MASTERING

Your recordings are mixed..
Now you need the world to hear it!
What is mastering and why do I need it?

Traditionally, the term “mastering” referred to the process of transferring a final mix from the studio to a master press from which all vinyls/CDs would be cut for final distribution. This included making decisions on the order of songs for an album, adjusting tonal balance between tracks, and controlling low and high frequencies for vinyl cutting to ensure there was no skipping or distortion.

With the advent of digital recording and distribution, mastering has taken on a slightly broader definition and there are a few misconceptions.

Essentially, the purpose of mastering is to get your tracks ready for everyone to listen to it. Those beautifully mixed tracks sound awesome pumping out of the exorbitant, ridiculously expensive speakers in the professional studio, but frankly, over 90% of your audience will be listening to it through their car speakers or the cheap headphones that came with their smart phone, or even through the phone’s speaker! Not everyone is an audiophile.

Music is being distributed via physical mediums less and less with the rise of online distribution and streaming services. Recent loudness standards have been applied to audio in TV and radio broadcasts, but no one standard exists for music online. Streaming platforms will compress uploads differently and the last thing you want is to upload your banging tracks to YouTube only to hear them become lifeless or even distort.   

Mastering is..
Mastering is not..
..optimising the perceived loudness of a mix without changing the tonal quality
..compressing/brickwall-limiting a mix to make it as loud (and lifeless) as possible
..applying subtle amounts of EQ and compression to achieve a consistent tonal quality over all tracks
..applying large amounts of audio processing to adjust the tonal balance.
..preparing tracks to meet the standards necessary for distribution, i.e. CD/red-book standard, online streaming, vinyl
..mixing! They are two separate processes; treat them as such. If your mix is too quiet, turn your speakers up!
Preparing Your Mix For Mastering

When sending in your final mix for mastering, there are a few prerequisites. Keep in mind the following:

  • Leave around 6dBFS headroom on your mix (observe your levels on the Master buss and use RMS or PPM metering, not peak level)
  • Make certain there is absolutely no clipping
  • Send uncompressed audio files with the highest sample rate and resolution used
  • Do not use any signal processing on the Master buss
  • Mastering is not about adding “sparkle” to a mix; it’s not a method of putting a cherry on top. Get your mix to sound as good as you can.