I have so much been talking about that Status 5, that I really lost a little bit of relationship to what it really is. The big works happen here in the Editing department, or so it seems, as this is the last time the Mixing/Editing engineer gets to do anything. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that both the master and the cover art are bound to reach a state where the rest is moving to signoff, i.e. no surprises must happen in the following phase
And this, of course, is not the case. Luckily, the cover design stuff is not the issue; here, I’m relatively close to where I want to be, the only remaining item here is whether the album gets a title or not – but I have been cleverly branching here, so I can accomodate for both by the click of a mouse button.
The mastering department, however, showed that I am still a little in the mix review phase preceding M5. This time, it’s the bass guitar. For Horst’s New Condominium, it turned out to be much too aggressive, which I treated with a combo of low-bandwidth parametrics and multi-band compression. Now on a weak system (as, in my car), it sounds too weak. This will be a simple fix: do the same thing you did before, only less of it. The bass guitar in Spheres is another thing: in this track, the bass is the most important (or at least agile) voice of all, which makes it important that it gets heard well. And that means that on weak systems, it booms. Both of those, sadly, are action items that force me to revisited the mixes just one more time (and made me think about Steve Lawson’s blog article and my comments one again…).
Luckily, in the mastering domain, what’s mostly missing is listening on different systems (and for that, I’ll make sure to abuse at least my parents’ system the following weekend), which at least here makes the process clean – and the fact that I need more mastering-engineer-listening before milestone 5 is a valuable input for the fancy process (which, by now, has been described on a 15-page document).
One track, Horst, still sounds a little harsh (just like Spheres did before I applied some gentle mastering EQ specific to that track), and I may just do the same here.
One important remaining item is dynamic treatment. Right now in the setup, I have a combo of a rather fast mastering compressor, because attack of 20ms and release of about 100ms is blazingly fast for mastering, where you often have attacks in the hundreds and releases in the thousands of milliseconds. That compressor (which really gives it just a slight touch of a compressed feel, with maximum gain reductions of about 6dB) is followed by a brickwall limiter, which as of now for the really hot peaks has a reduction of close to 4dB. This is, mind you, after I applied gentle limiters on the hard hitters on the mix level, namely bass drum and snare drum. Still, due to the lack of a slow limiter, we still have a big macrodynamic range. One of the things left is the good old riding faders, which in the days of the DAW can be done neatly, surgically and reproducably. The acoustic guitar in the intro for Spheres might be one section that could see a slight rise in level. Another thing you can do with “riding” faders is dealing microsurgically with some very aggressive peaks – and there’s mastering gurus like Bob Katz who actually recommend it rather than overusing a brickwall. By my experience (e.g. when looking at Verschluckbare Kleinteile), there’s a smaller number of the big hitters (responsible for that 4dB reduction), and a quite large one which only make up half a dB or so, i.E. by dealing with the big ones, you have minimum sonic impact and acceptable work load.
General considerations regarding dynamic range are in place of course, all the more after iTunes had started that much-applauded battle to tip the scales in the loudness war. I will, generally, aim for something in the K-14 range (i.e. more or less -14 LUFS). As a fun thing to look at, here’s Lazer the way it came from mixdown (at -18.5 LUFS and -16 at a hot passage), at K-14 and at the more contemporary -9 LUFS, but normalized to the original loudness level…go figure.
NEXT STEPS – AND SCHEDULE
As mentioned, the plan was for milestone 5 (which we just had) on January 31st and milestone 9 (release) within Q1/14, and it’s safe to say that this album will achieve that. Note that, considering that the peer review before status 8 does not really happen (as I am the only one involved here), it’s pretty simple to go from 6 to 9 in a week. Which means that mid-February is not unrealistic. And with that, next up is listening to the stuff some more…