This interview has been paraphrased for consistency and clarity.
Joey: Thanks, Jeffrey, for joining me! Let’s start by talking about producing environments. A lot of clients ask me what type of speakers and equipment they should get. I always say it starts with your room. You can buy the most expensive speakers on the planet, but if your room sucks, it’s not going to work.
Jeffrey: Very true. First, it’s always a matter of taste when it comes to the speakers itself. What’s even more important is the room. If you have terrific speakers, but your room has a lot of reflections, dips, and peaks, you’ll still get a shitty sound.
All rooms have spots where sound is reflected. You can visualize waveforms bouncing back and overlapping, which either causes dips or peaks in your sound. You may think that your bass or high frequencies are boosted when they aren’t. This becomes problematic when you’re mixing or mastering.
Joey: How can we fix the acoustics?
Jeffrey: By using a lot of bass traps. A lot of people tend to go online and buy those cheap foam panels. What’s funny about those bass traps is that they don’t work since they trap below 200 hertz. Get some proper acoustical treatment like Rockwool panels. GIK acoustics also has some affordable acoustic panels. They also have excellent customer service, which can help you find the right panels for your room.
There’s also a scientific theory where there are certain volume levels that boost more high or low frequencies. The best volume is roughly around 80 dB SPL. My room is calibrated to approximately 80 dB, which means I always master at that monitor level. You can also download an app on your phone and use the SPL meter. You can then have a fixed point on your master volume knob, which you can use as a reference.
Joey: Are bigger speakers always better?
Jeffrey: Not necessarily, with larger speakers, they actually move slower, which could be less precise. However, you can definitely hear a broader range of lower and higher frequencies. I think regular near field monitors that are six to eight inches are good enough.
Joey: What’s your opinion on the SubPac?
Jeffrey: Yeah, I still haven’t used it. I think it’s cool because you can feel those low frequencies. My gut says that it might feel unnatural at lower levels. I think it might be even better than subwoofer though since those can be more problematic without room treatment.
What a lot of people do when they buy a subwoofer is crank it up all the way to hear the bass. When you hear the subwoofer, you’ve done it wrong. You should not hear the subwoofer; you feel it, but don’t pay attention to it.
Joey: Are there any trends you see in the mastering world?
Jeffrey: Yes, a couple. One of the biggest misconceptions right now is people think stem mastering is better. If your mix is bad, stem mastering will not make the result better. The only reason why stem mastering is cool is that engineers can charge more.
I’m also noticing that the industry is more conscious of the loudness war. People are finally realizing that maximizing loudness doesn’t always make sense. In specific scenarios, like an EDM track, you still want a crushed and compressed sound – you want that energy. But for other genres, it isn’t necessary, especially nowadays with streaming services.
I see more people transitioning back to vinyl, especially with techno and some club tracks. However, they forget to ask the mastering engineer for a specific vinyl master. If you have a digital release, you will use limiting and compression methods, which won’t work for vinyl.
Joey: Are there any mastering plugins that you would recommend?
Jeffrey: Yeah, during Amsterdam dance event, I was invited by Isotope to talk about Ozone 9. There’s a function called master rebalance. Using artificial intelligence, you can simply turn the level of some aspects like vocals and drums up and down.
I still use the Fabfilter plugins all the time. The new Pro-q has a dynamic EQ function, which means it’s just boosting or cutting a frequency just when that frequency is speaking. It’s brilliant.
Joey: I was talking to a client yesterday, and he had a specific question: Is it a bad thing to put a limiter on a kick?
Jeffrey: In music, there are no laws, so no. To be honest, I don’t think it will add something to the sound. The point of a limiter is to reduce peaks, but for a kick drum, you want to have that peak, so it could even make it worse.
What I always say is that you should know the rules, to understand how to break the rules. If you want to send your work to a mastering engineer, you should not have a limiter since that limits the dynamic range an engineer can work with.
Joey: If you do want more of a bass presence, what’s the best way to do that?
Jeffrey: Add distortion to boost the harmonics. It’s perfect for songs on phone speakers since they can’t go that low. Because you’re adding those harmonics, you’re basically tricking the mind into listening to those low frequencies.
Joey: Thanks for your time!