The dark art of Mastering.
The very first thing to take into account before mastering is the mixing of your track. Is your mix right? Does it all sit in the required ranges? Is everything balanced as best as possible?
With the technology we have nowadays more and more people can make music in almost any environment which is great but its even better if you have an understanding of the recording and mixing process. How many times have you sent off a mix to a mastering engineer and it has been sent back because your mix isn’t right? Sometimes a mastering engineer can fix certain things but if you have very little knowledge on how to record and mix then it could be a nightmare process of sending your mix back and forth.
A good mastering engineer works out of a specially designed room calibrated for optimal listening and uses gear that costs a lot of money. Mastering engineers also have the best of the best in speakers and hardware. One of the biggest things to consider is the A/D D/A converter and again they come at an expensive price but it is essential to have a good converter. Make sure you have a good dedicated mastering compressor too. The difference between analog and digital mastering is that analog uses electricity while digital uses numbers. Software for mastering is making major progress but still cant do what analog gear brings to the sound. A very interesting process in mastering is the use of Mid-Side EQ’ing which can help bring certain elements back into place or put them in the correct spot. Metering also plays a very important role in mastering and with the combination of your ears and some knowledge of different formats like CD, iTunes and Vinyl this can help you to reach a good required level for the finished product.
Some clients that lack experience in recording and mixing can totally kill dynamic range by applying limiters then send that mix to a mastering engineer. The “loudness war” also makes clients think that they should be boosting everything to a certain level (usually over into the red zone) and then expect a mastering engineer to give it even more of a boost. As mentioned above it pays to do some research when working with audio especially if your going to send it to a mastering engineer, remember its called mastering not MAGIC!
“Recording and mastering engineers trying to impress record execs with loud recordings, recordings all vying for market share by trying to out-yell each other, and a culture of listening to such recordings through cheap D/A converters playing highly compressed files which are then pumped (with the digital EQs on their computer bumped up and the normalizer on) through shitty headphones or el-cheapo computer speakers.” – https://www.residentadvisor.net/features/1007, Peter Chambers, Thu, 29 Jan 2009.
The mastering stage also involves some very intense critical listening and with this you have to know what your listening for. If you have really good knowledge on frequencies, how instruments sound and general processing these skills will aid in getting a better sounding master. Another over looked job of the mastering engineer is helping and finalizing the order of the tracks for an album. If the mastering engineer is spending hours upon hours listening to your tracks for an album its safe to say they could well be the best person to organize or re-arrange your albums track order. Mastering engineers also apply fades to the tracks and can determine how long of a gap to have for the next track. For example, maybe the gap needs to be slightly longer for a song that has captured and created a certain emotion for the listener giving them time to re-adjust for the next track. Reference tracks are very important in mastering as these can also aid in helping shape the music to a released commercial track or a track that’s in the same genre.
3 great things with digital mastering:
- Good price plugins
- Updates for plugins
- Recall settings
3 disadvantages with digital mastering:
- Processing power
- Lack of colour in the sound
- Missed opportunity from great analog gear
3 great things with analog mastering:
- Usage of our ears rather than meters
- Analog gear can do its own thing sometimes which can add noise or distortion
- Being able to get hands on
3 disadvantages with analog mastering:
- Cost of mastering gear is very expensive
- Maintenance of outboard gear
- Time factor for patching and tweaking
Good mastering is essential for your final product and even more so when working on a collaboration project that may involve multiple studios and artists. The mastering engineer will help with making all the tracks sit at a relative level to each other so that the entire album plays the same right the way through. Mastering can be looked at like “Quality control” with processes like correcting frequencies, removing unwanted clicks and hisses, levelling out the bass, compression, equalisers, adding of markers, cleaning up fades, insertion of a master track log and the establishing of sonic fields for all tracks, spacing between tracks and track order, as well as track length which all help to create a marketable music product.
Another aspect to take into account is that different genres will require different styles of mastering so again reference tracks and knowledge of music styles and instruments will help a mastering engineer get a greater sound to a track or genre specific album. Correct formats of final masters is very important along with correct naming conventions.
A great piece of music made by good artists and players of instruments along with a great mix that gets sent to a mastering engineer (who knows exactly what they are doing) can help boost the final product to a whole new level and if everything is done right you may potentially be up for taking out Grammy’s!! That’s a good thing!!
With the right backing and investments quality analog mastering can definitely give your product that awesome sound just like your favourite bands or artists that inspire you.
Inside the dark art of mastering. (2016). Resident Advisor. Retrieved 13 October 2016, from https://www.residentadvisor.net/features/1007
Mastering with Hardware | Ryan Peoples. (2016). Ryanpeoples.com. Retrieved 13 October 2016, from http://ryanpeoples.com/masteringwithhardware
The Dark Art of Mastering Music | Pitchfork. (2016). Pitchfork.com. Retrieved 13 October 2016, from http://pitchfork.com/features/article/9894-the-dark-art-of-mastering-music/