Being in Sync with Bernie Grundman

I just returned from a surprising and awesome morning when mastering my new CD “Applauding The Sunset” at BERNIE GRUNDMAN MASTERING.

My engineer was the man himself, Bernie Grundman, a living legend of high fidelity audio experience-making.

A few notes that made the session so unusual was that Bernie, whose job it is to make sure that every product will sound the best possible in any environment, asked me what speakers I was using in my own studio to monitor the sound.

I answered that I only use my new Dynaudio BM 15’s, which prompted him saying :

“Whatever you do – I agree
Bernie Grundman

For me that was an enormous compliment because I had decided to do the mixing myself on this project – and hearing that the sonic outcome impressed even Bernie was a very nice confirmation and a wonderful payoff to all the intense learning I experienced by watching my favorite engineers, Joe Vannelli, Ed Cherney and Tommy Vicari work on projects I had brought in over the last decade or so.

(This includes records by Brenda Russell, Melissa Manchester, Jason Gould and many many others)

Here’s Bernie sharing a few lessons in audiophile magic (pic below):

 

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When we launched into the session and he first heard the album he remarked: ” You know, I don’t always get music in here that sounds this good – this would be a great album for the audiophile market!”

This is an exceptional sounding album!
Bernie Grundman about “Applauding The Sunset”

The chart below demonstrates something very important: Note that Bernie did not feel the need to change much of the original sound (EQ) I had chosen for the project – it went onto the Master pretty much unchanged, except that Bernie added his level magic in making it consistent, strong and delicate at the same time and most importantly: musical!

The center note says: FLAT – meaning no additional EQ-ing necessary by the only guy in the business I would trust my Labor of Love with.

 

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Something else happened in that session: Bernie commented positively on the spatial depth of the mix – he said “you not only have a very wide image from left to right but you also have things playing on the back side of the stage”

In order for me to explain why I was so happy to hear that I must rewind in time until mid-1993

I received quite a different statement I received when I mastered my first project for christian artist Jeanne Cotter.It was a record that contained a lot of sampled instruments. My mastering engineer, a very knowledgeable gent named Chris Bellman (still working at BGM since the eighties!) told me that the mix sounded good but “two-dimensional”

At first I was a little dumbfounded but later on I stumbled across the reason for the lack of dimension – and why Chris’ remark was so helpful:

Say you have a mix at hand in which a lot of instruments are mic-ed close-up (like many sampled instruments are)

Think about how far the microphone was from any given instrument when they sampled it (so you can play them from your keyboard)!
Most of the instruments were recorded close-up, meaning the microphone was between 1/2 and 3 feet away from the instrument.

If you now spread a lot of instruments (recorded close-up) around the mix from left to right, you will not be able to ever reach the sound of a realistic sound stage! It will appear like a flat “wall of sound” without any depth.

Any instrument standing to the far left or right should not be as defined and bright as the ones close to you – its not natural for the ear/brain to listen like that.

The first chair violin player will be always brighter and more defined as the second chair and even more so compared to the third chair.

What about a choir? The first row of singers are standing closest to you thus they will have more presence and definition.
(When you simulate a choir sound stage in the studio, record doubles standing further and further away from the mic, even if you think the sound is getting too muffled!)

The same applies to, say a nice big Samba Band (Bateria)
There will be low drums that just produce a fundamental rumble –  others will be clearly defined as you can hear the batter hit the skin crisp and clear with lots of high end transients!  Why? Because some of the drums are facing you directly, others aren’t.

With today’s Convolution reverbs (Altiverb, etc) you can take a track and process a room “onto it”.

My suggestion: if you have a percussion track and want to push it back, don’t just use reverb to do that.
Most reverbs have a monaural input and will draw your instrument’s sound stage effect to the center.

Here’s how I do it – give this a try:

Make a duplicate of the track you want to treat this way, and process the doubled one with Altiverb (or whatever high quality Convolution Reverb you have).  When you do that, don’t allow any direct sound in such a processed track.

Bring the processed track down to zero and play your mix.
Now slowly raise the “convolution” track up.

See at which point you get the feeling that the room is beginning to “speak” – you may have to lower the original track in order to hear a dramatic effect.

If you add a room “slap back” from, say, an imaginary back wall, pan it so it comes from the part of the stage where the instrument which you are trying to place on the sound stage, lives.

If there is a bongo on the far left back of the stage, I want to hear little or no processed signal come back from the right side.

Whatever means you use, try to create space in your track. My efforts have obviously paid off, hence Bernie’s comment – which  made me very happy, believe me. Especially when someone with super-critical ears like BG makes that statement, I feel encouraged to improve even more.

Only the very best engineers I know are capable of creating not only a balanced mix, but also a believable room around the instruments
Bernie Grundman

Listen to the track he made that statement about, it contains a huge amount of percussion instruments to emulate brazilian rhythm called the MARACATU which is often played by up to 100 musicians.

These instruments were played exclusively by me and placed around the sound stage some recorded slightly distant, but mostly I used convolution techniques to “push them back”


Here’s 3 happy guys after a particularly inspiring Mastering Session at Grundman on Dec 22nd, 2015 – from L to R;
my musical brother Patrick Putman, yours truly and the one and only Bernie Grundman!

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Stay tuned for this record – it may be possible that I will consider releasing it on Vinyl as well – checking my bank accounts now 😉
Btw: The studio where these results were achieved and all the music recorded and “wrestled to the ground” is available. Use contact page for inquiries!

STEPHAN OBERHOFF