IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD BRING OR SEND TO THE SESSION?
Yes! We use "reference tracks" when starting a new session so bring or send in a couple of good sounding recently released CDs, no older than 2/5 years, that are roughly in the production and playing style of your artist/band and represent approximately what you'd like your master to sound like when done.
We're talking instrumentation, sound and style (genre), not content or quality of singing/playing. Refs are NOT used for every song, just the one that is chosen to be mastered first and that is likely a more dense, up-tempo song. In other words, don't bring a ref. for each song!
A tongue-in-cheek way to describe the ideal reference track would be one from a major label release, done by a band or artist in your genre COVERING YOUR TRACK in the same key, tempo and with the same instrumentation. Of course not possible but bring the next closest thing!
The classic case of complete misunderstanding of what we are looking for was a (very) heavy metal band that brought in a Miles Davis CD (classic modern jazz) for reference. When asked why by the very surprised mastering engineer, they said they really liked the sound of it! Of course, that was the epitome of uselessness for reference but the story is told to try and emphasize what we are NOT looking for.
Please bring the manufactured CDs or send wav files extracted from CDs, preferably not mp3s or burned CDs. Of course, with more clients downloading than buying CDs, we will accept mp3s and .m4a (iTunes) format if the 16 bit, 44.1k CD audio is not available.
As our online (unattended sessions) steadily increases every year, we have noticed a few of our clients are sending us a LIST of reference songs. While we do have and extensive library of songs, the odds of having the ones you want are unlikely so send us the actual audio files. In addition, we are getting sent links to YouTube pages instead of audio. The problem with YouTube is that the audio is not standardized and so the volume and/or quality of the audio may not be as good as even an mp3 or m4a so given that the cost per song is only a little over a dollar, spend $4. or $5. and send us the files!
Before we master the first song, we load in a few reference tracks so that we can flip between those and your master-in-progress.
This serves a few purposes. For one, unless you have worked in our room before, you will not be familiar with how your music sounds in it. Hopefully you are familiar with the refs you bring in and that will give you a better idea of how something familiar sounds in our room. Of course you are familiar with your mix but probably not as a mastered file and you may not have done quick comparison checks with other commercial releases.
By doing this, you will hear very clearly the similarities and differences, both in volume and tone, as we compare the first master-in-progress to the refs. This gives you the opportunity to decide whether to skew the mix more towards the refs or to make a conscious decision not to! This gives you choices and, in our experience, the majority of clients are sooner or later going to listening to their master in sequence with other release via iPod, smart phone or CD multi-spin player so using ref. tracks on the first master of the day helps avoid surprises later!
And lastly, our mastering engineer is very interested in hearing your refs. as it will likely trigger a discussion of what you like about the CDs you have brought in. There are often positives and negatives about any production and some of the positives elements may be able to be brought out in your master, if the mix permits it.
Of course in rare cases, the client may have absolutely no interest in how the finished production compares to any other CDs in which case, this discussion will sort that out right away and by doing so will give the mastering engineer the information he needs to master your album. We are interested in making a master you are happy with and not imposing our personal preferences!
Even if you are not attending the session, you can still provide references, either via FTP or WeTransfer.com along with your mixes or if dropping or sending the material, include the CDs and we will return them with the master.