Music Production Event at City College: Off the Record with Scott Hull


Masterdisk is co-sponsoring an exciting music production event at the Sonic Arts Center at City College in New York next week! It’s called “Off the Record with Scott Hull:” an informal talk about music production focusing on best practices in making great recordings — the artistry involved rather than a focus on only technical matters.

Scott’s guests are John Davis and Aaron Nevezie. Aaron and John are producers and engineers and co-owners of The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn.

Visit our event page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/375252289218648/

Please spread the word! It’s FREE and open to the public. Attendees can enter to win a $250 gift certificate to Alto Music too!

Off the Record with Scott Hull at City College
Thursday, November 15 at 7:30 p.m.

City College Campus
Shepard Hall, Room 95
Southeast corner of 140th Street & Convent Ave

Bring your questions for the Q&A!

Ask the Engineer with Scott Hull: How Much Music Fits on an LP Side?


Ask the Engineer is a series on the Masterdisk blog where our engineers answer questions about music production.

SCOTT HULL is a 28-year veteran mastering engineer and the owner of Masterdisk studios in NYC. Scott started his career in 1983 and has mastered hit records and classic albums in every genre, as well as many Grammy-winning titles. He is widely regarded as an expert in vinyl mastering. Recent projects include albums for Donald Fagen, Sting, Dave Matthews, Glenn Frey and KISS, as well as multiple albums for the Sh-K-Boom, Tzadik and Luaka Bop labels. Over the course of his career Scott has mastered albums for Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Ravi Shankar, Herbie Hancock, Tom Zé, John Mayer Joe Bonamassa, and many more.

Photo of the Masterdisk latheQ: How many minutes of music will fit on the side of an LP vinyl disk?

A: It’s a simple question with a complex answer. Many websites publish charts explaining how much music fits on one side of a vinyl record. The main purpose of those guidelines is to make it easy for the cutting engineer to do his job. But do you want to have an average record or an extraordinary one? Ah, I thought so. You need to read on.

Lets just say, for argument’s sake, that we wanted to cut a vinyl side with a 1k test tone (midrange near a middle B on the piano). Pretty boring “music,” but this control measure will help me explain the process. And lets say that that tone an be cut on a particular lathe at a level of 0db and at a duration of 30 minutes. The relationship between level and duration is due to the fact that a louder signal cut into the disk takes up more room on the disk and thus the grooves have to be farther apart to avoid cutting over themselves.

Now lets take the tone generator and lower the frequency to 500hz (down one octave). Cutting this signal at the same level as the 1k tone, we will run out of disk near 24 minutes. The bass frequencies have longer wavelengths and use more space as they squiggle back and forth.

Lower it another octave to 250hz and we run out of disk at 18 minutes. Surprised? So how can we possibly cut rock and roll, with energy down to 20hz, for more than 20 minutes? There’s more to the story.

Let’s go back to 1k. Remember, it fit on the LP side for 30 minutes. If I lower the level 1 db, we can now record 33 minutes of tone on the disk. Wow, only 1 db? The reason is that it’s 1 db throughout the entire side: the average level is down all the way across the disk. This is very important.

Then let’s raise the level to +2 db from the first test. What do you expect to happen? We run out of disk at 25 minutes. That’s 5 minutes less audio recording space with just a 2 db raise in level. So level is king, bass is queen and hi-frequencies are the jack, ten and nine. Remember we are still talking about simple test tones, not music.

The point I’m trying to make is that music doesn’t obey rules of thumb. No two projects are the same. Even if the music was identical, two different producers might have different objectives. One might want the record loud, another may be more concerned with being very high quality / low distortion and might not mind a slightly lower level.

Before you decide if your music “fits” on a side please talk to your cutting engineer. The engineer has to listen to your music, and measure how his or her lathe will respond to your music. Anything will fit if you turn the level down far enough. Don’t just send your cd master to the vinly pressing plant asking for an “average” cut. Your music doesn’t have to sound average on vinyl – it should sound amazing! And you already know who to contact to make that happen. (That’s me!)

I’ll go a little deeper into the grooves next time when I talk about what happens when we aren’t cutting mono test tones. I’ll give you a hint… the grooves get deeper and that causes them to take up more room on the disk. Uh oh…

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Ask the Engineer with Scott Hull: Can We Fix it in the Mastering?


Ask the Engineer is a series on the Masterdisk blog where our engineers answer questions about music production.

SCOTT HULL is a 28-year veteran mastering engineer and the owner of Masterdisk studios in NYC. Scott started his career in 1983 and has mastered hit records and classic albums in every genre, as well as many Grammy-winning titles. He is widely regarded as an expert in vinyl mastering. Recent projects include albums for Donald Fagen, Sting, Dave Matthews, Glenn Frey and KISS, as well as multiple albums for the Sh-K-Boom, Tzadik and Luaka Bop labels. Over the course of his career Scott has mastered albums for Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Ravi Shankar, Herbie Hancock, Tom Zé, John Mayer Joe Bonamassa, and many more.

Photo of Scott HullQ: Can you bring out the vocal in mastering? Can you push the snare drum back in the mix? Can you soften the cymbals? (And other “Fix it in the mastering” questions.)

A: There is a lot of subtle tone change that can be applied in mastering, but there is always a “but.” I’ll start with the least successful stuff first. If your mix is harsh, too much cymbals or too much high frequency “zing” on the vocal, it is going to be hard to make that sound great in mastering.

Don’t get me wrong — there are solutions and there are ways to soften the upper-mids and top, but often these fixes cause more damage to the rest of the mix. That is why I always suggest that your final mix SHOULD be just a little dark and a little warm. This means different things to different people and in some genres it’s desirable to be dark and warm and in others it is not. But the main take-away point is that if you “aim” your mix to sound exactly like a mastered CD, I may not be able to make it sing. When I use mastering EQ to soften the high frequencies, ALL of the elements of the mix get darker, not just the one(s) that are harsh. So if the hi-hat is ear splitting, I can roll off 7k and up, but even in very small amounts that will make the vocals sound less impressive and the guitar crunch will change and so on.

Tonal balance is the key to this equation. If ALL of the elements are too bright, then the EQ will work. If it’s just some elements then the EQ only serves to un-mix your music. Many people reach for multi-band compression in this case to try to take the sting out of the offending elements. This ONLY works when the offending element is the loudest thing in that part of the frequency spectrum. The effect of the hi frequency band-specific compression will be to soften the loudest, most transient part.

De-essing is a special case and is surprisingly effective. The de-esser has been designed to identify vocal esses and not confuse them with the brightness of the cymbals or snare. Because of the extremely bright tone, trumpets – especially muted trumpet – will get eaten alive by most de-ssers, so great care has to be used around brass and vocals.

Many times, the solution for an overly bright mix is not to cut the harshness, but to find ways of making the bass, warmth and punch regions stand out more. Balance is the key.

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Ask the Engineer: Scott Hull on Mixing: Master Buss EQ and Peak Limiting, Part 2

Ask the Engineer graphic

Ask the Engineer is a series on the Masterdisk blog where our engineers answer questions about music production.

SCOTT HULL is a 28-year veteran mastering engineer and the owner of Masterdisk studios in NYC. Scott started his career in 1983 and has mastered hit records and classic albums in every genre, as well as many Grammy-winning titles. He is widely regarded as an expert in vinyl mastering. Recent projects include albums for Donald Fagen, Sting, Dave Matthews, Glenn Frey and KISS, as well as multiple albums for the Sh-K-Boom, Tzadik and Luaka Bop labels. Over the course of his career Scott has mastered albums for Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Ravi Shankar, Herbie Hancock, Tom Zé, John Mayer Joe Bonamassa, and many more.

Photo of Scott HullQ: When I send my mixes to my mastering engineer should I remove the buss limiting and EQ? (Read Part 1 of Scott’s answer here.)

A: Here are “Scott Hull’s Guidelines for the Use of Buss Processing.”

1. If you have mixed through the buss processing, i.e. had the compressor ON while you were mixing, then you most likely should leave the buss compressor or EQ ON when you send the mix to the mastering engineer.

2. If you find that when you take the buss compressor out the mix “falls apart” or loses it’s soul, then you should probably leave the compressor or effects ON when you create the mix for mastering.

3. If however, you didn’t mix thru the compressor – but added it after the mix to bump up the level for references — in that case you really must take the buss effects OFF the mix when you send it to mastering.

4. If someone else did your mixing and you are not sure if they mixed “through” the buss compressor or not, ask the engineer to print the mix with AND without the buss effects. Please remember too that your final 24 bit mix Does NOT have to be limited to peak at zero.

One other detail. Many times my clients come to me with a mix that has very obvious “flat topped” peak limiting. We call them “bricks” or “Tootsie Rolls” because of the way the waveform looks. At this point I’ll ask for a mix without the limiting, and they respond that they hadn’t put a limiter on the mix. And they hadn’t — but there WAS limiting, it just wasn’t done by a plugin called a limiter. Anytime you raise the level, or combine two or more signals together, or process the signal in a plug in, you run the risk of peak limiting within that component — and in many cases the software doesn’t flag the overshoot. You have to consistently be aware of your internal gain structure through your workstation and keep an ear and eye out for hidden limiting.

It’s like this: if every peak peaks at exactly the same level, then limiting happened.

One more final note: Don’t confuse track compression or limiting with buss compression or limiting. Individual tack by track gain control is not only a good thing — it’s absolutely essential. Oftentimes, when I find someone has overused a master buss compressor they did so because they had not applied enough gain control (compression or limiting) to the individual tracks.

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Ask the Engineer: Scott Hull on Mixing: Master Buss EQ and Peak Limiting, Part 1

Ask the Engineer graphic

Ask the Engineer is a series on the Masterdisk blog where our engineers answer questions about music production.

SCOTT HULL is a 28-year veteran mastering engineer and the owner of Masterdisk studios in NYC. Scott started his career in 1983 and has mastered hit records and classic albums in every genre, as well as many Grammy-winning titles. He is widely regarded as an expert in vinyl mastering. Recent projects include albums for Donald Fagen, Sting, Dave Matthews, Glenn Frey and KISS, as well as multiple albums for the Sh-K-Boom, Tzadik and Luaka Bop labels. Over the course of his career Scott has mastered albums for Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Ravi Shankar, Herbie Hancock, Tom Zé, John Mayer Joe Bonamassa, and many more.

Photo of Scott HullQ: When I send my mixes to my mastering engineer should I remove the buss limiting and eq?

A: Yes and no… it really depends on how you mix. You have to think about what outcome you’re going for before you can know what will produce the best results. I’ll give you some guidelines.

Mixing through a buss compressor is not necessarily a bad thing. But you have to understand that it is adjusting the levels automatically when it gets loud and in effect the buss compressor is a sort of auto-mix tool. If this is used in moderation, for a specific desired effect, that’s great. However, you have to consider that when you take the buss effects off your mix will change. Sometimes subtly, sometimes not.

Another typical use of a buss compressor or limiter is to bump up the level of the mix for the final level. Some mix engineers wrongly refer to this as mastering. This is like putting a mic on a stand and calling that recording. But that’s a separate subject! Anytime you or your mix engineer places a level bump on the buss you have to ask that a non-limited version is also created… no mater how much the mix engineer objects.

Let’s talk for a minute about the problems with mastering from a maxed-out mix.

The promise that professional mastering can help transform your mix is only possible when the mix is supplied without peak limiting. I prefer no peak limiting of any kind. The peak limiting helps you turn up the level and make the mix louder, but this process makes mastering less effective. I find that it takes more EQ to make things sparkle and it takes even more compression to make the changes needed in mastering when the mix has too much peak limiting.

Basically, limiting the mix simply limits the possibilities of your music and should only be done with great care. Often the mix environment is not revealing enough to judge the positive and negative effects of limiting. For the best sounding product, limiting – as much as is desired – MUST happen last, after EQ changes and any “color” processing like tubes and compressors are applied.

The mix engineer’s job is to supply a mix that will get approved. But the mix engineer should also explain to their clients that the “loud” setting of their project must be determined in mastering. And that mastering cannot effectively be done by the same engineer and in the same environment that the mix was done in.

Next time I’ll list my guidelines for the use of buss processing.

(Read Part Two here.)

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A Visit to Satori Shiraishi’s “Happydom”

Satori Shiraishi may not be well known outside of Japan, but in that country he is a top composer, arranger and producer. Among his accomplishments is producing the band Orange Range (Sony-Japan) which has sold over 10 million CDs. We were lucky to get to work on Satori’s album Happydom through Scott Hull‘s longtime client Atsushi “Sushi” Kosugi, who was the musical director on the project.

Photo of Satori Shiraishi
Satori Shiraishi

Sushi is a Japanese-American record producer based in New York. He runs Beat On Beat Inc., which is a full service production company specializing in recording projects. If you need to get the right musicians for a project — and the best musicians — Sushi is your man.

You could probably best describe Satori’s Happydom as pop-soul with some rock and funk mixed in and a touch of a retro, 70s vibe. There’s a lot of joy in these tracks, as well as passion and commitment. And the music is presented with world-class production values: recording sessions took place at Avatar (NYC) and Henson (LA) among other top studios.

Cover art of Satori Shiraishi's "Happydom"Sushi assembled an incredible group of musicians for the project. He and Satori discussed who they should get before the project began, and they chose some of the finest musicians in the world. These musicians — Omar Hakim, Will Lee, Vinnie Colaiuta, Nathan East, David Sancious and Ray Parker Jr. (among others) — are Satori’s dream team. Happily, Sushi has worked with each of these greats before and considers them friends. He was able to bring them in for the sessions. When the recording and mixing were done, Scott Hull mastered the album and it was released on Coconut Palm Records in Japan.

You can hear samples of Happydom on Amazon. Or, better yet, check out the NY and LA session footage at Beat on Beat to get a sense of how much fun these sessions were.

Satori always has multiple projects happening in Japan, but we were glad to hear that one of them is his next single, called “Lover’s Soul.” Sushi is always involved in a number of projects. A recent highlight was the album Marica Hiraga Sings with the Duke Ellington Orchestra which was mastered by Scott Hull and released in Japan on April 25.

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Susana Baca’s Afrodiaspora

Cover of Susana Baca Afrodiaspora(This post is also available in Spanish.)

Afro-Peruvian music experienced a second revival around the time when David Byrne and Yale Evelev of Luaka Bop released the compilation album The Soul of Black Peru (mastered by Masterdisk’s Scott Hull) in 1995. The release granted world-wide recognition to artists such as Nicomedes Santa Cruz, Chabuca Granda, Peru Negro, Eva Ayllon and Susana Baca among others, launching the careers of several into the World Music limelight. Eva Ayllon and Peru Negro were both nominated for three Grammys each and Susana Baca won a Grammy in 2002 for her first solo album Lamento Negro.

If you catch her live or listen to her latest CD, Afrodiaspora (mastered by Scott Hull in 2011), you’ll be impressed by the music, but also by the energy and spirit with which she sings. Even before there was a Luaka Bop, David Byrne’s first impressions of Susana Baca were lasting. He heard her singing the song “Maria Lando” of the well respected Chabuca Granda on a cassette, and some years later when it came time for the compilation album, David remembered “the haunting intensity of her voice.” (As quoted on the Luaka Bop website.)



In fact, it took David and Yale some effort to track her down. But eventually they did. David was on tour in Austin, Texas, and happened upon an exhibition of Afro-Peruvian photographs in a gallery. They contacted the photographer, Lorry Salcedo, about providing photos for the compilation booklet, and asked him if he knew a Susana Baca. “Amazingly enough,” recounts Yale, “she was his neighbor in Lima!”

Afrodiaspora is a unified album filled with diverse popular tunes from the African Diaspora in the Americas. This is music that Baca remembers as distinctly part of her own heritage in Peru, if only because many of these genres were being played on the radio when she was a child. (The following quotes are from the Afrodiaspora page at the Luaka Bop site.)

At that time there was actually “little Peruvian music on the radio,” she remembers, so “when I heard Celia Cruz play ‘Palo Mayimbe,’ it felt like something very much ours, even though it was Cuban.” There are tunes on this album from Venezuela to New Orleans, and somehow they all have Baca’s signature Afro-Peruvian flavor, yet remain a tribute to the origins of the music. She says “this is how I feel about this record, it is our celebration of the African presence in the Americas and the way it has become a part of Latin America.”

I asked Yale Evelev about the appearance of popular bands Calle 13 and Quetzal on Afrodiaspora, and he said “it’s a roots thing.” He said it’s done on hip hop albums all the time, but apart from that, it’s important for the different audiences to know more about the roots of the music they are listening to.

Calle 13 has included Baca as well as Totó la Momposina and Seun Kuti on their recordings, and now Calle 13 and Quetzal both appear on Baca’s album. It’s a shout out to a different audience, a way to acknowledge how so many musicians are influenced by each other.

Calle 13 celebrates pan-latinamericanism in their song and video “Latinoamerica.”

http://youtu.be/4JxPFMUuouQ

…and Susana continues the party with Afrodiaspora.


Recent accolades for Susana Baca include being named Peru’s official Minister of Culture and the President of the Commission of Culture for the OAS (Organization of American States) for 2011-2013. Pomp and circumstance aside, she’s still on the road and planning to perform at New York’s Joyce Theater April 17-22 in collaboration with the dance troop Ballet Hispanico.

Here are some of Susana’s notes on the songs on Afrodiaspora (from the Luaka Bop site):

1. Detras de la Puerta: a cumbia written by the great Columbian singer/songwriter, Ivan Benavides (Bloque, Sidestepper, Carlos Vives)

2. Bendiceme: written by Javier Lazo, a young Peruvian singer-songwriter

3. Yana Runa: means Black Man in Quechua. This song honors the Afro-Indian tradition so common throughout Latin America.

4. Plena Y Bomba: Javier Lazo added some lyrics to this song to give it a Peruvian flavor; it also includes the beautiful poetry of Rene Perez (Calle 13).

5. Reina de Africa: This song weaves the flamenco, tango and panalivio rhythms, evoking the image of the African goddess who survives in our continent.

6. Baho Kende Y Palo Mayimba: Susana visited Cuba and saw Merceditas Valdes sing songs to the orishas with 35 drummers, playing as one.

7. Coco y Forro: rhythms from the Northeast of Brazil, it features Wagner Profeta, on percussion, ex member of the group Ile Aiye from Salvador, Bahia.

8. Takiti Taki: from Venezuela, one of the many complex rhythms played by the drummers of Guatuire.

9. Que Bonito tu Vestido (Featuring Quetzal): homage to Amparo Ochoa, one of Mexico’s great voices who introduced Susana to the Son Jarocho style of Veracruz.

10. Hey Pocky Way: “I saw the families in the park on Sundays [in New Orleans], cooking, singing and dancing and it brought back memories of my own experience in Chorrillos the way the culture is passed on through the generations.”

11. Canta Susana: written by Victor Merino, and sung by the famous Peruvian salsa singer, Carlos Mosquera.

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The Bunker Studio: Williamsburg’s Best-Kept Secret Won’t be Secret for Long

Photo of a tracking room at The Bunker.
The Bunker Studio 2.0
I stopped in at Aaron Nevezie’s and John Davis’s new-and-improved Bunker studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn earlier this month. Both Aaron and John have been sending projects to Scott Hull and Randy Merrill for mastering over the past couple years — projects which, we’ve noticed, consistently sound excellent. It was time to find out a little more about these guys — especially since they’ve just reopened their successful studio in a larger and beautifully designed space.

John and Aaron met while studying in the Jazz program at The New School in the late ’90s. Their primary instruments were bass and guitar (respectively), with engineering experience developing, as it does for so many of us, through recording themselves and their friends.

Before too long the space they were living in was accumulating gear to a degree that wasn’t conducive to normal human habitation, and eventually recording won out and the place became their first studio.

This converted basement spot in Williamsburg, where they worked for about eight years, saw The Bunker slowly aquiring experience, clientele and equipment. While at this location they recorded the track “Tighten Up” from the Grammy-winning Black Keys album Brothers. They also worked with Mike Stern, Charlie Hunter, Matisyahu, Chris Speed, James Iha, Moby, Ben Allison and many more. Label clients include Tzadik, Wind-Up and TVT.

Sometime in 2010 Aaron and John realized they might have outgrown the basement location. The way John tells it, they had some friends looking for studio space, and went along on their scouting trips to see what was out there. It was only after they saw the (now built) location on South 2nd Street that they realized that they did, in fact, need to upgrade.

Photo of the Studio A Control Room at the Bunker
The Studio A control room.
And what an upgrade it is; the new space is beautiful. I’ll let Aaron & John describe it — this is from their website.

The new space was opened in November 2011 and was designed by Rod Gervais. Studio A easily allows for live tracking of large ensembles with excellent sight lines and isolation. The huge live room with 25′ ceilings, string and rhythm rooms and iso booth each have their own unique character and provide inspiring acoustic environments in which to play.

Studio B is a great overdub and production studio with a large control room with natural light. The live room is 230sqft with 12 ft ceilings and is home to the Yamaha upright piano and is plenty big enough for tracking drums, a string quartet or anything else that doesn’t require multiple rooms.

Both studios, but especially Studio A, are aesthetically inspiring. You definitely feel like you’re in a special place — and that’s a tremendous plus when you need to focus and get creative.

Not mentioned in the description above is the control room, which also has a pleasant, inspiring atmosphere. The room features a Custom 26 channel Auditronics board (heavily modified by Joel Hamilton and Purple Audio). The sound is great — controlled, but alive.

It’s very impressive that in a time when studios are supposed to be struggling, Aaron and John have dug in to create a clearly expensive space like this. They kept the costs down by pretty much doing everything themselves. They know how many nails got hammered. And they pretty much do everything on a day-to-day basis too. From opening up in the morning, mopping the floors and paying the bills to booking the sessions, setting up the mics and pressing “record” It’s usually either John or Aaron doing it.

Photo of John Davis and Aaron Nevezie building the Bunker.
Ah, the glamour of the music biz. John Davis (left) and Aaron Nevezie in the thick of it.

Does it get to be a bit much? “Sometimes I’ll get home from a session at 10 p.m. and I’m looking forward to getting some rest when I realize that some emails have come in and I need to handle some booking. So at that moment, yeah, it can be a little tiring. But for the most part we split the work load really well between us. And at the end of the day, it’s worth it. That we have this place is amazing. And there really isn’t any other way we could pull it off.”

Aaron and John both stressed that they aim to keep the place affordable — and it is, very much so. Booking Studio A costs $750 a day, and Studio B is $450, both including engineer — really incredible, especially when you consider the kind of sound you can get, and the atmosphere you get to create in. Artists and labels clearly know what a good deal it is, because both rooms are well-booked through April.

So, don’t sleep on the new Bunker studio — we can’t recommend them enough here at Masterdisk.

MORE INFO
The Bunker Studio website: http://www.thebunkerstudio.com/
Gear list: http://www.thebunkerstudio.com/gear/
Bunker profiled at Sonic Scoop: http://www.sonicscoop.com/2012/01/25/brooklyn-2-0-the-new-bunker-studios-offers-next-level-recording-experience/

Facebook Vinyl Giveaway: Javelin’s “Canyon Candy” EP

Head on over to the Masterdisk Facebook page to enter to win a copy of the limited edition vinyl 10″ release of Javelin’s Canyon Candy on the Luaka Bop label!

Photo of the Canyon Candy label
Canyon Candy Side B
Photo of Scott Hull with Canyon Candy
Mastering engineer Scott Hull with Canyon Candy in the Masterdisk back lounge.
Photo of Alex DeTurk with Javelin's Canyon Candy
Cutting engineer Alex DeTurk with Canyon Candy in front of the lathe.
photo of the Canyon Candy runoff groove with Masterdisk stamp.
Note the MASTERDISK stamp in the deadwax and Alex's initials to the right.