Monday, 26 December 2011

Nearing the last!

Well quite a bit of progress since last time I blogged, I had a bit of a blast and managed to clear all the remaining sections. There was a certain amount of tweaking, lots of uninteresting fiddling and no major frustrations.

One interesting point was when I removed my beloved multiband compressor from one section, because it was sucking the life out of it - when i switched it off the dynamics became so much more pronounced, which I guess makes sense. This is a good thing, I am starting to learn how to use it sensibly and not just everywhere.

It's near the end of the year, I'm on leave from work but I'm feeling pretty run down, and I'm slightly worried that this, combined with the fact that this mastering process is not significantly creative, but critical instead (which makes it less interesting for me) is leading to me being fairly sick of doing this and wishing I was finished. The worry is that in a desire to be finished I might not do as good a job as I really want to do, and that feeds into a dip in confidence. While I want it to be a masterpiece, and the best it can possibly be, I do know that it is possible to fiddle and faddle and second-guess for ever, and there comes a time when you have to say "it's done".

Also I'm aware that it's possible, in the process of fiddling forever, to to lose something, an element of confidence to the music. I'm always trying to play a certain balancing act anyway. Some musicians are wary of multitrack recording because you lose the "feel in the room" of when you play all together as a group. While I understand this, I think there are two obvious rejoinders to validate the way I am doing this - the first is that the style of music I am creating (possibly progressive rock) is one which has almost always been recorded using multitracking, and has exploited that to give a musical experience which is difficult/impossible to do in one take. The second is that practically I have little choice in the matter, I'm just a one-man band so I cannot play everything at once. I like to play as much as possible "live" so there is human feel to it - I refute the idea that multitracking is soulless, I think it can have a soul of its own. I have always taken it as a particular challenge to create music that is not lifeless in the way that much sequenced music can be.

Why am I saying all this? When mastering, because there is a need to be hyper-critical and deal with things that are irritating because they are wrong, there is a danger of tweaking, pinching, micro-editing and processing the music too far, so that the humanised element of it is lost. Good music does have imperfections in it by the very nature of it being played by people. Part of the skill of knowing when to say "that's enough" is being able to leave the human elements in.

So as I write this I am having a listen through. This pass through is to find anything I still think needs a tweak, and then there needs to be a final process where I check the relative volume of sections so that it all works as a whole. This is something that also gets done as I go along, not particularly consciously though, and I was aware while listening before I started mastering, that the end of the album is louder than the start. Strangely, the best place for that run-through might be in the car. I have listened to it quite a lot in the car as I commute, and it needs to be loud enough to hear over the engine & road noise etc, but not too loud so I cannot hear a horn outside.

Also it's good to listen to it on a variety of systems.

But anyway, I'm about halfway through this listen through, and so far I'm feeling cheered, it's feeling quite complete, the relative volumes seem sensible and the whole still has a good confidence to it. The most niggly thing that's left really is that with three sections that rely on a classical guitar, I wish I'd had an electro-acoustic one. It's been a considerable challenge to make the poxy one I have sound good, while trying to eliminate background noises while recording through a microphone.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A few more bits

3 sections of track 3 mastered, maybe. Just listening to the third - and thinking the drums are a little quiet. Oh well, back into it I guess.

Friday, 16 December 2011

More progress - lots of it

Well I'm not sure if I've got lazy, but I have mastered the next track. Not the next section, the whole 29 minute track in one fell evening swoop. I started saying "you know what, that doesn't need any changes to it..." to several sections, including, coincidentally (cough cough) most of the ones with Kontakt in. I need to make sure I have a good critical listen just in case I'm fooling myself, though I have to say that all along track 2 has been the easiest to deal with in terms of not needing major alterations. It's always been strong, so it is conceivable that on previous passes where I have been making alterations elsewhere, that this track has had more mastering-like attention.

Anyway, listening is the proof of the pudding, so I'm going to listen to it, and not just tonight when I really want to be making lots of progress so I'm likely to be optimistic and tolerant of it not being perfect.

A new solution

From the title it sounds a bit "Brave New World". This is from a couple of days ago, I effectively mastered sections 8 and 9. 8, no problems, although I got a little distracted by adding a line of a tune from a song in the 80s because it fitted (The Lion Sleeps Tonight).

9 was another matter, we were back to our old friend the crash, and his companion the frustration. This time I only(!) spent an hour and a half on it until I had to give up. Didn't you just know it though, only about 10 minutes after finishing I had a brainwave, the ultimate separation of Kontakt from any contact with things that might make it crash. Not just doing the Kontakt (and it was flute again incidentally) as a separate track, but doing it *without any processing*. Then I can import the audio "dry" mixdown into the project proper as an audio track, and apply the processing then. This is kind of what I've had to do sometimes when I have several guitar tracks using Guitar Rig, because the processor on my computer cannot cope with more than about 2 before it starts to stutter.

So I tried this the following morning, and in about 10 mins I was done. So general policy decision: if I have more than about 15 minutes of mixdown problems I will do this in future. So there!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

More progress and another crash

Section ummmmm 5 and 6 mastered successfully - this is one Cubase project with 2 sections. No Kontakt therefore no problems, sparkled everything up to be nice and shiny and it seems OK. The addition of small amounts of reverb does wonders.

Section 7, quite a lot of work went into it, just fussing around with the sounds, getting them fitting right. I wasn't overall 100% sure I'd finished but time was ticking on so I decided it was time to stop, export out a mixdown and then come back and check to see if it's OK.

On mixdown it crashed.

So I left it.

It does have Kontakt in, but not the offending reverb. What give? So I sat down this evening fully prepared to try all sorts of tactics, but I started with the easiest - a "save as" and then a file copy. I loaded up, pressed the button to mixdown and told it to crash.

It didn't


So therefore a) it's not just the combination of Kontakt and that reverb that causes crashes and b)swapping the reverb isn't the only solution. Basically it just keeps me guessing!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Deep and utter frustration

So, mastering. This part of it is all about getting into each track, listening to each individual instrument and tweaking the "sound" - tone, reverb, other effects - maybe trying to get rid of extraneous noise, all that sort of thing. Then I listen to the section and try and make the relative volumes and stereo placings work (having stereo is brilliant, it's gives you more "space" to fit instruments in, and for them not to mask each other.

Some of the sections have been broken into smaller projects, mostly because if there is too much on, cubase is susceptible to crashes. I have been having problems particularly with the sampler Kontakt, where it tends to (more often than not) crash when I try to master out a track. The first half of the second section was fine. The second half was the one where the title of this post comes from. Last night I spent an entirely frustrating 2 hours trying to master out. There were several things I have tried, which have been intermittently successful in the past - mostly around saving as a new filename and restarting the project, or making a copy of the project file and restarting, or restarting the computer and starting again. In more extreme cases I have had to get rid of Kontakt from the project and start again for that bit. Nothing worked. In this case it was a flute line I was trying to sort out, so I managed to master without the flute in, and took the flute line into a separate project on its own, thinking this surely must be OK - nope, refused to master and crashed.

Eventually I did get it mastered, when I decided to just try and change which reverb plug-in I was using. So maybe Kontakt and that reverb don't play nicely together (I'll have to watch out for that). This is a shame because it is a beauuuuutiful convolution reverb which mimics some real (and lovely) spaces).

So finally I got section 2 mastered. Section 3 took 15 minutes, and section 4 another 30. I'm just listening through now as write and it all seems quite nice and shiny.

After I have mastered all the sections, I need to have more listening to see if there is anything else I would like to fix, and then the final thing to do is check the relative volume of all sections. At the moment there is some discrepancy.

And so... into section 5

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Early report back

After spending about 1.5 hours mastering the first section, (but the first 1/2 of that was trying to get cubase to work) I think I can say with reasonable confidence, it is going to be worth doing. I have tidied up rumbles, made things generally clearer and so on. Anyway, time to put in a few finishing touches and start section 2. (1.1.2)

Friday, 9 December 2011

I'm Baaaaack!

Hello again

So after a break of about 6 weeks, I started to listen again to the album on the first. This is the first time I have got time to be able to do some actual mastering (I wanted to have a GOOD listen first, and I've listened through about 5 or 6 times now).

Soooo.... mastering. I'm about to start, right now I'm not sure how much I need/want to do, given I have kind of been mastering as I go along. Also given my memories of so many crashes. There are some sections which definitely need a bit of work, but in general terms a lot of it sounds shiny already.

Time to dive in....