Mastering is all too often misunderstood in terms of its purpose as the final aspect in the audio production chain. You’ve written the songs, recorded them in a studio or at home, then mixed the various tracks which make up each song. All of these tracks are mixed and rendered down to a single file, represented commonly in a WAVE format. It’s that final mix in a singular file format which is sent off to a mastering engineer who can make that song sound even better than it did in its final mix form. Let’s talk about the purpose of mastering, what goes into it, and how it makes your music sound better and ready for release.
I mentioned that the mastering engineer takes your final mix and makes it sound even better. But how do they do this? Through the artful application of different plugins and effects which you may have used during the tracking process, the mastering engineer can effectively unlock the true magic and potential of a finished mix. Using their fresh set of ears (a very important distinction to make) effects like EQ, compression, and limiters are used to bring out the best possible for of your song. For instance, EQ can be used to make a muddy recording sound cleaner, whereas a bit of compression can make your mix sound more complete with more presence by giving it the glue and consistency that it needs. About the only thing which many people think of when they think of mastering is that it makes your music sound louder. This is typically the work of a limiter, which is often the last piece used to bring your music’s levels up to be at parity now only with the other songs on the album, but with contemporary music level standards of the day.
The engineer also readies your music for a physical format if you plan on releasing it either in CD or the ever resurgent vinyl format. They do this by getting the sequencing in order, setting the track breaks (for CD) so that each track plays on time with the table of contents of that album, meaning when someone queues up track four of your album, the fourth song immediately begins playing. Other information can be written to the CD as well as MP3 files, as well, including artist information, production information, and track information such as ISR codes.
Mastering for vinyl is a different process because of the limitations of the medium you oftentimes can’t translate the exact same master to vinyl. Vinyl has less dynamic range built in as compared to CD or especially digital formats. It also doesn’t have the bass capacity which the other mediums have, as lower frequencies create larger grooves in the wax, and too much bass can cause the record to get off its track when it plays. You also have to pay special care to the sequencing on a vinyl album because as the record plays and gets closer to the middle, the high response drops off and you can’t accommodate for quite as much dynamic range the closer you get as well, so you have to put your more dynamic songs earlier on the album or further outside to accommodate for where there’s more room to operate, putting your quieter, less exciting sounding songs closer to the end of each side.
Again, the main purpose of mastering is to make your music sound better, and the best audio mastering engineers like ours offer free sample masters without your having to risk a dime, so why not submit one of your own tracks to us to experience our difference today on one of your own songs.