Author Topic: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists  (Read 6319 times)

drone on

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When a big name ambient artist produces or does the mastering for a relatively new artist/up and comer, do you think: a) it's an "endorsement" more or less of that new artist's creativity, and b) can the veteran's sonic trickery mask an otherwise sub-par recording?

darkenedsoul

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2010, 05:31:05 AM »
Oh, good questions. It could go either way.....

APK

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2010, 06:41:20 AM »
I would think they take it on because:
- they think they can do something to improve it
- they already like it
- they are getting paid

And for the artist, there is an association that appears like an endorsement.
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Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2010, 08:22:47 AM »
Neither, either and or both.

In reality I see it as a very mature and wise move on the part of the younger artist to seek out help from successful artists in the same genre. In other words, if you aspire to a certain sound or musical school then why not seek out the "masters" and learn at their feet so to speak.

It is a common practice in the rest of the music world, why should it be any different for ambient artists?


As far as masking a sub par recording, most mastering and mixing engineers I know usually will be pretty blunt about going back to the drawing board if a track is that bad.

I wish that more ambient and space music guys would seek out mix engineers and mastering engineers to take their music to the next level. The DIY mentality only goes so far in my opinion. In other words, if you have put a ton of effort into creating the music and if it is that important to you, then save up some cash and really take the whole package to the next level, otherwise...why put it out half baked.

Paul
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

mgriffin

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2010, 11:37:35 AM »
We've released a number of projects on Hypnos and HSS that fall into this category.

Tom Heasley - Where the Earth Meets the Sky (debut album, mastered by Robert Rich)
Chad Hoefler - Twilight in the Offing (debut album, mastered by Robert Rich)
Justin Vanderburg - In Waking Moments (debut album, produced/mastered by Steve Roach)
Nverxion - A Look Within (debut album, produced/mastered by Steve Roach)

There may be others I'm forgetting at the moment.

I think there are a number of factors here.  In my experience, the degree to which the well-known artist's involvement implies actual endorsement is actually less that one might think, in that if a mediocre artist approached the "master" artist and said "I want your help with my project and I am willing to pay for your time," I think the more successful artist would help on a "work for hire" basis at least, whether or not they loved the newer artist's work.  In other words, the involvement of a "big name" may tend to signify a worthwhile project, but this may not necessarily always hold true.

Having said that, I think when the experienced guy helps the beginner with a style of music close to what the "guru" is working on himself (in other words, we're talking about basically ambient music in every case here) it's inevitable that the assistance will result in a better outcome, which most likely (unless the younger artist is a hopeless case) will be something both of them feel good about.

In the case of the four albums of this type we've released, I know the album was to some degree "endorsed" by the better-known artist.  I don't think Robert Rich would mind me saying that he was the one who sent Heasley and Hoefler in the direction of Hypnos, in fact I believe Robert contacted me first in both cases.  Now, both Tom and Chad have released other music since their debut so you could say they had more than the usual amount of talent or creativity to bring to the table and Robert just helped focus that and improve the sound.

I do think these contacts were initiated by the novices, and Rich and Roach did not "scout" them, though I could be wrong.

I also believe more novices would be well-served by learning from a more experienced mentor or guru, if they could find such a relationship, even if they had to pay for it.  As a record label owner, I know the pitfalls afflicting most of the beginners' work I hear (problems with levels, mix clarity, background noise/hiss, significant frequency balance problems that could have been fixed by basic EQ) and much of that can be demonstrated or taught.  When an unknown artist contacts me and says "do you want to hear what I've recorded?" I usually assume a certain kind of flawed sonics, but when I know the album was recorded by someone like Rich or Roach (and they're not the only two who could do this, just the only two whose "mentor" output I've heard) I feel pretty certain the usual weaknesses will not obscure the project.  And it's not just a matter of sonics, mixing, or mastering, but I also think a producer or expert engineer can help the artist make aesthetic choices regarding editing, maybe selecting tracks that should be re-worked or eliminated.

In case it's not already obvious, I wish more artists would work in this sort of master-apprentice relationship, and I think it would strengthen our genre's output if this kind of thing happened more often.
[ Mike Griffin, Hypnos Recordings ] email mg (at) hypnos.com | http://hypnos.com | http://twitter.com/mgsoundvisions

jkn

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2010, 01:02:28 PM »
I always hate to post a "yeah, what they said" post - but... 

yeah, what they said.

John
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Bill Binkelman

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2010, 09:32:37 PM »
I personally know of one brand new artist's CD (sent to me as a demo cassette and I proceeded to also share the tape with one of my former reviewers way back when) and then the finished CD product, which was sent to be mastered by a VERY prominent ambient artist, was OBVIOUSLY SONICALLY INFERIOR to the raw product. Again, this was not JUST my opinion but was shared by the other reviewer who listened to both versions. In both our opinions, the high end and mid-range was considerably cut out and the bass was over emphasized, basically gutting the best parts of the this newcomer's debut CD. What makes this particular instance worse was that the CD was released on yet ANOTHER artist's indie label and that artist not only did NOT promote the CD at all but, per a third party report to me, supposedly said "Well, this artist hasn't paid his dues yet, so why would I want his CD to succeed more than any of mine?" which is weird since he put up the money to release it!!!

This particular artist was the proverbial one-hit wonder. Despite a very favorable review from me and another reviewer in W and W (back in the mag days) his CD did jack shit and he basically disappeared from the scene. Granted he didn't exactly exhibit any perseverence, but I am left to wonder if the FAMOUS ambient artist purposely submarined the mix for less than noble reasons.

I'm just sayin'....

Bill

drone on

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2010, 10:40:28 PM »
Whatever happened to Glenn Deardorff??? (not saying this is the guy BB just described, but it made me wonder about this artist who just seemed to disappear!)  8)

Sunbreak Music

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2010, 05:04:53 PM »
Mastering is really about translation.  Making sure it plays properly on all the systems and formats it might encounter.  I'm especially light-handed with anything along these lines, and only make corrections where necessary.  If a track is honkin' out the bass, it's gotta' get cut.  If 3k is making my ears bleed, it gets cut.

I think if someone wanted the full benefit of a mentor, they should sit with them and mix the project.  Anything else is probably "fixing" it, and any other "enhancements" might not be appreciated as they deviate from the intent....
Cass Anawaty, Mastering Engineer
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mgriffin

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2010, 05:09:59 PM »
Right, mastering is one thing, producing/engineering is another, and mentoring or creative consultation goes still further.
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Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2010, 09:21:49 PM »
Most definitely, the artist needs to work in collaboration and be present in mixing and production sessions. Never give your tracks to anyone famous or not and tell them "have at it".

As far as mastering I know that can be done pretty easily long distance now days.

Paul
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

ffcal

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2010, 10:53:48 PM »
I prefer being present for the mastering, because sometimes you are given options that may emphasize or deemphasize different aspects of the sound, or it may be something as minor as improving on the fade-outs (mine tends to a bit on the long side).  It's also easier to hear how the mastering is improving the sonics as you go along.  Of course, if the person doing the mastering is someone you know (in my case, it is), it also can be fun, too.

Forrest

Ben Swire

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2010, 09:30:33 PM »
Equipment has become so affordable that it is now possible to record great sounding records at home on a tiny budget.  The problem is that many artists never develop any foundation, and think that it's just a matter of layering sounds on top of each other and everything will magically come together. 

There are many recording books on the market that cover basic recording 101 concepts.  Even though these are generally geared toward live instrumentation, a lot of the material (eq, dynamics/effects processing, the components of a mix, etc) applies to electronic music as well.

Tape op magazine is a great DIY resource, and you can get a free subscription at tapeop.com.  Their recording forum is also really good.  I find myself on there a lot.  If you have the money you could also check out some of the online classes that the Berklee School of Music offers.

Attentive listening to great sounding records in your collection can be a great education.  Listen to the way the layers interact with each other, and see if you can disect the mix and figure out what makes it work.  Often times less is more.  Try taking out all of the effects (including reverb) on some of the sounds, only cut frequencies with the eq (instead of boosting), understand how to shape the eq with the width (q) control, zone in carefully on your hp/lp filters...  Little adjustments can go a long way.

The most important thing is of course your ears, but in order to trust your ears you must have a monitoring system (speakers/amplifier) that you can trust.  A good monitoring system will cover the entire audible frequency range with no big dips or spikes.  This often requires special room treatment as well.  The second best thing is to have an accurate set of headphones.  By mixing in an accurate listening environment, your mix will translate more easily to the range of playback systems that people listen on, from car stereos to ear buds to expensive hifi setups to clubs.   

In the book "Mastering Audio," Bob Katz states that a good mastering engineer should be able to improve a mix by 1 letter grade.  So if you have a D mix, perhaps that can be brought up to a C during mastering. 

Lastly, while I have mastered my own material in the past, I would recommend hiring a trusted mastering engineer.  This will bring a fresh set of ears to the project, and also take it out of your listening environment that is bound to have anomalies (that will just get reinforced in the final stages if you're not careful.)   

I recommend making notes for each track that is getting mastered to pass along to the mastering engineer, and perhaps sending along material by other artists as well that can be used to reference certain sonic characteristics.  During a recent mastering session I brought along a lot of music that was quite different from my own material, but this music was helpful in allowing me to articulate specific qualities that I was looking for.

jkn

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2010, 07:17:34 AM »
Ben, long time no see...  glad to have you back.

Well said.

John
John Koch-Northrup .: jkn [AT] johei.com .: owner / artist .: http://relaxedmachinery.com .: http://twitter.com/jkn .: http://flickr.com/johei

Austere

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2010, 10:51:50 PM »
Aside from Ben's almost perfect post (we'd simply add that: better than a mastering/mixing engineer for feedback is 1+ ppl who would be your audience) --

Has any of the masters/mentors promoters ever read the classic psychology book called "The Cult of Personality"?

Yes, it was also a Living Colour song, but based on the book and the guitarist's experience.

Before following any advice here, might we suggest reading that (and Bob Katz's book at least twice - great advice Ben!) before deciding?

Then choose if it's best to follow in "The Master's Footsteps" and learn "The One True Way", or if Robert Frost was right by taking "the road less traveled, and all the better because of it."

Robert Logan

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #15 on: February 09, 2010, 03:16:22 AM »
In this kind of music, though, should there be a blueprint that's just being used natively? I'm wary of setting parameters on movements like these - once a form of expression is totally defined, it can die. I can understand the idea for more popular genres, or for film scoring or whatever, where the entire point of the exercise is to form something using tried and tested methods for a commercial purpose - but something in me is uncomfortable with the idea of 'ambient' music being taught or passed down in stone. Collaboration is of course a totally different thing.

I agree with everything that is being said about production, but if you have a good pair of ears, are self critical enough, and if you are dedicated to the act of refining your sonics till they really breathe and kick and scream, I think over time you will naturally accumulate technical know-how and musical processes - and a knowledge of how to apply these processes - to get professional results. The love of your form will drive you to explore traditional approaches to production in detail, and perhaps, ways beyond those.

 
« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 03:18:17 AM by Robert Logan »

Premonition Factory

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #16 on: February 09, 2010, 04:24:32 AM »
Interesting discussion. The debut album of my ambient project Premonition Factory (release date Feb 20, 2010) has been mastered by Dirk Serries which many of know as Vidna Obmana. So I'm probably an example of "a relatively new artist using a known ambient artist who does the mastering" ;-)

Anyway, making an album  is a complex process and I liked the idea to ask an experienced artist to do the mastering, ask him for a 2nd opinion about the track selection, to give you a few examples. You know, your own ears get tired after listening to your own tracks for the 50th time so outsourcing a few things can be a good thing. But personally, I would not outsource the production process because it's an integral part of the way I work. I'm not using the usual production and mixing process but prefer to record my music the way it manifests itself while playing, like in a performance situation. 2-track stereo, no overdubs, no remixes.

Great forum btw!
premonitionfactory.com -  Ambient drone music

Ben Swire

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #17 on: February 09, 2010, 09:28:30 PM »
In this kind of music, though, should there be a blueprint that's just being used natively? I'm wary of setting parameters on movements like these - once a form of expression is totally defined, it can die.

I agree with everything that is being said about production, but if you have a good pair of ears, are self critical enough, and if you are dedicated to the act of refining your sonics till they really breathe and kick and scream, I think over time you will naturally accumulate technical know-how and musical processes - and a knowledge of how to apply these processes - to get professional results.

 

You pose some interesting questions here Robert.  I agree with you that setting parameters that revolve around our preconceived notions of the "correct" way to do things is a dangerous thing indeed.  I'm a big supporter of alternate uses of studio tools, new methods of composition, experimentation, happy accidents, and all of the "magic" that happens outside of mainstream music.  

What I think is often overlooked is how the tools at our disposal work on a very basic level and how a recording will translate to other playback environments.  Let's say the intent is to make recordings that will "breathe and kick and scream," as you put it.  What should we do if we are really happy with the arrangement and emotion and atmosphere, but just need more "breathe and kick and scream" factor?  

In this situation, not knowing the fundamentals of using a parametric eq or a compressor (and the detrimental results that these tools can have if not used carefully) can really hinder the potential of the mix.  Sometimes the artist might put the blame on the fact that they don't have the same fancy gear like a hi-end studio, but more than likely it is one's lack of knowledge plays a far bigger role in the outcome.  


« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 09:31:20 PM by Ben Swire »

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2010, 10:58:20 PM »
Its a tricky line, that whole artistic freedom vs rules and training thing.

Bottom line, there is a reason why when an artist goes to art school, they learn to walk in, grapple with and master time honored traditions and skills. In simple terms they learn the rules first for a year or two, and then are given the freedom to use, abuse and break them.

Now schooling is not for everyone of course, which brings up the idea of self taught...but even that usually involves seeking out many of the things Ben pointed out, like listening, reading and essentially self grappling with the basic levels of figuring out how to do something. It is often a much longer road. As Robert Fripp said in an interview all a teacher does is show you how to reach your goals quicker.

It is a real danger to use the illusion of avante guard, rule bending, and experimentation to mask incompetence, ignorance and often laziness.

At a base level when I hear arguments like this...

"No one else knows how my music should sound"...wrong, a good mastering engineer, mix engineer or studio with better gear can help you make it even better than you thought it was.
"Why should I use a limits, rules and time honored traditions?" ...it will almost always make your music better and you may learn something.
"No one else can critique, offer opinion or constructively criticize my music" ...then you are thin skinned, the music probably is not that good and you should seriously consider going back to the drawing board until it can with stand all those things.
"ambient music is not subject to the same rules as other music" ...well yes and no, like it or not ambient/space music is now part of a 30 plus year tradition no different in its own way than the blues, jazz or rap
"this type of music can only be created at home and not in a professional studio on the clock"...all the more reason to learn as much recording basics, theory and have the best gear you can afford to reach your goals.
"I never use compression, EQ, ect...ect...on my music as it ruins the dynamics man!" ...you probably have zero clue how these tools work...seek training or someone who does to assist you.

I am not saying you don't experiment and push your self and do whatever it takes to get your vision accomplished, just always consider that often seeking out a specialist to aid you in your journey is often a wise course of action.

Just more thoughts,

Paul

« Last Edit: February 09, 2010, 11:00:19 PM by Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le) »
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

mystified

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Re: Big name ambient artists producing/mastering for younger artists
« Reply #19 on: February 10, 2010, 06:02:42 AM »
Not to throw a wrench into notions such as those, as they seem pretty reasonable, but I have personally had bad experiences using others to master my work. In all cases I have had to check each song very carefully, and have found "clipping". In one case, the clipping was so severe that a large amount of audio data had been lost by the mastering agent. This comes from a well-known professional, who was being paid to master my tracks.

Paul and others, I believe your principles apply IF the artist or the mastering service is competent.

Oddly, on occasion, the indie artist may be more competent in some ways than the service.

It makes the whole thing kind of a gamble, in my book.
Thomas Park
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