Master File Preparation
Supply original, unprocessed stereo mixes.
Please avoid processing your final output with peak limiting, excessive compression, or level maximization, and if possible leave the fades to us. You can always supply 2 versions, one unprocessed, and one with processing and/or fades for reference purposes if you have specific ideas about the final product.
If producing a compilation, please supply the original master files.
Leave ample headroom with no clipping or digital overs.
Please, no red lights on the master output during export. Try to aim for peaks to end up around -3dBFS.
Please do not supply mp3s or other compressed formats as unmastered sources.
Be as detailed as possible with labeling your files.
Label songs in order of appearance on the album, (i.e. "01_SongTitle.wav," "02_SongTitle.wav," etc.)
Supply a text file or printed list of all album information.
Proper titles, song order, artist and album name, ISRC codes, crossfade requests, equalization and dynamics ideas, etc.
Please supply 24-bit wav or aiff files at the sampling rate you recorded at.
CD-Audio (44.1/16) masters are acceptable, but we would rather have the extra bits to work with if the option is available. Avoid any sampling rate conversions if possible.
Please do not make any changes to your final masters.
Some applications can perform unnecessary gain changes, format conversions, and other atrocious acts when not configured properly. This can seriously screw up the integrity of your master! We understand that sometimes a track needs to be removed or added, the song order needs to be changed, etc., sometimes at the last minute. This is why we have free revisions built into our mastering packages.
Mix Considerations for Vinyl
Avoid excessive high-end (treble) when mixing for vinyl.
Use a de-esser to tame sibilance ("sss" sounds in vocals) and overly-bright cymbals, hi-hats, and shakers. If not properly treated, excessive high-end can end up distorted or hashy-sounding when it reaches the cutting stage; it can even damage the cutter head! These issues can be addressed somewhat in mastering, but it's always best to treat individual instruments at the mixing stage rather than treating the whole mix in the mastering phase.
Watch excessive, stereo, or phase-incoherent low-end (bass).
Excessive bass can shorten the length of time you can fit on a side, and phase-incoherent low-end can actually cause skips when not properly treated. Be cautious when hard-panning heavy low-end elements such as bass and kick drums, and be careful with those stereo phasing bass-synth patches. As with high-end issues, low-end issues can be treated in the mastering phase, but it's better addressed at the mix level.
Be aware of the time constraints of vinyl.
Vinyl records can only hold a certain amount of audio, and the length of each side (and bassiness of the music) determines how loud the program can be on that side. For a typical 12″ 33rpm rock record, we will have to start dropping level if the side is over about 18 minutes. For a 7″ 45rpm record this will happen after about 4 minutes. If you are planning an album side over 25 minutes or a 7″ over 6 minutes, please contact us first.
What is lacquer-mastering?
Simply put, lacquer mastering involves converting your music from an electrical signal into mechanical energy, which is then physically cut into corresponding grooves on a lacquer-coated aluminum master disc via a mastering lathe. The resulting disc undergoes further processes in order to create a negative-image stamper. This stamper is then used to press heated vinyl pucks into records at a pressing plant. In other words, you cannot press a record without cutting a lacquer master.
Why is quality lacquer-mastering important?
Since vinyl records are a physical analog medium, there is only a finite amount of space that exists on the surface of a record. In most cases, compromises need to be made sonically to fit your music onto the record, especially at longer lengths. This often requires additional equalization, level manipulation, a keen ear, and a deft hand.
Why should I hire Cauliflower Audio to cut my lacquers?
Since partnering with Well Made Music in 2012, we've cut over 600 vinyl sides! So if you’ve already worked with Cauliflower Audio at the mastering stage of your vinyl project, it’s a simple choice: we’re already intimately involved with your project and will be aware of problem areas that may make cutting difficult. And regardless of whether or not we’ve mastered your record, your cutting project will receive the same amount of care and attention that every project gets at Cauliflower Audio.
What's the difference between a lacquer master and a reference lacquer?
A lacquer master is never played-- it is a production part and is what your stampers are made from. A reference lacquer is cut very similarly to a lacquer master, but you can actually play the reference on your own turntable to preview how your record will sound and track. They are only good for a handful of plays, but are a great way to catch potential issues prior to plating and test pressing. Once your reference lacquer is approved, we cut the lacquer master with the same settings.
Why should I order a reference lacquer?
Because lacquer mastering is both a mechanical and human endeavor. Sometimes there is no way to know how a record is going to track until it is cut. And since you cannot play a lacquer master, you will have to wait until the test pressing phase to preview your record, which will be several weeks and several hundred dollars down the road. Yes, reference lacquers are an optional added expense, but they can save you a lot of cash and heartache in the long run.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Will you give me a free mastering sample?
We've suspended the "free mastering sample" offer for the time being due to a hefty workload.
Will it cost more to master a record for vinyl than it will for digital download?
No, our prices are fixed, regardless of your destination format. That said, if you are releasing your record in more than one format, there are additional fees for preparing each different master. See our rates page for more information.
Can I sit in on a mastering session?
Typically we do not book client-attended mastering sessions, but we're happy to if you'd prefer! And we are always more than happy to schedule a meeting or listening session to discuss your project.
What is the turn-around time for my project?
Mastering projects can usually be delivered in two weeks, depending on our workload. We may be able to fit your project in as a rush for an additional fee, but it's best to contact us a few weeks out from your deadline.
When is payment due?
Payment is due in full upon delivery of the first set of masters. Additional fees (if applicable) are due upon delivery of each subsequent set of masters.
What forms of payment do you accept?
Cash, Check, or PayPal (sent to adam at caulifloweraudio dot com).
What is tape bouncing?
Recording your digital project to tape prior to mastering can sometimes add a nice warmth, beef up drum transients, and give depth to an otherwise sterile recording… but it's definitely not suitable for everything. Some projects really come to life after being bounced to tape, and some projects just sound the same but with hiss and a muddier low end. So, before committing to bouncing your entire project to tape, we've now added a single-song tape bounce to the rate card. Like the sample and we'll bounce your entire project to tape for $75 - $175. Don't care for the sound? Pay $35 and move on. We can also make analog safety copies of your 1/4" stereo master tapes.
What is your revision policy?
"Complete" mastering packages are eligible for two rounds of revisions, on the house. "Budget" packages are eligible for one round of revisions free of charge. New, revised mixes received after masters are delivered are subject to a $75/hour recall and quality check fee, so please make sure you are happy with your mixes before sending them over. Often the new mixes are different enough from the originals that a simple 1:1 recall isn't possible.
I lost my master. Can I order another? Or, it's been a few months since we finished up and I'd like to make some changes...
We guarantee that your project will be on file for up to one month after your final approval. If you are concerned about archiving your work, we strongly suggest that you order extra production masters or, better yet, your own back-up of all session files on archival quality DVD-R. It is relatively inexpensive and just may save us all a lot of heartache in the long run.
I want my song titles to show up in iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc., when I pop my CD into my computer. Do you do that?
Short answer: no. Long answer: we will encode your master with CD-TEXT upon request, which is not the same technology, but we do not by default since the use of CD-TEXT has never been standardized and we will not guarantee its proper implementation. CD-TEXT is what is used by certain car stereos and stand-alone players to display artist/song title information. iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc., reference online databases to display album information. It is a relatively simple process to submit the information to these databases, but we strongly suggest the client performs this function on their end to avoid any potential data-entry errors. For more information: CDDB/CD-TEXT INFO
What side do you fall on in the whole "Loudness War" debate?
Our credo is to serve our clients' needs, not our own. Certain recordings lend themselves better to crunchiness and limited dynamic range; others, not so much. We personally think most music sounds better without being severely limited… it just hits harder and has more depth, especially when you turn it up louder. There's usually an acceptable balance we can strike by sounding modern without sounding destroyed. At the end of the day, we will do our damnedest to give you a product that you are 100% satisfied with.