After over 20 years in the Bay Area studio scene I’m now based in Los Angeles. I’m delighted to be working alongside Pete Lyman in the new Infrasonic Mastering/Vintage King building in Echo Park. Here’s my new address:
Infrasonic Mastering (Click for Infrasonic web site)
1176 W. Sunset
Los Angeles, CA 90012
323-276-0477 x 701 office
There are two main mastering rooms and a third room that contains the Scully lathe. The rooms were designed and built by Robert Maune. They are astoundingly accurate to work in and very comfortable as well. All the records I’ve worked on since I’ve been here have received very well by my clients.
Nominated in the Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album category is Sistema Bomb with their album Electro-Jarocho, and nominated in the Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) category is the Son Jarocho group Los Cojolites with Sembrando Flores.
I recorded the original material that forms the basis of both these records and mastered them both as well. Very unexpected. Very happy for the artists!
ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. It seems to me that to refer to the codes as “ISRC codes” is incorrect. That’s the same as saying “International Standard Recording Code codes” which makes no sense, but that’s probably just me, anyway here’s what one looks like:
QM UKL 12 00001
In reality the code is a string and contains no spaces but I’ve put spaces in to break it up into its component parts. The first part of the code refers to the country. In this case it’s QM which designates the US. The US used to be designated by, as one might expect, “US” but demand for ISRCs within the US has exhausted the supply of available registrant codes that use US. The second part, in this case UKL, is the unique identifier given to you, the organization or person who is registering the song. The third part “12″ is the year, in this case 2012. Finally the last five numbers can be used by you to identify your songs in any way you choose.
You are assigned the county code and your unique three letter code by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and it is up to you to assign the year and the number that will be used to identify each particular song.
In the mastering process the ISRCs, if you have them, can be written into the table of contents of the CD you send to manufacturing. That way the codes are in the table of contents of all the CDs you have manufactured. It’s a convenient way of keeping the information since the codes can be read from the CD by many kinds of software. It’s probably worth emphasizing that the codes are not encoded into the actual audio, just written into the table of contents along with the PQ data and so forth.
How do I get ISRCs, and do I really need them?
You must be an ISRC agent to generate ISRCs. You can apply to become an agent by filling-out the ISRC Application Form available at the ISRC website. It currently costs $75.00 and takes a few days to process. Additionally most labels, and digital distributors (CD Baby, Bandcamp, etc…) can generate the codes for you being agents themselves. My personal opinion is that if you’re in the business of writing, preforming, and publishing music it’s best to apply to become an agent and keep your own database of codes for all the songs you release. Why is this? Suppose you put out a song on iTunes, and a year later put out an album with that song on it. Maybe you weren’t even aware that iTunes assigned a code to that song. Then you put out your record and you assign codes to all the songs on the album. Then you’ll have a song with two different codes assigned to it, which of not ideal. Make sense?
What is the purpose of ISRCs:
ISRCs provide a way of identifying your song wherever it may go. For example, if you are the owner of the copyright for a particular sound recording, organizations such as Sound Exchange can use them to collect royalties from cable and satellite television services, and satellite radio stations.
Universal Product Codes (UPCs)?
The UPC, again universally referred to as the “UPC code” which means “Universal Product Code code”…can also be written into the table of contents of a red-book CD. This is the bar code that appears on the packaging of the CD and is scanned at the checkout counter in stores. In addition to pricing information, it is also a method of tracking and collecting information on the sales of your CD. Here’s an article from the Wall Street Journal that gives a brief explanation. Here’s CD Baby’s web page on UPCs
Extensive A/D testing
A couple of years ago, with the help of Jeffrey Ehrenberg from Vintage King, Michael Romanowski, Paul Stubblebine, and I decided to do a comprehensive shootout of the A/D capabilities of as many of the leading converters as we could gather together at one time.
The source material for the tests was the high resolution archives of The Tape Project. In all, the following converters were tested, some of which are of the high-end variety, and others not so much:
Apogee Rosetta 200
Burl Audio B2 Bomber
Digital Audio Denmark AX24
Lynx Aurora 16
Mytek Digital 8×192
Pacific Microsonics Model Two
Prism Dream AD-2
Universal Audio 2192
The source material was transferred from Paul Stubblebine’s one inch ATR two-track machine, featuring Tim deParavacini custom electronics, through MIT cables directly into each converter one at a time, with each converter acting as its own master clock. This source material was of extremely high quality, having been transferred directly to the one inch two track machine from the original half inch mix tapes. These mix tapes in turn were made directly from the analog multi-track master tapes so at no time was the source material in the digital domain.
The source material consisted of three songs, a classical piece performed by the Minnesota Orchestra and recorded by Keith Johnson, a blues/rock piece performed by Dave Alvin, and a jazz performance by Patricia Barber.
We chose these particular songs because we wanted to see how the converters fared with handling the dynamic range of classical music, some material with guitars, bass, and drums, and some material featuring a big vocal sound with plenty of ambient information.
The files were captured, along with 1k tones for each converter, in a Sonic Solutions Soundblade system at 96kHz 24 bit resolution, using a Lynx AES 16 I/O card. Minor gain adjustments were then performed within the workstation using the tones as a guide so that all the levels of the resultant files are matched precicely.
Some comments about the test:
We transferred each set of three songs separately into each converter set to its internal clock. We did this because although we could have transferred the material into several units at once, this would have meant that one of them would have to be the master with the others clocked to it and this would give the master device an unfair advantage over the others since the optimal setting for these units is usually, according to the manufacturers anyway, internal. Therefore this seemed the most fair way to do it. In any case, if we had tested all the permutations of clocking possible we would have generated hundreds of files that no one would have the time to listen to!
Perhaps the decision that leaves our methodology the most open to criticism is that of putting the program straight across from the tape machine and adjusting the levels of the files in the workstation instead of adjusting the output of the tape machine, or using an analog gain reduction/boosting device in the chain to calibrate the inputs of the different converters. Obviously this is an important consideration because there are differences in the way that converters perform with different input levels.
In deciding to do it the way we did, our reasoning was that had we adjusted the output of the tape machine to make up for the differences in input level of the converters the character of the material would have also changed as it became removed from the sweet spot of the tape machine electronics. The same could also be said for an analog gain reduction/boosting device inserted in the chain.
In retrospect, perhaps had we had more time, and a very neutral source of analog gain adjustment readily to hand, I most likely would have calibrated the inputs, but there it is!
In any case, all the files came out within a dB or so of each other with the exception of the Cranesong which, curiously, was quite a bit hotter than all the others so there may be some grounds for putting an asterisk against that particular result. In general believe the results are a very good comparison and are very interesting to listen to.
Recently I got the files out again and did a blind test on myself with just the Dave Alvin song by shuffling them around in the workstation without looking at the names on the files. I did one listening pass and chose my favorite 7 out of the 14. I looked at the names on those files and I had picked out the Mytek, the Burl, the Lavry Gold, the Digital Audio Denmark, the Cranesong, the Metric Halo, and the Prism. I shuffled again and listened then I cut it down to 4. When I looked at the names on those files I had chosen the Digital Audio Denmark AX24 (which I’m currently using), the Burl B2 Bomber (which I’m also currently using), the Mytek 8×192 (which I’m also currently using), and the Cranesong Hedd. My favorite overall was the Digital Audio Denmark AX24. The others were pretty close. The Burl was immediately recognizable on every pass becuase of the transformers giving it the beefy low end and it also did nice things with the vocals. Surprisingly the Pacific Mircrosonics Model 2 didn’t make it out of the first round which is odd considering I used a pair of them for ages. Maybe I just got bored of the sound of them!
Anyway that’s just me, we all hear things differently and on a different day I might have come to a different decision myself but on that particular day that’s how it seemed to me. Fun stuff!
People often ask: How do you want the files? Meaning how to export them from Pro Tools or wherever they happen to be. Here are some things to bear in mind:
1. Generally: Treat the audio with great care. Don’t put it through unnecessary changes. When you do make a change listen carefully to it to make sure it’s an improvement. Also listen to longer chunks of audio not just 5 seconds of before and after.
1. Sample Rate etc.: It’s best to keep your mixes at whatever sample rate the session was at. In other words don’t do any sample rate conversion on your mixes. If they are at different sample rates that’s fine. I do the sample rate conversion usually in the analog realm with the Pacific Microsonics converters which I think will usually sound better.
2. Outputting Files: If you’re mixng in the box in Pro Tools, which many people are, I’m told ti’s best not to use the “bounce to disk” (BTD) method of outputting the files. Some of the reasons why you shouldn’t use BTD, and what the alternative is are explained here in an article in Sound on Sound, and here’s a video about it, or you can just google “bouncing files in Pro Tools” and you’ll see loads of stuff about this on Gearslutz.com and many other places also. Anyway apart from all this my feeling is that it just sounds better to avoid the BTD part of the software altogether. There are of course many other pitfalls to avoid when working with Pro Tools. Another post will be forthcoming about these.
3. What goes on the master buss: it’s fine if it’s a part of your sound that is important. A colleague told me about some mixes he got and he mastered them a couple of times and each time the band wasn’t happy. So he asked them to send him the mixes they had been listening to. When he got them he found out why they had been sending the masters back. The mix engineer had been using a multiband compression plugin on the master buss that was COMPLETELY changing the sound. When he sent the mixes to mastering he just took it off the master buss and sent the files. So this is not going to work! If a significant part of the sound of your mixes is coming from what’s on the master buss then leave it there. It’s best not to limit it to the point of destruction though. Thanks!
In general it’s good to be careful when using compression on the master buss though. Perhaps print a few versions and listen to them carefully to see what’s actually going on. I believe it takes most people many years to really hear what compressors are doing and it’s easy to make a mistake and apply too much. When I’m mixing in the box I usually collect groups of tracks and send them to Aux tracks and compress the Aux tracks individually. I rarely have anything across ALL the tracks.
4. Formats: .wav, .aif, .aiff, flac, is acceptable