Mastered for iTunes in the News

NEW: We now have more information about Mastered for iTunes up on our website.

A flurry of news activity was kicked off last week when Apple announced that they created a new Mastered for iTunes section of the iTunes store.

They also announced the release of some tools to make the process of mastering for iTunes less time-consuming for engineers, and therefore — good news for Masterdisk clients — more affordable.

Then Chris Foresman wrote an article for Ars Technica about “Mastered for iTunes” with quotes from Masterdisk Chief Engineer Andy VanDette. The story was picked up by blogs and aggregators and eventually made its way to the New York Times.

Here are a few of the Mastered for iTunes projects completed at Masterdisk: Red Hot Chili Peppers I’m With You, Metallica Beyond Magnetic, Jane’s Addiction The Great Escape Artist, Lou Reed & Metallica Lulu, and the entire Rush catalog from their first album Rush (1974) through A Show of Hands. (The Rush albums are due to be released soon.)

If you have any questions about the product / process, please contact us at info@masterdisk.com.

Getting the Most Out of Your Medium: Mastering for Vinyl in the Digital Age, Part 1

So I’m sitting down with a client friend today. He has a concept EP that he’s been working on for the past couple of months, but now it’s ready to go. As we sit and chat before the session I figure out he’s looking to do a vinyl as well as digital release. Things just got more interesting for me.

Photo of Alex DeTurk
Alex with a project he cut for the Luaka Bop label.
Unfortunately for the the ones footing the bill, it’s common knowledge (or at least it should be) that the CD master doesn’t always make the best cut. And he wants a nice hot CD master. Not only that, but my friend had done all his tracking and mixing at 24bit 96k. Sounds like a perfect time to suggest doing two different mastering passes. One will be the loud 16bit 44.1 CD/dig release, the other a full dynamic/depth interpretation at high resolution 24bit 96k. Sweeet. Turns out the label will pay for it: great.

After touching on all the finer points of mastering we get to work. I do the CD version first. After each transfer I work out a different vinyl-centric approach and print at high res. On this project I’m looking to get out of any squashed digital peak limiting, though I’m still using some analouge hard limiting for feel, really to get that kick drum right. I also tend to change the EQ once the material is brought back from the brink of converter/limiter annihilation. Sometimes the annihilation is doing a good thing, in this case it was making the high freq crunchy and present, so I brought up a bit more of the highs to reflect this in the vinyl transfer. Also the bass changes when you pull it back too, the dynamics of it, in this case too much, so pulling out a little more in the low end helped keep things feel balanced. Onwards we go EQing the EP down in parallel.

Had this been an LP, I would have approached the CD and vinyl mastering in two separate sessions. The process would become exhausting over the course of a full length album. But in the case of a shorter program like this one, it’s great to give the client immediate feedback on what the vinyl would sound like.

Now I’m checking out the potential side lengths and formulating my best release format. Hmmmm, a 12 and 14 min side. Could be a 10″ at 33 1/3 or, yes, my favorite 12″ 45 rpm. Maximum disk diameter means less inner band distortion. High speed 45 rpm keeps the groove geometry nice and open, extended high freq response. Great, awesome. The 14 min side is a bit consistently loud, so we may have to cut the level back a dB or two – but it’s well worth it for the 12″ 45.

We’re done for the day. My client takes a reference home to check it out – and loves it. If he wanted to change anything, I would have had to change both EQs — so it’s especially good that we nailed it on the first pass.

Continued in Part 2.

Fill out my online form.

Masterdisk Parners with PledgeMusic To Make Awesome Stuff

PledgeMusic logoMasterdisk is excited to announce our partnership with the full-service music company PledgeMusic. Pledge works directly with artists and their fans to creatively build artists’ fanbases, fund their projects and help them release new music on their own. With their user-friendly model, Pledge has fused advanced technologies and social media techniques with decades of music business expertise to create the most effective music fundraising tool in the world.

When you join Pledge, you join a network of artists (both signed and unsigned) like Rachael Yamagata, Gang Of Four, Rhett Miller, Juliana Hatfield, The Wellspring, Matthew Mayfield and more – all of whom are getting their new music directly into the hands of their fans.

If you’re a Masterdisk client looking to release a project, Pledge allows you to retain 100 percent of your recording and publishing rights. The experts behind this unprecedented platform will work personally with you to set your funding goal, engage your fans and promote your new music – all without the frustrations of the traditional model.

Most of all, here at Masterdisk we’re excited about working with Pledge artists to come up with cool stuff for fans. For vinyl projects, we could inscribe fan names in the runoff groove. Or we could produce special one-off acetate discs with personalized messages from the artist, extra tracks, alternate mixes, or whatever else! Another idea we had, which Pledge Artist Sydney Wayser has already put into play, is hosting a listening party for fans here at the studio. Believe me, hearing your album played back through one of our systems is a pretty awesome experience.

Of course, all this is in addition to providing the best mastering on the planet. (You can’t accuse me of false modesty!)

So, if you’re a Pledge artist and want to brainstorm with us to find that “just right” offer for your fans, or if you’d like to find out more about Pledge Music, contact me (James) at pledge@masterdisk.com, and we’ll get started right away.

Ellen Fitton on Mastering the Motown Catalog

Around the same time that Vlado Meller and Mark Santangelo came on board the Masterdisk roster in September 2011, another mastering engineer — perhaps more low-key but no less impressive — joined the team: Ellen Fitton.

Ellen has worked for some of the top studios in the New York area: Right Track, Atlantic, The Hit Factory, Sony Music Studios and most recently, Universal Mastering Studios-East. She learned so much about engineering in her early days at Atlantic Studios, working with legendary producer Arif Mardin, and his long time engineer Michael O’Reilly. Years later she would continue to refine her skills recording classical music, working with the late Bud Graham, and producers Steve Epstein and David Frost.

Complete Motown Singles Vol 6In her last position at Universal, Ellen’s main focus was the restoration of the famed Motown catalog. Her work on The Complete Motown Singles box set series gave her the rare opportunity to remaster every (yes every) A and B side ever released on the Motown label, from its beginnings in 1959, through its heyday, and ending with the hits of 1972. This work, which was released on the Hip-O Select label, won her a MOJO award in 2007. Ellen was also nominated for a Grammy for her work on Sony’s 100 Years Soundtrack for a Century box set.

I sat down with Ellen and asked her about her experience with Motown.

JB: Thanks for taking a moment to discuss your work on the Motown catalog. If you don’t mind, I’ll get right down to it: the sources! What did you use for these archival releases?

Photo of Ellen Fitton
Ellen Fitton
EF: The goal was always to get as close to the original master as possible: the original 2 track or mono masters. If they weren’t available — or if the master was damaged or missing, we’d use whatever the next best source was. But I had the original masters for most songs.

JB: And what was the condition of the tapes?

EF: They used Scotch tape, so overall they held up well. Though there were some years that fared better than others — primarily due to how much action the tapes saw. The main challenge was finding the correct master versions. Luckily I had a great team of Motown historians to work with, who understood the cataloging system of that era. Motown had an usual way of storing their masters. There wasn’t a dedicated artist on each reel like we have today — there would be many artists masters co-mingling on the same reel. Often multiple versions of a given song as well.

JB: That’s unusual!

EF: Definitely. They were very cost conscious, I think. Tape was expensive so they wanted to use every inch. When the master was done, one copy went to the plant, and another was kept in-house. These in-house masters (called DM’s for Duplicate Master) were very unusual configurations. Initially, they used a half-inch 3 track tape running at 7.5 ips. They would print on track 1 from top to bottom (different artists and songs), and then they would go back and do the same thing on tracks 2 and 3 until the reel was full. Imagine what the label on each reel looked like! I had never seen anything like this before.

The Complete Motown Singles Vol 1In later years, when they had stereo masters, I might find a mono master on track 1, and the stereo master on 2 and 3. Often the mono track would be at 7.5 ips but the stereo tracks would be at 15 ips. All on the same reel, it was pretty crazy.

JB: Did you do a lot of processing for the CD releases?

EF: No, very little. A primarily analog chain — with Sontec EQs, minimal compression — and then we’d do a 96 kHz conversion. Sometimes I would do a little digital work, but not always. And then we’d re-capture at 44.1khz.My goal was always to stay true to “the sound” of the period, using the technology to restore it so that it could be heard through today’s equipment the way it was meant to be back then.

JB: What was it like listening to every Motown single? Are you an expert now?

EF: It was like listening to history being made, it was amazing to see the progression. And, in terms of how to handle that catalog, I guess I’m probably one of the foremost experts at this point! (laughs)


Contact Ellen at ellen@masterdisk.com or, to book a session, contact booking manager Peter Cho at peter@masterdisk.com.
Read more about Ellen on her page at the Masterdisk site.
Check out the Motown box sets at Hip-O Select.
Reviews of the Complete Motown Singles sets at Pitchfork.

Now Playing: “I Think of You” by Tajna Tanovic

Every once in a while, we have the privilege of working with an artist that really makes us think, “wow, she can do anything!” Such was the case when we heard one of Randy Merrill’s recent mastering projects, the self-released “I Think of You” EP by Tajna Tanović.

Photo of Tajna Tanovic
Bosnia-born Tanović began her impressive career as a youth, on Sarajevo National Radio & Television’s “Kids Cabaret,” and continued on to Germany’s Theater TAS, where she played leading roles for over a decade. 2004 brought Tajna to New York City, where she has continued performing and composing for theater, collaborated on visual art installations, performed in film, and developed her singer-songwriter career. 2011 saw the production of Tajna’s debut recording with our friends John Davis and Aaron Nevezie, at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn.

Tajna shines on this 5-song EP, her soaring voice tugging at our hearts with vivid words and melodies over tasteful accompaniment. Enhancing this pinnacle listening experience is the musicianship of Davis and Nevezie, who perform many of the instrumental parts in addition to their roles in production, and Dave Burnett, who teases out the nuances of Tanović’s music with skillfully constructed drum parts. Although Tajna has been performing since 1990, this EP is proof that she’s just getting started. We can’t wait to see what she’ll do next!

(Photo by James Wrona.)