Tracking refers to the process of recording. It can be multiple elements (like a live band) recorded simultaneously, or done one element at a time with overdubs. Usually this is done as multitrack recording, as in separate elements (kick drum, snare drum, bass guitar, synth, etc) are recorded onto separate discrete tracks that can be individually processed and blended with each other. The end result of a tracking session, whether on tape or digital, is called multitracks. There could be only 2, or there could be hundreds of tracks. Bud’s offers 1/2” 4 track tape, 1/2” 8 track tape, or infinite track count digital recording. It is also common to record to tape and then transfer to digital for additional overdubs. At the end of a tracking session, most artists like to get a rough mix of the song. This mix is more or less how the mix has sounded during tracking, and is purely used to reference what was done, and plan for what (if anything) needs to be done to the song in the following stages.
Sometimes a song is not quite ready for mixing after tracking. Choosing which vocal or instrument takes, fixing rhythmic or pitch issues, and sometimes even full song edits like removing a verse need to be done. It can be seen as getting the song ready for mixing. This stage is not always necessary (or is wrapped into mixing), and depends on the material and the workflow of the tracking session. If the track is going to be mixed by somebody else, it may be prepared as consolidated wavs. In a nutshell, this means it can be further worked on in any DAW (digital audio workstation, such as Pro Tools)
Mixing is the process of creating a balance mix of all the separate elements, applying equalization (EQ), effects and compression (dynamics), and creating a mono or stereo mix of the song. Before the advent of the DAW, mixing was done on an analog mixing console from the multitrack tape, to a 1 track (mono) or 2 track (stereo) tape. All EQ, dynamics, and effects were done using console based and outboard analog components. DAWs offer this process to be done inside the computer. Bud’s offers both DAW (in the box) mixing, or traditional analog mixing. Although opinions vary on this topic, the benefits of each method could be summed up as follows: DAW mixing allows for absolute recall of a mix if changes are desired. Analog mixing is usually done for the desired sonic impact imparted by the analog gear as well as the “hands on-eyes closed” approach. Although recall of an analogue mix is possible, it requires diligent note taking of the settings on the gear to produce an accurate recall. The two are also not mutually exclusive, and many mixers use the DAW as well as the tradition console approach concurrently.
Stems usually refers to sub-mixes of the multitracks. The sub-mix would usually be "like" elements, such as 6 individual drum tracks being sub mixed down to a stereo file, with all the associated processing to make them sound more or less complete. Or it could be all guitar tracks mixed to single stereo file. The purpose of stems is to provide some remix-ability in the future without having to pull up the original multitrack mix. The original multitrack mix may be impossible to recreate, whether due to changing digital technology, or an analog mix that can’t be recreated due to lack of recall notes, or the particular gear used not being available. They can also be used for creating instrumentals if they weren’t done in the mix stage, or if a movie or commercial wants only parts of the song, or if a remix artist is given permission to create a derivative work. When all the sub-mixes are summed together, that is the original mix. This is done at the end of the mix stage, and is not required, but is becoming more common.
Mastering is one of the least understood stages of music production. This may be due to the fact that tracking and mixing are where the broad strokes are done, where a song is born and realized. If a song were a painting, mastering would be more akin to the framing and lighting — how best to present the artwork, as a standalone piece, and/or part of a greater work.
Most of what happens in mastering is the following: critical listening, choosing the exact start and stop times of the song, equalization (for the betterment of the song and or to match an album/collection), loudness through compression and limiting, track sequencing for albums, CD authoring, and sonic texture. Sonic texture can be described as adding a little thickening or seasoning to the track, often with subtle harmonic distortion from tape or other analog gear. In a nutshell, make it sound better and louder.
Making music louder is a delicate process. A dynamic raw mix is going to sound very quiet next to a mastered pop release. In order to make the mix louder, the peaks need to be leveled off and the whole level brought up. This inherently changes the sound of the music. Genres like jazz and classical that value the pure sound of the instruments as they are heard by the human ear often employ little to no compression. Read up on the “Loudness Wars” to learn more. We have no problem making your music dynamic or slammed and loud…it’s about what you want.
There are generally three formats most people need their records to be released on currently: digital for streaming and downloading, CD, and vinyl. In recent years, the CD master has served as the digital streaming master as well (sometimes even the vinyl master). However, some efforts are being made to create special masters for online streaming/downloads. Mastered for iTunes is one of these, which employs uploading a 24 bit file. Still, there is no standard, and most independent artists and labels can only upload 16 bit wav files. This means the CD master is still fairly common as the digital upload as well. Vinyl however has very specific needs and limitations. If you plan to release your record on vinyl, a separate master must be created, and we must know what pressing plant it is going to press it.
For a record or EP, we provide you with something called a DDP image. This is a digital folder that can actually be sent to a CD manufacturer for the replication process. We also send a custom player that you can install on both Mac and PC that allows you to open the DDP image and play the album exactly as it will play on CD or a streaming service. This allows you to check the track sequencing and spacing, without having to put them in iTunes or the like. You can also export individual wav files out of the program for digital upload, and burn CDs. For vinyl masters, you will receive 2 files: side A and side B, which will be high resolution 24 bit files. We can also master your vinyl sides to 1/4” tape.
For songs with vocals, It is recommended that you print instrumental mixes and send them to be mastered at the same time. If somebody wants to license your song, they are going to want the instrumental mix. We can process it through the same chain as the vocal version.