What is Mastering?
Mastering is the final adjustments of tone and space so that your music is consistent with great sounding records of your genre. What a mastering engineer does is listen to many different records and reference recordings or mixes on a specially tuned system. They understand how the best sounding records represent the loose concepts of treble, bass, depth, width, and warmth. There are a number of factors that need to be considered during mastering sessions that will allow the recordings to sound their best, and for the album to sound consistent from one song to another.
Like nearly everything, the recording of music has become more sophisticated. Currently a competitive artist, record label, or producer will record at the studio(s) of their choice, mix the recording, and then deliver the stereo digital master to a dedicated, hi-end mastering suite for additional processing, polishing, editing, balancing, and other professional touches. These enhancements, if done on a professional level, make a dramatic difference in the quality, impact, image, and competitiveness of the final commercial release. The recording will have consistent frequency response from lows to highs and volume consistency from song to song, and will translate well from small to large playback systems. True, professional quality mastering is not just "Burning a CD".
Why is Mastering important in today's competitive music market?
As the recording industry grows from commercial to home studio based set-ups, each year brings more artists, labels, producers, and managers etc. into the commercial music arena. This propels the industry, but also creates an increasingly competitive environment. The "core" people, whose opinion can affect the success of the recording artist, more and more are using the "science" as a "filter" for the art. In other words, if the sonic quality is not at a high level, the performance or artist probably will be perceived negatively or not even considered by labels, radio stations, record sellers, and record buyers. Having a recording professionally mastered increases the probabilities of success immeasurably at every level, no matter if the recording was done in a home studio, live, or in a "state of the art" professional recording studio.How mastering affects your mixes overall ? in a simple phrase. It's the difference between a demo and a commercial record.
What should you expect from professional mastering?
The most important criteria is: the recording should sound undeniably better than before it was mastered. Unfortunately, there are many places that solicit "mastering" that actually degrade the recording as they "burn a CD", and charge for mastering while lowering the sonic quality and integrity. The mastering engineer should use the right sound processers and technique to make each unique recording sound better; better being defined as improved sonic quality that is also consistent with the style or attitude of the art.
What will it cost?
Because each recording is unique in its origin and each has unique requirements and sonic details, mastering is usually billed on an hourly basis. The hourly rate for professional hi-end mastering ranges from $60 to $500 per hour or more depending on the facility and location. The average album of 45 to 60 minutes usually takes 6-8 hours of mastering time. At Bad Vibe Studios the quality, equipment, and engineers are world class and no hourly fees are applied. With each contract mastering is always included. We believe when you recieve your final product, whether a Full length album to a single, it will be the final product ready for replication and duplication.
What's better - Analog or Digital?
It would be accurate to state that it is universally agreed that there are desirable characteristics to both formats, therefore the best results would be to use the best of both formats to maximize the results. In general, analog exhibits characteristics of warmth, accuracy of detail, smooth frequency response, and "punch". Digital has characteristics of low residual noise, superior editing capabilities, unlimited programs and platforms of artificial intelligence and, of course, is the appropriate interface to create the CD "master".
What is the Audio Mastering process and tools in detail ?
After the mixdown
Most of the basic techniques for audio mastering are similar to the mix process itself. Most mixes come in at less than 100% of their potential so it's our job to correct any mistakes as well as 'sweeten' the mix. Depending on the state of the mixdown the mastering applied can be both corrective and enhancement oriented. Hopefully it's the latter more than the former. When correcting must be done there is a balance that must be made. Any change in one aspect of the mix generally affects another. For instance if a vocal is not clear enough some eq might be added to bring it out. In turn though this could cause other elements in the mix to stand out too much. In this repsect there is always a give and take.Scheduled mix sessions are applied to make sure your mix sounds exactly as you want each and every element to be voiced, leveled, E.Q.ed,e.t.c.Before any mastering is applied.
Comparison to other tracks
Another aim in mastering is to make sure the finished song stands up against its peers when played side by side. This is the primary cause of the 'loudness war' as each artist feels the need to compete with other artists level of loudness. This has led to an escalation of loudness levels to the point where music is crushed in the pursuit of higher levels.Beyond these tools is th
e need for an acoustically suited room and monitoring system. And finally of course the most important tool is the ears and experience of the engineer.
One of the main aspects is to adjust the tone of each track using equalisation. This will serve a number of roles. The first main purpose will be to correct any possible problems in the final mixes that may not have been noticed during the mixing sessions. Often these problems may be caused due to the room and monitoring system that was used during the mixing.
Essentially every room has it’s own sound and this will affect the way in which you hear the music in that room. Certain rooms can mask or even enhance certain frequencies. This can mean that the mixing engineer may compensate for the sound of the room by adding frequencies that they are not hearing, or cutting out problem frequencies that are enhanced by the room. This can often lead to mixes that may sound great in that particular room, not translating well to other sound systems. In this situation, mastering provides an essential quality control on the recording by taking it into a different acoustically treated environment with a full range monitor system. This allows any problems that may not have been noticed during the mixing session to be accurately corrected. This role has become more vital over the last decade with more and more recordings being made in small home studios.
Equalisation also allows the overall tone of each song to be enhanced to make the songs sound more consistent between each other and to sound the best they can. It is common for many recordings to be made over a long period of time and to be recorded and mixed in different sessions and studios. So while the finished tracks may sound great on their own, they may not flow when placed in the final order next to each other. Equalisation allows the mastering engineer to adjust the general tone of each track to make them flow and sound consistent. Essentially this is a way of looking at the entire collection of songs and to view the album as a whole. So while the recording process usually focuses on one track at a time, the mastering engineer will look at how the whole collection of songs sound together.
The second most common type of processing applied would be compression. Again this can be done both digitally and with analog.Compressing can 'gel' or 'glue' a mix together and make many of the elements of a mix sit together more consistently, and can be used to shape the attack of many of the percussive elements of a song. This is a result of the transients being reduced and tightening up of the dynamics of the mix. Perhaps the snare and kick were poking out of the mix a little, compression can tame them making the mix more cohesive. The benefit of controlling the peaks in the audio is that it allows us turn up the average level of the track, making the song louder.
Another more aggressive form of compression is peak limiting. As the name suggests, peak limiting is a very fast form of compression with an extremely high ratio. This means that the mastering engineer can set an upper threshold on the limiter and no audio will be allowed to pass this level. Any audio that exceeds this limit will be quickly compressed. This is the main area where the mastering engineer can add volume to a track. If we turn down the loud peaks, we can increase the average volume of the track without causing digital distortion. This is where mastering can make the volume of the tracks sound more consistent.
It should be noted that compression is actually a form of distortion and needs to be applied with care. While initially a louder sounding recording may sound subjectively better when compared to a softer recording, there is always a compromise as compression/limiting can take away the dynamics of the song. It is important for the mastering engineer to find the compromise between audio quality, dynamics and loudness. This is where the experience and expertise of the mastering engineer shines through.
Multiband processing is very popular now especially in plugin form. This allows compression of certain bands only. This is a good way to fix problems in the mix without affecting other areas. If the kick and bassline were too prominent they could be compressed while allowing the rest of the mix to breath. Similarly if the top end is too harsh in places then multiband can be used to only affect those areas needed.
The forth major area looked at in mastering is width. By manipulating the stereo and mono components of a mix the sound can be widened making it seem more 3D. Again multiband processing can be used here to affect only certain areas of the mix. Care has to be taken in order to not over do this to the point of phase problems. In this case if too much widening happens then when the mix is played on a mono system certain parts of the mix might cancel out and not be heard.
When all is said and done the finished master should be pleasurable to listen to on a variety of playback systems. This includes headphones, computer speakers, car radio, home stereo and in many cases also club systems. When a mix translates across all of these areas then the mastering job should be considered a success.
Our aim is to take your project to the next sonic level and help it perform in the competitive market place. Remember the better the mix the better the mastering!
Bad Vibe Studios