So during the mixing of a project last month I asked the band who they had picked out to master their album. They told me about someone I'd never heard of who was doing the job for very cheap, and I said, "Good luck." When they forwarded a mastered song to me to see what I thought, I dropped the track into Pro Tools and compared it to the unmastered mix, bumping up the unmastered version's level to match and A/B with. Well, the new mastered version was louder but that's about all it had over the unmastered mix. It sounded like the track had been pumped onto and off a broken cassette deck. Highs were missing, low mids were ungainly boosted and the whole song sounded distorted. When I zoomed in on waveforms I saw the amazingly over-clipped scene you see above. (Top stereo track is "mastered" and bottom track is unmastered mix.) Flatlined distortion. Ugly. I mentioned this to the clients, and they agreed that it sounded pretty bad. It didn't take much convincing to send the project over to Tape Op senior contributor, Garrett Haines, at Treelady. Of course it's all sounding fine now. (I should mention that I still have no idea who the first mastering engineer was, so if it was you I'd stay quiet and start learning....)

if you're mixing a project, make sure to ask about mastering. I offer to do a quick check and advise on the job being done. I also recommend mastering houses that I have worked with before and felt they did good work. If the record comes out sounding awful, even if it's not your fault, how would a listener know?

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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