Ask the Engineer: Tim Boyce on Your Unusual Music

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Tim Boyce’s specialties lie in world, dance, dub, hip-hop, ethnic, remixed, and other genres, and his production credits include French Montana, SLDGHMR, Deathrow Tull, MSTRKRFT, Nightbox, and RAC. Tim’s creative desire to breath life into a static space allows him to finely tune an album into a living movement, not just a passive listening experience. If you need cutting-edge mastering, Tim’s your engineer.

Scan from COLLECTION OF DANCES IN CHOREOGRAPHY NOTATION (1700) at the Public Domain ReviewQ: My music is pretty unusual. What kinds of things should I talk to my mastering engineer about before mastering?

A: With so many styles of music, and hybrid/fusions happening in both the live and production music scenes, it’s sometimes difficult for a mastering engineer to guess what the artist has in mind. Sometimes it’s obvious what path to take. For example, a ballad or orchestral work has a very different mastering approach than an aggressive club banger. But what about a folk song with traditional instruments (banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitar), synths, and a hip hop rhythm on upright bass? (It happens: I heard it last week, and it was awesome!)

If you’re making new cutting-edge music, or re-defining your sound by trying something new, it’s often best to let your engineer know exactly what you have in mind. Let them know you really want the bass larger than life, even though it might not be the most dominant element of the arrangement. Or that we are experimenting with filters on the banjo to make it sound filthy and really cut through the mix like a dance synth. Your mastering engineer won’t know unless you tell them.

Personally, I love working on music that pushes the boundaries. You should always be able to feel free to reach out directly to your engineer. We’re not mind readers, but we’re all very nice and we want you to be thrilled with how your music sounds. So reach out, and lets talk.

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Ask the Engineer: Tim Boyce on How Much To Process Your Mixes

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Ask the Engineer is a new series on the Masterdisk blog where our guys answer questions about music production. Today’s question goes to Tim Boyce.

Photo of Tim BoyceTim Boyce’s specialties lie in world, dance, dub, hip-hop, ethnic, remixed, and other genres, and his production credits include French Montana, SLDGHMR, Deathrow Tull, MSTRKRFT, Nightbox, and RAC. Tim’s creative desire to breath life into a static space allows him to finely tune an album into a living movement, not just a passive listening experience. If you need cutting-edge mastering, Tim’s your engineer. Get more info at the Tim Boyce page on the Masterdisk website.

Q: How much processing is ok to use on my mix?

A: The short answer is ‘enough’ is what sounds good. The quick test is to turn up your monitors really loud! Just rock out and get into the mood. If you feel like you want to turn it down… there’s probably too much processing going on. You should feel a natural impulse to “turn up this track!” That’s a trademark of a good mix.

Now for the long answer…

3dB of headroom is enough. It’s not close to distorting, but still powerful enough to really feel it while mixing. More headroom is fine, (as long as you’re mixing at 24-bit) but 3dB is the minimum to keep it clean. The trick is, don’t just set a limiter for a 3dB ceiling. That’s not headroom. That’s just peak-limited to a low level (and it kills the transients, edges, vibe).

Gain stage correctly. Make sure you individual track levels are not already limiting before you sum them. You may be doing more peak limiting than you realize.

Turn down the master bus (that you’ll bounce through) enough that you have 3dB of actual headroom. You should see some peaks in the final waveform. Try not to do more than a few dB of limiting / hard bus compression.

And keep in mind that it is a balancing act. If you are using processing for the ‘feel, flavor, and texture’ then keep it! It’s part of the sound and vibe of the album. If you’re using the processing just to get it louder, then skip it. We can do loud here. Unless it adds a specific element as an artistic and stylistic choice, this kind of processing at the mix stage is just overkill.

So, what’s “enough?”

Use as much compression, EQ, and effects on your tracks as you’d like for ‘density’ and tone/color. Keep the master bus low so it never peaks (gain-staging), and skip any final limiters doing more than a couple dBs of reduction. That’ll leave lots of headroom while keeping some peaks so the kick/snare/synths stay dynamic and POP out the speakers.

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Ask the Engineer: Tim Boyce on Improving Your EDM Mixes

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

Our first question goes to engineer Tim Boyce.

Q: What are some of the most common problems associated with the dance mixes you receive for mastering?

Photo of Tim BoyceA: The most common trouble I see often isn’t a problem in the mix, but overlooking the importance of the arrangement. Often there’s just too much going on at once, and the mix looses clarity. For example, a mix might have a kick drum and a few different bass lines overlapping. When a speaker makes sound it’s either pushing forward or pulling back to create physical waves in the air. That’s what our ears respond to: air-pressure. For a good, clear, powerful kick drum – which is a critical element of dance music – the speaker needs to be able to cleanly move through its full range of motion. If the speaker is being told to do a bunch of different things in the same frequency range at the same time, it will be ‘fighting’ itself and you won’t get that big clear sound that you want. I think this commonly happens when producers are focusing on the individual sounds/samples of the track and don’t pay as much attention to the overall arrangement of when those sounds play together.

If you look at the top producers making dance music right now, you’ll see a heavy focus on arrangement. Each instrument has its place. Take dubstep for example. Powerful dubstep mixes typically use one or very few sounds at once, so that each sound can have its full sonic impact. Each sound has its place, in time and in the mix. It’s very sequence heavy, and sounds more massive by actually being pretty minimal.

A lot of people try to fix the busy-ness and muddle of their mixes by using tons of EQ, but that’s not the best answer for clarity. I think it starts with the arrangement — so start there and make sure all of your key elements have the space around them to come through clearly.


Tim Boyce’s specialties lie in world, dance, dub, hip-hop, ethnic, remixed, and other genres, and his production credits include French Montana, SLDGHMR, Deathrow Tull, MSTRKRFT, Nightbox, and RAC. Tim’s creative desire to breath life into a static space allows him to finely tune an album into a living movement, not just a passive listening experience. If you need cutting-edge mastering, Tim’s your engineer. Get more info at the Tim Boyce page on the Masterdisk website.

Fill out my online form.