Air Studios Mastering Guide 2013
Air Studios Mastering is a superbly equipped mastering facility based near Hampstead Heath in London (UK). We are part of the world famous Air Recording Studios set up by the Beatles producer George Martin. We provide high-end mastering to the world’s music and film industry. Specialising in stereo and 5.1 mastering for Compact Disc, DVD, Vinyl and digital formats for online releases. This document will help guide you through the mastering process. If you have any further questions please contact us at ([email protected]
). We offer both attended and unattended mastering. Attended mastering is charged at an hourly price rate, plus materials (i.e. Compact Discs, Vinyl Lacquers). With unattended mastering, payment is per track. There are also fixed prices for alternative mixes (TV mixes, Instrumentals etc.) and delivery formats (for example MP3, MFIT). For physical masters refer to the current price list, post & packaging costs are not included. *All prices are subject to VAT unless you are based outside of the EEC. There is also no VAT if you are based in another EEC territory and have a valid VAT registration number. The duration of attended mastering sessions can vary enormously. Please discuss the details of your session with the engineer before the session. Allowing around 30 minutes of studio time per song is a good guide, plus the same again for order sequencing & disc creation. It is often useful to bring one or two pieces of reference audio to the session. This will help you familiarise yourself with the mastering room environment and used as a guide to the sound you wish to emulate. For unattended and online mastering we recommend you give the engineer guidance on any sonic preferences prior to supplying audio. Referring the engineer to the sound of an album or single that you are familiar with is useful, as you are not present to express your preferences. It is advisable to master one track initially before proceeding with the entire album. The first set of revisions for online mastering is included in the unattended price; further revisions are charged half price, per track. Upon completion you will receive a downloadable link containing the mastered files in the formats you specify in your order.
Stereo masters accepted formats We accept almost any form of analogue and digital stereo formats. If you have an unusual format, please advise us before the session. Typical formats WAV & AIFF files (Any sample rate up to 192 KHz and any bit rate is accepted). ¼” & ½” Analogue tape / DAT & CD Audio. If you are working with Pro Tools we prefer to receive noninterleaved files (dual mono). If you are mixing to digital please do not limit or normalise your mix. It can seriously reduce our ability in being creative with the sound. It’s better to record your audio at a sensible level and avoid clipping. Any overall mix compression is best added for valid sonic improvements and not as a means to simply maximise level. Please carefully consider the effects of your buss compression before rendering the final mix-down. CD Audio is accepted but if you have a data copy (i.e WAV or AIFF) that is preferable; errors can occur when writing audio to a disc. Stem mastering. (Maximum of 8 mono/ 4 stereo channels.) Stem (or separation) mastering is where a stereo mix-down is divided into sections or 'stems'. Individual audio tracks allow us to sum (combine the tracks with improved precision) and adjust mixes that are not balanced/Eq'd properly. A great advantage if you are working in an inferior monitoring environment. Please give us the proper combination of files, rendered to your preferred mix level (minus ANY master buss processing), it's also important to include the stereo mix for reference. The files also need time stamping to allow correct alignment into our DAW.
Labelling Please label your digital masters clearly including the name of the song and preferably a version number or date. When supplying analogue tapes, please list the contents of the tape and provide a valid set of calibration tones and technical specifications. With DAT please label accordantly labelling each Start ID in the inlay card. Please make it clear what audio needs mastering. CD Mastering The maximum playing time of a Red Book CD is 74 minutes. However most plants will manufacture up to 79 ½ minutes. If you have a long CD it is advisable to check that the plant will manufacture a CD of that duration. CD Loudness There is an on-going debate about CD/Digital Release loudness. We are happy to master your CD as loud as possible, however there is always a trade-off. The extra level is only obtainable by reducing the peaks and increasing the average level of the material. This may sound fine on some material, but on other music it can have a harmful effect. A ‘loud’ CD will not necessarily sound loud on the radio as the radio stations processing can effectively turn down material that is too loud for the transmission. Loud CDs are likely to distort when converted to MP3 or similar formats. CD Text CD Text allows for storage of additional release information (e.g. album name, song name, and artist name). We only input CD Text upon completion of a form we copy your text from and can be entered on our booking form. There is also an additional charge for this service. Not all CDs & CD players use or support CD Text; it's not the method used on the Internet to identify a product and not all CD players support CD text. The online database for CD information 'Gracenote' is more commonly used. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cd_text http://www.gracenote.com
International Standard Recording Codes (ISRC) ISRC codes are used for royalty tracking and can be included in the CD master table of contents. The benefits of these codes include: • Registering your releases with the PPL Repertoire Database will also register them with MCPS • Your digital releases will be available for inclusion in the Official UK Charts • Increased efficiency for PPL means less costs being deducted from your PPL revenues • Your repertoire is better protected against piracy. • Content will be identified by the ISRC codes in the near future. http://www.ppluk.com/
CD Masters We can provide CD masters in either of the following formats to send to the pressing plant. Red Book CD master. This is a high quality CDR audio disc made to the same specification as a manufactured CD. This form of delivery is best suited for short runs (under 500 units) where duplication is commonly the method of production.
DDPi masters. Disc Descriptive Protocol, this is an image file containing the CD audio (raw PCM) and files relating to PQ description. We also supply checksum, quality control disclaimer & PQ readout. This is the preferred/safest method for CD replication; a glass master is created from this file at pressing.
Both of these formats are readily accepted by professional manufacturers and can produce a high quality result. We recommend the DDP option, as a data format it has a lower level of jitter (timing errors in the audio data stream) than a Red book CD and can produce superior results. Our DDP files have a ‘Check Sum’ file to test if errors have arisen during distribution or copying. DDP can be stored on a hard drive or DVD/CD ROM and sent via the Internet, direct to the pressing plant or the client. As there is no internationally agreed standard for verifying a Red Book CD. Air mastering cannot accept responsibility for errors arising from this format. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Book http://www.dcainc.com/)
CD quality control We always provide a reference copy of the CD master to the client, made directly from the sequenced pre-master (usually a DDPi). This may be in the form of CD hard copy or our DDP player software (PC/MAC) that lets you play the final DDP master on your computer. Many of the processes now used in mastering and manufacturing are high speed and off-line and the engineers are unable to listen to the completed master. This is one of the reasons we insist that clients verify the final master. The producer or artist may also recognise an error that the mastering engineer may not because of their detailed knowledge of the material. It is the client’s responsibility to check this thoroughly before approving the manufacturing of any finished product. Air mastering cannot accept any responsibility for product manufactured without client authorisation. Appropriate QC checks must be made. If in doubt ask the pressing plant to provide a test CD for approval.
How to use the DDP player 1. Download and install the Sonoris DDP player OEM, the installer will be sent with your DDPi. (This software will only work with DDP version 2.0. We only provide Version 2.0)
2. In the DDP folder there is a collection of files. Do not rename any files & do not add or subtract any files from this folder. 3. Run the DDP player software. Select - Import / DDP Image. Browse to the DDP folder and select the file called DDPID. This should open all the contents of the album and allow you to play the audio. Then select Export / CD to write a CD. The quality of the CD and the integrity of the PQ data will depend upon your PC/CD writer & blank discs. A slower writing speed usually produces a better quality disc. 4. In the folder there may be a PQ text document with details of the CD. You can open and read this with most text programs. Again do not amend this document.
Vinyl Formats Vinyl masters and acetates are cut onto aluminium discs coated with Nitrous Acetate. This is a soft material that can be cut by the disc-cutting stylus. Playback acetates can last for a reasonable number of plays if they are well looked after and played on a good quality record player. The masters that are sent to the factory should never be played. They are put into a sealed box and should be dispatched as soon as possible for processing at the pressing plant. If they are to be stored they should be kept in a dry, but cool environment. One disc per side is required for each release and in most instances there will be two. There are many things that go to determine the level and quality of a vinyl master. The playing time has a large effect of the quality of the pressings. Suggested playing times for a good level - Albums up to 23 minutes, 12” up to 15 minutes and 7” up to 3½ minutes. This is strictly a rough guide and may vary considerably with the program content. For example, if more bass is added to a disc then the level may have to be reduced. High vocal sibilance or cymbal crashes may result in playback distortion. This may require high frequency attenuation or a loss in level to keep the playback clean. It is important to note that if you provide a CD master for disc cutting it may not produce the best sound for vinyl. There is no real limit to what sounds can be recorded onto a CD. Vinyl does have limitations and the sound may need to be optimised for disc cutting. We sometimes need to go back to the original stereo mixes and make a dedicated master for disc cutting to obtain the best results. This is the basic vinyl procedure. • We optimise the quality of the audio provide to make the best possible sounding cut we can onto the master lacquer via our Neumann VMS-80 cutting system and then dispatch it to the pressing plant of your choice. • There the lacquers are cleaned and coated with nickel silver before being put in an electro-plating bath to make a negative. The negative is then used to create a positive in the same manner, called a Stamper. Stampers last for about 1500 pressings. • Test pressings (White labels) are sent for approval. • Once approved the final records are pressed with the labels of your design and packaged.
• Vinyl quality control We can provide acetate references for clients to approve audio quality before the vinyl masters are dispatched to the pressing plant. Although this adds an additional cost to the mastering session it can be well worth the expense to avoid issues later in the process. It also gives a quality reference to which the test pressing or final product can be compared. We expect our clients to have test pressings made at the factory before product is manufactured. It is essential to have a test pressing to check. Here are some of the following reasons. • • • • • •
High frequency loss. Jumping. Distortion. Increase background noise. Eccentricity. Content.
Every effort is made to avoid and to minimise these issues during mastering. The final check must be a test pressing. Air mastering cannot accept any responsibility beyond the test pressing stage. Mastering for Online delivery Most online aggregators require CD quality audio (16bit 44.1kHz) as the source for MP3/AAC downloads but more are starting to accept hi resolution audio up to 24bit 96kHz. We can also provide files that separate cross-faded songs to ensure the downloaded files start and end cleanly if required. A playlist may also be provided to determine the running order on the MP3 player (.M3U). Ripping CDs into a system can reduce the quality of audio for online encoding it’s not recommended as inherited data errors cannot be identified.
MFIT (Mastered For iTunes) With digital sales now outselling physical formats it’s more important than ever not to compromise on sound quality online and understand how your releases will sound on the iTunes store. Apples new MFIT AAC encoder can now work with high quality 96K 24 bit WAV files. We have the specialist MFIT tools available to optimise the mastering to provide you with the best quality iTunes listening experience. It’s vitally important to inform us before mastering on whether you plan to release using this format. Re-mastering for MFIT will significantly add to cost. FLAC FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a codec that allows digital audio to be compressed such that the file size is reduced without any sonic information being lost (hence it’s lossless). Digital audio compressed by FLAC's algorithm can typically be reduced to 50– 60% of its original size, and decompressed into an identical copy of the original audio data. Even though FLAC playback support is limited compared to lossy formats such as MP3 and uncompressed PCM, FLAC is supported by more hardware devices than competing lossless compressed formats. If you would like your audio masters returned in FLAC format then please specify on your order and we will meet your requirements. Lossy files (MP3, AAC, Other) Should you require copies of your masters in a ‘lossy’ format please let us know, specifying the file type and bit rate required if possible. These formats are not suitable for delivery as masters; in the case of online distribution your aggregator or record label will request lossless files in most instances.
Delivering your files to Air If you wish to upload files to Air Studios Mastering it’s best to use our ftp facility. You may also use external file delivery services such as YouSendIt or Dropbox but this can affect your rights of ownership and is done so at your own risk. To use Air file delivery 1. Please go to:- http://filedrop.airstudiosmastering.com/Login You will be directed to this page. 2. Enter the username: masteringdrop 3. In the Password field enter your email. 4.Then – Login If we are required to upload/download files to an external FTP site we reserve the right to charge for the time involved. This is simply because some sites are either very slow or poorly administered and can take an excessive amount of our time.