Steve Turnidge is the author of Desktop Mastering (Hal Leonard Books). The following is an excerpt of Mix Magazine’s interview with him. Please visit Mix online for the full interview.
Mix: What advice about mastering would you give to students that they can put to use immediately?
Steve: First, make a distinction between hearing and listening. We hear all the time, but listening is a conscious event. Bring attention to your listening.
Second, work to get an accurate listening environment. Investigate speaker placement, especially, and work toward accurate frequency response from your system. Tuning your listening position sweet spot with a Real Time Analyzer and room EQ is a great start. You wouldn’t operate on someone without an X-Ray to see where the internal organs are, and you shouldn’t make critical changes to audio without knowing that what you are hearing out of your system is closely equivalent to what went in to it.
Third, work at a consistent level. You can check things softer or louder, but find a position for your volume control and only work there. Train your ear for a given output, and your decision making process will receive a consistent input.
Lastly, I’d make sure that the students have a clear view of the stage of music production they are working on at any given moment. There are generally four stages of production: Tracking, Mixing, Mastering and Distribution. These stages closely reflect the stages of baking a pie.
Tracking is like getting the ingredients together: the fresher and cleaner the source material is, the better the pie will be.
Mixing is like, well, mixing. This is where all the components are blended together and placed in the pan. It is important to realize that the freshly mixed and prepared pie is not yet ready to eat: it still needs baking.
Mastering is the baking phase. Among the most common errors mastering engineers see are half-baked pies. This is when compression, limiting, and high levels make the mastering job more about restoration than enhancement. If the mixed file sounds like it is ready to go on the radio, it is probably not in an appropriate pre-mastered state.
The last stage, distribution, is like the hot pie on the windowsill, drawing the audience and fans from far and wide.
It is important to know and work appropriately on the stage you are in.
Keep reading this interview on Mix’s website!
Desktop Mastering is a conceptual guide, intertwining a broad range of knowledge regarding audio engineering principles and practical applications for those wishing to enhance their own as well as their clients’ work. In addition to providing a step-by-step in-depth survey of a successful mastering plug-in chain, Desktop Mastering covers real-world practical applications, the fundamentals of audio and electronics. Also included is a personal guide to the business of mastering, leveraging emerging social networks for positive personal and business results.