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This is an excerpt from The Mastering Engineer's Handbook by Bobby Owsinski. It has been reprinted here with permission.
The actual mechanics of mastering can be broken down into a number of functions, namely maximizing the level of a song or songs, adjusting the frequency balance if necessary, performing any editing, adding fades and spreads, and inserting PQ codes, ISRC codes, and metadata.
What really separates the upper echelon mastering engineers from the rest is the ability to make the music (any kind of music) as big and loud and tonally balanced as possible, but with the taste to know how far to take those operations. The DAW functions, on the other hand, are somewhat mechanical, and although there are tricks involved, they usually don’t get the same amount of attention as the former. We’ll look at all of those techniques in this chapter, but first, let’s look at the basic approach used by most pro mastering engineers.