Mastering is the crucial final step in the recording process. Preparing your recording for replication, distribution, or broadcast & ensures that sound quality is the finest possible.
We get asked every week to define “mastering.” Personally, we like to define it as: “The art of finishing a recording by using the highest quality absolute dynamics and frequency control.” Mastering is similar to mixing, but instead of focusing on the balance of the instruments, we focus on the balance of frequencies and the impact of all the elements of a song.
Mastering can help achieve a more consistent playback on any system.
In layman’s terms, mastering is like sanding and polishing up a woodworking project. Without it, the overall appearance/functionality might be pretty good. But a closer look reveals all of the imperfect — hidden and obvious — rough edges. Mastering goes in and smoothes out all of the “splinters” like leveling volume or tweaking tonal problems in a recording. Nobody wants a splinter in the ear.
And just like carpentry, mastering requires an artisan. All mastering should be gently massaged by a qualified and seasoned engineer. Someone with an uncanny ear for universal tones and super nerdy technical chops to make you sound the way you’ve always wanted to…
WE HELP TO MAKE YOUR MUSIC SOUND RICH, CLEAN AND AWESOME.
Although we work with artists ranging from punch-you-in-the-face-punk to electronica dreamwave to moonshine bluegrass fusion, we give the same attention and care to each project. No matter the kind of music you make (or podcasts, audio books, etc.), we go through a checklist of how to make your tracks sound clearer and vibrant.
Some examples of services we include:
- Adding clarity to the entire spectrum of your mix
- Optimization of volume – by the song or from track to track
- Control of dynamics with killer outboard or digital compressors & limiters
- Noise/click/crackle reduction or restoration as needed
- Crossfades or fade in/outs as appropriate
- Spacing of songs for the best feel (per your direction or our internal compass)
- Gracenote CDDB/ iTunes/ CD track names & numbering
- ISRC code generation
- Red Book CD’s for duplication
- 320kb MP3 or lossless codec file compression for digital distribution
Advice from mastering engineer John Greenham:
When the time comes for you to master your next record, here are six tips to keep in mind:
1) Communicate clearly about your requirements for the project
The more communication, the better. This includes things like providing references of other work that you used during the mixing stage as a guide, to the overall sound you’re shooting for. It’s also good to know something about the recording and mixing process. For example, if the mix engineer put something tubey on the mix buss, we don’t need to be putting any more of that vibe on the master, and so forth. In general, any information that you think could be helpful in steering the project in the right direction is incredibly useful.
Having said that, sometimes people just want the mastering engineer to “do their thing” and that’s fine too!
2) Tell your Mastering Engineer what the final delivery format will be
It’s helpful to know what the final delivery format of your music is going to be – for example CD, vinyl, streaming audio, or all of the above. Some sites, like Bandcamp, prefer that you upload 24 bit files if you have them. The idea is that if you’re going to make mp3s out of them it’s better to start with more information than less. There is also the option of “mastering for iTunes” so that the files don’t clip when they’re converted to the m4a format.
3) Treat the audio carefully
Keep the mixes at the native sample rate of the session. Don’t sample rate convert or use software pitch change/tempo adjustment unnecessarily. Finding elegant ways to do that is part of the mastering process. Don’t put the music to tape just because it’s tape! Make sure that the tape machine is well-maintained and aligned properly. Many times it will only add noise and make things more muddy sounding. Listen carefully to the results and compare with the in-the-box mix. There are only a few tape machines, in my experience, that are really suitable to print mixes to. A good ATR 102 for example. Don’t run your music out of the workstation and through analog gear and back into the workstation again unless you have really good analog-to-digital or digital-to-analog converters, really good wire, etc. In general, make sure that the mixes you provide for mastering are of the highest quality you can produce.
4) Give your mastering engineer a little dynamic range to work with
I know sometimes this is difficult. Crushing your mixes and then sending them to mastering is kind of like having a dog and barking yourself.
5) Review the mixes very carefully
It’s always surprising to me how many times clients hear something that needs to be changed AFTER it’s been mastered. Take some time and make sure the mixes are right.
6) Avoid imposing unrealistic deadlines
Preferably you don’t want to have to send the master off to manufacturing right after the mastering session. Try to give yourself a week or two to live with the master and completely make sure it’s what you want. And don’t be shy about criticizing the work. We mastering engineers are here to make a record that is as close to your ideal as possible.
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