About Black Belt Mastering
Our purpose is to make your record sound great. We do this by leveraging our experience and by building good relationships with engineers, artists and musicians. As a fully equipped audio mastering facility, our goal is to help create a cohesive master with impact by respecting the integrity of your mixes and helping them translate well outside the studio.
Over the years we have enjoyed working with local, national and even international engineers, artists and bands in attended and unattended sessions.
We've helped develop most of the custom analog equipment in the studio making it truly one of a kind. With these tools and the desire to create a superb product, we are constantly striving to push ourselves and the masters we create to the highest levels of quality. Black Belt Mastering is among a select group of studios that has achieved certification by Apple to provide Mastered for iTunes 'MFiT' masters.
We're also proud to be the only mastering studio in Washington to offer master lacquer cutting. Lacquer cutting for vinyl is performed on our Neumann AM32b with SX-74 cutter head, Vinylium pitch system and Technics SP-02 Quartz-lock motor making it one of the most advanced cutting systems.
A Washington state native, Levi Seitz, owner/operator has played a role in several facets of the professional audio community. Past experiences include live sound, tracking/mixing, sound design and audio post-production. Leveraging experience and a love for music as his foundation, levi is ready to elevate your record to it's full sonic potential.
“Almost all of my mix sessions end with the question: ‘Where should I go for mastering?’ I promptly hand them one of Levi's business cards and tell them to go to Black Belt Mastering. Why? He's close to my studio in Seattle, his rates and equipment are great and he makes my mixes sound killer! An extra bonus is that he's a helluva nice guy and very passionate about his work.”
— Don Farwell (Producer/Engineer/Owner: Earwig Studio)
“Levi turns around world-class work at the speed of sound. I've been really happy with everything I've brought to Black Belt.”
— Chris Walla (Engineer/Producer/Musician: Death Cab For Cutie/Hall of Justice - Seattle, WA)
“Levi at Black Belt Mastering is our first choice for cutting our vinyl projects. His knowledge and attention to detail as well as communication with us throughout the process is excellent. Whether it's a short single or an album that pushes the limits of vinyl, Levi keeps it sounding great and playing well. We are fortunate to have him locally but I would use him no matter where I was. The test pressings and lacquers are clean and quiet. They are a great representation of what the manufactured disc will sound like and if I have any questions I get a timely response. Levi gets it right the first time.”
— John Burton (Pearl Jam Recording & Archiving)
Photo: Björn Lexius
“Working with Levi was one of the best Mastering experiences I've ever had. He was super flexible, easy to communicate with, and I could tell that helping me realize my vision for the record and be happy with the final product was really important to him. I highly recommend working with him if you get the chance!”
— Rocky Votolato (musician)
“Let it be known that Levi Seitz is a literal angel. . .Please use him for your lacquer cutting needs--he cares about quality and customer service from the moment a record he cuts leaves the studio all the way until it arrives at your doorstep. Thank you Levi!”
— Eric Anderson (Cataldo/Moon Crew Records)
“Black Belt Mastering is great! Levi is always willing to take the time and effort to contribute in a very musical way and he has always made my mixes and productions sound better than what I delivered to him. Very important to be able to trust someone with a great ear and a great studio.”
— Daniel Pampuri (Engineer/Producer: NRG-North Hollywood, CA)
Photo: Alex Fry
“My mixes come back sounding like my mixes, just better, and with more continuity. Black Belt mastering consistently makes me happy, but more importantly my clients love the final product!”
— Matt Meli (Engineer/Producer: Matt Meli Productions. Austin, TX)
“Levi is easily my first recommendation to clients for mastering. He is an incredible mastering engineer and, even more importantly, a great person to work with. His imaging is on point and his mastering decisions enhance my mixes perfectly. Levi is truly passionate about understanding the client's vision and consistently exceeds those expectations.”
— Mathieu Riede (Producer/Engineer/Owner: L453RL4Dy Studio)
“Lacquer cutting is such an important part of the process, really an art form. Levi at Black Belt Mastering approaches each project with knowledge, care, and artistry.”
— Brett Eliason (Mix Engineer: R.E.M, Windowpane, Pearl Jam)
“Black Belt mastering is easily my favorite mastering studio. Levi truly cares about his work and I trust his ears to bring out the best in my mixes.”
— Matthew Emerson Brown (Producer, Engineer, Mixer)
“Levi's cuts are so deep the B side is useless. . .just the way I like it!”
— Troy Glessner (S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Mastering - Harvey Danger, Galactic Empire, Pedro The Lion, Damien Jurado, August Burns Red, Death Cab For Cutie, One Direction, Disturbed, Story Of The Year, Aaron Sprinkle, Demon Hunter)
“I enjoy the relaxed environment Black Belt Mastering provides. The sound quality is stellar and their services are always on point!!”
— Mike ‘Wanz’ Wansley (Grammy winning and Platinum record holding Singer: Macklemore/Warren-G)
“Black Belt Mastering gets it right every time, outstanding!”
— Billy Bell (S.V.P. Sumthing Else Music Works)
All Star Opera
Subways On The Sun
Hot Bodies In Motion
Ever So Android
Destroyer of Light
Lerin Herzer : Andrew Joslyn
Roaming Herds Of Buffalo
Tim 'too slim' Langford
Timothy James Meaney
Devin Townsend (Half Speed Cut)
Jonathan Davis (KORN)
The Fire Theft
August Burns Red
Super Bomberman R
Mother Love Bone
Story Of The Year
Courtney Marie Andrews
Pedro The Lion
State of Decay 2
Set It Off
The Mastering Studio
Black Belt Mastering is primarily an analog studio, most of the equipment is either custom built or modified. We embrace both analog and digital technologies to bring out the best in your recordings. Each piece of equipment has been selected and optimized just for mastering.
Live On Lacquer
Live On Lacquer is an all analog direct to lacquer disc recording series that preserves music in a way that is timeless and genuine. Much like the way records were made in the mid-20th century, these songs are captured live and cut in real-time with our previously owned 1940’s Scully vinyl lathe. Once cut, the lacquer masters are immediately sent off for plating and pressing. Each song is recorded in one take with no editing, allowing for the truest expression of the artist's performance to be captured. The recording method used here is 100% analog and retains a level of humanity and imperfection often lost in modern digital productions.
Unattended or Attended:
$60 — per song
$120 — Singles (unattended only)
OTHER MASTERING SERVICES
Instrumental/Radio/Alt Edits — $20 per song*
24bit Vinyl Pre-Master files — $100**
Additional revision(s) — $100/hr 1hr min
PMCD Master — $75
Reference CD — $10
MFiT Masters — $100
DDP Image — Free with session
Included with each session (attended or unattended) you will receive WAV files of the masters for digital distribution along with a DDPi production master used by duplication plants to manufacture CD's. One free hour of revisions is also included with every session if needed.
*Instrumental/Radio/Alt edits must be supplied at the time of the initial mastering session. Alt mixes received after mastering is complete are billed at the standard rate of $60/song.
**Vinyl Pre-Master fee is waived if I am cutting you an Acetate and Lacquer set.
12” — $180 per side
10” — $150 per side
7” — $100 per side
All sizes — $75 per side
OTHER VINYL SERVICES
Audio in lock groove — $40 per lock
Half Speed Cutting — $600 per side
Completed lacquers are express shipped to the pressing plant of your choice, and the cost for this is approximately $80. Shipping is paid for by you, the client. Whenever possible, we will combine multiple orders to lower the shipping cost.
Shipping, paper sleeves and protective cases for acetates are included in the price.
Frequently Asked Questions
Singles are $120, 2 or more songs are $60/each. 5 songs would cost $300 and 10 songs would cost $600.
Once the mastering process is complete, and payment has been made, you will receive fully sequenced WAV masters of all your songs along with a DDP image that can be used for CD manufacturing. Other formats, such as MFiT or 24 bit vinyl ready masters can be provided on request and are listed on the RATES page.
Please provide the following info: Song order, Artist or Band name, Album Title, Song Titles, ISRC codes (if you have them).
Yes. If you'd like to provide a reference song I will gladly accept it. This is a great way for me to get a feel for the sound you are after. I also find it helpful to include a few brief notes if there are specific song transition requests. Ultimately, a quick phone call is best.
Yes, I encourage attended sessions. Sessions start at 10am. Attended sessions allow you to be involved and understand the mastering process from beginning to end and provides you access to ask questions and hear immediate before and after mastering samples of your record. Sessions can take anywhere from as few as 3 hours for short EP’s to 5+ hours for longer, more involved LP’s.
You can send mixes by clicking this link for wetransfer.com or by forwarding a link to a Dropbox folder.
We proudly accept 1/2’’ and 1/4’’ reels of analog tape, 1-bit DSD, WAV or AIFF files.
Digital songs should be delivered as Stereo. We prefer to accept 24bit / 44.1k or higher, but can accept others if necessary. Please do not send MP3's or ‘lossy’ audio. Make sure there is no distortion or clipping as it's best to start with the highest possible quality.
Analog reels (either 1/2” or 1/4”) should be delivered with tones of 10kHz, 1kHz and 100Hz at a level of 0VU. At least 30 seconds of each tone with 10 seconds of silence in between at the end of a reel is appreciated. Please number and label your tape boxes with the tape speed, reference level and the EQ standard that was used. If possible, please organize the songs in the correct running order (as they will show up on the record) with sufficient leader tape at the top and tail. As a backup, supplying a digital copy of each song on a thumb-drive is recommended.
Unless intended for artistic reasons, please omit any "loudness" or "brick-wall limiting" plugins from the stereo bus of your mix. If you are unsure as to what level to deliver your song, a good suggestion is to have the digital peaks approaching -3dBFS and an RMS value below -15dBFS. It's always nice to have some headroom to work with!
Yes, one free hour of revisions is included with each session. If for whatever reason you want to change something related to mastering after receiving your initial reference master, it’s on me! Any revisions beyond the first hour are billed at an hourly rate of $100 per hour.
If you are a new client considering Black Belt Mastering for the first time and are unsure about how your mixes will sound after being mastered here, please contact us and we can discuss your project.
Yes, in the first degree. I studied Tae Kwon Do from age 12 through college with short studies in Wing-Chun Kung-Fu.
- Reference Acetates — A one-off evaluation cut you take home and play to discover how your record will sound on vinyl.
- Master Lacquers — These are individual 'Side A' and 'Side B' master lacquer discs that are cut and shipped to the pressing plant for mass production of vinyl records.
- Digital Cutting Masters — If we did the initial mastering for your record and you're choosing to have lacquers cut elsewhere, we can provide the 24—bit side A and B digital files and required timing log.
12" lacquers are $180/side and 7" lacquers are $100/side. Please see the RATES page for more details.
While CDs can hold over 70 minutes of material, this is essentially impossible for a single 12" record. There's only so much physical space to pack the grooves. As the length of a side goes up the loudness goes down because the grooves on the record have to be cut with less side-to-side movement (quieter) to fit more information in the allotted space. Very long sides are possible, but not very loud.
Please use the information below as a guideline for timing sides:
|12" (33 1/3 RPM)|
Best — 18 minutes per side
OK — 20 minutes per side
|12" (45 RPM)|
Best — 8 to 9 minutes per side
OK — 12 minutes per side
|10" (33 1/3 RPM)|
Best — 8 to 9 minutes per side
OK — 13 minutes per side
|10" (45 RPM)|
Best — 6 to 7 minutes per side
OK — 10 minutes per side
|7" (33 1/3 RPM)|
Best — 6 minutes per side
Meh — 8 minutes per side
|7" (45 RPM)|
Best — 3 minutes per side
OK — 5 minutes per side
Both myself and the pressing plant will ask you to provide what's known as a matrix number. The matrix (sometimes also called the 'catalog number') is something that you create or your record label provides you, it is not generated by the pressing plant. The matrix you give me is physically etched into the master lacquers and serves as a way for the plant to track your record throughout the manufacturing process. It's usually an abbreviation of your record label or band name along with a number (i.e. RHR-009 or SDRE0217).
- First, select a record pressing plant to press your records and submit an order with them. A pressing plant will need to electroplate the master lacquers to create metal stampers, and will then use the stampers in the manufacturing of your finished records. Let the plant know that you are providing your own lacquers (from me). I should not be cutting your master lacquers until you have a confirmed order set with a pressing plant. The plant needs to be expecting lacquers from me. If a pressing plant receives lacquers that are not accounted for, they will not get processed.
- Second, schedule time to have a reference acetate cut. An acetate will allow you to listen to and evaluate your record on a home turntable, to potentially catch any problems or things you'd like changed before master lacquers are cut. We highly recommend getting an acetate, as this is the perfect time to attend a cutting session and see the process first-hand. Checking the sound at every stage of the process is paramount and prevents potential delays and frustration. (See FAQ about acetate evaluation below.)
- Third, book a session to have master lacquers cut. Sessions to cut master lacquers are not attended. One lacquer is needed for each side of a record. A single album needs 2 lacquers created, a double LP would need 4, etc. Let me know where the project is being pressed, and once the masters are cut I’ll express ship the lacquers directly to it or the corresponding plating facility.
- Finally, A few weeks after everything is sent to the plant you'll receive test pressings of your record. These are a small batch of finished records. Most plants require approval of test presses before manufacturing the bulk of your order. Once you approve the test presses the plant will complete the rest of your order.
Acetates are more than double the weight of a test pressing and are cut on aluminium discs that are coated with nitrocellulose lacquer with a finish coat of acetate for curing; they are not made of vinyl like a test pressing. If your acetate sounds like a good vinyl translation then it can be approved.
Please note, if your record player is inexpensively made or has a low torque motor the acetate may play back inconsistently or with warble; this is a turntable issue, not a problem with the acetate or overall cut. Some things to consider when evaluating an acetate at home:
- Handle your acetate by the edges only. Avoid touching the surface where the grooves have been cut.
- If your turntable has difficulty playing your acetate, adjust your tonearm's counterweight or stylus force; a worn or damaged stylus can mar the grooves or distort the sound of the acetate.
- Your acetate is for reference only. Acetates are a softer material than vinyl and will only last a few plays at maximum fidelity before getting noisy. Use it to evaluate the sound of the cut on one or two trusted playback systems before it begins to degrade.
- First off, it's important to note that test pressings are not always perfect. Still, in order to properly evaluate them you should be confident that your record player is calibrated with the recommended 'stylus force' for your phono cartridge and has an anti-skate setting that will prevent your tonearm from swaying side to side.
- About a month after your lacquers have been submitted to the plant, you'll receive a box of test pressings (usually 5 copies). The first thing you should do when opening the box is number the tests 1-5, this will help when taking notes and referencing a specific copy.
- Please do not disperse the test pressings (to friends or family or kickstarter contributors) before they have been fully approved, the whole point in evaluating them is to have all copies at-hand and available for comparison should an issue be discovered.
- True problems worth reporting back to the pressing plant are ones that are repeated on each and every test pressing in exactly the same way every time. For example, if you hear a loud 'zip' sound in the middle of the second song on test pressing 1 and again on 2 but not on 3, 4 and 5. It's just a random anomaly and not something that will be on the final production run of records.
- However, if you discover a distracting skip or loud 'pop' or 'swish' sound that happens at the same moment on all 5 pressings in exactly the same way, this is something worth documenting and contacting myself or the pressing plant about.
- Please be sensitive to accept the reality of how vinyl sounds, the random clicks and pops that are present in one test pressing but do not repeat in others are not a cause for concern, they are part of what makes vinyl unique. 'Diameter loss' (when a record sounds successively less-bright and a bit more 'gritty' as you get closer to the inner diameter) is also normal to hear on vinyl. Keep in mind, we're talking about an audio format that reproduces sound by a microscopic shard of diamond scratching through a plastic trench the width of two human hairs and then amplifying those mechanical vibrations to then recreate the original sound so it's just going to sound reasonably different!
- I don't find it helpful or constructive to compare the test pressings to the digital masters as it's likely that the vinyl pre-master (and thus the actual vinyl) will potentially have a bit more dynamic range and just 'feel' different than the digital (it's not a 1:1 transfer, so don't treat it like one). It's also worth noting that vinyl generally has a 'softer' and less-bright treble as well the low-end will usually be tighter with not as much low-frequency extension and less stereo feel to the bass. There are physical limitations to vinyl and it would be counter productive to expect it to have the same clarity and frequency response as a digital counterpart that is without the same mechanical constraints.
- If you ever have questions about what is and is not a problem with test pressings you should consult with the person who cut the lacquers (me). I can often help you understand what is or isn't an actual issue of concern. I can also help be a liaison between the pressing plant and plating facility to help discover where an issue is stemming from, ultimately a new side may need to be cut to best resolve a problem.
- Be wise, plan ahead and give yourself extra time to account for potential setbacks. The process of making vinyl records is not quick and all stages leading up to the pressing happen in real time with little to no automation. Great sounding vinyl is worth the extra time!
Yes, we can do both. Our Neumann lathe is equipped with the most advanced direct drive motor that can spin at 16 2/3RPM which allows more detail to be cut in to the grooves and yields a more pronounced stereo image and articulate treble with full bass. Cutting an endless loop of audio into the lock groove of a record is also possible, the duration of the loop should be exactly 1.8 seconds at 33 1/3 RPM and 1.33 at 45 RPM.