Day 26 - Mastering pt.1

After a very late night (went to bed around 4am) we started working around 1pm again. This afternoon we printed the last few mixes to tape, we started to master the final mixes. For those who don’t know about mastering – it’s the process that happens after mixing.
With the mixing process you sum all the individual tracks to a stereo track. You balance the tracks, color them, alter them, add effects, compression and shape the song. In mastering you don’t look at all those individual tracks anymore, but look at the overall picture of a song. How is the overall sound & color and how does the songs relate to one another. It is also the process that you really can start comparing your tracks to other albums. And so we did. Not only in the studio, but also on my iPhone, laptop speakers, speakers in the living room and even in the car stereo. Places where the buyer of our music will listen to it. And in those places it should sound great. Well, it did sound great but there are of course a lot of differences with all the reference music we used, ranging from Dream Theater, Symphony-X, Darkwater to Toto, Transatlantic, Journey, and loads of other songs. Just to compare and decide where we want to sit with the music.
The great thing of mastering at the same studio as where it is mixed, is that you can go back into the mix if necessary, and so we did change a few little things. It seemed that some of the songs had a more rock-feel to it, and could use a hair more of rhythm guitars, to give it a little bit more edge. Of course I also had a fear of mastering in the same studio as where it is mixed, as you cannot reveal any possible faults in room acoustics. But you can’t have it all – and I simply do not have enough budget to do it any other way then this. So I trust on the skills and reputation of Rich and I think we’ll be just fine with that!
It was very funny to see Rich running around all the different areas, listening, tweaking and working on getting the sound of the album the best it can be. He looked like a chaotic whirlwind but knew what he was doing. While running from the studio into the car he was shouting to us what he was thinking, and by the time I sat next to him in the car, he ran out, and fixed that what he has heard. It was hilarious and fun to see him ‘in his zone’.
All that comparing and testing can make you loose focus and at one point it was time to reflect. We where not looking to sound like all the other music, but we where looking to fit in the stylistic concept. Also I hate the whole loudness-war that is going on. If you are not familiar with this, you should Google on it. In short, it is a way of limiting and compressing the music in that way, that it sounds louder. To our brain, louder seems better. So the industry developed ways to make each album sound even louder than the other. But when doing that, the music loses a lot of openness, and dynamic range. And in the end sound worse than before that process. If you have followed all the fuzz around Metallica’s album Death Magnetic, you know what I mean. So before I went to LA I already said to Rich that I did not want this album to sound as loud as possible, and that I wanted the music to stay open, dynamic and that it should breath. But still should not loose any punch or bite and it still should sound familiar comparing with other albums. During the mastering process we looked at different options, and I think we came up with a good ‘in-between’ solution, where we have an open, dynamic master, but still have a sound that is familiar to the ears of the people. Anyway around 11pm Rich went home to sleep, as it all began to blend to one. So tomorrow, with fresh ears, we will tackle the last hurdles of the mastering process. Nighty nite!

About the author
I am drummer of the Dutch post-prog band Dilemma ( and drummer and founder of the progressive rock/metal band Affector ( As a musician I made a name in the progressive rock scene as drummer, bandleader and tour manager of the progressive rock legend Neal Morse (Transatlantic / Flying Colors / ex-Spock’s Beard). With him and a lot of other acts, I toured the world and recorded many best-selling CD's. I own a music studio and label, where I record, produce and release my own music and other bands & artists. Next to being a musician, I am an entrepreneur since the age of 19. I started 4 businesses. My main company is Novae Popschool ( A modern music school with multiple locations throughout The Netherlands. As musician, producer, teacher, author and entrepreneur I work with a mission: "I help musicians create and develop their own musical singularity, through which they will have a more successful and more fulfilling life. It is my mission to contribute to a more socially, loving and caring society through the power of music and modern music education. Rock on!
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