Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about Tall Trees and mastering in general. If you have any questions which have not been answered here, please don’t hesitate to click the ‘Get in Touch’ tab and leave your question along with your details and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
“What is mastering? Why do I need it?”
I’ve heard people describe mastering as “Photoshop for audio” and to be honest, that’s not too bad a comparison! I prefer the analogy of a painting that’s going to be shown in an exhibition though. So, you’ve painted an amazing painting, it looks great, you’re super proud of it. But before it’s hung for exhibition, there’s still a few things to finish off. What kind of frame will work best with the painting? Where in the gallery should it be hung so people can experience it the best? What kind of lighting should be used to enhance the detail of the painting so people looking at it can really see it’s beauty as clearly and tastefully as possible? And chances are it won’t be you making these descisions, it will be the exhibition curator or the gallery owner because they know their space and know how to really make artists’ work shine.
So now apply that same principle to audio. You’ve recorded a brilliant song, the mix sounds good, it’s ready to release, right? Well, possibly yes! But it’s almost a certainty that if you don’t get it mastered you’ll probably find yourself disappointed when you hear it alongside your favourite records if those final enhancements aren’t made by a dedicated mastering engineer who knows what they’re listening for.
When done right, mastering should be an impartial set of experienced ears, enhancing the music’s best qualities and preparing it to be released. How this is actually achieved will vary with each and every song, but the result should be the difference between your music sounding like a recording, and your music sounding like an actual record.
“What do I need to provide to you for mastering?”
You need to send me the highest quality lossless files you have, 24bit (preferrably) or 16bit WAV files are most common, via Dropbox or Wetransfer or something like that, to email@example.com.
Ideally, a bit of headroom of a few db’s is super, but in all honesty as long as your mixes aren’t clipping I’ll be able to work with them just fine. If your mixes are quiet, I can make them loud, however if they’re already clipping into the red, it’s incredibly difficult to fix that in mastering, so if that’s the case I’d suggest going back to your mix and dialling the levels back a bit!
It also makes the turnaround time quicker if you let me know the band/artist name, the name of the album/ep, the tracklist and running order (with everything spelled correctly!) and if you have them in advance from your label or whatever, the ISRC codes. If you’re releasing your tracks yourself, you don’t need these in advance as they should be generated automatically by whichever online distributor you’re planning on using (Tunecore, Distrokid etc).
Lastly, just tell me anything you’d like me to do! If you have a particular track you love the sound of that you’d like your music to sit alongside, let me know! Any stylistic things you might have in mind, just tell me and we can have a conversation about what I can do. I genuinely believe that the best results come from good communication between you and me, be that via email or even a phone call, I’m always totally happy to have a chat.
“How long does mastering take?”
That depends on the project. Obviously I can give you a more realistic idea of turnaround depending on my schedule at that particular time as I do get booked up, and if you need something turning around quickly, just let me know and I’ll see what I can do. I’d recommend giving yourself a bit of time before your final deadline though, the more relaxed we both are the better the result will be!
Because I like to communicate with artists and bands and take time to get the perfect sounding masters for them specifically, I don’t make any claims to turn around finished tracks in 24 hours or whatever, that’s just not the way I work.
“What’s your mastering ‘chain’? / What gear do you use?”
I don’t have a set ‘mastering chain’ as every project, in fact even every song, is different. I treat every mastering job individually and use the tools that I believe that particular song or album or EP needs to enhance it’s best qualities and get it sounding the best it possibly can. I don’t have a ‘signature sound’, and I don’t just apply the same mastering process for every job then send it back to you and tell you that it’s ‘done’.
Like many modern mastering engineers, I work almost completely ‘in the box’ (which is a rather reductive way of saying ‘digitally’), in order to keep my gear maintenence costs minimal, with the focus going on a full-range monitor system and an acoustically treated space.
“Do you do attended sessions?”
Not usually, but it’s not completely out of the question depending on my schedule and your location.
“What are Apple Digital Masters?”
Apple Digital Masters (previously known as ‘Mastered for iTunes’ or ‘MFiT’) is a specification set by Apple Music to ensure that the highest quality masters are created for Apple Music. In order for your music to be included in the Apple Digital Masters section of Apple Music, it has to have been mastered by an officially certified mastering engineer or studio, which Tall Trees Audio Mastering is. When you or your label submit your track to Apple you have to include a few details, such as the name of the studio, the mastering engineer and their email address. They will check their list of approved mastering engineers and if the details you submit match their records your music will be included in the Apple Digital Masters section. Read a very, very in depth breakdown of exactly what that means HERE.
NB – you do NOT have to submit Apple Digital Masters in order to get your music on Apple Music, it’s an extra level of specific quality control to ensure only the highest quality masters are labelled as Apple Digital Masters. It is not mandatory, you can still submit your music to Apple and you can always expect to recieve extremely high quality masters from me regardless!
“Why shouldn’t I just use LANDR or CloudBounce or whatever?”
You totally can, and the results will more than likely sound fine. In my opinion though, there’s just no substitute for having an experienced pair of actual human ears listen critically to your music in an environment that sounds great and for it to be worked on with care and attention. You can’t have a conversation with an algorithm about how you’d like your master to sound, and an algorithm can’t react to your music on an emotional level and make mastering decisions based on the music itself, not just the digital information it’s been given. I’m not absolutely against those automated services, and they may well work for you, but I personally wouldn’t entrust the final stage of any music I’d put all that time and care into making to an algorithm.
“Why should I get you to master my songs, can’t I just do it myself?”
Well, you don’t necessarily have to get me to master your songs, but I would strongly advise getting someone else to do it. See below…
“The person that recorded my album/EP has said they’ll throw in mastering as part of the price! That’s cool right?”
Sure, many mix engineers are totally capable of creating great masters too. However, any mix engineer worth their salt would almost certainly agree that a final, impartial quality check by a dedicated mastering engineer is a wise investment.
It’s incredibly difficult to see (hear?) the wood from the trees when you’ve been working on a mix for an extended period of time and it doesn’t take long to lose perspective. Also, if your master is being made in the same room and on the same speakers as it was mixed on, whether that’s by you or the person mixing your record, any inherent problems that come with either of those things (and no room is absolutely perfect) will more than likely still be present in the master.
Concentrate on getting your mixes sounding as great as you can get them, then get that all important, impartial quality control check by someone else who really knows what they’re listening for – I promise you it’s worth it!