you are producing CD's, vinyl records or
going with an Internet delivery medium, your music needs
mastered. Here are some answers to a few of the most
commonly asked questions regarding mastering.
I'll start with the two most obvious (updated 4/23/02).
WHY DO I NEED MASTERING?
Mastering is one of the most important links in the chain
of music production. Yet, it is probably the least understood.
And it is rapidly becoming the most abused. You can be assured
that no music is released by a major label or competitive
indi label that has not been mastered.
Before we explore what mastering is, let's look at what
can result if a project is not mastered. An album that has
not been mastered may exhibit one or all of the following
1. The CD is low in volume compared to others. Or, if on
cassette, it is noisy and distant sounding.
2. The songs are uneven in volume. Some are too loud, some
3. The songs do not have a consistent sound. Some have more
bass than others, some are brighter and thin sounding etc.
4. The album doesn't seem to flow properly.
5. There is noise between the songs.
6. There is no spaciousness to the sound. It sounds confined
between the two speakers.
7. It sounds O.K. on big systems, but it doesn't sound good
in the car or on boom boxes.
8. It can't be played at a loud volume without the stereo
9. It doesn't sound like other albums. The EQ has to be
adjusted for it to play back correctly.
JUST WHAT IS MASTERING?
is the final step of assembling and polishing your project
so that it sounds as good as it possibly can before it goes
to manufacturing. The mastering engineer will adjust the
sound of each song so that they match in a cohesive manner,
and will assemble the album so it sounds consistent and
has a natural flow to it rather than just sounding like
a bunch of songs stuck together,. It is the step in which
the sound is tailored for the specific delivery format -
CD, vinyl, online delivery- whatever the medium, each has
its own special requirements for sound, and a specific way
the master has to be formatted.
I used to think
of mastering as the link between production and manufacturing,
but actually Glenn Meadows of Masterfonics in Nashville
had a better perspective when he stated that mastering is
the link between the pro audio industry and the hi-fi industry.
The idea is to take material that (hopefully) sounds great
on big studio monitors and make it translate equally well
to the home system.
The mastering session is the last chance for problems to
be identified and fixed. It is also the last chance to screw
things up. This is one of the main reasons why the mastering
engineer must have the experience and the ear to find the
problems and apply the fixes, and to not create problems
A mastering session can include any or all of the following:
-- Editing the songs into proper order.
-- Adjusting the spacing between songs (called "spreads").
-- Crossfading between songs.
-- Chasing fade in's/out's to perfect digital silence.
-- Fading out songs earlier, or fading in songs that have
-- Processing each song individually so that it matches
the others in
volume and eq.
-- Adjusting the volume of sections of a song - the solo
guitar intro and
acoustic bridge are too loud, for
-- Adding dynamic processing so that the CD plays back at
volume. Or, if on cassette, it is
-- Adding dynamic processing so lower-powered playback systems
distort at medium-loud levels.
-- Adjusting eq to make subtle changes in the mix - bringing
the vocal up,
high-hat back etc.
-- Adjusting eq so that it matches major label releases,
and is therefore
-- Adding ambience or other special processing to broaden
the stereo field.
-- Removing clicks, pops & glitches that occur during the
-- Editing between two or more mixes of the same song to
the perfect mix (comping).
-- Editing parts out of a song to shorten it, or repeating
-- Reversing or replacing objectionable words for a radio
version of a song.
-- Mixing in (spotting) fx. Anything can be mixed into the
gunshots to finger snaps. (You must
bring in the fx you want spotted.)
mastering engineer should have several qualifications in
order to do his job properly. First of all, he should have
experience as a recording engineer. The most prominent and
successful mastering engineers have years of experience
behind the console, giving him the trained ears to make
qualified judgments about your music, and to make the proper
adjustments. It also gives him/her the knowledge to use
the sophisticated mastering processing gear, which is somewhat
similar to processors in a recording studio, but used in
subtly different ways.
he should have a good knowledge of music. Just as important
as his experience in recording, his knowledge of music will
help him point out problems or make suggestions about song
order, spacing etc.
he must have good ears. This will be the last chance your
music has for problems to be corrected and the sound to
be enhanced. Without good, trained ears, the mastering engineer
would have no way of pinpointing the problems, or finding
and enhancing the sweet spots that make your music come
he should have the ability to work with any music genre.
It is important that the mastering engineer be familiar
with all types of music, and have an understanding of the
differences in production sound between the different genres.
A good mastering engineer can master any type of music properly.
the mastering engineer has to understand the special requirements
of the different production formats. This not only assures
you that the sound will be correct for CD, vinyl or whatever
you are producing, but that you will have no problems with
your manufacturer because the master was not formatted correctly.
D.E.S. DIFFERENCE - As of 2011, our mastering
engineer, George Geurin, brings 36 years experience in music
production: 16 years as a recording engineer, 20 years as
a mastering engineer, and 47 years experience as a musician.
Since DES began in 1991, George has mastered over
3000 albums covering virtually every music genre. Click
Here for a bio.
equipment that is used to master your music, and the room
in which this is done, are critical. In order for your project
to be enhanced and improved, and not harmed, the equipment
has to be of the highest caliber. The processing gear found
in a good mastering room is at least as good as, and most
often better, than that found in the very best recording
studio. If the gear is not of the very highest standard,
the sound quality of your music will be harmed.
monitoring system is equally important. The mastering engineer
has to be able to trust his monitor system, even more so
than the recording engineer, because they will be used to
make the very last adjustments and corrections to the sound
before manufacturing. Of course the monitors, amplifiers,
and wiring have to be of the very best quality, and equally
important is the D/A (Digital-to-Analog) converter.
mastering suite itself goes hand-in-glove with the monitoring
system. It should be spacious enough to allow low bass frequencies
to fully develop, and the acoustical design should be tight
& accurate, like a good control room.
D.E.S. DIFFERENCE - DES is proud to be
the first mastering facility in the North-Texas/Oklahoma
region to offer high-density mastering, featuring the new
Sonic Solutions SSHD and soundBlade High-Density
Mastering Systems. These system are the audio mastering
standards. They offer 88.2k or 96k mastering at 48 bit resolution.
Even when mastering from 16 bit, 44.1 or 48khz sources,
this yields a noticeable improvement in sound.
DES mastering rack features some of the finest digital
and analog processing gear available, including the TC
Electronic S6000 mkII 48 bit digital mainframe with
TC's world-renowned MD-3 and MD-4 mastering software
and the George Massenburg Labs quad-precision digital eq.
ever-expanding analog processing gear currently includes
the Manley Massive Passive tube eq, Manley Mastering
SLAM!, Legendary Audio Masterpiece Thermionic Culture
Phoenix Master Compressor and Mastering Culture Vulture,
the TubeTech SMC-2B tube compressor, and 96Khz/24
bit AD/DA conversion by Metric Halo, Mytek and TC
monitoring system features Lipinski L-707's powered
by Bryson with dual Velodyne DD-12 subwoofers
, all fed by the United Audio 2192 96Khz/24 bit D-to-A
converter. Of course all processing and monitoring is switched
digitally, through our Crookwood mastering console.
THE RECORDING STUDIO MASTER MY PROJECT?
but maybe not as well as a mastering suite. Here are some
reasons. First of all, you probably donŐt want the same
person mastering your project as tracked it and mixed it,
and the reason is simple: they are too close to the music.
They have heard it too many times already, and are unable
to make any real objective decisions about the sound. One
of the advantages of turning your project over to a mastering
suite is that the mastering engineer has not heard the project,
and therefore has no preconceptions about it. He will be
able to deal with it as it truly is, and match it up to
other sources in order to bring it around to a broadcast
mastering is a much different job from engineering, and
really requires a different thought process. It is not the
kind of thing that someone can just switch gears from engineering,
put on a different hat, and suddenly be a mastering engineer.
The difference is, a mastering engineer approaches the mix
from a perspective which focuses on the balance of the entire
frequency spectrum rather than the balance of individual
instruments or voices. Usually, the best mastering engineers
are dedicated to mastering only.
you definitely do not want your music mastered in the same
room on the same monitors with which it was mixed. If you
research the recording process of most major albums, you
will find they were most often tracked by one engineer,
mixed by another in a different studio, and mastered by
a third in yet a different location. This way, the project
does not get myopic in that one person is not dictating
the sound, and it is being listened to in different acoustic
environments, and a different board and eq are affecting
the sound in the mixdown than was used during tracking.
If the first room is not accurate in one frequency range
during tracking, then that is not being compounded by mixing
in the same environment. The tracking engineer did his best
job in getting the tracks recorded, the mixing engineer
had a totally fresh start in a different room on different
monitors, and the mastering engineer gives it the final
sweetening necessary to put it over the edge from a good
sounding album to a great one. Of course, most grassroots
projects canŐt afford the luxury of multiple engineers and
studios during the recording process, but at least the final
step of mastering is reachable. It is surprisingly affordable
to have your project professionally mastered. Click
Here for the DES rate page.
worst situation is when the studio has a little side room
set up for "mastering". Often these are not properly
designed rooms at all, and usually are not large enough
for bass frequencies to develop properly in order to make
critical bass eq decisions. And to compound the problem,
they will often use budget-priced workstations with shoddy
plug-ins for the mastering, editing and assembly, which
will destroy the sonic integrity of your project.
that you have a better basic understanding of the mastering
process, you need to prepare your original masters properly
during the mixdown sessions and avoid the many pitfalls
that can plague you. Go
to Tips & Tricks
CD PLANT SAYS MASTERING IS INCLUDED IN MY PRICING.
is a common misunderstanding. The CD plant will cut a "glass
master", which is an identical digital clone of the
production master that you send them. Nothing is altered
during this process, it is only a transfer.