Freelance Project

AUD210 Week 11 Freelance Project

For this freelance project, I have worked for a jazz big band to master some their live recordings from their recent performance. This project is a bit of a challenge to me as this is the first time I have ever done mastering for a client, and also the first time mastering a track not recorded in a studio environment. Beside mastering, I have also helped them arranged a commercially release pop song in a big band Bossa Nova version as well as created the promotional video for this gig. In short, the overall deliverables for this project is to get an hour worth of track mastered together with the arranged score and the promotional video.


The client I have worked is Kong U Big Band from Hong Kong formed by a group of young jazz talents. In the not-so-vibrant jazz scene in Hong Kong, Kong U Big Band is one of the few active jazz big band in the city. Most members of the band are university students and the band is led by the Taka Hirohama, the best big band leader in Hong Kong. Continuing last year’s success, the have once again performed a sell-out show and this time they wanted their live recordings to be professionally handled so they can use it as demos or for promotional uses.


The gig was set in late March therefore I have already given them the arranged scores and the promotional video before that. The project did not have a clear or solid timeline since my clients do not need these recordings urgently. They have sent me the files in around mid April but the quality was so bad that they were beyond fixable. Although I knew that they were hiring a live engineer for the gig and they did not try to be stingy, knowing the average quality of audio workers in Hong Kong, I suggested them to try set up a Decca Tree or a pair of AB condensers on stage and that finally came in handy. It was already late April when we finished go back and forth on and I finally got the files. By now I have already submitted a draft version to my clients and I am awaiting their feedback.

My Duty

Because the stage setup of a jazz big band is inherently different from an orchestra, there are a few issues that is consistent throughout all recordings:

1. Drums being overpowering since it is placed in the middle of the stage;

2. The mix being imbalance with the right channel being louder most of the time since the horns are essentially the loudest section of the band and they are located slightly off to the right side of the stage;

3. Some instruments are entirely missed out, especially guitar and piano of the rhythm section as they got inevitably masked by everything else. If it is their turn for solos the situation becomes even worse as the level balance of the mix would change drastically

Although settings are altered between songs or sections, the effect chain for this whole mastering project goes as follows:

First I put the signal through a SSL channel for some gentle high and low end EQs and to give the mix some colour, then it goes through the two Pultec EQs to tighten the bass and some of the mid range instruments. Then the signal goes through a tape saturation plug-in to bring out some warmth while giving the mix some edginess and then to a dbx-160 with a relatively low ratio and high threshold set in a M-S configuration so I can widen the mix a bit. The two last is a stereo image plugin which serves to bring the right channel closer to the centre without destroying the mix and a mastering limiter plugin to ensure the headroom and smoothen up the compression.


Overall I am fairly happy with the outcome as this is my first try. I have gained more experience on handling and restoring poorly recorded tracks as I am sure I will encounter them more than I could have imagined if I really start working in this business. However, since my clients are still not sure whether to release these recordings I cannot upload them to a social media platform. Check below for the google drive link to listen to some of the selected tracks from this project.


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