Mastering engineer Bernie Grundman shares a detailed look at the process

TopicsAll ForumsGeneralVan Halen NewsMastering engineer Bernie Grundman shares a detailed look at the process

This topic has 4 voices, contains 5 replies, and was last updated by  videoman320 2255 days ago.

August 16, 2012 at 8:23 am Quote #18260


Here’s an interview with the guy who mastered ADKOT. I’ve summarized the VH-related parts below, but the whole thing is an interesting read.

Let’s look at A Different Kind Of Truth as a walk-through example of what the process entails: what the album sounded like before it was brought to you, what you did, how you did it, and the end result.

An album requires a lot of consideration because it’s got to flow and feel comfortable to the listener from tune to tune. That has a lot to do with how it’s spaced and how each tune hits you after you’ve heard a complete tune. There’s a certain place where you’re ready for another one, but it has to be comfortable. It can’t be too loud, too soft, vocals too loud, vocals too far down or whatever it is that all of a sudden disrupts your comfort. In mastering, because these things are done over a long period of time, a lot of times we try to iron out some of the differences from mix to mix so that it does flow and feel comfortable to the listener but does not all sound the same, because that would be boring. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is what I was talking about earlier. We’re going to try to make this thing compete and get the most out of the mixes, optimize this mix so that it’s going to be more effective in its communication ability and its ability to attract people’s interest. When we manipulate the sound, we have to get on the same wavelength on these recordings as the producer intended. It’s good to have them here so that we can make it more effective and get a better experience from this music. You wouldn’t know what to do otherwise. You might be able to make it more balanced in some ways, with similar amounts of bass and treble and all that, but what you really want to do is find the important elements, the things that tell the story of that piece of music in a way that it communicates well. We have to be open emotionally to these things and judge what does and doesn’t work. There was a time when this could go back and forth for months, but not often anymore because no one has the budget.

With the Van Halen album, I did some stuff with them before, but of course there was a very good mixer, Ross Hogarth, on this album, and when we have really experienced, good mixers, it makes our job a lot easier because they’ve already zeroed in on what’s important. We’re trying to do justice to a good recording to bring it up to a competitive position. That affects the mix and the spectrum balance and so forth. One thing we’re looking for is to make it sound the way it sounded out of the studio, if it’s a really good mix, and this one was very good. We want to lose the least amount possible in this process. Ross was here for the mastering. We did some equalization, and some of it contributed to it and some of it just kept it the way it was, the way that it was balanced and so forth coming out of the studio.

With each different kind of music, various things are more important than in others. In hard rock, it’s about energy and excitement. If you do too much screwing around with it, you lose some of that. All of these things are important. A lot of these things we do are to make the album flow and have a certain kind of continuity, but with Van Halen, these are incredible players, so their recordings are a pleasure to work on because they’re so well performed. A lot of stuff isn’t as well thought out as theirs, and this album is terrific; it’s as great as ever. It was mixed very well, and we have a lot of custom things in the system to try to preserve it. We have a very elaborate equalization system and there’s something like 35 or so frequencies that we can manipulate. We can’t do that many at a time, but we have a lot of choices to fiddle around with the spectrum and try to make sure that we’re getting everything we can out of the music.


I have clients who’ll keep on working at it for a number of sessions. The Van Halen recording didn’t take that long. It only took a few sessions. For us, it doesn’t have to take a long time if it’s a good recording. You might spend five or six hours on it, maybe eight hours. I don’t remember how long it took, but I don’t think it took long because it was done well and it was pretty much there. These guys are some of the best. Sometimes we’ll set a whole album up, but they’ll send in a corrected mix after they heard it mastered. They’ll say, “The voice is too far down. I’m going to send you a new mix with that adjustment on it.” So we listen to that, put it into the assembly and send them a new ref. Sometimes it goes back and forth like that for a while.

August 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm Quote #18282


So could someone explain to me what the difference is between engineering, producing, mixing and mastering?

Stay Frosty

August 17, 2012 at 9:21 am Quote #18291


Here’s a pretty good description of mastering:

August 17, 2012 at 11:01 am Quote #18293


We’re trying to do justice to a good recording to bring it up to a competitive position.

I found the above statement interesting. I’ve never heard the term “competitive position” used in mixing/mastering before. Sounds sad (because it probably means they are tweaking it to make it sound just as loud, or louder than everything else, thus destroying the dynamic range).

August 17, 2012 at 11:46 am Quote #18296


Yep, I agree. Not sure what all this “competition” is about; it’s not like radio airplay is a huge factor in driving record sales like it used to be, nor is MTV. So how else is there competition between how different records sound in context, played next to each other?

August 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm Quote #18300


Yea those Justin Bieber recordings are tough to compete with!!


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