Audio mastering for a physical release can be a very different process, particularly depending upon the medium. Let’s talk about how mastering for digital versus mastering for CD versus even mastering for vinyl all differ and what goes into each.
Mastering for a digital release is the most straightforward of all mediums because the goal is solely to make the audio sound as good as it can. You may need to master for different bit depths or formats such as WAVE versus MP3, and each format can differ slightly, but essentially the main goal is to just make the audio sound better. The mastering engineer applies processing to the completed and typically rendered down, singular file mixes using analog and or digital processing to sculpt the sound in a positive direction.
Different plugins and tools will yield different results. For instance, compression is a powerful tool for bringing a sense of glue and unity to a lackluster and otherwise weak track. EQ lets you pick and choose frequencies to boost or diminish in regards to their influence over the mix as a whole to yield markedly different results. Stereo imaging is great for giving a one dimensional mix more presence.
Of course, each of these tools needs to be used artfully and in moderation. For instance, too much compression will squish the dynamic range right out of your mix so that the stereo image just looks like one giant blob of audio, taking on that all too typical sausage look which a lot of popular music today is guilty of. Too much EQ in the wrong places can make your song sound tinny or weak. In the hands of a competent engineer, however, these tools can work magic.
When mastering for physical releases, this first step remains the same, but there’s more work to be done with a physical release. When you’re set to release for a physical medium, you have to remember that the finished master will be reproduced time and time again, so everything has to be perfect on that master. A mistake on the master copy can yield embarrassing and costly mistakes when that album gets replicated in either CD or vinyl.
Mastering for vinyl is slightly different from an aural standpoint, as well, because of the limitations of the medium. Vinyl can’t hold as much dynamic range as a CD, so that has to be taken into consideration. The sequencing may even differ on a vinyl release, because as the record gets closer to the middle, the wavelengths get smaller and smaller out of necessity, so you have to put your more exciting, or louder tracks which cover a lot more ground at the beginning of the record.
Mastering for CD means you also have to program the start and stop times of the sequencing of your record in order. This is important so that when someone goes to the fourth track of your album, the fourth track starts playing. A mistake here can again yield a costly and embarrassing mistake.
First thing’s first, however. You want your music to sound as good as possible, and audio mastering is the best way to accomplish that. Start with a free sample to experience how much better your music could be sounding in the capable and competent hands of our engineers today.