|XARC Mastering is the world’s first 100% online studio for sound mastering. GOM caught up with owner Lorenz Vauck to discuss the benefits of working online and what sound mastering can do for musicians both professional and amateur.
GOM: Suppose I’m a musician and I’ve just finished a song. You say you can make it sound better by mastering it. How does the whole process work?
Vauck: Assuming you send me a couple of songs, each one probably sounds differently volume-wise, frequency-wise and in terms of stereo image. I first sit down and listen to each track to pick out the best mix. Then I take this mix and analyze its flaws – for instance if the stereo image is used in full. If I am happy with this song then I would want to get the others sounding similar, so they have the same stereo width and match in terms of volume and sound. I always try to get the EQ right for each track before I start any compression or other processing – EQ is THE Key
GOM: It is well known that artists have their music mastered if they plan to sell recordings, but is there a reason an artist would want to have a song mastered if he/she is not putting out a CD?
Vauck: Yes, of course. Don’t you always want to sound good? On my site there are some examples of non-commercial mastering. A big part of my clientele is independent people whose music will probably never see a CD store. They still come and want to have it mastered for their listening pleasure. I mean, if you think about how long you can work on a song, it would be wrong to miss out on the last important part and leave your work “unfinished”. You should also not forget how important the sound quality is for your listeners. You can’t deny that you’ve browsed through music sites and listened to music, only to say “man what a nice song, but it just sounds wrong” The whole thing is like a cake – sure it tastes good on its own, but with a little cream it tastes even better.
GOM: Describe your background as a sound engineer
Vauck: Basically I’ve done work and research in audio since I was 13. I always tried to get under the hood and downsample resolution – freaky you know. I don’t just use something because it sounds good; I actually want to know WHY it does. Why does this sound right? How have others done this?
GOM: Did you go to school for sound engineering?
Vauck: No. I never put much thought into that option. For every situation in my life I go my own way – experimenting and using trial and error. I think I’ve learned a lot more this way.
GOM: Really? Why do you think that is?
Vauck: I think Audio Schools, like any other form of education can be valuable resources for people wanting to learn how the processes work, but it just wasn’t for me, probably because I started so young, and had the time to develop, make mistakes and learn from them years before I came any where near a commercial project! Also schools can’t teach you talent – although I don’t deny that they can often help you develop it and turn your hobby or however you think of this into a passion. Passion for this is exactly what you need. My “job” never ends: I do live this whenever I can, and if I’m not mastering something I’m researching or reading or writing something about mastering.
GOM: What kind of projects have you worked on prior to opening XARC?
Vauck: I worked for a German TV Station editing, mixing and mastering audio for their daily needs. In 2001 I worked for 6 months with Artificial Illusions Film on their upcoming movie “Malen mit Licht” (“Painting with light”). I performed all of the audio editing, including mixing & mastering of the soundtrack as well as creating the sound effects and mixing and mastering the complete movie in Dolby Surround. The movie was nominated for and won the “SLM-Televisionprice 2002” in the category “Special price production engineering – camera, audio, cut”. I also was doing mastering for years for my friends and for my experience. I also did work for local bands until I thought it was time to let a wider range of people use my services.
GOM: You have one of the first (if not only) completely online mastering studios. What advantages do you gain by running your studio online?
Vauck: Firstly the worldwide clientele of course. Currently Xarc has 210 clients from over 25 countries, including exotic locations like Hawaii and Kuwait. Another thing is I can keep the costs low for promotion because the internet is good for promotion when compared to a magazine ad that costs a lot and over covers one country or area. Working on the internet is also a lot faster than mailing CD’s out to clients. Of course I do this if it is needed – 10 of the 200 clients I have work only through mail. They get a pre-mastered CD from me like they would with any other mastering house. Payment online can be done easily with PayPal and doesn’t cost a fortune – unlike banks. The payment is instantaneous and ideally it can work like this: client contacts me, gets login details, uploads the song and an hour later I’m mastering it. He pays and has everything back 2 hours later.
GOM: What are some of the problems and challenges you’ve encountered by working online and internationally?
Vauck: One annoying thing is the paperwork here in Germany for receiving foreign payments. It’s crazy – but that’s Germany. The answer would be to relocate to a relaxed island with less bureaucracy! Seriously, the good thing about this job is that it really doesn’t matter where I’m located for this type of work. Obviously you are going to need a reliable Another problem is that the server always needs to run well. Outages instantly lead to problems – I can’t really work and clients get frustrated because they can’t access my site. I have to keep this to a minimum time if it ever happens. So far I’ve had no other problems with being completely online. I am one of those guys who does everything online.
GOM: Over the past few years there have been a lot of software products coming out allowing desktop mastering. Do you feel these software products can produce the same quality as traditional hardware?
Vauck: To a high degree it is really the person who is doing the mastering, not the software/hardware one uses. I’ve had clients coming to me from big mastering studios with “millions of dollars” in equipment, yes their work sounded worse. It really is the person, but of course the person needs good tools to get what he was in mind done. The biggest problem about doing your own mastering is that you are too used to your own music – you can’t judge it accurately any more. Also I think very few people know how their sound replication systems reproduce to real-world situations. Mastering is a really complex art and the experience is what counts most.
GOM: Do you find software in general measures up to traditional hardware?
Vauck: It depends on what you need. For me there is no “in general”. A pretty important rule for me is that if it sounds good to me then it IS good for me.
GOM: What does the near future hold for XARC Mastering?
Vauck: For 2005 latest we plan to offer mastering for DVD and other multi-channel / high resolution formats. And we will continue to provide a great mastering service of course 🙂
For information on sound mastering and services available, please visit http://www.xarcmastering.com