Experts

Mastering with Frederik Dejongh (Jerboa Mastering)

Pictures by Mathias Lambrecht

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In this section, we let the professionals do the talking. Each of these talented individuals possesses a vast amount of experience, knowledge and know-how within their respected fields – from production to DJ-ing and other professional activities in the music biz. By letting these people elaborate their craft by a simple list of personal tips, all you inspired followers can learn from the best. Whether you’re serious about building a career in the business, or just interested in a good read, these experts explain their craft like no one can.

For the second episode in the series, we paid a little visit to Frederik Dejongh – although most people will know him under his Jerboa Mastering moniker. Many producers underestimate the value what good (or bad) mastering can do to their music. Being in the game for over 15 years, Jerboa knows the in-and-outs and the do’s and don’ts of the complicated and decisive process that is mastering. It’s time we let the expert do the talking…

Use good monitors. 

Use full range monitors with an uncoloured and dynamic reach. This is really the only way you can properly set your EQ’s or compressors. There’s not one ultimate monitor, that choice is really personal. Finding the best one for you is an important and difficult process. Unfortunately, most good monitors tend to be costly…

Use references. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a personal reference track. We use kilograms for weight, litres for volume, Celsius for temperature, so why don’t use your own model of what a perfect track should sound like? Obviously this is – again – a very personal choice as this is closely tied to your taste, vision and genre. Using a good sound reference will increase your self-confidence and it will always give you something to compare your music with.

Always work on a set volume. Always! 

This volume is different for everybody. There’s no such thing as the ideal volume, but you should at least use the same levels throughout your mastering process. All the elements of your reference track come together here. For example: your hearing will be less sensitive to high and low frequencies on a low volume (hence, the ‘loudness’ option on your HiFi system). Working on volumes that are too low will therefore lead to bass-heavy or even aggressive results. Working on levels that are too high will mostly result in the opposite. Once you find your preferred level of volume you should stick to it. Many underestimate this, but the way you perceive your music changes daily, depending on your mood or the amounts of sound your ears have endured that day. Every factor that we can use as a constant throughout the mastering process is an important one in order to maximize your results.

Mastering = balancing.

This whole job is basically the act of balancing multiple variable factors like frequencies, dynamics, drive and space. These four factors go hand in hand. Pushing one out of balance means that you will over- or under-emphasize another – and as always the “right” balance depends on the genre or mood of the music. Balancing frequencies and dynamics is fairly easy, as there are spectral analysers and audio meters you can use (although doing this just by ear usually gives more musical results) – but to fine-tune the drive and space is something else. Here, the personal vision and preference of the artist really matters. As such, computerized mastering systems (f.e. Landr) fall short, lacking the human touch. This is also where the routine within the mastering process makes room for an artisanal touch. 

Don’t start mastering immediately after mixing. 

Take a break once you finished mixing your track. Fresh ears really do make a difference – preferably with a night’s sleep, as your hearing resets itself. Ideally I would recommend leaving two weeks between mixing and mastering, but realistically this usually is simply not possible with deadline pressure. Nevertheless, allow at least a few days to decompress your ears to make sure you are out of the groove and the habituation.

Taking a step back into production is a good thing. 

Solving certain problems in the mastering process can have bigger consequences than tweaking your final mix. There’s absolutely no such thing as “we’ll fix it in mastering”. Again, mastering is about balancing, making the least amount of compromises in the process. If you have to make some that undermine your end result, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing table if possible.

Educate yourself about every step in this process along the way. 

It’s important to know the (dis)advantages of every action you take. For example: if you want more hi-mid, don’t always just grab a simple clean EQ to cut the low end or boost the wanted frequencies. Most of the time, there are more musical ways to do things where you didn’t think of in the first place. Sometimes, the fastest or easiest path isn’t the best one. Be critical to yourself and don’t call it a day too soon. Try and learn - experience will follow.

If you’re serious about your music, hand it over to a professional. 

It’s better to specialize in one part of the production process than trying to be great in all fields. Giving this last step of mastering to an external professional can do wonders. In order to make sure nothing goes wrong here, you can send your own mastered version alongside the final mix as a reference to raise the bar. Being physically present in the mastering studio is a great way to see what’s happening, to shape the final version according to your preferences and to learn more about the process itself.

An external professional has no emotional attachment to the music.

If the track requires some serious knob-twisting in order to reach a higher level, a detached mastering engineer will do so without restrain. Whether you mixed on that piece for one day or even one year, we won’t notice the difference. Being emotionally attached to your music is normal of course, but it could impede the mastering process.

Mastering is a full time job. 

The focus of a mastering engineer is completely different of one that specializes in recording, mixing or producing. In my field, it’s important to value the feeling and the impact the music could have on the listeners. This is not something you can just switch on or off – even with the right mind-set, it takes a lot of time and work to train your ears just right.

Last but not least: for god’s sake, take care of your ears. 

There are more than enough artists out there with underestimated hearing damage or hearing loss.

Head over to the man's website for bookings and more info!

Mastering with Frederik Dejongh (Jerboa Mastering)