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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

    Without trusty tape copies (as I've mentioned before) a good 1/2 of the music we love would have to be mastered from records.
     
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  2. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    Not really. I realize that you have a pretty good understanding of this stuff. I was just trying to be explicit for others.
     
  3. Studio_Two

    Studio_Two Forum Resident

    I think "The Beatles: Capitol Albums" used copies didn't it? They sound great!
     
  4. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    Sometimes tape copies sound very good. I remember making music comps from vinyl to pro 1/4" tape back in the 70's. I used these to listen to in studios to help evaluate the studio monitors and environment. In many cases people said these copies sounded quite good and more like masters than the records they came from. I believe it was that 'analog' tape sound that was 'added' to these recordings that made people think they sounded that way.

    Also remember that many producers record to analog tape prior to going digital to try to capture some of that sound. It's not easy to describe the sound, but it seems to soften the music somewhat. Part of this is the natural compression of analog tape recording. Sometimes this is can be seen as an enhancement and other times a degradation. It all depends on what the producer or engineer is going for.

    I've got a few album safety copies which I made backwards with great care. Most of these albums were not that sucessful, but for example I have copies made this way of 'Takin' It Easy' by Seals & Crofts. I'd generally make them after each song was mixed basically for evaluatory purposes. I could always hear much more on my home system than I could in the studio. I also have an eq copy of the album which I had run during mastering. IIRC we made two of them simultaneously. I don't know why this album was never released on CD, but I presume the masters were misplaced or lost. Then again, perhaps there was just not enough demand. Maybe someday I can donate my tapes to a legitimate remastering. Besides the album mixes, I have lots of cool outtakes as well. Of course these are on Ampex 456 and thus I haven't played them for decades. :shake:
     
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  5. ThomC

    ThomC Forum Resident

    Location:
    New York
    Note that the below was written without reading the entire thread. Apologies if this is covered elsewhere.

    Wow, what a really horrible bit of misinformation!!!
    I really don't mean to be disrespectful of the host of this fine site, but the above is a truly myopic and bad oversimplification of music production and the terminology used in it's production. For the sake of simplicity in this forum, you can use any definitions you like, but realize, in the real world of production, it doesn't work this way. For all practical purposes the final approved tape used in each aspect of the production of a version of a song bears the designation master. This is because there are usually multiple tapes or takes along the way and people need to know what one needs to be, (or was), used.

    In music production, for each version of a song, there can be master multitrack tapes, master mixdown tapes, mastered mixdown tapes, plant master tapes, etc, etc.... All of these tapes are masters in their own right. Confusion arises only when the complete information is not asked for or given. (Or when the pertinent information is not kept up to date.)

    Books can be written on this subject as production evolves and different techniques are used. For example, the word tape barely applies anymore. Instead files are used. Anyway, I'm not the guy to write that book, (at least not here and now). As I said before, for this forum's purposes, use any wording you like. Just realize that the rest of the world might might not follow your lead, (or give complete information).
     
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Thomc,

    Welcome to the Forums. The people here need to be able to discuss this without getting bogged down in what you describe above. I'm not turning them into engineers, they are music collectors for the most part and need to have a common language between them (and us).

    The engineers who hang here already know all of what you describe and much more. This thread is not for them as I mentioned in the below post:

    Thom,

    This is not a forum for professional recording and mastering engineers. That's probably the reason that so many of them like to hang out here.

    Say "hi" to Mark Wilder and the gang for me!
     
  7. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    Did you say 'like'? I think many of them love to hang out here. :D

    I agree with Steve here. At first I didn't. Of course I've heard 2" tapes called masters, but most people here have never been involved in studio productions. This stuff can be pretty confusing to the average member here. Don't forget that Steve is primarily a mastering engineer and that is the reason most of our members are here. For the most part, multitrack tapes don't play any part in mastering. They are 'work' tapes and not intended for public consumption. On the other hand, master tapes (as defined by Steve) are the holy grail of mastering. I totally see Steve's reasoning for maintaining this distinction.
     
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  8. Studio_Two

    Studio_Two Forum Resident

    Hello,

    I think the sole intention of the thread is to clarify the actual meaning of the word "master" as it is used on this forum.

    When anyone uses the word "master" in relation to "tape(s)", we should now all be clear about what we are discussing (and what we are not discussing).

    HTH,
    Stephen
     
  9. BrettyD

    BrettyD Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Zealand
    Are there alignment issues for each track after they've been spliced/unspliced few times?


    Are there problems with alignment for tracks from other machines/studios?
     
  10. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Not really.


    Always!!
     
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  11. Simon A

    Simon A Arrr!

    Just a suggestion here, but maybe this thread could become a sticky so that members who would like to be clear on the matter would find it without doing a search.

    Just an idea...
     
  12. Grant

    Grant Senior Member

    Location:
    United States
    OK. I didn't think about the leader.:angel: Well, i've edited analog tape and work with digital. Am I ahead of the game?:) Does it matter?:help: :D
     
  13. Grant

    Grant Senior Member

    Location:
    United States
    Concerning what ThomC wrote in his initial post, if I may:

    I indeed do recognize that there are so many types of masters. There are masters of masters, EQ'ed masters, stems...all kinds of crazy stuff. I've stated many times that many things are called a "master". I wish you all could use a search engine to check me out on this so you know i'm not trying to pander.

    I'll step out of the thread, since it may not entierly be for me. but, i'm reading because I can always learn something. I already have.
     
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  14. Hawkman

    Hawkman Supercar Gort Staff

    Location:
    New Jersey
    Steve,

    Ever think of starting a correspondence course in audio?? You seriously need to charge for this stuff!! :D
     
  15. Black Elk

    Black Elk Music Lover

    Location:
    Bay Area, U.S.A.
    One of the problems with this discussion up to now is that it has focussed on the old mono/stereo way of working with 1/4" (or 1/2") mastering tape. Now, what do you suppose a hardened analogue fan uses to create his/her 5.1 project 'master' on? Yes, 2" tape with a modified head stack!

    As others have pointed out, the term 'master' means different things to different people, and where in the production chain they sit. The case can also be made for using the term 'master' to describe the output of mastering (rather than the input), since no one listens to the 'master', they listen to the mastered version of it (in what ever delivery format). Of course, someone else might refer to that as a 'production master' and on and on this game goes, I'm afraid.
     
  16. Kent Teffeteller

    Kent Teffeteller New Member

    Location:
    Athens, TN
    Hi,

    The mixdown master (the one marked Do Not Use) is the real master tape before EQ is done for record and pre-recorded tape production. The Master is usually the EQed and sweetened tape used to make final release media. The Do Not Use tape is what Steve and other worthy mastering engineers use to work from. Standard formats for master tapes are 1/4" 2 track stereo, 1/4" full track mono, and 1/2" 2 track stereo. Digital usually uses PCM 1610-1630, DAT, CD-R of various kinds and a few other formats not common in all mastering houses.
     
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  17. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Nah,

    It's always on the house.
     
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  18. Hawkman

    Hawkman Supercar Gort Staff

    Location:
    New Jersey
    Remind me to tip you 15%. :D
     
  19. 16/44.1

    16/44.1 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands.
    Whell Steve.......
    How is a master LP reel build than?
    Let's hear it from the master himself :edthumbs:
     
  20. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    How was a master LP reel built? In the analog days?

    A song was mixed from a multi-track work part. Probably mixed several times on a reel marked "mixdown takes of master number 34059439". The best or "choice" take was pulled off the reel on to the LP master reel, either side one or two depending on where it was going to be on the album. The mixdown reel of that song would then be marked (hopefully) "spares", "outs" or "outtake mixes" and stored. The built up LP reels would be assigned matrix numbers that match (usually) the LP release number. In other words, if the LP was WS-2435, each side would be marked WS-2435-A or B. Sometimes a side would be assigned a special number like MG (microgroove) 3435 or something that had nothing to do with the record number. Each MG side would have the songs listed with their own original master number that was assigned to that song during recording. The MG number and the record number would be etched on the deadwax leadout groove. During cutting (usually) an EQ dub featuring the mastering moves would be made and filed as an "EQ Cutting Master". The original LP masters would probably be marked "Do Not Use For Cutting" or sometimes just "Do Not Use" and filed away to be forgotten. Some labels like Columbia, Capitol and RCA-Victor continued to USE the original LP masters in recutting, knowing that the original tape gave the best sound. Later they gave that up and made protection dub copies for the east and west coast studios and cut from that. In the case of Columbia they sometimes used the original tape so much for recuts that the tapes just wore out.

    That what you mean?

    Remember, this somewhat simplistic explanation is just to give you enough info to be able to talk the lingo here.. It is not meant to be Recording 101 stuff.
     
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  21. 16/44.1

    16/44.1 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Netherlands.
    Yes, that's what I mean.

    Thanks, man :righton:
     
  22. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    You're welcome!
     
  23. drh

    drh Talking Machine

    By coincidence, today (before reading any of this thread) I bought a record of music for organ and brass on the Word label featuring organist Diane Bish. A bit of an oddity; Word was evidently a religious music label, but the music is classical, some rather obscure. The credits, in fine print, indicate that it was a truly interstate effort, as follows:

    Produced and Conducted by Kurt Kaiser

    Recorded at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, by Artisan Sound, Peter Yianilos, Engineer

    Percussion Recorded at Sumet-Bernet Sound, Dallas, John Mayfield, Engineer

    Mixdown at Sound State Studio, Nashville, Warren Peterson, Engineer

    Pentasonic Brass Sextet -- Leader, Gary Wisner (aside from the word "brass" in the title "Music for Brass and Organ," this is the sole credit for the brass players on the cover OR the record label!)

    Anyhow, there it is: that term "mixdown" showing up in the technical credits of an obscure 1983 LP release. Haven't had a chance to play it yet, as my wife took over the music room as soon as we got home to practice for an upcoming performance, so I can't tell you how well the engineers managed to blend all those different acoustics....
     
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  24. Paul Chang

    Paul Chang Forum Old Boy, Former Senior Member Has-Been

    According to Dennis Drake in his paper entitled Digital Mastering of the Mercury Living Presence Recordings for Compact Disc Release, Presented at the 92nd AES Convention 1992 March 24-27 Vienna, the late C. Robert Fine used a location-recording technique by positioning three omnidirectional tube microphones along the frontal plane of the orchestra, which fed the three channels of a Westrex film recorder (for 35 mm magnetic film) or an Ampex 350 three-channel 1/2" tape machine. The three-track recordings were fed through a Westrex 1524 tube console or 3/2 reduction then to the cutting lathe. He wrote,
    So based on what Drake was presenting, Mercury Living Presence session tapes or films were used as the masters. I think RCA's setups (both two-track and three-track) for its Living Stereo recordings were quite different.
     
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  25. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    First cuttings, yes. Second cuttings? Doubt it! Current LP's? Two track reduction dubs.
     

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