LANDR completely changed the way I produced my music, and it helped me save time while also creating a final product I could be proud of! This is Part 3 of a series on how I put together the 10th Anniversary re-release of my album Lemonymous. See Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
One of the main reasons I decided to do this whole reissue project in the first place (and there were many) is that I had just gotten my hands on Logic Pro X for my birthday, which was a substantial upgrade from Logic Studio 8 (which I had purchased in 2009). If I was going to record an album using this new DAW I was going to need to get very familiar with it and how it worked, and I figured going straight to mixing something was going to be the best way to do that.
Now, one thing to keep in mind is that although I absolutely LOVE making music, my least favorite part of the whole process is mixing it. I find it laborious, time-consuming and really not “creative” as much as it is “technical”. It’s a lot of getting the EQs and Reverbs and all that other fun stuff correct, burning to CD and testing on as many systems as you can to determine if the mix sounds good enough to move on to mastering.
And, to be honest, I know I’m not the best at it. I’m pretty good – I’ve been doing it for years and it just kind of happens over the course of time that the more you do something, even if you don’t like it that much, the better you get at it. And, as it is, I don’t have the money to pay someone to do it up right. And once I had come to the conclusion that there was going to be companion CD of remixes and other takes, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Needless to say, this was going to take a while.
The first thing I did was to copy all of the data DVDs for Lemonymous [Special Edition] (the last version of the album that I released in 2009 as a means of learning Logic Studio 8… interesting how things go in circles) to two drives (one was a backup) and to open the sessions in the new version of Logic so that they could be updated to the program. Once I did that, I pretty much started right at the beginning entirely remixing everything, so that more or less meant completely erasing all of the settings for each track and creating all new ones, so that I could just come at it from scratch, as if it had just been recorded in the studio and sent my way.
In the past, what I’ve typically done is try to mix a whole record and then go listen to the whole thing in the car and on other systems and take notes. I decided to take a different tact here, which was to take it three or four songs at a time, and when I had a mix for a song that I was sure was ready to go, I’d cross that off my list and add a new one to the batch so that I was always working on three or four. What I liked about this is it kept my focus set on just a few songs at a time, and when something was completed I could actually feel myself gradually working toward the final goal.
In the end, while this still took over a month or two to do (I believe I started this process in late February and, for Lemonymous at least, finished it in April), it was a lot more methodical and made the process a lot more focused and streamlined. For me, anyway.
Once I had these songs mixed, I felt confident setting a release date of September 29 (I think I announced that sometime in May maybe) and began the process of mastering.
What Is Mastering?
Now, I’m not going to get into what is involved in the process of mastering but I will at least give you an idea of what it is and why it’s important.
When an album is mixed, for all intents and purposes those songs are pretty flat. In other words, they lack a lot of the punch and the loudness that you’re used to hearing. If you heard a mixed, unmastered song you probably would feel the need to boost your EQ settings (like your bass and maybe even your treble) and turn the sound up. Additionally, you might find as you go from track to track that the loudness or volume of each song is a little different.
The job of mastering a record is really about getting all the songs even in loudness and volume (because the idea is that, traditionally, you would be listening to an album from front to back, so you shouldn’t have to change the volume on your player as you go through – though, these days, listening to full albums ain’t what it used to be… I’ll get to that) and to prepare them to be played on different systems.
In the old days, due to the limitations of vinyl, you couldn’t make your stuff very loud (loudness on vinyl comes from how deeply the groove is cut… that’s why you see this big deal made out of 180 gram vinyl – the thicker the disk, the thicker you can cut, and the louder it will be), and even on cassette you couldn’t really be too loud either (magnetic tape has a lot of “noise”, so the louder you go the more noise you bring into the sound), but in the digital world, you can make your stuff CRAZY loud. This is typically referred to in the industry as the “loudness war”. The thing is, the louder you compress and make your music, the less dynamic range it has – the quiet stuff is almost as loud as the loud stuff.
But it is what it is.
So what makes mastering different from mixing is that you can’t touch any of the different parts of the songs separately like you could when you mixed. Now you’re playing with the mixed song as a whole. And you’re comparing it to all the other songs that will be on the album – they need to sound like they go together. Listen to an album like Achtung Baby or The Joshua Tree by U2 and you’ll see how they sound like they fit together – not necessarily sonically but in loudness, volume and even the EQ spectrum.
I’m Terrible At Mastering
As decent as I may be at mixing, I suck crazy at mastering. A lot of that is because even though I have Logic Pro X and it’s a good piece of software, it’s not really meant for mastering tracks. Mastering takes a whole other breed of technology and really, a whole other breed of ear.
But I digress. As I’ve always done, I decided to plug on with mastering my own stuff anyway.
And I won’t get into crazy detail about it except to say that two months in to mastering Lemonymous I HATED having to master Lemonymous because Lemonymous was not sounding right to me. I did have the option to have the mastering done through Discmakers but the fact of the matter was that doing so would cost me $500 and I didn’t have that (it wasn’t built into the funding campaign and, quite frankly, I didn’t feel like I should be spending that much on it).
LANDR To The Rescue
So I had another idea. I tried mastering one of my tracks (I don’t remember which) through an online uploading and mastering service called LANDR, which claims to master tracks instantly. After doing so (it literally took ten minutes) I compared it to my master of the same song. It wasn’t quite as loud (you can choose from soft, medium or really loud intensities, and I chose medium because the really loud one didn’t really work for the song and was “pumping” and distorting too much), but it wasn’t harsh (like my master was) and it really came together nice. So I thought what the heck, let’s let LANDR do the mastering at $10 a song. So I did.
The downside to using LANDR is that it only masters songs on a track-by-track basis. It doesn’t do it by whole album (as of then, and even as of this writing). So one could argue that this isn’t REALLY mastering. And of course this also means that the volume and loudness might not be quite the same all the way down through the album.
That’s something that’s really important to me, however, on the flip side of that we live in a time now where people aren’t listening to full albums all the way through (not like they used to anyway). Now people are turning on their iPods or iTunes and shuffling through their music. As a result, inherently these songs will all be at different loudness peaks and have various volume intensities (and EQs). I concluded, therefore, that if there were loudness inconsistencies in the album, no one was going to hear them because at this point, most people have trained themselves not to by listening to music in the passive way they do.
Finally, in June, Lemonymous was mixed and mastered and, coupled with its design packaging, was ready to head to Discmakers.
Thank God that was over.
Oh crap… I still had another album to work on. That darned companion CD!
TO BE CONTINUED…
TRY LANDR TODAY! HERE’S YOUR CHANCE!
As you’ve read above, LANDR completely changed the way I produced my music, and it helped me save time while also creating a final product I could be proud of!