Now that we all know the key to a great master is a great mix, it’s time to dive into mastering. I reached out to Tom Frampton, who’s suite of mastering tools are incredibly well thought out and useful. A mastering engineer himself, his company Mastering The Mix is helping producers and engineers across the world achieve a professional sounding master, not quite by artificial intelligence or algorithm, primarily, like so many others, but by truly empowering folks with studio-grade software along with a wealth of educational resources. This is a unique and valuable approach, and one that Magnetic readers should certainly consider.
Why Mastering? What was the spark to creating Mastering The Mix?
Tom Frampton: Mastering is always seen as a dark art. Like something unachievable if you don’t have an expensive studio set up. I wanted to create tools that would elevate anyone's ability to create world class masters regardless of their equipment.
We set out to create plugins that guide the user to make better decisions, but still give them full control of the artistic direction of the sound. We help them get into the ‘ball park’ range, then they can tweak to suit their preference from there.
Our customers tell us our plugins have been educational for them, making them better producers over time.
It's apparent you're really working to empower engineers and producers. Mastering The Mix is more than just software. I find the website, blog, the resources like your ebook, they are very comprehensive and incredibly helpful.
TF: Very kind of you to say. Our single driving goal is to help music producers create better sounding mixes. The primary way we fulfill that mission is through our plug-ins. We’ve created tools that guide people through the production process, like they have a world-class engineer looking over their shoulder as they're working on a mix or master.
As a relatively small company we simply can't make tools for every single production scenario, so we fill in the gaps extensively with our blog and social channels. The world of audio engineering is wonderfully complex with many fascinating topics and techniques. We’ll always be focused on providing high-quality educational content freely to our audience.
Adding the suite of products — LEVELS, REFERENCE, BASSROOM, MIXROOM, ANIMATE, EXPOSE 2 — to one's mastering chain and process is — at its most simple application — a whole new world of metering, but it's really so much more than that.
TF: Absolutely. As our suite of plug-ins has grown, so has the impact we can have on the quality and sound of production.
Discussing this in depth is not really within the scope of this interview, however, some readers might like to read our comprehensive guide on how to master a song using our plug-ins.
In a nutshell, Mastering The Mix has a very unique way of analyzing audio. We are able to truly capture the tonal balance of a song in ways no other company has been able to do. We utilize this information to help present the best EQ curves to apply to your music to get it sounding more like a professionally mixed and mastered release. This is the magic sauce in our plugins BASSROOM and MIXROOM.
Let's talk a little about RESO. I love this plugin for taming resonances. I find it more transparent than anything similar on the market. Can you tell readers how that came about?
TF: I can always tell when I'm talking to someone with great ears when they say our plug-ins sound more transparent. It’s true! We've done extensive research and development to ensure that we are providing the cleanest and most transparent filters available.
As an audio engineer myself, I always found the process for removing resonances from audio time consuming and cumbersome. A lot of our plug-ins come from me trying to 'scratch my own itch' in the studio. As a mastering engineer first and foremost, I needed something that I could trust on my master channel to sound clean and transparent whilst effectively removing nasty resonances.
Anthony Nash, my business partner and head of DSP at Mastering The Mix is leading the way in transparent filtering. This aspect of our plugins makes them very attractive to engineers in world class facilities, as they can really hear the difference.
So, RESO was born as a tool to quickly identify and resolve resonant frequencies using super-transparent filters to dynamically remove unwanted resonances. If you’re working in an environment where time is money, RESO is a very worthwhile investment.
I definitely appreciate a quality production and plugin. Let's focus in on the production process. I'm actually using these plugins during the producing and mixing stages. I'm grateful for the ability to visualize how a mix is coming along in reference to mastered reference songs. I find it helps fix things in the mix — like, "what is the software telling me?" so to speak. Is this an application for the MTM suite you generally recommend?
TF: Definitely. Especially when producers are starting out, mixing can be a painfully long process full of bad decisions. Referencing great sounding songs at all stages of the production process can immediately alleviate this problem. It sets you on the straight and narrow and gives you a much better chance for success.
I’ll just reiterate that referencing is not just for mixing and mastering, it’s also super helpful earlier in the production stage when you’re choosing sounds and samples, and even working on the arrangement and structure.
Our plugin REFERENCE has a plethora of useful features, but for most it solves two key problems:
1. Automatically level matching your production to your reference track. This is key for making better mix decisions, as louder music can sound bassier and brighter making the comparison impossible. And mastered music is always louder than a mix in progress, so this is an essential step that can’t be done effectively manually.
2. Showing you the exact changes that need to be made to your mix to get it sounding like your reference. REFERENCE shows you the exact EQ curve to add to your production to get it sounding like your reference track. This can help in so many ways including arrangement choices, balancing the channels, and, of course, EQing your channels. We also show the stereo width and compression differences. Our REFERENCE walkthrough video goes into more depth on this.
As more engineers and producers work from home, so to speak, you're seeing around the corner with Mastering The Mix. But, I get the impression engineers are a little divided on whether or not to adopt these types of technologies. Yet, further down the road, this type of toolkit will be the standard. Would you say that’s accurate?
TF: If we use automated mastering as a bench mark, we’re still many years away from computers being able to mix and master our music.
My personal belief and philosophy is that we can and should continue to make the tools as powerful as they can possibly be, but I believe a human will always need to be at helm to drive the decision making.
Mastering The Mix tools help an artist, producer, or engineer make the best possible decisions for their music, but still require the user to be hands on and work with the plugins to get the results.
Yes. This is an important distinction. Because readers are at so many different experience levels, what do you say to beginners and how they should consider implementing Mastering The Mix?
TF: Our tools are designed to give quick results, so firstly I would suggest that people download the free trials of Mastering The Mix plugins here, and take them for a spin.
Our short walkthrough videos will give them all the information they need to get the maximum value from our plugins. After years of positive customer feedback, I can guarantee that their mixes will be significantly better after watching these tutorials to uncover the full power of our plugins.
For more of a "quickstart" we have a free eBook on ‘Preparing For Mastering’ that shows how to use our plugins in the context of finalizing a mix.
What about more advanced engineers? How can they maximize the potential of these plugins?
TF: For advanced engineers, REFERENCE, EXPOSE 2, BASSROOM, and RESO are a must.
REFERENCE will help them fine-tune the intricate details of their tonal balance, stereo field and compression across the frequency spectrum to ensure it’s as good as the best mixes out there.
EXPOSE 2 takes quality control to another level, ensuring that everything is good-to-go before releasing their music. This is crucial for engineers working with clients who don’t want to make any embarrassing mistakes.
BASSROOM has the cleanest filters on the market to our knowledge for adjusting low-frequencies. This means less phase distortion and transient smearing, giving you a cleaner sounding low-end that retains its punch and purity after being EQed.
RESO cleans up a mix beautifully and leaves you with a polished sound. When you bypass the plugin to hear the difference it can be quite alarming to hear how resonances were ruining the sound.
You also personally provide mastering services, correct?
TF: Correct. Our first plugin "LEVELS" came about as my mastering clients all had very similar issues with their mixes. So I set out to create a tool that helped warn them when mix issues occurred. It was a success and we just kept fixing other studio related problems with different plugins.
I can honestly say that the power of Mastering The Mix plugins is behind the success of my mastering career, in the sense that they have genuinely enabled me to provide people with great sounding masters. Truth be told, when I first started my online mastering services around in 2012, I couldn’t even give the service away for free! I’ve now got over 600 5 star reviews on Soundbetter and an ever growing network of very happy customers.