The month of June was an exciting one mastering records by NoM4D, Johan The Tourist and Vacationists(Syd) to name a few. It was a month that really kept me on my feet engaging with a diverse range of genres from chilled out electronic beats to black death metal as well as everything in between; Lo-fi, pop, dance etc.

View of the control room at YapYap Music

Some highlights of the month were most notably receiving mixes for mastering from producer & engineer Luke Bertoz (Bluejuice, Art Vs Science, Tales in Space) in Sydney, Australia.

The follow is a link to his studio in the south east of Sydney:

Another highlight for the month was mastering the EP of Damon Stevens’ brainchild, NoM4D. This record had been months in the making and something I had been heavily involved in with revisions upon revisions of work being sent to the studio for feedback, suggestions and work. The following is a small excerpt and teaser from the EP which is being released later this week.

Album Sequencing, Topping and Tailing

Piecing together the final production masters at the end of a session is a real tell tale story of how important and to what effect good song order and sequencing can have on a listener. You may have heard in forums or from other musicians/producers that the “2, 3 or 4 second rule” is the “perfect” or “ideal” timing to tail(finish) one song before the next. But is this really the case? I don’t think so, and I think the art of sequencing, fading and topping and tailing tracks on a record is something that isn’t given enough attention in the discussions of mastering. Even though how crucial it is to the listeners perception of the music on the CD they pick off the shelf, or album they download off iTunes. The following is just a very brief overview of a mastering engineer’s role when it comes to assembling a production master.

The way the songs are spaced and levelled contributes greatly to the listener’s emotional response and overall enjoyment of the album. It is possible to turn a good album into a great album just by choosing the right song order, though, unfortunately, the converse is also true
— Bob Katz

The way a set of tracks playback from one to the next and their emotional impact on the listener is heavily dictated by the mastering engineers top and tail. The first thing that is addressed when arranging the final masters is the spacing. There is no set count to correctly space a song, it is most almost always dictated by feel. Too long a pause, the listener loses interest, too short the listener is caught off guard and not being given enough time to really settle from the previous track. Getting this correct is paramount to a listener's experience. 

But theres much more to the job than arranging the masters in playback order with appropriate spacing. We have to address how we “top” and “tail”. The top is where an audio file starts playback and the tail is where it finishes. Some common mistakes made when editing the top/head of a song is that the start of the music or the first beat cuts uncomfortably close to the start of a file, and at times the initial note is accidentally cut off from poor editing. It’s important that there is a small amount of playback time leading into the first note, especially if the music is being disseminated digitally and will find it’s way onto compilation playlists of a listener’s portable music device. Another common issue with the top of a song is noise or natural ambience from the recording space being introduced too quickly to the listener. This is a more common issue with acoustic or lightlier instrumented intros where a listener's ears can easily pick up on the change in the noise floor and/or natural ambience from the recording’s space. Creating a subtle/transparent fade-in is the key to avoid the listener disengaging with the musical content and focusing too much on what is going on with the noise in the background.

On the tail end of things there is the ever important fade out, how we end the track is just as important as how we start. Some artists request a gradual fade out, whilst others may request a track to cut off abruptly as a stylistic choice. It’s always important that when applying these fades that the fade works musically. At times a linear fade isn’t the most appropriate, even S fades and other non linear parabolic curves can impose some shape that fights against the songs ending and dynamics. This is why I like to write some of my fades in live through volume automation with a controller. Some things to be very aware of is the natural decay of the instruments, things like cymbals, piano, acoustic guitars and the natural ambience of a recording can sound very artificial when faded too quickly, just because this is an editing stage and not necessarily a processing stage with equalisers and compressors it doesn't mean that attentive and critical listening isn’t required.


Next week I'm going to do a blog entry on preparing your mixing for mastering and how to navigate through that last 5% of the mixing process and discuss a little of advice I provide for people I work with for getting their mixes above and beyond what they ever would expect!