The first step in creating a good lacquer master is essentially also the last step in mastering for a digital release. Although my business is primarily mastering for vinyl release, a significant part of it is mastering for digital release as well. In either instance the goal is the same: to ‘plus’ the sound of the submitted material.
There is no set formula used to determine which and how many ‘transforms’ are used; typically ‘less is more’. Quite often, in fact, the work has already been compressed, EQ’d, spatially altered by the mixing engineer, limiting the possible additional modifications. Therefore, in many cases, it’s going to be mild – I’ve had many where anything I try just makes the sound worse! And lots of times, the mixer is astute enough to have really got there in the first place! So, the first pass is to evaluate the possibilities, try something that I think might yield an improvement, and send that effort back to you for your comments. From this it’s evident the less pre-mastering that is done at the mix session, the more effect what I do will have, and the modus is to keep repeating the process until you are satisfied that you’ve got something that will make you happy not just right now, but for the foreseeable future AND across as many playback systems as possible. Typically, it’s maybe 3 or 4 times through max
The important thing for you, my client, is to stay in close touch at every step, and not sign off on the project until every bit of juice is squeezed out of it, that you can’t imagine how it could sound better!
In some cases, difficulties arise, where nothing we do seems to work, and two truths emerge: It’s either limitations in how I hear, OR the mix has demonstrable flaws, requiring another look at the basic mix. This happens more often than you’d think! Should we mutually agree the fault lies with me, there will be no charge.
Par time for mastering one song file is about an hour, and past the 3rd iteration, I do start tacking on timecharges at that $75/hr rate, but billed in 15 minute increments – it transpires that’s about how long it takes to make client suggested changes, as a rule.
That is my pledge to you: to deliver the very BEST possible product!