“Could you make this bigger, louder, heavier, tighter, brighter, polite, less polite, more blue, less green, etc.,” – these are the types of questions I’m asked on a daily basis in connection with mastering. And yes I can do it, with one fundamental catch: in most cases, the mixes I get sound better on analog.
Mixing to DAT is by far the cheapest way of making a decent record, particularly if you use the great converters on today’s market and 24-bit DAT machines. Always – and I can’t stress this enough – ID your mixes properly, highlighting the mix you want mastered. If you can’t be there in person, write/fax the engineer your thoughts about what needs to be done to any of the mixes, the order of the songs and desired space between the songs. Make sure to tell the Mastering Engineer which tools were used, such as the console, DAT recorder, the converter and so on. Never send a compiled DAT of the album. I’ve had DATs sent to me that were maximized, ends being chopped off and a whole lot of other things that cause me to utter expletives. Always record at 44.1 kHz. All CDs are clocked at that frequency and changing from 48 to 44.1 kHz degrades the sound. And it’s always a good idea to make safeties of your DAT. Record a 1 kHz tone for about 30 seconds at the top of tape, because that tells me about the left-right balance of the mixing console. What level should I record the tone at, you ask? If the peak average of your mix is, for example, 12 dB, you should record a tone of … 12 dB. This gives you 12 dB headroom above 0 dB from your mixing console before clipping. The difference between 0 dB analog and 0 dB digital is that, in analog recording, 0 dB is normal level and 0 dB digital is the max. That’s why analog is great. When you start hitting stuff above 0 dB the tape starts to saturate. Somehow the music has some “glue” to it. When passing through -12 dB with digital, you’re passing through air. Passing through 0 dB digital, you’re dead.
Nick Blagona is Chief Mastering Engineer at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga, ON.