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RSR036 – John Mayfield – Mayfield Mastering

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR036 - John Mayfield - Mayfield Mastering

My guest today is mastering engineer, John Mayfield. Originally a career musician, John turned to recording and mixing in the 80s traveling to studios all over the world.

A decade later he moved to Nashville TN and started his mastering career with his first Sonic Solutions system. Two decades of mastering have allowed John to work with some very talented artists and clients including the Dave Matthews Band, Sara Evans, Kathy Mattea, Naturally 7, Warner Brothers Records and Universal Music Group-UK, to list a few.

John's Studio: Mayfield Mastering 

How Do You Prep a Mix for Mastering?

ONE: Referencing. I'm constantly referencing the competition. Turn the radio on, buy cds, listen to what is successful and selling. As long as you keep referencing your sounds are going to be similar, of the same quality, you're arrangements should be the same. You should model your sounds off of what is actually selling, because that's after all what you’re trying to do.

TWO: The use to high pass filters in digital recording is very important. There's a lot of information that is recorded per mic that is just not needed. A good rule of thumb for determining where to put your high pass filter is to look at the chart look at the piece of music and the lowest note that is played by the instrument go an octave below that and put a high pass filter in at 24DB per octave. And you're pretty much guaranteed not to affect the sound at all, but you’re getting rid of all that low frequency modulation that you may not even be able to hear.

THREE: Use the entire space between your left and right speaker. Don’t be afraid to pan something hard left. What you’re trying to do is carve out a little nest for the most important things that exists in the center image (in contemporary music) that's your kick, bass, snare, lead vocal. The goal is to get that mono instrument away from the lead vocal if you can figure out a way to make it stereo. Making a second track is a wonderful way to do it, or using Ozone 7Advance.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different things”

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FOUR: Converting your signal to digital, your A to D converter. There are a lot of not great converter outs there, a stock converter is not going to be state of the art. State of the art costs money. If you have the opportunity to talk to your production people and lobby for any budget for renting a great A to D converter (with a great clock) for lead vocal or any part that is highlighted. It’s really money well spent. Once you record it, you can’t unscrew it up.

FIVE: Proper mic choice and mic placement. One of the best rules is don’t go to your EQ first, go to the mic placement first. Try to get the source recorded correctly then try to fix it with a bandaid. Knowing your mics and knowing how to use your mics is incredibly important. And don’t be afraid to use a mic in omni!! Using an omni is going to pick up reflections all around the room. Those reflections are basically what you’re hearing when you go out and listen. If you can capture it in a way that sounds closer to the real thing, then you’re doing your job.

SIX: File Naming Conventions. The outside person like myself needs to look at that file and needs to know exactly what it is. At the very least I need the name of the song, and then comes the mix version: master, vocal up, vocal down, which vocal up or down, tv track, stereo instrumental.. All of the information I need to be able to make decisions without picking up the phone. Dates work also. The most recent mix is typically the ones that the client has signed off on, but not in all cases. So if there's any kind of question what master was approved by the client, dates can help. It’s also very nice if you provide a common starting point.

John MayfieldWhy You Shouldn't Master Your Own Work

You’re too vested in the project. You have too much baggage. You cannot be objective, you’re going to be subjective and your decisions about what the track should sound like have already been made because you’ve spent weeks on it. It’s very difficult to come at it with a fresh mind

Jam Session 

Q - What was holding you back at the start?
A - Education. You had to get it. You just can’t walk up to gear and expect to know how to use it, so I went to school. I knew that playing live was a young man's game, but I knew it wasn’t going to last me, so I had to get some knowledge.

“Good audio doesn’t have to cost a lot of money”

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Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?

A- Getting the sound right at the source was probably one of the best things I ever picked up because that is where you get your best sound. Don’t go to your EQ to make it sound right. Move the mic, move the person, change the mic do something at the source to make it sound right. By moving the mic you change the proximity effect (the closer you get to the mic, you get more presence, low end, and pops)

“There’s no musicality added to music when it’s really loud” 

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Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.

A - One of the huge tricks is I use is the simple and old technology of parallel compression. What you’re doing is combining two signals from the original source: the really compressed version and the original source. You're combining those together that you have brought the overall level up a bit, but by bringing in the original you’re bringing back in some of the original transients. The very ability of the sound that you can create is exponential because at the compressor you'll work with your attack times and releases, etc. to determine the type of compression that you’re going to marry up with the original.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
My best and most important tool is my room and the speakers that are in the room, that’s everything to me. You can give me other software or plugins, but I can’t make those decisions accurately without the room and the speakers that I know.

"A lot of your job is just knowing how to work with people and knowing how to make people feel good around you.”

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Q - Have you been in experiences where you’ve gotten to know other rooms that were less than perfect?

A - Back when I was recording and mixing as freelance, because of the variance of rooms you’re going to walk into, you need to create some common things that you can depend on. Thus, I carried my own set of speakers, my own amps and set them up before work. But the first thing I did before I walked into any room that I had not worked prior to was sat down and listened for a good 30 min; you have to know the room. I’m using my own speakers and amps and cables, but they’re going to sound different in every single room so I had to sit down and listen to a number of different of references. That taught me how those speakers were reacting in that given room.

“You can get used to any speaker”

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Q - What are the simplest ways to improve the sounds of the space in a home studio?

A - The smaller the room the worse it gets. Anything to break up any standing wave issue. You’ve got to find a way to stop the reflections from bouncing back and forth. A couch will address low frequencies very well, some people put big thick triangle shaped absorbing panels in the corner. First you have to stop the standing waves. Any parallel wall or floor to ceiling arrangement, if they are 100% parallel you’re going to get standing waves. The simplest solution is to put up soft panels, fabric covered 703

Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A - Referencing. You’re creating a commodity. Look at it like a business. If you wanted to go into the business of manufacturing a mechanical pencil. What's the smartest thing to do? Go out and buy every mechanical pencil that would be your competitor. You bring them back, tear them apart, and make sure you’re product is as good or better than anything that’s out there. This is basic economics. That’s all you need to do in this business, your products have got to sell. One of the best tools out there to learn about what sounds good is the commercial music that is out there and is successful. Buy it, listen to it, sit down and study it. You need to teach yourself the ability to create a mental solo button in essence. You need to be able to listen to a piece of music and automatically switch your mind to one instrument in that mix and not listen to anything else and as quick as you did that you need to be able to pop back to that entire song. Just like you would like a solo button on your console. It's one of those tools that you really need to teach yourself. Honestly you've got the best education available and it's free!

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Big Thanks to Alex Skelton & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!