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Mastering: Decoding the ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of It All

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This article originally appeared on Soundfly.

 

Your music has been carefully recorded and painstakingly mixed, but there’s still one more step before it’s ready for the listening public: mastering.

Mastering is the bridge between the studio and the listening room; the last round of tweaks before calling it done.

But why is it necessary at all? “I wouldn’t have approved the mixes unless my music sounded exactly as I intended it to sound,” you might say. “Why would I pay someone else to keep changing it?” As it turns out, there are several very good reasons, many of which require some experience to fully grasp. Mastering, perhaps for this reason, seems mysterious to many.

Let’s pull back the curtain on this process and its objectives, bit by bit.

How to Get the Most Out of the Mastering Process

Image via Shutterstock

While many indie artists these days have become experts at recording and mixing their own music, mastering is the one step of the music-making process that still confuses many musicians. Because mastering is such a fine art, many artists have found that it’s best to leave this process to the professionals. At the same time, working with professionals can be a daunting task, especially for those of us who have a hard time handing over control. If you’re concerned about getting the best results from the mastering process, keep in mind that you can still influence the process, even if you’re not the one doing the work. Here are a few ways to approach working with a mastering engineer to ensure you get the best possible results.

mastering, Honing Your Craft

Apr 26, 2016 07:00 AM

Bobby Owsinski

The Basic 6-Step Mastering Technique That the Pros Use

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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.

3 Questions You Have to Ask Yourself Before You Get Your Song Mastered

Guy Sternberg, LowSwing studio, Berlin. (Photo by Marc Wathieu)

Many of the bands and artists that come through our studio don't know the difference between mixing and mastering, so before we go any further, let's clarify that first. Mastering is the final step of audio post-production. The purpose of mastering is to balance all the sonic elements of your mix, to get a universally satisfying playback across all media formats, and to sweeten your overall mix.

Now the big question is, "How do I know that my mix is ready for mastering?" Well, there are three things you need to ask yourself to find out.

3 Approaches to Mastering Your Tracks

Image via splice.com

This article originally appeared on the Splice blog.

Mastering is the final step in the recording process. It often involves making fine frequency adjustments using equalization, enhancing the stereo image to add a heightened sense of dimension, and carefully using compression to normalize amplitude levels. Mastering is capable of allowing your track to reach its full potential by sculpting it into something that's warm, shimmering, wide, focused, loud, and clear – all at the same time. Mastering engineers also perform arguably less creative but nonetheless vital tasks such as noise removal, arranging album tracks in to their final sequence, and embedding metadata such as ISRC codes so that tracks are fully prepared for commercial duplication and distribution.