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Mastering Challenge - Rules and Guidelines

Collection of the official Rules and Guidelines, plus Addenda
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Mastering Challenge - Rules and Guidelines


Post by Mister Fox »

These are the official rules for the "Mastering Challenge"

All changes to the rules will be handled in here. The thread is linked from each challenge and the corresponding sub menu from the main page.

The rule set is split over the course of the following posts, for easier understanding and simplicity in terms of finding. Please consult the appropriate sub-point if you want to read up on the rules and limitation:

Post 1: Introduction Post
Post 2: General information about the challenge and time frames
Post 3: Song Provider Guidelines
Post 4: Rules for participants of the Mastering Challenge
Post 5: Rules for the Evaluation Process
Post 6: Rules and General Information for winning goods
Post 7: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions

If there are any questions, feel free to ask them in the Q&A and Gossip Area. Take note that the rules can be modified at any time(!) - though we will inform the contestants of the changes.
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General information about the challenge, time limits, etc


Post by Mister Fox »


What is this about (concept and idea):
The Mastering Challenge (MastC in short) is aimed to be a friendly competition with a focus on handling stereo mixdowns, to edit and prepare them for distribution. The idea (and twist) is to create a realistic client-to-business (C2B) scenario, with the added difficulty curve to adhere to modern stream delivery standards. Fixed time frames and maybe additional set of rules will force you to be creative within boundaries, something that you might not encounter when working freely at your own pace and expression.

Furthermore, the concept is to post documentation of what you did regarding your edit. This adds to the learning factor. Documentation can be as simple as a screenshot, or an in-depth listing of plugins/modules and settings being used. This is not to steal your knowledge but to actually expand on it, learn from your possible mistakes and/or for others to benefit from your findings, ideas and gather some inspiration from your type of mixing. Nobody can improve if you can't learn anything.

The competition time frames:
  • 14 days for mixing and submitting (1st of the month until 14th of the month)
  • after 1st Mastering Round: evaluation by the client (maximum time frame: 7-10 days)
Currently, the MastC is held three times a year, on even numbered months (02/Februar, 06/Juni, 10/October). If there is not enough source material at present, then it will be an on-demand competition. This might be subject to change, as this competition is part of a test run.

Ideally the challenge always starts on 0:01am (GMT+1/CET) of the 1st of the month and runs until 14th of the month at 11:59pm (GMT+1/CET). Exceptions might be special events, which will be made clear with each challenge. A second round is not guaranteed.

Confused with the times, use this tool and select "Berlin (Germany)" as Location 2:

Alternatively: the global world clock at the top of the forum, the Global Countdown via the Mix Challenge homepage, or the timer on the index page

Thread for questions, giving feedback and OT talk: Q&A and Gossip Area
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Song Providers Guidelines, information how to provide the RAW tracks


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If you want to provide the "Mastering Challenge" a production for mastering/finalizing, please take note of the following notes and helpful guidelines.

If you have questions, or are unsure what to do (this post does look a bit intimidating!) - please feel free to contact the staff and you will be guided through every step of the process. You will not be left hanging.

General Information and Legalities
  • a song provider/a client can be anyone, with the exception of the following
  • Song provider must not be a member of the GEMA, Harry Fox Agency, PRS for Music or other music tax collection societies related to your area. In this case, upfront and follow up license fees are involved for all participants. Therefore offering of source material is not possible! ***
  • any music genre is welcome
  • the provided track can be an old and/or already known release or even a work-in-progress production
  • Songs must not(!) be foreign content. Meaning, as song provider you must have(!) the rights and permission to share this song for this competition (if the track is public domain, please provide further information)
  • the clients presence during and after the Mastering Challenge is mandatory - may it be via mail, or directly on mix-challenge.com (see "Guidelines for Evaluation" below for further detail)
  • Song provider must agree (consent), that the provided content is used for this particular competition only(!) and that the participants can/will make their mixdowns public
  • Songs are not allowed to be released through a sale of some sort by the contestants. The rights remain with the creator. The creator of the song is free to start a collaboration with the possible winner (congratulations to that). This will be beyond our boundaries.
  • Songs need a special permission to be released as part of a portfolio of the contestants! These songs are only allowed to be released as part of this competition! This will be beyond out boundaries.
  • the song provider has no(!) influence how the song will turn out. He/she agrees to full artistic freedom by the participants of the competition - with certain limitations (see participant rules) or otherwise clearly stated rules
  • the song provider is not(!) allowed to join the competition for this particular round - he/she provided this material due to the fact that he/she is obviously interested in an alternate mix / edit. A participation like a regular participant would null that. Doing a mix/master/edit "just for fun and games" is allowed of course
  • Please also take note that due to the public nature of this challenge, the source material might find it's way to bootleg pages!
  • Furthermore, chances are that there will be backups made of both the source material and the contest entries to review that material at a later state (also see voting rules below). This can be revoked any time by the song provider if there is a regular/commercial release imminent and the song creator clearly states "do not share this anymore".
*** the Staff is currently investigating possible solutions to the GEMA, S3C, Harry Fox Agency and similar... We don't want to lock out anybody, but our hands are tied with these adhesion contracts. So for the time being, we can't accept material by these members. Sorry for the inconvenience

Technical Aspects - How to provide a song, Integrity Check, etc
  • If you contact the staff with one or several song proposals, please provide a finished demo to stream (important for the challenge) and link to download (important for the Mastering Package)
  • once a production has been chosen for a possible future challenge, the next step is the so called "Integrity Check", which is a routine check up process to confirm if all files are coherent, free of errors or they might need minor adjustments prior to the actual challenge. You (the client) are not left alone with this. There will always be somebody to walk you through - up until the start of the competition
  • for the so called "Integrity Check", please provide a TXT with the following
    • the full name and run time of the song
    • the speed of the track (bpm) and/or a tempo map should there be bpm changes
    • a couple of sentences (we call this "Words by the Song Provider") what this track is about, what you'd like to see focused on during mastering, what are absolute no-no's, possible special rules (e.g. a radio edit, desired additional distribution format), etc.
    • if possible: a couple of reference productions - so that participants know where to orient themselves in terms of an overall sound
    • ideally also lyrics and/or a translation (especially if the track is in a foreign language and not in English)
  • the production needs to be provided as WAV or AIFF mixdown (aka: RAW tracks)
  • we do recommend to render one extra bar of silence both in front and at the end of the production, to prevent sudden cutoffs of signals (e.g. delay/reverb trails), or smeared transients at the beginning of the song
  • the source material can be at anything between 44/24 (bar minimum!) to 96/32. Though please be reasonable with the Sampling Rate, and please do not Dither or Bit Truncate anything!
  • the tracks should not be lower than -24dBFS digital peak (average) and not be higher than -1dBFS digital peak (maximum) in terms of signal strength - this is to prevent high noise floors and/or clipping
  • ideally, the production shall not be rendered out with the use of "pre-mastering" tools (no hard limiting, no loudness adjustments). Though it is allowed to provide the source material with tasteful summing bus treatment (e.g. light compression to "gel" things together).
  • Compress all files as ZIP or RAR the files, then forward it to the staff

If you got further questions, feel free to reach out via the Contact Form or in the General Gossip Thread
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Rules for participants of the Mastering Challenge


Post by Mister Fox »

These rules and guidelines are for the challenge participants and the actual competition itself. This is the most important rule set for those that want to participate with an own edit. Violation of the rules will result in a public warning, and in worse cases even in an instant disqualification.

Rule set for mix participants
  • This is a mastering challenge. The main focus is to create a balanced master at a reasonable loudness that is free of clipping and ports well to all playback mediums
  • The contestants have artistic freedom in terms of editing (no limits on used modules/effects, neither hardware nor software) - within given boundaries (see add-on rules of the corresponding challenge thread)
  • each challenge will eventually feature a Loudness Reference target for the participant to release in, while the maximum signal strength must not exceed -1dBTP
  • if you ignore the given Loudness Reference target (which can result in a possible disqualification!), It is highly advised to not exceed a certain loudness reference level. The suggestions is to work at -14LUFS (ITU-R BS.1770-x specs) as absolute maximum (that would theoretically translate to K-12v1 on avg).
  • The participants are limited to the provided source material
  • the provided arrangement must remain the same (take note of a given audio demo). Do not change the song key, do not add additional content, move parts around and therefore change the arrangement. Unless otherwise stated (i.e. radio mix, repairing broken sections, etc)
  • We do recommend to not send in your edit within the first 24 hours of the Challenge. Take a day off, give your ears time to relax, take another listen the next day. Your entry is final - no re-submissions with changes allowed unless you're selected for a possible Mastering Round 2
  • It is mandatory to document the edit. Ideally also provide a screenshot of your settings. This is to engage in the conversation, for all participants to learn from each other
  • SPECIAL RULES MAY APPLY PER CHALLENGE, these will be highlighted and mentioned separately directly under the "Words by the Song Provider" paragraph of the current challenge thread

Upload and Submission Guidelines
  • you can upload to wherever you like (DropBox, WeShare, GoogleDrive, SoundCloud, etc)
  • edits must be easily available to download without the need of any special login (SoundCloud especially), download tools (EXE installers) or various captcha requests
  • in case of multiple requested distribution formats (two maximum), the material can be put into a ZIP or RAR file. However it must not be password protected
  • the entries must be properly named and tagged. MastC000_-_ArtistName_-_TrackName_-_ContestanttName_DistributionFormat.wav/mp3
  • it is mandatory to provide both a "raw" WAV file and a high quality MP3 (320kbit) (in the future even MP4/AAC release)
  • render in the sampling rate and bitrate the material needs to be placed at in terms of distribution (Redbook CD being 44/16, HD Audio being up to 192/24) - the "end formats" will be declared in each challenge
  • chances are that you need to distribute multiple formats - in this case, you need to provide twice the amount of files
  • releases must feature proper tagging. In case of MP3 and MP4/AAC, that means proper ID3 tags. The information will be provided with each mix package.
  • Adding the ReplayGain value is not necessary and would only throw off playback devices
Sidenote: we are currently investigating the MP4 Audio/AAC format as MP3 alternative - especially since Fraunhofer discontinued the support for MP3 and the future of song distribution is MP4/AAC

Giving feedback to each other:
  • giving feedback to each other is highly encouraged. This adds to the learning process
  • please hold back the feedback until the main competition has ended. This is to not influence others during the current running challenge
  • the thread remains open for discussion after the game has ended
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Rules for the Evaluation Process


Post by Mister Fox »

The winners podium is declared by the song provider (in other words, the client) after giving feedback to the tracks after the first and second submission period. We call this "Song Evaluation Period".

General Evaluation Guidelines
  • Evaluation happens after the main editing round (14 days) has ended, and after a possible second mastering round (5 days post the first evaluation). Please take note of the challenge time frames.
  • Post the 14 day editing period, the song provider can and must give feedback to all of the submitted tracks. If there is an exceedance of 10 submissions by participants (which can easily happen with this type of game), then only for the top 10 edits are mandatory to be evaluated (client can give feedback to all entries if he/she so desires). The song provider can bundle the feedback in one post during the 3-5 days post the submission period (we recommend that even)
  • The client must also declare the top-3 participants or in other words the "Winner's Podium".
  • there will be no second Mastering Round
  • The clients presence during and after the Mastering Challenge is mandatory. May it be via mail, or directly on this forum
  • If the song provider is not approachable within a reasonable time frame of 14 days post submission period for either editing round, then the Mix Challenge staff will take helm and cast a decision
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Rules and General Information for winning goods


Post by Mister Fox »

Since we have sponsors for this competition (mentioned separately in each corresponding competition thread), people that participate with a production have the chance to win tools or audio content. But in order to do so, we need to unfortunately set up an additional set of rules.

General rules
  • people allowed to win are participants of the Mastering Challenge that sent in a finished edit
  • the winners of the challenge(s) are solely declared by the song provider (see voting rules)
  • the three winners of the competition can choose from the available content by the sponsors. First come, first serve.
  • Since we have several sponsors for this challenge, the first winner has the first pick, the second winner can choose from what is left available in the pool, etc.
  • Price distribution will be cleared/handled in public in the thread of the corresponding challenge
  • If you happen to be among the top spots but don't want to pick a license, the next winner in line can pick up what's left in the pool. You are not forced to pick up anything

Additional information for the license winners
  • you have to pick the license in public. Picking a license is on order of the winners podium
  • the license winner then has to get in touch with the admin of the forum (that is Mister Fox)
  • please provide your contact information (name and mail address) and then either the company in question gets in touch with you directly, or the license handler (in this case, the forum admin)
  • Should you not(!) get an answer within reasonable time (7 work days bar minimum), contact the license handler again (or the admin rather, Mister Fox), and ask for a status. DO NOT CONTACT THE COMPANY OFFERING THE LICENSE DIRECTLY!
  • should you ignore this repeatedly, you'll be closed out of winning licenses in the future.
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Post by Mister Fox »

The FAQ?!
This section is for frequently asked questions of things that are not really clear

Q1) ARG! I don't have the time to join! I won't make it! Can you extend the time limits?
A2) No, but you can put away some time and join the next round of course. The challenge is already happening every other month. :tu:

Q2) The rules are too much - it kills the fun of the competition
A2) We hear your opinion, but we can't agree on that. Unfortunately, we have to set up fairly strict rules for everyone to be on common ground. Pretty much every challenge or competition in the music realm has this. Even if they seem like a lot, they are still fairly simple however. Though granted, super detailed in text form.

Q3) I won the competition! How can I pick up my license?
A3) Please get in touch with user "Mister Fox" (currently) - he'll guide you through. But please don't wait too long for your "first pick", the other winners want to choose as well.

Q4) Why should we not send in our mix within the first 24 hours?
A4) The challenge not only tries to simulate a real life scenario (material edited for "printing"/mass distribution like CD/Vinyl press plant), but is also a competitive environment. Since you only have one chance at this, and resubmissions are not possible, I (point of view: Mister Fox) always recommend to take a day off and listen to the content again with fresh ears - see if a severe mistake did sneak into your mix (clipping, noise, no properly set fades, etc). Especially if you pulled an all-nighter.

You have a time limit, but you don't need to be first in line either. Imagine what would happen if you'd forward material to a pressing plant, if you submit a faulty mix and be like "whoops, I did mistake, need to change that" and a couple of hours or days later "whoops - need to change that again". That is a huge loss of money and disqualifies you from any future deal. Try to prevent that.

Q5) What stops us from holding back the track until the last day of the challenge?!
A5) Nothing. You can make the game as suspenseful as you like. Though it might give the client and other participants the impression that the challenge has failed.

Q6) I don't get the loudness reference level thing?!
A6) It is recommend to take a look at the following collection of links by CTO "Mister Fox" over on KVR Audio. There are a lot of topics hot-linked regarding "loudness standards" and how to work with them: KVR Marks by Mister Fox

As in "what appropriate tool can be used", you can take a look at the following threads:
LUFS Metering Plugins (on KVR Audio)
How to: Loudness Normalization (Manually and Automated) (on mix-challenge.com)

more FAQs will be added as soon as there are more similar questions popping up...