And…..Done. Final Blog Post

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It’s hard to believe I’ve been running my blog for 6 years now, even more difficult to believe that I’ve done 282 posts in that time period.  But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and I’ve decided that now is a good time for me to step away from the blog and focus on other avenues for sharing my views on creativity and audio production.

It’s been really enjoyable talking to everyone and sharing your views on how you approach all the struggles and joys of writing music.  I can’t thank everyone enough for all the insightful comments, indepth replies, and most especially for all the donations you’ve made to help make all this possible.

As a way of saying thanks one final time, I’ve collected all of the best blog posts into one document, which you can download here:

BEST BITS OF THE BLOG (Zip File)

The zip file contains both PDF and epub versions of the document so you can view it on any of your devices.  I’ve made a few changes here in there in the text to update my recommendations on gear, and make it easier to read all of the posts front to back.

Thanks again everyone!
Tarekith

Getting The Most From Professional Mastering

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As someone who’s been fortunate enough to master thousands of songs for other artists over the last 16 years, I’ve seen firsthand how much of a difference professional mastering can make to an artist’s song. However, every once in awhile the artist might not get exactly what they wanted. As this is usually down to communication and preparation and easily remedied, I thought it might be worth sharing some ideas on the best way to get the most out of your first time working with a professional Mastering Engineer.

1. The happier you are with your mix, the happier you’re going to be with the mastering. While we can sometimes make dramatic changes to the sound of mixdown, it’s important to remember that the goal of mastering is not to radically change the sound of your song. If there are problems in your mix that you know are keeping you from being happy with it, do your best to solve those prior to sending it for mastering.

If you’re at a loss for how to do this after trying for awhile, reach out to the Mastering Engineer you plan on working with and see if they can offer some quick pointers. Often times when we hear the song in our calibrated listening environments, we can spot issues and offer suggestions very quickly. Just remember you’re paying your Mastering Engineer (M.E.) to master your song, not provide weeks and weeks of mix advice, so try not to take advantage of what many mastering engineers consider a bit of free help.

On that note, not all mixdowns need tweaking prior to mastering either! Don’t be offended if the M.E. doesn’t come back with a list of changes to make. I find that often times artists are too self-conscious about their work, and think their mixdowns are lacking, when usually they are great as is!

2. Make sure you are sending the correct file, in the format the M.E. requests. You’d think it would be common knowledge at this point, but people still send MP3s to be mastered instead of uncompressed wavs or aiff files. Most Mastering Engineers prefer 24 or 32bit files, at the same sample-rate as the DAW project file. There are very few exceptions when exporting a mixdown at a higher sample-rate sounds better.  At best it might sound a little different, at worst it might actually sound worse than a lower sample-rate. Talk to your M.E. and see what they prefer so you’re both on the same page.

On that note, double check that the file you are sending is correct. Don’t just look at the waveform after it’s rendered, listen to it all the way from start to finish to ensure you’re sending them exactly what you think you’re sending. Often times mistakes happen because a track might have been accidentally muted, or perhaps the artist mistakenly sent a previous version of the mix they had been working on. Save everyone the hassle of having to redo the work by giving it one last listen before you send it in.

3. Give yourself plenty of time to get the most out of the mastering experience. Often as deadlines loom, it can be easy to let the mastering slip until the very last minute. Not only does this leave less time for any possible revisions to be made, but as artists we rarely make things sound the best while under the gun. I often tell my clients to take a couple days completely away from the mixdown when they think they are done (when possible), and then do that final listening check. Usually any mix issues you might have missed after weeks of focusing on the song are instantly recognizable with fresh ears.

4. Communication is key, both before and after the mastering session. Remember, we’re here to serve you! If you don’t tell us what you’re expecting, or what kind of issues you think the song has compared to your vision, we’ll never know. Don’t be afraid to send along a couple reference tracks you think your song can end up sounding like, or even just a few notes about what kind of sound you’re going for.

Likewise, if you get the master back and it’s not what you were expecting, let the Mastering Engineer know! Most offer a couple of free revisions, and usually once we know what it is you’re after, it’s easy to get the tracks where they need to be on the next pass. Again, we’re here to help you the artist achieve your goals, so don’t be embarrassed to ask for a few changes. Trust me, it happens more than you would think and most Mastering Engineers are only too happy to oblige. Ditto if you need different formats like MP3, DDPs, or MFiT compatible versions.

As you can see, none of this is really that complicated.  By taking a few steps to ensure you’re sending the best mixdown you can and communicating with the M.E. you choose to work with, the whole process should go smoothly for both parties. I’ll be the first to admit that not all songs need professional mastering. But when you’re ready to take that next step, keep these tips in mind and enjoy the difference an experienced engineer can make to the art you’ve spent so much time crafting. I think most people are more surprised by the results than they expected!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Inner Portal Is Open Again

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Well, it’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to announce that Inner Portal Studio is once again open for business!  My gear arrived in Luxembourg last week, and luckily everything made it safe and sound.  Took me a few days to get everything set up the way I wanted after playing with the location of all my acoustic treatment, but I’m really happy with the way everything is sounding in the new studio now.

I know a lot of my regular clients have been very patiently waiting for me to get back up and running, and I wanted to thank you all for sticking with me during this transition.  I expect that I’ll be pretty busy the first few weeks and that my usual delivery times might be a little bit longer than normal, but I’ll do my best to keep the delays to a minimum while maintaining the same level of quality you have come to expect.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to work, and I can’t wait to work with everyone on all your musical projects for the remainder of 2015.
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Other than working on getting the studio in working order again, it’s been a busy few weeks for me writing music and working on a new live set again.  I decided to revisit some of my more more recent releases, and get them prepped to perform live using only the Traktor S8 controller.  It’s been something I’ve been considering doing since I got the S8 and saw how flexible it is with the remix decks.  So far the project is coming along well, and I’m excited to finally try this new way of performing.  Of course I’ll post more details and hopefully a video of a trial run once I get it all ready for prime time.  🙂

I’m still working away on the Maschine Studio I got (again) a few weeks back too.  I was originally going to try and do a live set using that, but I think for now I’m going to just focus on creating some really strong song foundations first.  Once I get enough for a live set or an album, then I’ll decide which direction I want to take. Busy busy!

Im hoping now that things are starting to settle down with the studio, I can focus on the blog some more too.  I’m always looking for new ideas to discuss here, so if anyone has anything that they think would be interesting, or questions they like to see me address, please put them in the comments as usual.

Thanks!

Peace and beats,
Erik
(Errr…. Tarekith)

New Dither Examples

A few years ago I produced some audio examples of different types of dither, so that people could more easily hear what dither does and what a couple of different dithering options sound like.   As there are even more options for dithering algorithms these days, I figured it was time to update my examples and talk a little bit about what seems to be one of the more confusing aspects of music production for people.  You can download all of the audio examples and graphs I’ll be talking about here:

http://innerportalstudio.com/files/DitherExamples.zip

For these examples, I used a 24bit sample of a ride cymbal with some reverb applied.  I then converted this to 16bit wav files in various DAWs using the dithering options they offer.  Specifically:

– Rectangular, Triangular, POW-r1, POW-r2, POW-r3 from Ableton Live 9.

– The only dithering option in Presonus Studio One.

– UV22HR from Apple Logic Pro X, though it also offers the same POW-r options that Live does.

– Goodhertz dithering from Audiofile Engineering Triumph.

In addition, I also created a 16bit wav file version using no dithering at all, this is called truncating.

The next step was to cut off the all but the very end of the reverb tails of these files, and normalize the remaining portion to -0.5dBFS.  This was done because dither noise is extremely quiet, with all but it’s very peaks around -96dBFS, well below the noise floor of most playback equipment.  Boosting only the tails of the audio files allowed me to raise the overall level of the files to make the dither noise itself audible at normal listening volumes.  These files are located in the folder called “Dithered Ride Tails”.

I recommend listening to the truncated version first, so you can hear what it is we’re trying to achieve with dithering in the first place.  At the very end of the truncated sample, you can hear what sounds like digital noise as the least significant bit toggles on and off trying to replicate the very quiet end of the reverb fading out to silence.  By adding dither noise, we make this last little bit of fade out much smoother and more natural sounding, at the expense of a very tiny bit of noise.

Remember, in these examples I’ve boosted this noise A LOT just to make it audible, in normal use, it’s so quiet as to be almost completely inaudible.  Plus there’s some tricks with dithering to reduce how much of it we hear even more, which I’ll talk about shortly.

I included the full length ride samples without trimming or normalizing as well, in case anyone wants them to hear how dither sounds in more real world situation.  You’ll find them in the folder called “Original Rides”.  Though I highly doubt that many people will be able to hear the dither at all, even on what is arguably one of these best examples for demonstrating it’s purpose.  It’s just extremely quiet, just imagine trying to hear it on a full mix!

In addition to the ride cymbal sample, I also created a 24bit sample of nothing but silence.  This was also converted to 16bit using the above dithering options, but in this case it was so I could provide FFT analyzer images of just the dithering noise itself for visual comparison.  I used DMG Audio’s Dualism plug-in for the FFT analysis.  The scale was set from 20Hz to 20kHz, and from 0 to -144dBFS (effectively 24bits) to make the shape of the dithering algorithms easier to see.  Keep in mind that a 16bit file has only a range to -96dBFS when you look at the graphs, so anything below that will be discarded.  All the graphs are unsurprisingly located in the folder labeled “Graphs”, and you can see them below too (click each for full-sized versions):

UV22HRUV22HR

Studio One Dither
Studio One

Live TriangularAbleton Live Triangular

Live RectangularAbleton Live Rectangular

GoodhertzGoodheartz

POW-r 1POW-r1

POW-r 2POW-r2

POW-r 3POW-r3

Why are they shaped differently?  That’s one of the tricks I mentioned earlier.  Since our ear is most sensitive around the 2kHz range, the dither noise in the various algorithms is created to be stronger in the frequencies away from this sensitive area.  Most of the time it’s boosted way up by 20kHz, beyond the range of most human hearing, but the actual shape and slope of the boost varies depending the algorithm.

Each manufacturer has what they consider the ideal way of doing this, sometimes, in the case of POW-r, with different options for different kinds of music. You can hear this in the subtle tonality of the noise in some of the different dither examples, as well as seeing the exact shape in the graphs I provided.  Some of the options like Ableton’s Triangular and Rectangular dithers are almost perfectly flat, however that doesn’t mean they are less effective.

Ideally this gives the producer the flexibility to choose the dithering that best suits their material on a song by song basis.  But again, this noise is so incredibly quiet that for most music, you’ll never hear it.  Which is ideal anyway, as dither was created to be as inaudible as possible in the first place.  I’ll admit that as a mastering engineer, even I rarely audition different dithers, since with most material there’s no audible difference anyway.

Once in awhile I’ll get a very dynamic song with lots of quiet passages, certain ambient or even orchestral songs fit this category.  In those cases I might try out a few different dithering options, though even then the differences can be almost impossible to hear, even in my studio.

The point of all this is make you realize that while dithering does fulfill a useful role in the audio production process, it’s arguably the least important aspect and isn’t something people should worry too much about.  Certainly add dither if you can when you’re rendering your mixdown or master to a 16bit file at the end of the writing process, but don’t lose sleep over which dithering option is the best.  The differences are incredibly subtle, even to those people with well-trained hearing, and in almost all cases the dither is so far below the noise floor of any playback chain that no one will hear what dither you used, or even if you used it at all.

I hope this helped you not only understand why we use dither, but also highlight some of the differences in the various options available to us.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

And That’s A Wrap!

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Well, it was a bit of a marathon session this week trying to get everyone’s projects wrapped up before the shut down, but I’m happy to say everything is done and it’s time to start packing.  Well, I’m not happy about having to pack up the studio, but it’ll be nice to have one less thing to worry about before the movers come on Friday.

So, as of now, Inner Portal Studio is officially closed for approximately 8 weeks.  I’ll be sure to post when I’m ready to start accepting tracks for mastering again.  In the meantime you can follow me on Facebook if you want to keep up with the move, and setting up a studio in a new country:

https://www.facebook.com/ErikMagrini.Tarekith

I want to thank everyone who offered good wishes with the move, it’s been great working with you all over the last few years!

Peace and beats,
Erik

2 For 1 Mastering

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At long last we finally have a date for our move to Luxembourg, which means only a few short weeks to keep the studio up and running.  The last day I will be able to accept any mastering jobs will be January 21th, any mixdowns I will need to have by January 16th to make sure I can complete them in time.  If all goes well I’ll back up and running roughly 6-8 weeks after that, though I’ve been warned by the moving company it could take up to 3 months.

I know for some of my regular clients this is an inconvenience, so in order to help you get as many of your tracks as possible mastered before I leave, I’m going to be offering 2 for 1 mastering until the 21st.  This applies to regular mastering only, stem-mastering and mixdowns are still the normal rate.  Hopefully this helps make up for any hassles with your release schedules in the coming weeks.

Just select the normal 1 track mastering payment option when you send me your 2 tracks via the links here:

http://innerportalstudio.com/mastering/

Thanks everyone, looking forward to working on your tracks one last time while still officially a Seattleite!

Erik

Mixing & Mastering in the 21st Century

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12PM PST – Mixing and Mastering in the 21st Century  | Jake Perrine and Erik “Tarekith” Magrini

“As technology continues to advance, so do the practices for delivery in the audio industry.  With many producers working entirely on their own, how do we deliver the highest quality product we can?  Are CDs relevant?  What aout the MP3 and the many online portals for distribution?  Are there any standards we should be following?  Lead Trainer Jake Perrine hosts a conversation with Erik “Tarekith” Magrini, owner and operator of Inner Portal Studio to help you navigate the many pitfalls of mixing and mastering your own music.”

I hope some of you can stop in for the session!

Tarekith

Mastering Trends

bassNow that I have been mastering other people’s music for around 15 years, it’s interesting to look back and reflect on some of the trends I’ve seen come and go over that time. Not so much in terms of musical styles, but rather the mixdowns I’ve been sent. So, how’s does the music I was sent 15 years ago compare to what I get today? Here’s a few examples that stick out in my mind:

1. Bass issues. By far the number one issue I used to deal with when mastering other people’s tracks years ago was the low end. Too much bass, too little bass, bass all over the place. These days it’s still an issue for some people, but the range of extremes seems to be a lot smaller. People generally seem to have a better grasp of what’s happening in the low end of their songs.

I think it’s largely down to studio monitors getting better more than anything. It’s a lot easier and cheaper for producers to buy a fairly accurate monitoring setup for their studio. And more musicians than ever recognize how important it is combined with acoustic treatment.

These days it’s actually the opposite that I find true, people are putting the high end all over the place. Cymbals that will tear your ears off they are so loud, or high hats that are so quiet you can barely hear them. I have no idea why this is happening, but there you go 🙂

2. Tracks lacking stereo spread. Early on I used to get a lot of tracks that were very mono focused, some were straight up completely mono. These days it the opposite, I get so many tracks where everything in the song is panned so far out to the sides, or some type of stereo-widener was over-applied. I’ve gone from spending time to give tracks depth, to working on bringing back some solidity to the center channel.

Lots of stereo effects pushing things really wide, combined with people doing a lot of writing in headphones these days are my guesses to the culprits. Along with people over-applying stereo widening plug ins as I mentioned before. You need the key elements of the song in the center of the mix too!

3. Tracks are clipping or distorted. A pretty common phenomenon early on, people just weren’t used to paying attention to their levels as much as they are now I guess. Or they were DJs used to pinning their signals in the red all the time. Luckily with increased awareness of how to use digital audio, increased use of 24bit audio, and understanding of proper gain staging, this seems to be a lot less of an issue. A few times this year I even got a couple tracks with over 48dB of headroom, oops.

4. Producer confidence. Out of all the trends I’ve seen, this is the one that still surprises me the most. Years ago people would submit tracks and tell me “this is the bomb track, make it really slam for me!” when they submitted a mixdown for mastering. People might not have the best sounding tracks, but boy did they think they did! 🙂

Today I get so many mixdowns where the producer is obviously really insecure with what their work. They apologize for issues that I don’t even hear, or they expect me to send them a detailed mixdown revision list with a ton of fixes. The ironic thing is, usually these mixdowns sound great, fantastic even! I’m not sure if producers are just under more pressure to compete among themselves or what is causing this lack of confidence. The music sounds vastly better, but everyone expects that their work really sounds bad. Weird. Heads up, chins up, have some faith in your music people!

Anyway, that’s just a few things off the top of my head. It’s kind of interesting being in a position like this long enough to even see a trend in music making, here’s to hoping I can do another post like this ten years from now. Who knows what we’ll be seeing then!