Preparing Your Project for Mastering
Here are some basic pointers to assist you with the preparation of your tracks for digital/analog mastering.
Please feel free to contact us directly if you require further information.
More than 90 percent of the projects we work with are recorded in a digital format. If you are mixing on a digital audio workstation, there are a few simple do’s and don’ts to achieve the best results. First, don't normalize your mixes, we prefer that the music NOT go through any unnecessary processing. Over compression, limiting or excessive volume can degrade the signal. If you want to try some extra processing, make a second pass and submit both versions. It is best to leave 2 to 4 db of headroom on your mix, to allow our mastering engineers sufficient space to process your program.
Whenever possible, record with a 24 bit resolution. If you plan to submit high resolution mixes for mastering (24 bit), you must send them as data files. If you burn an audio CD, you will have a maximum resolution of 16 bit. Data files can be encoded on CD discs, uploaded to our FTP site, transferred via the internet by a service such as www.yousendit.com or you can copy the files to a Firewire drive. Any of these formats will work well as a medium for us to master from and of course if you provide a Firewire drive, we will return it once we have completed your project.
Please note, you must provide a two track mix, we do not accept stems.
44.1K, 48K, 88.2K, 96K, 176.4K or 192K, in general the higher the sampling rate, the better. Please note, the higher your sampling rate the more disc space you will need for your mixes. You can provide source masters with different sampling rates. A unique session will be created for each sampling rate prior to mastering.
Digital & File Formats
Broadcast wave files (.WAV), AIFF or SDII files, as well as CD audio formats are the most common. To accommodate these various formats we utilize the Sonic Solutions HD system and a Pro Tools system, as well as file conversion software. If you are utilizing a format not listed here, let us know prior to the session so we can make arrangements to accommodate you.
File Transfer Protocol is utilized to transfer data from computer to computer via the web. You are able to securely "upload" files to our server quickly. Within minutes we are able to access your uncompressed files as well as upload files for you to preview. When uploading files, clearly identify each track and its position on the finished master.
An ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a 12 character code embedded into each track as your master is created by Trutone. The code identifies the track as belonging to you and facilitates logging radio plays and royalty collection. To apply for ISRC registration codes visit: https://usisrc.org. If you require per track ISRC codes, please request this service when placing your mastering order and clearly indicate each code next to the respective track on your track listing sheet.
CD Text is an extension of the standard audio CD (Red Book) that enables the mastering engineer to add graphical information to a CD, (such as album titles, artist names and song titles) that can be displayed on certain audio CD players and multichangers. If you would like Trutone to add text to your CD master, please request this service when placing your mastering order and clearly list desired text on your track listing sheet.
Adding CD text to your CD will not generate recognition of your music with iTunes. To have your CD recognized by ITunes, you must register with Gracenote and upload your information to their site in either an Excel or Word document.
For more information: http://www.gracenote.com/company_info/FAQ/FAQs/
We accept ¼ inch and ½ inch analog reels. We love working with analog tape, utilizing our completely refurbished Ampex ATR-102 tape machine with switchable solid state and vacuum tube front end, as well as our Studer A80… they sound great! If mixing to tape is within your budget, (especially if you’re working with live drums and guitars) you should consider going this route. As far as recording at 15ips or 30ips, great records have been recorded at both speeds. Please include a full set of tones on at least one of the reels.
If you have an older project that you would like to re-master or need archived, be it full track, 2 track, quarter track or even cassette, we can accommodate you. In addition, we have the equipment to properly decode Dolby A, Dolby SR and DBX Type I formats. Be sure to store your analog tapes away from extreme heat or cold conditions and store tails out to prevent print through as well as edge damage. A convection oven is available for tape baking, if necessary, at additional charge.
Please be as clear as possible when submitting your source masters, especially if you are not attending the session. Be sure to include a clear, concise, track listing, with accompanying ISRC codes if applicable (see ISRC Codes below). Your data files should also be clearly labeled with the song titles (which matches the track listing) so that we are clear as to which mix to use.
If you are supplying more than one source master, indicate on your track list which source master contains the track /tracks you wish to use. If there is more than one version of the track, please notate the difference and which one you prefer we use for the final master. For example: "Johnny Be Good" Mix #2 vocal up or Guitar solo +1db. These notes are invaluable. Sometimes long intervals may elapse between recording, mixing and mastering and you may forget the differences between mix #1 and mix #2, or why you chose the particular mix in the first place.
If you have specific sequencing ideas, please note them. We suggest you do a mock sequence so that you can hear the way the songs transition from one to the other. When it comes to supplying notes with your project, always err on the side of too much information.
The Attended Mastering Session:
We always encourage our clients to personally attend the mastering session as it is always preferable for the producer, artist or engineer to have direct interaction and dialog with the mastering engineer. While each project is different, in general, an album project takes a full 7-9 hour day, depending on the number of songs, edits, master formats, etc. The more we know about your project prior to the session, the better we can estimate the time frame necessary. A mimimum of one hour must be booked for an attended session.
It is extremely important that the client leave the session with a reference copy for approval purposes. Upon receipt of a reference approval, we will prepare the final master.
As a service to our clients, all projects are archived. However, Trutone Mastering Labs is not liable for the perpetual storage and safe keeping of mastered files. This being the case, please order a backup or file copy of your mastered tracks.
Mastering for Vinyl Records
Please supply tracks in proper sequence to avoid a sequencing charge, i.e., if you have 3 tracks on the A-side and 2 tracks on the B-side, provide your source with cuts 1-3 appearing first and cuts 4 and 5 next. Or you can provide 2 sources, one source with 3 cuts for the A-side and one source with 2 cuts for the B-side. Please provide 2-3 seconds of space between tracks.
Levels and EQ from track to track should be uniform. It is recommended that you do not over compress your music as this causes it to sound “squashed”. Do not use a finalizer or similar device that tends to overemphasize certain frequencies that can cause problems in the transfer to vinyl. If your music contains vocals, we suggest you process the vocal track through a De-esser.
Should I “master” my tracks before submitting them to be cut?
It is not necessary to “master” before submitting your tracks for cutting. Vinyl records store music mechanically unlike the digitized storage medium of CDs. As such, cutting a loud, dynamic record presents many challenges not typical to the conventional recording and mixing process. Trutone’s mastering engineers enjoy decades of experience specific to the analog record format. This expertise, facilitated by their use of classic, vintage analog tube compressors, limiters and equalizers, afford our engineers the ability to provide all final EQ and level adjustments as your music is being transferred to the analog master. The result? A rich warm sound that transcends the digital phenomena, indicative of why vinyl remains the medium of choice for audiophiles worldwide.
Recommended Playing Times (per side)
To achieve maximum level on your record, we recommend the following per side lengths:
Level achieved will depend on the length of your program, the longer the playing time, the lower the disc level.
Record Speeds 33 RPM & 45 RPM
45 rpm is the speed of choice if your 12” dance or club record is 9:00 or less. Since the disc is rotating at a faster speed (45 rpm vs. 33 1/3 rpm), the mechanical waveforms imbedded within the record groove are further apart. As such, when a playback stylus is tracking the disc it can extract more detail and information from the record groove and provide more definition in the reproduced sound with less distortion. On the down side, the play time for the side is reduced by 26% due to the faster rotational speed. 33 1/3 rpm is typically utilized for high level dance or club records in excess of the above length.
In many instances, “audiophile” record albums are cut at 45 RPM. As indicated above, the faster rotational speed affords greater clarity, definition and less distortion on the grooves cut toward the center of the disc. Prior to making a decision as to the cutting speed of an album project, it is best to consult with our engineering staff concerning the particulars of your project.
7” records are usually cut at 45 RPM. Due to the small diameter of these discs, 45 is the speed of choice for best sonic quality. With reduced level, a 7” 45 can deliver over 7 minutes of playing time. In 1968, the Beatles “Hey Jude” was released as a 7”, 45 with a playing time of 7:11.
Reference Acetates and Test Pressings
Reference acetate, dub, dub plate are all terms to describe an acetate record proof. These are aluminum based discs coated with a special lacquer. The reference acetate is very similar to the master lacquer that is used to manufacture vinyl records and is cut on the same lathe. It should be noted that the acetate coating is very soft and is subject to wear far more quickly than a vinyl pressing. As such, sonic evaluations of the reference disc should be made within the first few plays. Unlike digital based storage mediums, an analog record is a mechanical storage medium with very different and unique characteristics. It is important to listen to how your digital source transferred to the analog disc format BEFORE commencing with the record manufacturing process. At this juncture EQ and/or sequence changes can be accomplished at a reasonable cost. If the reference acetate was waived and a test pressing was utilized to evaluate the sound instead, changes would require expensive, time consuming additional steps, including re-cutting of master lacquers, replating, as well as manufacturing new test pressings.
Care and Playing of Reference Acetates
An acetate should NOT be played with a brand new stylus. A new stylus should be “burned in” a minimum of 5 hours on vinyl (pressed) records before playing the reference acetate. Conversely, a worn or damaged stylus will also damage the grooves and distort the sound.
The surface of a reference acetate is far softer than that of a pressed vinyl record. As such, the reference acetate will deteriorate much more rapidly and enjoy fewer plays than a vinyl pressing. Much greater care must be exercised in the handling of these discs.