Desktop Mastering: How to Master Audio

Audio

What is mastering?  It’s what happens to your music after you’ve finished recording and mixing it.  This includes:

  • Arrange tracks and spaces between into their final order
  • Perform any minor edits that may be required
  • Remove noise
  • Adjust levels
  • Sweeten tracks by proper application of equalization and compression
  • Adjust ambiance or stereo width as necessary

This is of course an over-simplified list.  My good friend Steve Turnidge wrote a book explaining the mastering process in great detail which is about to be released.  He’s a very talented guy,  so if you really want to make your music and studio recordings shine I highly recommend you check out his desktop mastering book.

 

Desktop Mastering Book

Update:  Here’s a video of Steve explaining how audio production is like pie.  Sweet, delicious pie.

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High Pitched Noise In Movie Soundtracks

Audio

I like listening to movie soundtracks every once and a while. By that I mean the incidental music that was specifically written for the movie as opposed to whatever pop songs they’ve decided to throw in there. The problem with many soundtracks, however, is that there is a high-pitched whine in the background. Most of my friends either can’t hear it (they think I’m nuts) or aren’t bothered by it, but for me it’s very noticeable.

The other day I was listening to “The Pagemaster” and there it was again. I decided to prove that I wasn’t nuts and ran a track through the old spectrum analyzer.

Clicky for the track I analyzed (Uncompressed .wav so we don’t lose any frequencies. Don’t worry, it’s just a short clip. BTW if you’re the Pagemaster and you feel I shouldn’t be putting your music on the Intertubes let me know and I’ll remove it.)

Do you hear it? Here’s the frequency analysis:

See the spike?

 

Sure enough, there’s a spike just below 16kHz that comes in at the start of the track and just kind of lives there. Apparently most of my friends can’t hear 16kHz. I imagine many sound engineers can’t either or they wouldn’t be putting out CDs with that there. But why is it there? Why only movie soundtracks?

My theory is that the orchestra being recorded is playing along to visuals from the movie they are scoring and that what we are hearing is the flyback transformer in whatever CRT monitors they are using. The horizontal scanning frequency of NTSC monitors is about 15.734kHz, which would support this theory.

This is my plea to everyone who records a film soundtrack: please use LCD monitors! James Horner, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, that guy who records stuff in his basement; please don’t record near any CRTs. They are coming through on the recordings, and they are detracting from your excellent compositions.

Thanks!

-Scott

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How To Make Sound Effects

Audio

When recording your own sound effects for things, your first instinct is probably to stick a microphone by the actual thing you are trying to create an effect of. Sometimes this works, but other times there is too much other noise or it’s dangerous or implausible and sometimes it just plain sounds wrong. You have to think of what people expect things to sound like and not necessarily what they really sound like. Most sound effects you hear in movies and TV are cartoonish caricatures of real sounds (that’s part of why shots sound so unpolished when you hear them with the actual field audio).

Here’s a list of some sound effects and how to make them.

Biff!  Bam!  Oof!

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Gain Structure

Audio

What is gain structure?  It’s the thing that can make thousands of dollars worth of sound gear sound really bad if you do it wrong.  Even when your sound system is turned down to the point where it is very quiet it can still sound distorted if it is clipping anywhere along the signal path.

Not clipping

 

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Add Ambience To Your Walk-Through Attraction

Audio

Walk-through attractions are getting more detailed all the time.  Lifelike characters, multiple audio tracks and even themed scents continue to add to their realism.  Why not add some interactive audio ambience to make your rooms sound larger than life?

"Ooh, this cave sounds so big and spooky!"

 

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Oil Can Delays

Audio

The other day I had a chance to play with a Morley RWV Rotating Wah pedal that was made in about 1973. It had the standard volume pedal that became a wah pedal when you pushed a button. It also had another button that activated the “rotating sound” effect which was achieved with an oil can delay. I’d heard about these devices before but I’d never seen one. Of course I had to take the pedal apart to see what was inside.

Morley RWV Rotating Wah Pedal

 

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Play Surround-Sound from a Regular CD

Audio

CD-Rs have made audio playback for theatrical productions much easier than it was back in the day. You get instant random-access cuing, instant start, track titles and you can make changes to your sounds faster than real time. One of the downsides of CDs is that they only will play 2 tracks at a time (Left and Right). Many productions could benefit from additional tracks, whether it is for true surround-sound or you want to have a separate speaker for each sound source onstage. There are many computer and tape-based solutions available, but turns out that it’s not only possible but fairly easy to get 5.1 channels from a regular CD player.

 

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