Eclectic Blah – The Mastering Decision

Yesterday, I made the decision: mastering for the Eclectic Blah album will be done by someone else (i.e. not me). Of course, with that again being a project where there’s not a lot of existing budget available, and the recoup from sales is considered to be minimal, this wasn’t an easy choice. The money is coming out of my own pocket. So why did I choose to do so – to invest money that could be well-spent otherwise, like on new music gadgets, on fancy dinners, beautiful vacations and whatnot else?

Reason 1: “A Second Set of Ears”

You often hear you should get a second set of ears (or eyes, in other domains) in for a better end result. This exists formally and non-formally in many ways: from the required peer reviews in engineering design work to you asking your best friends on their opinion on your choice for a new sofa. The rationale behind this is to get someone with a different angle of view, who is not involved as much as you are, and can assess some things more neutrally than you can.

If I say I have, within the last two months, listened to this album more than a hundred times, this is not an exaggeration. And maybe (or probably) I lost all neutral perspective on some aspects. I have invested some editing work into the nice snare drum interplay in the mid section of Spheres, so chances are that in that section, I have only ears for that and will completely neglect e.g. the bass guitar and the synthesizers when making choices. This starts even before applying any fancy processing – with the track order. Here as well, I have made my choice regarding the track order after careful consideration. This was, however, before a lot of the game-changing edits took place, so there’s a good chance that a neutral mind coming in might point out a better alternative.

Reason 2: “Let an Expert do the Job”

Relatively clear: I am not a professional mastering engineer with a year-long track record. Hell, I’m not even a professional mix engineer (and not even a professional musician, as the definition goes). So for that reason alone, it makes sense to bring in a true professional – especially for that last stage, which albeit only affecting rather small changes, has such a huge impact.

Add to that that I don’t even have a tool chain that I’m completely familiar with – odd things happen as you go, e.g. the otherwise fantastic LP10 EQ

Reason 3: “There’s in Fact some Issues”

This album, different from others (like Rückwärtsfließpreßverfahren), has a relatively clear mix supplied to the mastering stage. And I was able to already generate a master mockup that sounded really swell on my studio monitors. With the exception of one track, where I had to make some more radical EQ changes in the mastering stage (an EQ gain of -5dB is completely whacked in mastering!).

However, how does that translate to other playback systems? Let’s start with the track with the radical EQ settings. This track, on the studio monitors, had a nice sounding spectrum, but the lows/lower mids seemed to be lacking just a tiny bit, resulting in the hint of not enough bass guitar. In my car (Honda Jazz with standard speakers), the bass was just right – but the hi-mids again very aggressive. The latter wasn’t true on a friend’s simple home cinema system – however, on that system, the tune was only bass guitar!

And this is just the point where a capable mastering engineer comes in (see Reason 2) – with his knowledge and experience how what he hears on his system translates to each and any system.

The Choice: Thomas DiMuzio – Gench Studio

Thomas DiMuzio (source and copyright: Gench Studio)
Thomas DiMuzio (source and copyright: Gench Studio)

I first learned of Thomas’ work via Matt Davignon, who I in turn got to know during my appearance at the Y2K6loopfest, hosted by Rick Walker. Matt, who hosts an event series at the prestigious Luggage Store in San Francisco. In Matt’s RIGS! video series, there was a sequence featuring Thomas DiMuzio, and that got me interested. I had been in conversation about odd audio-processing setups for the Kurzweil K2600S series with Thomas, and back at that time, noticed that he was also doing mastering, and doing that for some artists I enjoyed (Fred Frith, Negativland,…).

Years later (i.e. now), I was looking for a mastering engineer. Sure, I could go to one of the big places, e.g. digido, masterdisc etc., fork out 1000 to 2000 bucks, and have a result with a big name on it. Or, I could choose an unknown engineer, pay a fraction of that, and have a result of unknown quality. Or go the path in between: use a well-established facility without a big name (but with a respected name in the target community), and pay an acceptable amount. Now, what is acceptable? Now if I had to do this myself, and would be billing my own time, which would include test listening on various systems etc., then I would get minimum wage – barely. Or, I can spend the same time enjoying life, and hand it over to an expert like Thomas.

Welcome aboard, Thomas! Really looking forward to working together with you!


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