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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Mastering

 
Hey everyone!

It’s been nearly a week since my last blog post and during that time I have had a lot of people asking me if I could help them with some sound recording advice. The main topics have been about recording processes but in particular mastering. A lot of you have been asking why mastering is vital and what the overall purpose is, so I have decided to write and explain the point of mastering and why it is a valuable asset to post-production.

I like to think of mastering as a gloss, the final coating if you wish. It is a part of sound recording and production that optimizes playback quality on all sound devices. Mastering allows you to listen to your tracks through all kinds of media outlets by manipulating sonic elements to be balanced right.

People who create music on their own and post up their music online via Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify etc. forget that the audio playback can be terrible because they have not ‘finalized’ their sound right. What you hear yourself is not always what others hear. To someone without any knowledge of sound engineering hisses, clicks or fragmented samples will not be noticeable, however to an expert all these details are noticed without that person even looking for them. It’s second nature to a sound expert to notice this.

When I was learning all about sound recording and all the components of creating a perfect mix I started to train my ears without noticing, over the years I started to get frustrated because I couldn’t enjoy music the way I used to anymore. I would ruin my own listening experience by picking out flaws or listening to other parts of the sound others wouldn’t. I would not change anything about my music career, but I wish I could enjoy music the way I used to. I miss the element of fun behind an album release or a new single. Part of your love for music decays when you hear sound differently, it’s like becoming an adult, you can’t change it, it just happens.

You want to make your audio sound the best it could possibly be, so mastering is the way to do it. You can have top of the range gear and have a beautifully mixed album but you still need mastering to create that lasting quality so your sound can be heard the way it is intended to be. An album needs constancy, so if your sound is not balanced across the whole production, individual tracks can start sounding disjointed to each other.

I have worked with specialized mastering engineers who take so long mastering because of how complex the process is. One stage of mastering is audio restoration; this fixes any of the unwanted pops, clicks or hisses on the mix. If the details are not fixed they will stand out when the audio is amplified. When mastering stereo enhancement is needed, you want to balance your audio right. Stereo enhancement widens your mix helping it sound bigger and tighter by focusing on the low end of your mix. One of the most magical processes in sound recording is stereo enhancement, when you hear how effective it is you will understand why it is needed. With the stereo enhancement you need to make sure that your EQ is corrected because your elements will sound out of proportion when you widen your sound. The whole point of EQ and stereo widening is not just for the overall sound but the overall playback. Your frequency ranges need to be on point so that none are sticking out of place because this will throw your whole balance out.
To a beginner in sound when it comes to mastering they usually get carried away with trying to make the sound loud as possible without realizing that it can damage the sound completely. Compression corrects and enhances the dynamic range of your mix, it is pretty much helps glue everything together by bring up the quieter sounds and leveling them out with the louder signals of the mix. If your track sounds too loud or quiet in places and you have EQ’ed everything and made the balance right then compression will add that little bit extra to keep it all lined nicely. With compression there is limiting, this is the part that really makes or breaks the master. This sets the overall loudness of the track and creates a peak barrier so that your track can sound louder but does not allow your track to clip or lead to distortion. If your track is clipping slightly then you can be sure it will be noticed on any playback device.

Mixing and mastering are two different things, but people still don’t understand the difference between the two.

Mixing is about getting all of the individual sounds on your mix recorded and making sure that all of the parts are there and sounding right before anything else. Your sound at source is the key to any recording, so make sure you have your elements well recorded, that way you will have less to do at the mixing stage. If your mix is perfect then the mastering stage will only be a little process because your sound is spot on to begin with. I like to call my mixing the ‘matte stage’; even though my mix is accurate and everything sounds well together I am still missing that overall finish. This then leads to mastering, what I call the ‘gloss stage’ because the final coating is my master.

Mixing and mastering is an amazing process of sound production. The enjoyment from knowing you have created your own sound or helped someone with theirs really makes you understand the magic behind the scenes of music creation.
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2 comments

  1. Awesome write-up, thank you for this explanation!

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