What is Mastering?

What is Mastering?

The final stage before unleashing your tracks on the world

Once recordings have been finalised and mixed down to a single stereo file, they are ready for mastering. Mastering is the final stage of the recording process before sending off for duplication or uploading to digital platforms like iTunes or bandcamp etc.
From a sonic point of view, it involves making sure that all tracks sound as good as possible and sit together properly. So the acoustic ballad isn't louder than the full on rocker and that they are consistent tonally, so one track isn't overly bright and the next dull.
It also involves using compression and limiting to make sure tracks aren't overly dynamic and use the full dynamic range. There is a limit to how loud digital can go so compression and limiting are used to increase the apparent loudness of a track by reducing the dynamic range.
It all requires an experienced set of ears to know how the tracks will translate to a variety of systems, from tiny phone speakers to club PA systems.
For the best results, it's better not to think of mastering as a stage that will fix a poor mix but one that will enhance a great mix. The best sounding masters are the best sounding mixes.
If it's an album then the tracks are arranged in order and any crossfades or gaps between the tracks are made. This is an important part of making an album flow.
At this stage various codes can be added to the master CD. CD text can be added that means track names come up on certain CD players, often in cars, ISRC codes are important for logging radio plays and getting royalties, UPC/EAN product codes identify your album.
Once all this is done the master can be burned to a master CD for sending off to duplication, or a DDP which can be sent over the internet. Full quality wav files will also be exported for sending off to digital distributors or uploading to streaming sites like Soundcloud.

The loudness wars and how quiet is the new loud

Over recent years trends have often been to try and make tracks sound as loud as possible, no-one wanted their tracks to be quieter so mastering has gotten louder and louder, at the expense of dynamics and sometimes sound quality as engineers try to eek every last bit of volume out of a track. There is plenty of internet discussion on this, search for loudness war and you can find plenty of people with opinions about it.
Recently the trend has started to lessen a little as streaming sites like Spotify, Youtube and iTunes radio have begun to use volume levelling algorithms. These mean that really loud masters are turned down and can actually end up sounding quieter than things that have been mastered quieter but have retained dynamics.
There is a good example here with someone using U2 tracks over the years. It's a bit technical but worth a watch. Ultimately though, it's your music and how your tracks sound is up to you.

If you want to get your tracks mastered at Edwin Street, we will need...
  • 24 bit wavs of your final mixes at whichever sample rate you've been recording at. Remove all EQ, compression, stereo wideners and limiting that's over the final mix to give as much control and dynamic range as possible. No limiting is particularly important, there is very little that can be done with mixes that have been limited already. Mastering from an mp3 file is not wise either.
  • If you've been mixing with a limiter on make sure the mixes are still balanced with it off.
  • Make sure none of the tracks are distorting unintentionally or clipping, leave some headroom.
  • Album and track titles with correct spelling and capitalisation, track order if you have one, I will happily suggest if not, ISRC codes and UPC/EAN codes.If that doesn't mean anything to you I can explain. If you have any tracks you want to run into each other let me know.
  • If you need any instrumentals doing send them at the same time
  • Send me a message using the contact form and I'll tell you where to send the files via wetransfer/dropbox etc
  • Reference tracks are very helpful
  • Final masters can be sent as 24/16 bit wavs, Audio CD and DDP.
  • If the tracks are to end up on vinyl let me know as well.
  • Costs are £30 per track, discounts are available for bulk requests and albums.

    Edwin Street Recording Studio