A guide to Mastering and its significance in 2018.

Our first article as Cleo Berlin about mastering. Enjoy!

Cleo Berlin

Today, any solo musician or band can produce their records on their own, achieving a satisfactory result for a much smaller budget than a few decades ago. Usually, the projects are carried out with a lot of enthusiasm but without much knowledge about audio engineering as a science. Their “how to” and problem solving is many times quickly taken from  articles or tutorial videos on the internet. This does not mean that all these works reach a low result but, compared to the times when producing a record for releasing called for at least one expert for the engineering side of it, it’s not uncommon that they end up containing sonic flaws that aren´t necessarily intentional. The natural tendency is that the artist will try to spend the least possible amount of money to get the result they are looking for, and since mastering is the stage of production…

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A guide to Mastering and its significance in 2018.

Top Down – Let’s Do It

Top Down – Let’s Do It (Recording)

J

We met this blues-based punk-and-rock-and-roll-spirited-power-trio-formed-in-Portland while making live sound at the loved and missed XB Liebig (which had an unfair and sad ending and so I encourage you by the way to read the following: Message to XB-Liebig from Multiversal and Statement of XB collective concerning the eviction on Oct 15th 2017).

This track came out of a 4 hour session we did back in September with my pal and amico Mattia at the Funkhaus’ K4 studio. Three songs were recorded and mixed out of this session but this was the only one released to the moment. Hold on for the rest!! Since we are planning a second session on the following months and that may come out all together on an album :)!

All the instrumental recording was made live and in the same room on a pretty straight-forward setup from which I don’t remember much more than that…

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Top Down – Let’s Do It

iChing and Creative cards: Chaos

There are frequent moments in which a producer is stuck in a rut or is sick and tired of the usual way of working. This new method is of great help in this kind of situation since it helps the artist to get ideas by chance.

iChing is a really ancient Chinese divination text that tries to use randomness to define a situation, to give an answer. It may be used for a lot of matters and in many different ways but in music, one of the most important artists who gave it a try was John Cage. How he actually used it has not been defined well because it would be impossible to interpret since inspiration may come from anywhere.

Chaos is a song created after consulting iChing. The way the results obtained helped the production is quite simple: some words and sentences were taken as inspiration. It is a challenge for a non English-native-speaker to be completely inspired by all the text given since the text is of an extremely complex nature. The word “Chaos”, which gave the title to the song too, grabs your attention and the sentence “Thunder from the deep” conveys a greater sense of disorder. This required the use of several different instruments, without caring too much about harmony, overlapping each other with tension in the sound. Also, the creative cards were useful in supporting the production: a chosen card suggested using various different plug-ins and instruments, whereas another one advised reversing the guitar at the end (after advising to record it with the laptop microphone). At one stage they said to concentrate on quantity and not quality and then helped in the mixing stage with advice for FX, compression and levelling. They were useful not only because they were giving musical related “orders” but also because they helped to create pauses, allowing work on other incomplete tasks.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers (it is just a rough mix).

iChing and Creative cards: Chaos

Dubbing: Jay’s Dub

Dubbing is a sub-genre, applicable to any kind of music. It is a sort of remix in which the vocals disappear and bass and drums are stronger. This manipulation of the tracks of the song works while it is playing by changing their parameters.

It was in Jamaica, thanks to Lee Perry and Osbourne Ruddock, where these techniques were applied to Reggae. Numerous artists and bands publish dubbed music as B sides, bonus tracks or, songs for their album (a famous example are The Clash).

The material was a kind of minimal song with really catchy drums and good instrumental balance. Dubbing originally made songs quicker, dirtier, faster and sharper. For movement, a flanger was added to the higher frequencies of the drums and, while the track was playing, the parameters of this effect were changed and the panning and levelling of all the instruments were modified. To make the track dirtier, noise and distortion were added to the synths, to make it faster, add tremolo on guitar and delay on the lows of the drums during a live. The sharpness came from two new bright guitar arrangements (some reggae vibe to give a sense of the first dub music).

This is the fruit of K3 desk (located in Funkhaus, Berlin): three performances were recorded after connecting the pedals and some output analog gears to some tracks. At home, Pro Tools edited and comped to find the best structure and emphasise these techniques. The guitar arrangements were recorded onto this. Noise, reverb and delay were added digitally and, by a MIDI controller, dubbing their parameters.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers (it is just a rough mix).

Dubbing: Jay’s Dub

Glitch: Glitch My B**t

Music is not just a harmony-based piece of sound played only on any old instrument. Music comes from any kind of conventional or unconventional sound, and the instruments may be anything: the wind, fire, a moving chair and so on. This method takes its form from anything because it uses malfunction sounds as the core for creating a track.

Failure is a bright side in this technique because it represents a chance to create something new that can be used in an arrangement inside a piece of music. There are no limits to this and it is actually possible to use this idea to create something completely unique.

The song chosen to apply this technique was a dub track of a classic origin. A dozen of interesting pieces of audio were cut from the stems and looped into Pro Tools. After rendering them, they were burned into a CD by iTunes. When you colour or spoil the back of a CD, the player has serious difficulties playing it correctly; so, usually, it doesn’t work right and it creates malfunctioning sounds called glitches. A 15-minute recording of such a CD playing was done onto Pro Tools and from that, arrangements were created with a creative logic. The idea was to come up with some percussive tracks, some noise tracks to give some air and sparkle to the song and some central pieces of audio that could be used as melody or main lines.

Furthermore, the other techniques were tried out (Smplr, Audacity and Vocoder) but no good inspiring material came out of these. The main reason is because that was done in a second moment when the song already had taken on a structure and it was at its final arrangement stage. What these techniques give is something unexpected to use mainly as starting points but, at that moment, final details that were already in the artist’s mind were all that was needed.

For a better experience use anything but laptop or smartphone speakers (it is just a rough mix).

Glitch: Glitch My B**t

Cleo Berlin: Red As Red Can Be – DoDoHouse

Band: DoDoHouse

Song: Red As Red Can Be

Production: Cleo (Angelo Thomaz, Juan Manuel Puñales and Mattia Battegazzore)

 

1. Recording

The session was divided into three parts:

  • instrumental session with all the instruments playing live with a live female pilot vocal;
  • lead vocal session;
  • backing vocal session.

1.1a Instrumental session (set up)

This and the following sessions took place at the Funkhaus’ K4 studio.

The wettest room was used for the cajon and two room microphones were placed at a couple meters of distance in an A/B stereo technique to emphasize the sensation of space. As close techniques, one mic was placed in front and one behind to capture all the frequencies and beats.

The female pilot vocal was performed live in the central room, to give more vibe to the instrumental players and to involve everyone in the session.

For the guitar, a close microphone was placed near the 12th fret and a couple of small diaphragm condenser mikes set with an X/Y technique. This was to achieve a guitar sound on the mix with a strong presence on the mids and not too spacey (X/Y creates space but it is not overly strong).

The bass went directly into a DI box via a tuner pedal. From here the mic signal went directly into the desk while the Hi-Z link output went to a mic preamp and compressor.

A Nord emulating a piano sound was used and its outputs were plugged two DI boxes before reaching the desk mic inputs.

1.1b Instrumental session (recording)

The cajon was recorded first together with the female pilot vocal and, after recording enough material, a quick comp was done to get good playback for keyboard and bass. The guitar player was recorded too but his sound was not sent to the others, to hold back some material for future comping and editing without affecting the other players performance.

1.2 Vocal session

We opted for recording the vocals simultaneously but in different rooms. All the mics were set with a pop filter and a low-cut on the way in. Limited time did not allow to record abundant material but the singers were pretty precise and hard compression on the way in for the lead vocal contributed to reach a good result.

2. Editing

The Cajon was the most delicate, given that its groove is not meant to stick to the grid. After careful comping, beat detective was used only to tighten up the main beats and, after clip separation, it was conformed at a strength of 90% and a tolerance of 10% to keep the real vibe. It was decided to use lots of copy and paste to create the best cajon track possible.

Bass and keyboard were easy to edit: comping was already adequate for dynamic, time and performance. Some gain corrections and beat detective were used to follow the previous edits.

The best guitar parts were selected solely from a performance point of view and, then, a lot of beat detective was used. It was not easy to use this tool here but, after copy-and-paste and some arrangement decisions, the track was good enough for the song.

Working on the lead vocal was a pleasure; because of his timbre and genre, no hard pitch correction was needed and some freedom was taken to leave the spinal vibe. While comping, it was easy to notice he sang some of the takes at a certain distance from the microphone and some up near. This was ideal to create three different tracks: one central, created out of the higher gain clips, and two doubles with the lower ones. This helped for pitch-correction too: the central one was slightly revised in Logic and the others were left at their comping stage to create some pleasant effects, helping corrections to flow more naturally. Only a few gain automation nodes were needed, thanks to hard compression on the way in and to his dynamically balanced singing.

Time correction was needed only on the backing vocals. After comping, pitch correcting and gain automating these, they needed to be slightly moved in time to make a more precise sounding vocal harmony.

3. Mixing and Mastering

Following a rough mix, which was made easily on Pro Tools in an hour, the mixing session started. Each single track was sent through a Trident desk in which all the most important EQing and dynamic processing were done (also thanks to some outboard analog compressors). Right after this, the mix was finished on Pro Tools using all the digital equipment needed.

Mastering was completed in Pro Tools and using Isotope Ozone 6 as the main tool. Some classic American folk songs were taken as references.

 

Cleo Berlin: Red As Red Can Be – DoDoHouse