennett of the Recording Academy and John Hornyak, Memphis chapter Executive Director, and Reid Wick Memphis Chapter Sr. Membership & Project Manager, for hosting an event on behalf of such a dedicated and eager group of working professionals. An archived recording of this workshop will be available for future viewing via the GRAMMY Pro website.

Jonathan Wyner is iZotope's Education Director, Chief Engineer at M Works Mastering, Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, author of Audio Mastering: Essential Practices  and of an online course about mastering for Berkleemusic.com.  He holds a degree in French Horn performance and Composition.  A GRAMMY-nominated audio engineer, he’s mastered, recorded and produced more than 5000 recordings during the last 30+ years, for artists including James Taylor, David Bowie, Aerosmith, NIrvana, Miles Davis and Kiri Te Kanawa.

If you want to learn more about mastering follow the link below and find plenty of resources and helpful information: https://www.izotope.com/en/learning/audio-mastering.html

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