How Do I Make A Good Pre-Master?

1: Don’t record too loud. There is a popular myth that says you are only getting the most from your digital recorder if “all the lights are on” – ie. the signal is clipping or peaking at 0 dB. Please allow at least 3 or 4 dBs headroom when recording – any higher and you risk digital distortion, which can cause major problems at mastering.

Some systems use less than perfect metering, so we recommend you avoid allowing your recording to peak at zero, just in case there are over-levels which the meters aren’t showing.

Engineers & producers – even if your customers are demanding a really “hot” reference copy, please make a clean copy for us to master from and then lift the level for the listening reference copies.

2: Please supply your pre-master files in their original (native) sample/bit rate and file format without using any dither processing. We can accept all audio files formats up to 192 kHz 32 bit. If your pre-masters have been created in split-stereo file format, we prefer to master from these rather than you converting to interleaved files.

3: Avoid unnecessary processing. Every time a change is made to an audio file it can incur a small number of digital errors, and these may affect the sound, especially if multiple changes are made.

So for example if you adjust the volume and then change your mind, don’t process it again to reverse the change – go back to the original. Think carefully about whether you need to make a change at all – it’s even a good idea to avoid digital copying except where absolutely necessary.

4: Avoid analogue copying. If your sources are digital, and you make flat copies digitally, you can maintain their quality. But every time you make an analogue copy, a small amount of quality will be lost. Also watch out for computer soundcards. Even those with digital inputs may apply sample-rate conversion to your music (for example the Soundblaster Live series) which has the potential to degrade the sound, especially if it’s done several times.

5: Be organised, but don’t worry about the order. We can put your tracks in the right order at the session, but it’s a good idea to make clear notes for our engineers especially when sending multiple versions of tracks etc. This will save time in the session.

6: Avoid “over-cooking”. Decent audio equipment is much more easily available than it was, and there is a temptation to try out all the options. In particular, there are many tools offering “mastering” functions, like compression and normalising. We recommend you leave this until the mastering session.

It is possible to achieve excellent results with these tools, but it is also very easy to ruin a good mix if not used with great care and experience. By all means send us an example to listen to, but wherever possible we prefer to work from “clean” sources.

7: Always keep a backup copy of your pre-masters, and bring it to the session if you’re attending. When digital sources fail, they often can’t be repaired, so always keep a second (digital, flat) copy of everything, just in case.

8: Leave “topping and tailing” to the mastering session. We will be loading your tracks to a digital editor, so we can perfect any fades and/or crossfades for you then. Sometimes mastering can bring up subtle details of the mix which weren’t audible before, and it’s a shame to have them chopped off too abrubtly. You can always experiment beforehand and bring in a copy for us to refer to.

9: Always listen to your pre-master files before sending. Just because a computer says a file has been created correctly, doesn’t guarantee it will sound perfect. Many sources arrive with us for mastering full of clicks and dropouts which our clients didn’t know were there. It’s always worth taking the time to listen carefully to your pre-master all the way through prior to sending for mastering.

What Is PQ Encoding?

All CDs have points which the player can use to locate tracks and display timing information. This lets the user play a particular track, or program the machine to play tracks in a certain order.

PQ flags marking each track are encoded onto the master at the end of the mastering stage. Our mastering software has sophisticated PQ editing tools that allow us to manipulate the track marker positions exactly as you want them within the Red Book standard.

On any CD there can be a maximum of 99 tracks, and the PQ code must be to Red Book standard (the ‘Red Book’ is the document that provides the specifications for the standard audio compact disc as developed by Sony and Philips).

The gap between the end of one track and the start of the next is called the countdown. This will be silence on many CDs, but may be applause or atmosphere on a live recording – we can adjust the length of the countdown as required.

Likewise, segued (joined) tracks can have the track marker flag placed in exactly the right place. Many albums now have a ‘hidden’ track at the end which usually involves some degree of PQ code manipulation which we can also do.

What Are ISRC Codes And How Do I Get Them?

If your CD is for commercial release then you will probably need ISRC codes. The ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is the international identification system for sound recordings and music video recordings.

They are included in the data-stream with the audio (note they are not audible), and are typically used by radio broadcasters to automatically identify music to help with royalty payments etc. Each ISRC is a unique and permanent identifier for a specific recording which can be permanently encoded into a product as its digital fingerprint.

The code is specific to you as a rights holder and helps to identify your tracks quickly and simply. By adding an ISRC to each recorded music track or music video you register in the PPL Repertoire Database, you are ensuring that you will receive more accurate payments.

ISRC codes must be encoded at the mastering stage. We can do this for you at no additional cost, but if you intend to use them then you must aquire them before the master CD is burnt. Alternatively, we can add ISRC codes at a later date if you obtain them in the future.

An ISRC is made up of 12 characters and split into four sections:

ISRC breakdown

1: The first two characters identify the country where the member is based (eg, ‘GB’ represents ‘Great Britain’).

2: The next three characters identify you as the recording rightholder (please note that this code does not imply permanent ownership of the recording or video – the code will not change if the recording is later licensed to a different owner).

3: The next two characters identify the year in which the specific recording was given an ISRC.

4: The last five characters are the choice of the rightholder when allocating recordings with an ISRC. These characters are always numbers. The easiest way to organise this section of the code is to give the first recording ‘00001’, the second ‘00002’, etc. The sequence can be reset to ‘00001’ when a new year of reference (section three, detailed above) is applicable.

You can request an ISRC here in the UK by registering as a PPL recording rightholder member and raising a query through your myPPL account. If you are not a member and require an ISRC only, you can register online and select the ‘ISRC only’ option.

If you are a non-UK member, your ISRC must be requested from your local music licensing body.

For more information on ISRC Codes and to get a UK application form go to:

www.ppluk.com (then click on ISRC in the main menu)

Or alternatively call: 020-7534 1122