This is essentially the album version of his beatiful, sonically bold score for Sleeping Beauty Dreams, a high-tech audiovisual dance performance that has since gone on to tour across the US and Europe.
Perhaps I should start off by saying that mastering this album was in many ways very symptomatic of mastering most other larger projects -- but it once again reminded me of a handful of notions and ideas about mastering I thought were worth sharing, and so I am using it as kickstarter for another blog post.
Some of these notions are quite obvious, some maybe less so, and hopefully shed more light on what mastering entails, from the beginning to the grand finale.
Here we go..
Mastering Is Communication
Yes, we have officially landed in the realm of vague esoteric headlines.
However, I couldn’t find a better way to put it: yes, mastering comprises that very solitary and concentrated effort of fine-tuning the sonics of songs in a studio, most often with nobody else around (at least in my case).
However, what many people may not realize, is all the surrounding activities that form an indispensable part of the mastering process.
The longer I have been blessed to work on mastering for other people, the more I realize how important that ‘remaining‘ part of mastering is. The communication, that is.
As an example, the correspondence about the Thys‘ album consisted of no less than 50 emails of back-and-forth: discussing the most minute details about crossfades between songs, ISRC codes, loudness standards for various streaming platforms -- the lot.
And, sometimes also purely aesthetic enquiries --
Do I think this sounds right?
You need to know.
You need to have an opinion, but also you need to know that when you honestly don't know, you must NOT have an opinion 'just to have said something smart.'
Being able to communicate clearly, listen to the artists‘ wants and needs, and, in the right moment, if need be, provide constructive feedback and perhaps deliver a sense of trust that way, is as essential as that hermit-like, solitary studio time. (I know I am running against a strong bias here, but this is also the part that artificial intelligence-aided, automated mastering services don’t provide, not yet at least.)
So thinking that one may get away with just keeping to the knob-twiddling, is disregarding at least half of what you signed up for.
Mastering is Red-Tape, Too
I am not talking tape machines or emulations thereof. A much less-exciting, however often non-avoidable part of mastering is the paperwork side of things. Correctly filing out ISRC codes of each song (ISRC is short for International Standard Recording Code, and makes it possible to correctly identify your track for playback royalty collection), track names, and the whole quality-assurance process in general must not be underestimated.
Often you become the last man or woman in line before things get shipped into the outer space, and effectively the one to blame if something goes awry.
This includes carefully listening through the whole project start to finish. Nothing worse then letting by a tiny click in the last second of a fade-out. I won’t lie, I had been there in the past, and had learned my lesson.
Mastering Is Knowing When To Leave Hands Off
Perhaps one of the hardest skills is the ego-dissoluting moment when you conclude a track’s mixed and (pre-)mastered so well that you take a step back, bow down, and reckon there is nothing for you to improve. It can actually feel very liberating to do so, and the feeling that you are being honest to yourself, and the other party, is equally rewarding. It happens sometimes, and I try to practice this skill whenever it feels that I can at best make a track as good, but just in a different way, rather than what I would consider better. This is obviously extremely tricky, especially since you are technically running against your own self-interest, but I think the client will appreciate your honesty and as a result this may well strengten the trust and relationship you have with them.