Pesto EP001: Deep Discoveries - behind the scenes pt. 3

cover artwork for Pesto EP001
As promised yesterday, here's the third part of a series of posts, providing you with insights on how "Deep Discoveries" finally made it to the download stores. In case you missed them, here are part 1 and part 2.

So, I had the master recordings from the artists and the cover artwork was done. Next on the list were mastering the files, determining the final tracklist/track order, setting up the promo and uploading the finalized release to my distributor.

As every artist has a different setup, a different skill level and (hopefully) a very unique signature sound, it makes sense to group a bunch of tracks in a meaningful order. Some tunes are deep, some are percussive, some are a bit heavy on the treble portion and so on. Once I had made my mind up which tracks Pesto EP001 should consist of, I tried to arrange them in a way that they would feature a nice dramaturgy when listening to them in a row. Similar to a DJ mix or a tune itself, you would have one tune with an intro function (most supposedly the deepest of the bunch), to be followed by the tunes that have higher energy levels. You would also make sure that the tunes were not too far off from each other soundwise, adding bass or treble on one tune while cutting them on another one, for instance.

One could argue that this approach does not make much sense in times of single-track downloads but that's part of the philosophy on Pesto - I want it that way. I'm not offering a collection of tunes that were thrown together in one place indifferently. I want to offer a product that makes sense, that creates a certain atmosphere and evokes certain emotions - a compilation of music I enjoy and think you as a customer would enjoy, as well. I do things with love and dedication and compiling such an EP is no different.

Mastering the tracks



After I had the playlist set, I went to adjust the files soundwise. "In Pieces", the lovely opener of this EP by "Deep In Calm" was well-produced but very low in volume. On the other hand, the solid "One Night Stand" by "Processing Vessel" had already seen a mastering engineer and arrived here in its final state. The term "mastering" (or postproduction) here refers to a process that - very roughly speaking - irons out those differences and gets all tunes on a similar level volume- und soundwise. There are other meanings to that word but that will be a different post here soon.

These days, "mastering" is often misunderstood as "make it as loud as possible" or "make it sound like the big tunes on Beatport". Making a tune screaming loud is no problem from a technical point of view. Seeing it from a musical angle though, you'd still want all those little details to be hearable. This is what gives life to a tune and makes it breathe. When going through 300 new tracks on Beatport though, you are likely to skip those that are lower in volume. Since this is not only limited to electronic music but to recorded music in general (with the exception of classical music and Jazz), a phenomenon called "loudness war" is being encountered since the 1980ies. If you're familiar with Metallica's "Death Magnetic" album, you've just found one of the infamous and questionable "winners" of said war.

What I'm usually aiming at is an RMS level of -6dB but that also highly depends on the source material. Even for somebody who is not familiar with "RMS", "peak level" or "decibel (dB)", it's obvious that a chilled Lounge track has different requirements than a club banger. Keeping this in mind, I started to process the files, listening to and comparing against reference tunes every now and then. When I re-imported the mastered tunes into my "Pesto EP001" playlist, I noticed the tracks would not match when listening in one go. I did a second mastering session, now not paying attention to the EP as a whole rather than individually adjusting the tunes and consequently running into the "Beatport sound" trap: the tunes were loud now but sounded like dog poo - flat and lifeless but in your face like the smell of the former. I suddenly also noticed clicks and pops that hadn't been there before, so I double-checked the source files and they were all fine. The unwanted artefacts were due to beginner mistakes such as wrong settings on my mastering equipment.

I was undecided if I should cry, smash my fist on my keyboard, kick the computer under my desk or do all three things at once. I chose a different option though. After smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer, I decided to master the tunes a third time. After all, neither the keyboard nor the computer were to blame - it was solely my fault. As it showed a few days later, this was the right decision and when the artists returned their thoughts on the master, I knew everything was fine.

Reading the above can easily give you the impression that this process takes just minutes. It's not: depending on the source material, finding the right processors and settings may take 15 minutes or more, rendering the files takes some time, cropping them to remove unwanted silence or applying fades takes some more.
As I'm located in a residential area though, I can do these kind of tasks only during daytime when my neighbours are at work. Furthermore, my ears aren't good for mastering in the morning (they are too sensitive then) nor are they late at night. In the end, I'm not a dedicated mastering engineer rather than some kind of one-trick pony. So there's a timeframe of maybe three or four hours in the early afternoon when my hearing is just perfect for mastering duties.

It's also important to work on something totally different when you're stuck since trying to make it happen when the surrounding isn't right is like running against a wall. On top of that, I cannot spend my afternoons with mastering only. I have remix jobs to finish on time, reply to emails, maintain my social networks, buy food and drinks, etc. I had informed the artists of "Deep Discoveries" of the new release date (8th September 2010) and I was determined to not delay it one more time.

Connecting with the world outside



The thing is: there are good points in time to put out a release and there are dates being suboptimal. Beginning of the month would usually be considered a good occasion: people have money to buy music, DJ charts are being compiled, podcasts and mixes are being made, magazines are being printed. If you want your release to develop the most possible friction while keeping an eye on your marketing budget (or while having zero budget except your workforce), these are all points to keep track of.

It's not enough to just put out a great release though. A person I've used to make music with for a couple of years said "good music will sell by itself" or more generalized "a good product will sell by itself". If that actually was true, Coca Cola, Porsche or Apple wouldn't have an advertising budget at all. Nearly everybody knows these brands, yet still, these companies spend millions on advertising and marketing year by year. People will need to know that they can buy your product, they need to know you exist, they need good reasons why they should give you their hard-earned money.

In this niche of the music business Pesto Music operates in, a lot of marketing and actions of "to get known and raise awareness" is done by so-called tastemakers. These can be club and radio DJs, podcasts, blogs, magazines, celebrities (nobody would care about Ke$ha if she had not been supported by - please forgive me - Paris Hilton) and other multiplicators. The more often you come across "Deep Discoveries", the more often you hear people you trust talk about it, the more likely you will go and find out more about this issue and eventually end up buying the music. It's how we humans work - we're following the herd.

What I am doing to achieve this is sending out free copies of the release to the group of people mentioned above prior to the offical release date. It's part of a process called "promotion" and the free copies are therefore called "promos". These guys will listen to the music and reply with their thoughts: if they like it or not (and which track or version is their favourite), if they will use it for their mixes or chart it in their monthly DJ charts.
One DJ including one of the tunes in his or her chart makes a statement to his or her fans: "These 10 tracks are what I think is the best music this month (and this Pesto tune is one of them)". Given that DJ has 1.000 fans in his network, charting a tune equals to 1.000 possible contacts with people who would not have known Pesto before (highly simplified, of course). Do you remember the word "multiplicator" from above? You've just read a possible definition. This goes even further if a couple of DJs start charting a tune on a website such as Resident Advisor: RA compiles monthly charts that compute all contributed Top10s, reaching even more people beyond the group of followers of a certain DJ.

Push that button



Those of you knowing me in person are aware of the fact that Sundays are sacred for me, even though I'm not religious. It's the only day I can spend with my wife, leave the computer off and do something totally different. For you though, dear readers of pesto.de who have waded through this admittedly more technical and geeky part of our behind-the-scenes, I will make an exception.

Tomorrow, you will find here part 4, dealing with the odds of promo mailouts such as messing up background info on artists and being considered a spammer, why I need to convert WAV files to 320kBits and 64kBits, how Pesto saves money by having built a custom promo system and how my narcisstic needs are being satisfied. I will also post some nude pictures of me (I won't and you would not want to see that, but it maintains the tension, doesn't it?).