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Stem mastering at abbey road studios

When we decided to record ABBA’s ‘The Day Before You Came‘ I knew that mastering would have to be the best it can be. To do this justice and give it the best possible sound, master it independently and with the reported best in the business.

Crimson Medici - The Day Before You came

We have used Abbey Road for mastering before. Alone was mastered there along with Feel The Beat. Both of those used the standard stereo master method. I.e. We mix down here, create all the relative FX and then send that stereo WAV file with about -12db of headroom so the engineers at Abbey Road can then do their thing.

This time I had read about ‘Stem Mastering’ – new to me but probably fairly common in the business. I contacted Abbey Road and they provide a stem mastering service and put me in touch with their Mastering Engineer Oli.

Stem Mastering is a more involved method of mastering and more expensive. The key difference between them is you are not providing just one single stereo file. You provide several – in our case 6 separate groups of stereo files. These are grouped sets of tracks.

For us that broke down into:

Drums

Bass

Choir

Synths

Arpeggios

Master Vocals

We use Ableton as our main Digital Audio Workstation and the method of providing these groups was relatively straight forward. Of course these groups once ‘burnt’ are essentially mixed. Example is Bass Drum, Snare, Hi Hat – once you group these and record the final mix file you are committing those levels to the mix. The beauty of Stem Mastering is the engineer in the Mastering Suite can still tweak the Mix and use various tools to bring out details and add dynamics.

When we arrived at Abbey Road we were shown to the Mastering Suite we would be using for the track and introduced to Oli. He had been at Abbey Road for 3yrs and was recently re-mastering ABBAs Gold Album so was familiar with The Day Before You Came.

Oli methodically went through each of the 6 sub groups and added various dynamics to the track inc EQ, Compression and Gating.

As an example; He added a Side Compression on the Arpeggios that give a spike every time the snare sounded – lifting the arpeggios up and giving the track a real pop.

The process took just over an hour and we walked out with two files – a 44.1khz 16bit file and a 48k 24bit file. We have used the 48k file for our Distribution.

Crimson Medici - Abbey road
Two of the buttons on this part of the desk read… Voodoo & Black Magic

The experience of being at Abbey Road was in itself amazing but watching a true professional working with Pro Tools and the outboard equipment was just pure class.

Like to hear the finished version?

Watch this video on YouTube.

Thanks Oli!

Adam a77x vs yamaha hs8s

Crimson Medici Studio
Adam Audio A77X vs Yamaha HS8s

I wanted to share an honest review of the Adam Audio A77X vs the Yamaha HS8s. To be clear, i am not some self claimed Audio expert and do not have amazing speaker measuring equipment etc. Just a pair of ears, 35years of musical studio experience and an opinion.

I have owned the HS8s for 5 + years now and love them. They have given me hours and hours of studio time and I love their response, bass is deep and solid, mids and tops well presented. They have served me well. These are pre Crimson days and so my experience of releasing material to the masses was limited. The first release I did was in 2015 and when I hear back the mix and mastering quality it is somewhat embarrassing to hear. But hey, as independent artists we are typically the mix engineer, the mastering engineer, the musicians, the song writers, producers, marketeers and sweep the floor! so being awesome at everything can be elusive.

Now that Crimson has momentum, a following (of sorts) and an album in production i started to develop the studio. Adding room treatment such as bass traps, reflection points, acoustic treatment and diffusers really did make a difference to what we could hear in the mix, however something was nagging at me. Are we still missing that killer mix and master? Is the EQ perfect? Is the vocal in the ‘pocket’? Is the tonal bass line being lost. How does this all sound on a phone?? Before people start saying mastering is an art and should be outsourced etc…we have paid for external Mastering (Abbey Road Studios) and have invested in Ozone 9 for home mastering. The results of that were surprisingly similar… Mind you, if the mix was bad in the first place? Whats the saying ‘you cant polish a turd’. The HS8s are work horses for sure, but you have to think that they aren’t everything. With the wide array of Studio monitors available on the market I started doing my research based on a budget of £1500 (i paid £600 for the pair of HS8s).

I wanted to find 3 ways or 2.5s to really capture the music we create. I am old school so love to think of each speaker doing its thing and not having to do everything. The mids and lows being separated really should give clarity and definition. i looked at various options – KS Digital, Neumans (price!!!) and the Adams. I had read much about the A77X and really weighed up the pros n cons vs the KS Digital C88s. Ironically, i read a post from another musician who jumped from the HS8s to the A77X and that was it. Right, decision made take the plunge.

Got a good bundle deal, carefully placed the A (L) speaker and B (R) speakers on their stands. The A and B denotes the position of the woofers. These speakers are designed to lay Horizontally and the position of the Low Woofer is now on the outside of the listener. The ribbon twitter and Mids are now closest to the listener. I had read much about the Ribbon Tweeters and pretty much the ‘industry’ saying ‘yep, they are pretty clear, loud and basically perfect’.

I run in the studio a Soundcraft UI21R mixing desk which also doubles as our sound card. (Thats a whole different blog!) The UI24 gives me 5 Aux Pairs meaning I can run A, B & C Monitors along with 2 Headphone mixes. We now have the A77X Pair, HS8s Pair and NOC NS2s. The NOCS are a small set of Bluetooth speakers wired in to give us that real life speaker feel to flick between mixes.

For our test, the first songs loaded up was productions of our albums already in the works. I am very familiar with the music, the stereo imaging, the mix, EQ etc etc. Instantly, the Adams playback was noticeably different. Better clarity, more definition, a stunning stereo image and oh my noticeable issues with the mix! Is that a compressor I can hear now? What is that rumble? Is that a midrange distortion on the bass line? Damn!

We then (by this point I had been joined by Wendy wondering what all the fuss was about) started to listen to reference music. Angel by Massive Attack is a beautifully created piece of music. That bass line, the clarity of 808s and the various sound effects… We sat transfixed listening to a song we both knew so well to hear all sorts of new parts. With ordinary speakers they are lost but with these speakers the track was alive. Track after track revealed new parts you miss with ordinary speakers..

The Adams have not let me down at all and yes its early days but already the mixes we are working and flicking between As, Bs and then the NOC Cs is helping. With the Adams you can really define the mid range EQ, hear and see what instruments let that particular drop in EQ and remedy it. The Highs are just so clear and not in anyway fatiguing. The bass is solid, deep and really well controlled.

For anyone thinking about an upgrade from the HS8s (which are a fine speaker)… consider the A77X. They are a step up and will make a difference to your work and mix.

Thanks for reading !

sound treatment

Sound treatment is a dark art. There is a myriad of options, a full on science and lots of experts with varying degrees of opinion. So as a home recording studio owner and artist how have we navigated the audio treatment conundrum. (with difficulty but with good results!)

I have been recording music for 35+ years now. I was the 1980s teenager with an Atari 1040, Notator (remember that?!) and a Roland SH101 synth… Music, audio and music technology has been a part of my life since then. I never really took Audio Treatment seriously.. I mean just how much does the room actually affect recordings? ummm now I hear it… a lot! I mean you see these big swanky studios with all their mega treatment and just think.. I cannot afford that, I do not understand it and where on earth do I start?

So now spin forward to 2020 – Crimson is taking off.. lots of interest, radio plays and people asking for more music… what a wonderful feeling that is… however, there is always that musical doubt.. is the music good enough? is the quality good enough? can we compete at the broadcast level? Can i do that on a shoestring muso budget? (lets face it, most everyday musicians are skint!..)

Adding audio treatment to your home studio isnt as daunting as you might think, its not that expensive and even with a budget of a few hundred pounds can make significant differences to your room, recordings, mixing and mastering.

So first of all why add treatment? When you add treatment you realise why. The room resonance when essentially silenced is quite eery. The room adds an audio dynamic that perhaps you cant quite hear but yet its clearly within your recordings. We do not have the luxury of a vocal booth but I have created the best I can in the way of Mic Screen, surround and wall treatment. When Wendy steps into her ‘booth’ the sound of her voice is no longer bouncing off walls for the Mic to pick up. Now its just Wendy, her wonderful vocals and the Mic.. That has added some interesting challenges. Examples… Bird song! Now we can hear it clearly… we have 6 cats and they often pop into the studio to see whats going on.. Cats purring is clearly audible now! First world studio problems.. who knew?!

The room is a typical shape – about 10ft wide and 15ft long with a door at one end and a long window on one wall. The first thing to do is treat the ‘back wall’ where the studio monitors go. This wall was treated with Audio absorbing foam behind the monitors themselves, bass traps up in the corners of the room and our special artwork. The artwork is actually audio rockwall with a canvas outter… bit of a hybrid and works a treat. The opposing wall has now audio foam to stop reflective sound waves, and the side walls where the monitor mirror trick showed up typical reflection points has foam. The window has a pull down recess blind with black out and is surprisingly effective. We have a large thick rug on the floor.

The net effect. The room is dead. It has no echo, resonance and is quite astonishing. Walk in from the outer hallway talking and its like your voice just dies. Very odd.

However, what is awesome about all this. Quality of the recorded vocals, is now so pure that in production the vocals are no longer recorded with its own resonance. All the FX work can be done post recording and it is a game changer for us.

For mixing, the room now has that neutral feel so the Monitors (Adam A77X and Yamaha HS8s) can faithfully reproduce the music and you are not fooled by bass or odd frequencies… its just you, the music and a dead room.

This has been achieved for less than £200. So, if youve read this far.. thank you, and get on Amazon or wherever and get some foam, bass traps and some glue for the walls!

Enjoy your music and thanks for reading…

Ditto Music vs TuneCore – a review from a UK Artist

Choosing as an independent artist (hate the term unsigned!) a Distribution Agent for Music is one of the biggest ‘business’ decisions a musician faces. Lets face it, musicians are lovers, whimsical and dreamy… well, we were up until the point that online now enables a musician regardless of talent and skill the opportunity to push music to the masses.

So now the musician has to be skilled in distribution, social media, marketing, web design, art, photography oh and playing an instrument, sound engineer, mix engineer, master engineer and general dogs body!

So the decision on distribution…

Crimson has used Ditto Music (www.dittomusic.com) since 2015. Back then, I offered a charity (www.abbiesarmy.co.uk) a song called Angels & Stars. I wrote the song after reading the harrowing story of Abbie and donated the song. I needed a distie that would be easy for me to track streams, sales etc and move that money to the charity. At the time, I was making the decision in a naive way, just pleased that it was easier than I thought to get music onto platforms and donate the money to the charity.
I checked out distrokid, tunecore & ditto… Ditto was the only UK based distie and so based pretty much on that, I went for it.

The track was uploaded, artwork, set the outlets and away we went.

For 4 years, they have pretty much done exactly what was needed. Tracked the streams, sales etc.. reported on where and when things have taken place. Money was paid to the charity… Getting the money from Ditto was fairly straightforward. A rigorous method of checking who you are (fair enough) and once complete, the money is moved and thats that.

In 2019, Crimson Medici was born even though Wendy and I had been writing songs together since 2015. Crimson needed a trusted distribution that essentially ‘just worked’. This time, my decision making was much wider. I didn’t need to stick with Ditto and could go pretty much anywhere. Its at this point, you start reading online reviews! Wow.. there is much negativity about ALL of them! Distrokid this, TuneCore that, Ditto are sh&*, CD Cry Baby… I mean find reviews that arent in some way bloody horrid.. Cant get money out, made an error on my listing, wrong artist etc etc…

But then lets look at the hard facts. Approx. 40,000 songs are released on any given day on Spotify! So yes by the law of averages mistakes will occur and as musicians we have to be as careful and considered in all the Meta Data, song data and artwork to ensure we at least have done the right thing.

After reading the various reviews I realised that Ditto even though had bad reviews was no worse than any of the others and the fact I had 4 years of experience with them, had my payment system sorted and for the most part did the job I needed i stuck with them.

Since that decision, we have released 5 tracks with them without error and its been absolutely painless.
Now enter TuneCore – In April 2020, we donated a version of our song Survivor to the Helping Rhinos Charity and with that wanted to make sure that the Charity had full access to all the reporting and money. It made sense to keep that away from Ditto bearing in mind all of our other tracks.

TuneCore was the best rated at the time I did my research and their services looked clean and simple for the track to be loaded for them to distribute. The loading process was painless, the artwork was fine, WAV quality all good and outlets were typical. Their pricing is more expensive than Ditto and they wanted further money for new platforms as they come online. This is already included within Dittos price point. (We pay the £19 / year as a single artist and it works absolutely fine currently).

Ditto offers Smart links per release. This is a great dedicated little page that can be shared and points listeners to the various outlets the music sits on. This isnt included within Tunecore and so makes sharing on the platforms a much more pointed affair. You need to find the Apple link or Amazon link… Spotify URI on the Tunecore page and share that specifically. Thats a shame as Ditto is so clean and tidy.

The reporting for Ditto appears to be updated quicker than TuneCore. We released the Rhinos track in April. It is only in June I am seeing the streams on their system for Spotify. In Ditto, we see the streams almost instantly…

Where TuneCore seems to have the upperhand – Moneytising YouTube is easier in Tunecore and getting reports on it.

Both of them have limited levels of Meta data and I have a gripe with Ditto as I cannot update the writers and produced by Meta fields on Spotify.

I have had open tickets with both of them – Service wise they both replied at a reasonable speed to enquiries and resolved whatever issues without fuss.

So… for Crimson, Ditto works for us. Tunecore is ok, but with the social media such a key point of sharing out songs and the ditto speed link it does tip the scales.

Thanks for reading and good luck in your decision!