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My name is Alex. and I am the Studio Director at The Place...For Mastering here in Nashville.
Joe is the expert in mastering, but I'm the one who actually gets asked the questions, so I have a few answers ready.
  I also have random tips I'd like to share with you.  Even if you don't master with us, you might find something useful here.  Please check back whenever you have the chance, because a good idea could pop up any time.

Ways to save money in the studio...and get top quality work


Plan ahead.  Before you record a note, be pretty sure who you want to work with all the way down the line and what they will charge.  Do it once the right way, so changes don't come back to bite your wallet later.  Have you ever watched "This Old House" on PBS?  Norm's saying is "measure twice, cut once."  That applies equally to producing music. 

Also, have a realistic schedule.  You don't want to back yourself into a time crunch and have to skip to someone who charges more (or isn't appropriate for your project).

Be sure.
  Be positive that your mixes that you bring to mastering are to your full satisfaction.  If you have to go back and do remixing after the mastering process has started, you will be charged a second time for those tracks. 

Determine what you need.  Mastering service is divided between the actual mastering (polishing your mixes in the studio) and parts (what you get back).  If you are only doing a digital release, you may not need an actual DDP or PMCD Master.  A Master is the most expensive "part" because of the time it takes to produce, error check, and QC.  You may just need the mastered files.  Check with your web service what file format you need before going to mastering.

Bundle.  If you are doing individual songs -- whether for separate projects or for a future album -- bundle together as many as you can to do at once.  The cost per song often goes down, the more you have.

Work in December.  The music industry slows down quite a bit at the end of the year.  Many studios have open time then and may be more willing to work a deal just for something to do.

Have a team member help set up the next step.  For example, if your mixer recommends a mastering engineer that s/he has a relationship with, ask if they would make the first call to that engineer for you.  They can discuss the project a little as colleagues, including the schedule and budget.  Because the mastering engineer (or whoever is next in where you are in your chain) is comfortable with the caller, your project might get a more favorable rate or schedule.

Be professional.  That doesn't mean you have to know everything!  What it means is that you are organized, polite, communicative, and ask intelligently about anything that you are unsure of.  If you are rude, disorganized, or flighty, a studio may tack a "nuisance charge" onto your quote before you even start. 
Alternatively, if you are earnest, organized, and easy to work with, you may get a little more out of the studio at no extra charge.

How do I find people to help me make a record?


If you would like a recommendation for a recording studio, producer, recording engineer, or mix engineer, please email me!  Tell me a little about your project such as what style, budget, where you're willing to work, final product desired, etc; and if I know of someone here in Nashville or the New York area that would be a good match, I will give you their contact information.  Please specify which city you wish to work in.  I will only recommend people that either Joe or I know for sure are good to work with.

Many artists that we work with found their production team by looking at credits of albums they like.
Having said that, don't just go by the credits.  With internet and email it is so easy to reach artists to ask about their experience with their team and studios, before contacting their team members directly to ask about rates and availability. 

What is the difference between a Ref and a Master?


A Ref is not QC'd and not coded, but will be the mastered files in 44.1/16 format in order with pauses.  It can be sent to you as a DDP with our player software over the internet, OR it can be on an actual disc that will need to be picked up or shipped. Its primary purpose is to be listened to for the approval process.
If you get the Ref on disc, you can send it off to be duplicated, which is typically a short run of discs for promo purposes. Listen to the whole disc before sending it off to be sure there are no glitches.

A Master is the final approved project for which Joe has carefully QC'd the audio and entered ISRCs and text/titles. It is made after you approve the Ref and cannot be changed after it is made...any change would require an entirely new Master and a full charge to make it. So, be sure the Ref is exactly how you want your album to sound, and your Label Copy is exactly how you want your ISRCs and text to appear.

How do I choose a Master format?


DDP upload is what I recommend first if your replicator takes it.  Why?  Because there is no media (disc) involved.  A disc could possibly get damaged in transit or at the plant.  Another plus is that we can offer a DDP upload master at a lower price than a DDP disc or PMCD because of not having to error check the media.  A downside could be that you do not have a physical copy of the Master for later use.  Also, not all replicators take DDP.  (But all of the quality replicators do!)

A DDP disc is my second choice.  You have a slight chance of media issues, but the file format is very robust.  Because it is data files being read by a computer at the plant, not music files being read by a laser, file erosion or playback abnormalities are very unlikely. 

Third choice is the PMCD (disc).  It is formatted differently from the DDP in that it is music files on a disc that are read by a laser at the plant.  This type of file can erode in quality over time and there can be variances in how lasers read the files.  It is the most traditional Master format, but is fading in popularity because the DDP is more reliable.  Also, we have to charge a bit more to produce a PMCD because it is more time consuming to get a perfect Master made.

You will have to check with your replicator as to which format(s) they take.  If you choose to get the Master from us on a disc, be sure to ask your replicator if the disc can be returned to you.  If not, they may discard it after your run, and then you would have the expense of creating another Master if you need reprints or wish to go to another replicator in the future.

Please be assured that there is no wrong format. If they are produced and replicated properly, you should be satisfied with the results.

What are ISRCs?


Sometimes I think I spend more time explaining these little digits than I explain mastering :)  In a nutshell, an ISRC is a unique sequenced code that is assigned to each song that tracks ownership and royalties.  All the major labels use them as do the vast majority of our independent artists.  Whether you are only doing digital release or a CD, you will probably need those.  There is a one time fee of $80 to get your "base" code, and then you may sequence it for the rest of your life. 

More information and the application is here: usisrc.org

If you are using ISRCs and making a Master for CDs, we will need these codes before the Master can be made.  Fun fact: We actually don't need them for a vinyl Master because that format does not retain them.

How do I get the song names to come up when playing?


Joe puts the song names in the text fields of a Master, but that won't guarantee that the names will come up... 

If you are ordering CDs and you want the information to come up on the CD player, it is up to you to confirm with your CD replicator that they will put the actual text fields that you want on the discs.  I suggest that you look into this before you order your Master, for different replicators may have different needs from us.  Also, be aware that different players have different display capabilities.

If you want the song names to come up when someone is playing the songs off the web and onto a computer,
you must register your songs with www.gracenote.com.

Do you do free samples?


Sorry, No. Why? First of all, Joe's work is available for listening on over 600 major albums and quite a few indies.  You may check allmusic.com for a fairly comprehensive list of his projects.  You may actually have one or more of these albums on hand.  So, it is really easy to find and listen to his work. 
Also, because Joe is an artist himself, he is meticulous in everything he does.  So receiving your track, then loading, critically listening, and trying a few mastering approaches...can easily take up an hour or more of his time.  We rarely have enough time in a day to do samples on top of contracted work.  I hope you understand.
I suggest trying our Easy Does It plan ($150) for a track you wish to audition.  In fact, I suggest doing a track ahead before hiring any engineer along the way--recording, mixing, whatever.  Why get married before the first date???

What's with your photo?


I do the website and I was looking to break up all the wonky studio shots.  Here I am visiting the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. Like many music enthusiasts, I have many interests including history and science...and the desert is pretty cool, too.