Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Mastering audio is remarkably satisfying :D

For the 2021 Cinnabar Winter Anthology, I had the great enjoyment of doing a touch of mastering on the finished chapter tracks from each narrator, and it was so fun 🙂

When I first started narrating, I thought editing was hell (and there are some cases in which I still feel this – line replacement being chief among them!), and dreaded and resented it.  Then something amazing happened – I edited my first fully soundscaped story and omg, my soul caught fire with the process!

I would never want to alter the editing choices of another narrator’s work – editing is a very personal process for those of us who do our own (many publishers take that out of the narrators hands – it’s really variable around the industry, depending on who you work with etc and etc and more etc!), but I’ve done so much specialized sound stuff, that I have really nice post-production software that I could offer to the project.

I’ve used this software so extensively on my own voice and a couple of people I work on other projects with, but never other narrators’ entire stories.  It was delightful to listen in a whole new way to what software can do to offer a transparent frame to a voice and help highlight it that much better!

Over the years, everyone acquires their own set of audio tools, and while I occasionally grump that it would be really NICE if I could have all of these tools in one platform and thus not have to export a .flac of a story just to do adjustments in a different program…the truth is, each program has its strengths both in the effects it can create in the audio, as well as how the program visually executes the sound wave and allows you to manipulate it.   For example, Studio One is excellent for recording & principle editing, and I love it for the ease of cut/paste silence when there was a cat bouncing off the studio roof; iZotope RX8 can’t be beat for the high polish post production sound in a dozen plus tools; but if I need to really manipulate the sound at a visual level to, lets say, remove a ‘click’ in the middle of a word, I take the file into  Audacity where I can really analyze the wave form in all its jigs and jags with a specificity that S1 and RX8 simply don’t have for some reason.  I also use Audacity for all my multi-track production, which can get pretty crazy when I’m working with dozens of tracks, a more purpose-built program would be waaay more power than I need.  The learning curve isn’t worth it for me at this point.

watch the narrator origami several hundred files into one scene
mixing down over and over until the final is a matrioshka doll of elements
mixed from a dozen previous elements, mixed from a dozen previous previous elements
…Audacity was just not made for this!
(it’s probably not good for her, but she loves it just the same)

It always amazes me, both in audio editing and in photo editing, how two tools that are made to do the same thing, set up with all the same settings….will give you two different outcomes.  It’s all math, and every algorithm is different!  For example, I have an iZotope compressor (and more) called Neutron3 – and it can do amazing things to make a voice sound Even More Itself.  I never use it on my principle narration because I happen to really love my microphone sound without treatment, but when I want a bit of narration to say: Here, Listener, Here Is A Narrator!  That’s where Neutron can do magic stuff!

But Neutron isn’t the mastering compressor I hoped it would be.  What I’m using right now is a plugin called Kotelnikov, and it’s fantastic.  Transparent treatment of the audio, but it gives me a TON of control over compression without crushing the life out of the headroom.  I can create all the same settings on both compressors….but they just don’t work the same way 🙂

So what did I get up to with production on the Winter Anthology 2021?  Noise removal for background and/or equipment environmental noise and mouth de-click mostly 🙂  As minimal compression as I could get away with, so that the industry standard required ‘loudness’ settings wouldn’t create harsh volume increases/reductions – and then the ‘loudness’ algorithm as the final step.  

It’s funny how trying to do as little as possible, and do it as transparently as possible, can take all kinds of time!  I thoroughly enjoyed using my familiar tools on unfamiliar soundspaces and voices, and it felt like the time passed in no time at all 😀