SH Spotlight What is the difference between a multi-track tape, a "mixdown" and a master tape?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Nov 30, 2006.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Confusion on the Bee Gee's thread has prompted me to post this. Let's be sure we understand the difference.

    ------------------------
    Master tape vs. multi-track tape vs. mixdown tape:

    In general I feel mixdown is a modern word that really clouds the issue. A MASTER is what it is: A tape that is the final finished version of a song or group of songs that can be "mastered" on to a disk and marked as such. A master can be mono, stereo, etc., mixed from something or the original mono or two track tape or a final dub with echo or whatever.

    A multi-track tape is never ever called a master. A multi-track tape is not finished. It is unmixed. It is not a master until it is mixed (called "re-recording" in the movie business or a "reduction mix" in the Golden Hi-Fi age terminology) on to a new tape and set in stone. The actual word mixdown tells us nothing. Why? Simple: A mixdown could be a rough mix, a mix without the singing or the conga drum, a mix without the background vocals, etc. A MASTER is what the word sounds like.
     
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  2. Curiosity

    Curiosity Just A Boy

    Location:
    United Kingdom
    Thanks for that.

    That's what I thought the difference was but obviously others had their own take on it.

    Regards,
     
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  3. Joel1963

    Joel1963 Senior Member

    Location:
    Montreal
    The only time I remember seeing a "mixdown" credit was for The Beach Boys Love You, where Brian Wilson is credited as producer and Carl Wilson is credited as "mixdown producer." Does this mean Brian left the multi-tracks for Carl to oversee the production of the final master?
     
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  4. munson66

    munson66 Forum Dilettante

    Location:
    Toronto, Ontario
    Thanks for this, Steve. Now, if we could only put that "true stereo" stuff to rest... :rolleyes:
     
  5. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    I have heard 2" tapes referred to as 2" masters or multitrack masters, but obviously they are not the official master tapes.

    I've also heard the official multitrack take as the master take. In other words, if you record 10 passes on the 2" and decide that take 6 is the keeper, I've heard that called the master take.

    The bottom line is that these terms are thrown around quite a bit and IMO Steve is right. Only the final mix should be called the master. After all, that is what the record is mastered from.

    Also, professional 1/4" tape used to be called 'mastering tape', but I don't remember 2" tape being referred to that way.
     
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  6. lou

    lou Senior Member

    Location:
    Louisiana
    For "Love You" apparently Brian left the songs in various states of completion - Carl was involved with adding some final overdubs and then mixing the multis to make the master.
     
  7. Mark

    Mark I Am Gort, Hear Me Roar Staff

    My "Learned Something On This Site Today" streak now stands at approximately, 1,108.

    Or just about how many guitar pickers there are in Nashville.

    Thanks, Steve. :righton:
     
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  8. Joel1963

    Joel1963 Senior Member

    Location:
    Montreal
    I guess Carl would have been credited as such if he plowed ahead on the Smile album, as had been promised to Warners, in '72.
     
  9. Emilio

    Emilio Forum Resident

    Here's something that I once heard and maybe you people can confirm: in the old days of vinyl, the master tape did not (necessarily) contain the final sound as it would be heard on the record. The "cutting" process was an additional step in which some depth could be added to the sound. This was taken into consideration when preparing the master tape. That's why some of the earliest CD reissues sounded so flat: they were straight transfers from the master tapes without any additional remastering. The remastering that is usually done today tries do add the depth that the master is lacking and would be added during cutting for vinyl. Does that make sense?

    By the way, maybe I was wrong when I said "old days" of vinyl. They are still being manufactured.
     
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  10. PMC7027

    PMC7027 Forum Hall Of Fame

    Based on the thread title I thought this thread was a quiz.
     
  11. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Be careful what you say, he's done that before, under his alter ego 'Professor Tonmeister'...:D

    :ed:
     
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  12. John Cantrell

    John Cantrell Active Member

    Location:
    Outta here
    Close, Mark, close.
    Actually there's thirteen hundred and fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville...at least according to John Sebastian :winkgrin:
     
  13. stereoptic

    stereoptic Anaglyphic GORT Staff

    Location:
    NY
    Not exactly what you are asking, but I once asked something similar and Steve answered it here:

    Thread: Were vinyl constraints considered during the mixing stage?
     
  14. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    Of course that was in 1966. I wouldn't be surprised if that figure has changed. :D
     
  15. John Cantrell

    John Cantrell Active Member

    Location:
    Outta here
    Right. Jamie, can we get a ruling here? :winkgrin:
     
  16. Mal

    Mal Phorum Physicist

    Here's a reel of Ampex 499 2" tape - there is no way anyone would master to it unless they were seriously paranoid about SNR. Notice the words "Grand Master" on the reel?.....

    Obviously "Grand Master" was an Ampex trade name or something - anyway, it is also found on their 1" 456 tape and others destined for use as multi-track tapes I would expect.

    The point is the word "master" is associated with multi-track tapes rightly or wrongly - even by Ampex!
     

    Attached Files:

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  17. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    Yes, and I've seen tons of speakers called Studio Monitors which have never been in a professional studio. There has always been a lot of confusion over terms in the industry.

    Btw, the tape does not seem to be as significant as what one does with it. No reason why one couldn't master a stereo mix to 1" tape if they had the right head stacks. I imagine one could do the same with 2" tape, though I've never heard of it. Of course they'd likely have to bring the tape machine to the mastering studio. :D
     
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  18. Mal

    Mal Phorum Physicist

    True enough - although to be fair these Ampex tapes were widely used in professional studios.

    It's been tried before - I seem to remember reading somewhere (here?) that the 3M R&D team even tried mastering to 3 inch tape once :nyah:
     
  19. Studio_Two

    Studio_Two Forum Resident

    Hello,

    If I mix a multi-track tape onto a two track tape, does the best attempt become the master, or does this have to copied AGAIN onto another two track tape before it can be called a master?

    Taking this a stage further, if I want to compile an album (incorporating the above track), what do I use?

    TIA,
    Stephen
     
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  20. Grant

    Grant Hmmmm....

    Location:
    United States
    Thanks for this!:thumbsup: I've seen so many misunderstandings result from the misuse of these terms, mainly when some people call a multitrack a master.

    Well, If I recall, and I don't feel like looking, those Rock Artifact CD liner notes use the term "mixdown master". I take that to mean that the mixdown tape IS the actual approved master.
     
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  21. Grant

    Grant Hmmmm....

    Location:
    United States
    I think that started in the early 80s when some companies, particularly Capitol, started preparing 2" masters for duplication, with the reasoning that the wider tape width allowed for faster speeds and more information recorded onto the tape, which translated into higher fidelity when duplicated at higher speeds, or some kind of gobblygook like that.
     
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  22. Joel1963

    Joel1963 Senior Member

    Location:
    Montreal
    I don't have those CDs in front of me, but the notes seemed to distinguish between what was used for the CD and what was used to cut the LP or 45.
     
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  23. Joe Nino-Hernes

    Joe Nino-Hernes Active Member

    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    Grand Master is just Ampex (now Quantegy's) trade name.
     
  24. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    Ahh, but Steve, what about Mercury Living Presence albums, where the "master" is the 3-track tape?

    ;)
     
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  25. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    Well I believe MCI had a 3" machine briefly in the late 70's or early 80's, but IIRC it was a 32 track analog machine. It never took off largely because it was nearly impossible to find 3" tape. I think it was partly in response to the early 32 track digital machines.
     
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