Preparing a Reaper project for mastering

As part of the latest Six String Bliss album project we have the luxury of having home recording maestro, Jan Buchholz, undertake the mastering process. This means that, despite many people submitting songs, all radically different and using different DAWs, the end result will have an element of consistency.

Jan stated his simple basic requirements: Stereo WAV file, 24 bit, 44.1kHz, with no heavy limiting/compression on the whole track. The last aspect of this is most important. Jan needs an amount of headroom to work with and if you’ve compressed the buggery out of your track he has nowhere else to go. To make the rest of the tracks consistent then he’d have to compress the bejaysus out of everything else and nobody wants that.

To prepare my track for Jan I went through every track and made sure nothing was going beyond 0dB. If I had been smart I would have done this before I started mixing and during the mixing process.

On every track I add the plugin called “JS: schwa/audio_statistics” at the end of the plugin list. Initially this is of no use because all the values are empty but, once you’ve allowed the project to play all the way through the values are populated. The key information we’re looking for is the “Peak dB”. Keep that under 0dB for every track and they’re all good to go. Note that every time you press “play” it resets the values and starts again.


Finally I add the same plugin to the master track, run it through again and adjust the level so that the peak dB is somewhere between -6dB and -2dB. It goes without saying that this is without any other mastering type plugins on the master track. If you have the luxury of a mastering engineer then leave them to do their job. Your job is to focus on making sure each individual track sounds good and fits with everything else (volume, EQ and placement in the stereo space).

I’m looking forward to hearing how the final track sounds once Jan has sprinkled his magic fairy dust on it. When the album has been released I will post before and after examples of my track.

Missing Links

Over the 30 years of playing guitar I’ve owned loads of gear, but there are some classics that I’ve never owned. It was triggered by an advertisement for a classic Big Muff Pi. I have borrowed one and it remains one of my favourite hooligan pedals but I’ve never had one on my own pedalboard.


The set me thinking… what other classic items had I missed out on? First and foremost, given my love for their kit, I’ve never owned a Marshall. I’ve played plenty and can’t think of one I’ve ever come across that didn’t do its job well. Whether I like the job it is designed for is another matter entirely, of course.


The other big omission is Gibson. I’m not really a Les Paul sort of person, but I love their J-45 and J-200 acoustics, SGs, the LPJr and Melody Maker. And one of my all time favourite guitars of all time mate* is the ES-335. How have I made it through 34 years without ever having owned a Gibson? 10 years ago I could have said it was the price but these days they are turning out some mighty fine, reasonably priced guitars (viz. the 50s and 60s reissues). No excuses. I just never got round to it.


Will I ever put this right? Who knows but it feels like a musical life with missed opportunities if I don’t.

So what are the big holes in your gear history?

* copyright Smashy and Nicey.

Where I fell in love with music

I know exactly where I was when I fell in love with music. I can’t date it but I know the exact spot where it happened. It was in a small run-down theatre on the southern edge of Derby’s city centre, Sacheverel Street to be exact. The band playing were Stiff Little Fingers and I was mesmerised by the fury and passion of Jake Burns with his Yamaha SG2000.


The venue had once been the Derby Playhouse which had fallen into disrepair, been converted into a specialist cinema for Derby’s Asian population and renamed The Ajanta. The houses around it had been demolished and were a mixture of unkempt grass and rubble. This was my CBGBs, 100 Club, Whisky-a-go-go and Marquee all rolled into one.


After that first SLF gig the great bands of the time just kept turning up. I’m sure I’m mis-remembering but it felt like every week there was somebody interesting to go and see and, over the following years, many turned into behemoths of the post-punk world, or at least cult icons. The Cramps, The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Psychedelic Furs, UK Subs, Fatal Microbes, Crass, Slaughter and the Dogs, Throbbing Gristle, Robert Rental and the Normal, The Monochrome Set and Derby’s very own Anti-Pasti. These last ones were the boys that gave me an inkling that doing this sort of thing was not out of reach.

There were bands that played that, for one reason or another (probably lack of cash) I didn’t go and see. The Damned and Simple Minds in particular, but hey, I’ll just be thankful for the great times I did have.

I wish I’d kept hold of ticket stubs and other memorabilia but I’m not a hoarder and those things have been left behind over the intervening years. The one link I have is this picture of The Fatal Microbes with me in the front row.


I found these pictures on Johnny Vincent’s excellent blog about AN ALTERNATIVE DERBY. Used without permission but, in the spirit of the times, if he doesn’t like it he can bugger off. Only joking JV, give me a shout if you’d rather I didn’t use ’em.


A new man cave

For for the past year or two I’ve done most of my online and computer based work (including recording) sitting at our dining room table. I’ve got a separate room where I keep all my guitars and amps (along with all of our books, board games, records and CDs).

This evening, with the kind help of my wife, we reorganised the room, moved a desk in there and I got myself set up in a new man cave.

Being able to listen to a recording on a half decent pair of speakers feels like a major step forward. I’ll still use the headphones for a lot of things but it is great having the choice.

Behold my indoor shed…

Using Tumblr as a medium for easily sharing music and pictures

I regularly find that I need to upload a JPG or MP3 so that I can provide a link, either in support of a forum post or just to pass on something to a friend. I’ve recently hit on using for this purpose. The actual process of uploading is a piece of cake. How best to share differs.


When posting a picture in a forum I generally want to link to a scaled version of the picture. Thankfully, on the main tumblr feed, you get a perfectly sized version of your uploaded picture. Right click on it, choose “copy image url” (or whatever your browser offers you) and then paste that into the forum.


I’d previously used the excellent Soundcloud for this, and when it comes to audio where I want to paste a “gadget” into a blog post I’ll keep using that. However for the throwaway interim sketches or snippets of songs tumblr is perfect. There’s no embeddable gadget that I’ve found yet so I simply post the url. In best Blue Peter fashion, here’s one I prepared earlier.