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Words George Mitton
Subvert Central’s approach to mastering reflects different is who our services are aimed at and our dynamic than if it’s something that’s already been
the independent, do-it-yourself nature of today’s extensive experience in the genre.” pancake-ized.”
small labels.
As well as catering for established players, Because most drum & bass is meant to be played
“As artists and former label people, we at Subvert Tektonic Audio welcomes tracks from new artists: in clubs, engineers must consider different things
Central are realistic about how things actually “As an unsigned artist, you are generally trying to than if they were mastering jazz, rock or film and
are in the drum & bass / dubstep / underground gain the attention of a label, big artist or DJ with TV music. This means more bass, of course. But
music scenes,” says Bob. “People’s love for mu- the goal of landing a signing. Having tracks sound it also means paying attention to how the bass af-
sic and the number of labels appearing certainly as top notch as possible is absolutely essential. fects other elements in the mix. Loz explains: “It’s
hasn’t diminished, but the returns from these Mastering is what can take a good mix and make it all in the bass compression. You need to get the
ventures are now a different proposition. People sound like it belongs alongside signed tracks from sub to kick in hard without smearing the dynam-
often can’t justify spending big-time master- their favourite artists.” ics of the treble further down the chain. Without
ing prices for their MP3 release, especially when great care and attention what can happen is that,
they will be doing well to sell 50 copies at £1 each. All mastering engineers agree that the most im- every time the sub kicks in, the rest of the track
Understanding that allows us to cater for people portant thing when submitting a track for mas- suffocates. This is what you really don’t want!
who may not have considered mastering before. tering is that it shouldn’t already be compressed Also, EQ is crucial, especially in the treble. For
Labels that are pushing good sounds, releasing or limited. According to Loz: “The number one drum & bass the snare and hi-hats have to sizzle
regularly and showing a love for it get discounted rule is, don’t apply any mix limiters to the track if without sounding harsh. It’s a fine line.”
rates from us in order to lower their break-even you’re getting it mastered, as they kill the dynam-
point.” ics I need to work with. It’s like asking a gourmet If further proof were needed that engaging a
chef to create a meal from ingredients that have professional mastering engineer is a crucial step
Loz is chief engineer at another small mastering already been cooked. to getting your tunes played out and recognised,
house, Fat As Funk, based in Taunton. As well as Loz has a further claim: “Mastering is the key to
offering cheap rates, Fat As Funk makes a number “Personally, I always get it as loud as it will go getting your tracks sounding as good as the com-
of provisions for new and unsigned producers. without affecting the sound quality,” adds Loz. petition. It makes the treble fizz, the bass bump
“You can crank a track up so it’s utterly destruc- and the beats totally batter the listener (in a good
“We offer a free demo to new clients, where I tive in volume, which is sweet. But too much and way!). With D&B, it’s all about the bass. I’m a
master the track and send it back cut in between the track literally disintegrates. You can hear it strong believer in the saying ‘if ya chest ain’t rat-
the original so you can instantly hear the differ- falling apart as you drive it. It’s such a small win- tling, it ain’t happening’. The way to get that tight,
ence without changing CDs. We also offer a Mix dow where the sound is optimal and getting that controlled but rude bass is with proper processing
Evaluation service where for a fiver I’ll check out balance is the key to good mastering.” in a controlled acoustic environment.”
your track several times on my lush setup and
write a decent length, in-depth report address- Bob at Subvert Central says one of the hardest For more on mastering techniques, and au-
ing any issues that could be tweaked. It’s a popular parts of the job is dealing with clients who want dio production in general, Kmag recommends
service as loads of bedroom producers don’t have their tracks severely limited in order to compete trawling The Grid, the producers’ forum on
the facilities to monitor the mix properly, and the in the ‘loudness war’. “I think a lot of people are It’s a truly amazing resource
better the original mix is, the better the overall a bit confused. People say to me ‘get it as loud as for anyone interested in music production. For
outcome. I don’t take the piss either. If I don’t possible without compromising the dynamics’. So anyone who wants to go into the subject in greater
think it needs any extra work pre-master, I’ll say I do that, then they come back and say ‘it’s great, depth, we recommend a book called ‘Mastering:
so and won’t charge you. It just wastes everybody’s but can we have it louder please?’. Always tickles the Art and the Science’ by Bob Katz.
time otherwise.” me, that – you have to make that compromise to
achieve loudness.” Subvert Central Mastering:
Another brand new mastering house is Tektonic
Audio, a joint venture between drum & bass leg- However, things are changing. “I think people Fat As Funk Mastering:
ends Skynet, Tech Itch and Eric from Full Clip are learning that smashed-up distorted mush Tektonic Audio: 
Audio. Based north of Hollywood in LA, the pro- doesn’t sound very good, especially in clubs,”
ducers combine their experience to offer a valu- Bob says. “DJs often mash things into the house
able but affordable mastering service. According limiter anyway. When that happens the sound is
to Skynet, aka Nathan Vinall: “What makes us guaranteed to be better if the track is punchy and
K68-70_Mastering.indd 69 19/3/09 14:48:10
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