The Mastering Panel at SXSW

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the Mastering Panel I participated in at the South by Southwest festival in Austin in March. It was a great opportunity to hear some opinions on mastering from some experienced engineers. The other panel members were Bob Ludwig, Adam Ayan, and John Merchant.

I’m glad to say that it wasn’t the now-typical rant about why you shouldn’t make your mixes really loud. Rather, it was a more creative look at what a mastering engineer thinks is important about the music — what really matters when you are tying to get noticed.

Mastering Panel with Scott Hull at SXSW 2010
The Mastering Panel at SXSW 2010: (L to R) Adam Ayan, Bob Ludwig, Scott Hull and John Merchant

Bob Ludwig started the discussion with a brief history of the art of mastering, some photos and descriptions of equipment and philosophy from 30 years of experience.

Next, Adam Ayan discussed some of the mistakes artists make when preparing their music for release. He played several examples showing how an intuitive mastering engineer can extract more depth, emotion and value from a mix with a “just right” (as opposed to cookie cutter) approach.

I reinforced what Adam said, explaining that a first-class mastering engineer gets to know the producer and the artist, and is an integral part of the music creation process. An “e-mastering” approach will never achieve this. I asked the bands in the audience if their music has deeper meaning than just being “loud enough”. Of course it does! It’s important to look carefully at what’s lost when the primary focus is on competitive levels.

Then I played a few samples demonstrating that mastering can have a significant impact even on low-bit rate files. I played some 128K mp3 files of a tune with and without mastering. It was clear to me (and hopefully to the audience too) that even at these low bit-rates you still get more out of your music when it’s well mastered. For example, good tonal and instrument balances will translate regardless of the delivery format.

John Merchant, a well know mix engineer, kept us all laughing while showing us some very badly mastered examples to make the point — very graphically — that too much “mastering” is like too much hot sauce. The example he used was from Metalica’s “Death Magnetic” album. The CD version was played side-by-side with the much less compressed Guitar Hero version — showing just how ugly “loud” can get.

Unfortunately, the panel was very short considering all the opinions we could have unleashed! A lively Q & A was expected too, but time ran out before we could get to it. Hopefully we’ll get to do a panel like this again — it was a lot of fun. And I would have liked to have heard what questions independent artists might have about mastering. –Scott Hull

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Masterdisk at SXSW: Thursday

It was a busy Thursday at SXSW for the Masterdisk crew!

Molly went to the Merge Makes Noise panel with Michael Azerrad, Mac McCaughan & Laura Ballance and heard some stories from their book Our Noise. Next she was off to the Indie Village where she met with Ian Davis from Interdependent Media and Mike Demonte from Prophase. Molly also talked to Andrew Berger of Polyphase (an Alternative/Indie/Rock band from the Republic of Panama) and the musician Arash from the Iranian band TarantisT.

Scott meanwhile was at the Grammy party and met with pop/soul/R&B singer Chloe Temtchine. He mastered her album Up and Coming, which was produced by Dave Margolis.

Scott Hull and Chloe Temtchine
Scott Hull and Chloe Temtchine

Come evening Molly hit a few shows with MD engineer Jeff Reeves. At 9 p.m. at the Copa, they saw the 1001 Nights Orchestra, Austin’s longest running Middle Eastern music group. Then off to The Parish to see singer/songwriter Meiko. Her first album is on MySpace Records/DGC. They finished off the evening with the French/Chilean singer Anita Tijoux at Flamingo Cantina. Her latest album, 1977, will be her first released in the US, this April on Nacional Records.

Erin saw a number of bands as well, including the Cassette Kids, XX (at Mohawks), and what was probably the big show of the night, Stone Temple Pilots at the Austin Music Hall.

Stone Temple Pilots
STP at the Austin Music Hall, SXSW 2010

Good Shows and Exotic Sightings at SXSW

Yesterday the Masterdisk crew had a blast at SXSW. Many shows were seen and praise was heaped upon Spoon, Broken Bells, Paleo, Sharon Jones and the Dap-tones. I’ll be posting some coverage of yesterday’s Mastering Tutorial soon, but in the meantime enjoy these exotic sightings:

Jackelope
The rare and apparently ceramic Jackelope.
Bird at SXSW
Bird with autographed man.
The crowd at Stubbs
And then there's Stubbs: the place was a zoo!

Warming Up for the Tutorial…

Scott’s Mastering Tutorial (with Bob Ludwig and others) starts in an hour! We’re looking forward to that and I’ll report back when I have some info from the crew. In the meantime, it’s been a leisurely SXSW morning…

Hotel
...at the hotel.
Gas Money Glasses
On Sixth Street Molly spotted Gas Money Glasses doing their thing.

Masterdisk at SXSW

South by SouthwestIf you plan to be at South by Southwest in Austin tomorrow (Wednesday the 17th), boy do we have a panel for you!

Mastering Tutorial
Wednesday, March 17 at 02:00 PM
Room 16B in the Austin Convention Center

World famous mastering engineer Bob Ludwig is hosting. The three other engineers contributing are our own chief engineer Scott Hull, Adam Ayan (Gateway Mastering) and John Merchant (RedDoor). The four of them are going to “offer suggestions to improve your recording using your own tools.”

Want to know why mastering matters?
The difference between in-the-box mastering and discrete-analog mastering?
Why pro mastering is expensive?

Or how about this one, Scott’s topic: Why does mastering matter for MP3 digital delivery?

It’s gonna be great. For more info, and to sign up, visit the Mastering Tutorial‘s page on the South by Southwest website. Also, I’ll be blogging and tweeting updates from the Masterdisk crew over the next few days, so follow us on Twitter, join us on Facebook, or just drop by the blog here. — jB