Mastering, the unknown art, many people don’t understand what it is and many other confuse it with a remix or other production steps such as mixing.
As a Mastering engineer, I had to explain a thousand times what mastering is, so…
What is Mastering?
Historically mastering has been the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix to a data storage device called the master. This master is the source from which all copies are produced.
Today mastering refers to the audio process that enhances the sound and balances the mix with EQ, compression, and limiting, among other things. This provides consistent loudness and sound through all the tracks of an album.
So, what are the benefits of mastering?
One of the main goals of mastering is to correct mix balance issues and enhance the overall sound. We want our song to sound well in all devices such as mobile phones, cars, computers, etc. This can be achieved with a good spectral balance.
This process usually involves equalization and multi-band compression. MasteringBOX uses what is called “dynamic equalization” to auto-balance the mix and obtain a compensated spectral response, suitable for most devices.
It is also important how the individual tracks sound together when played one after another on an album. Are the loudness levels similar? Is there a consistent sound?
If you recorded all the album songs in the same studio, then your songs may (or may not) sound more or less similar, however, the loudness will definitely not be the same. It is important to decrease the differences between tracks while maintaining the character of each of them, which in many cases will mean different settings for each song. This is why MasteringBOX has a Loudness and EQ control adjustable settings, although many times you’ll get similar levels and sound from MasteringBOX out of the box.
Yes, loudness is important too. You may have heard about the “loudness war” and all the controversy around it, mastering indeed can be a two-edged sword if not used properly. But we can’t deny that loudness is one of the goals in mastering. But why is it important?
It’s because human hearing is less sensitive to low and high frequencies, as you can check in the figure above. This means that when we listen to a song at a low volume, we will mostly hear just the mid frequencies and the track will sound poor, with no punch and warmth. As we raise the volume we will start hearing the lower and higher frequencies and it will suddenly sound better, even if the track was not modified at all. I’m sure you will all have experienced this when producing your songs, haven’t you? Now you know the reason.
Mastering uses compression and limiting to obtain loudness without affecting the song’s dynamics too much. It is important to find the sweet spot with a good compromise between loudness and dynamics. MasteringBOX will obtain a nice loudness level preserving the dynamics and sound of the track, but if you don’t like where is set you can change it with the Loudness Control, you decide which is the sweet spot for you.
Preparation for Distribution
Because mastering is the final production step just before CD replication or online publishing, you will need to output to the final audio format to obtain the best quality. Depending on your needs you will need different audio formats.
In the case of CD replication, it will mean converting to 16 bit/44.1 kHz audio through re-sampling and/or dithering, depending on the original audio source. For web or digital distribution, mastering can be optimized for conversion to MP3 and include the required metadata.
So, does your track or album need mastering? Yes, it does, always. It will sound better and more consistent and here at MasteringBOX, you can do it for FREE. Check how to prepare your track for mastering, for more info.
Post picture under creative commons attribution license by halfrain