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Audio mastering is a specialist form of audio engineering which uses very carefully selected tools to adjust music tracks in sympathy to genre. Optimize the technical (translation) results, musicality, intended purposes and client goals. It requires a unique way of listening and responding to music which is often considered as mysterious by many. Audio mastering is a blend of both artistic and technical skill.
It is a synergy of numerous factors. These include long term professional audio engineering and listening experience. Objectivity of fresh and well trained ears is often under estimated. Along with an accurate, familiar and high resolution monitoring system and room. The engineer can apply the primary functions of the equipment such as equalization or dynamic adjustments. To enhance and correct perceived inadequacies.
The process of mastering is one of the most important and often overlooked steps in audio engineering. It’s the final stage before an album or single is released to the public. This is where each song is level-balanced, frequencies receive finishing touches, small imperfections are removed, and any other problems with the mix are ironed out. Mastering is what takes a recorded and mixed song to a professional level for CD and radio play.
Audio Mastering, is a form of audio post production, and the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix to a data storage device (the master), the source from which all copies will be produced (via methods such as pressing, duplication or replication). In recent years digital masters have become usual, although analog masters, such as audio tapes, are still being used by the manufacturing industry, particularly by a few engineers who specialize in analog mastering.
Mastering requires critical listening, however, software tools exist to facilitate the process. Results depend upon the intent of the engineer, the skills of the engineer, the accuracy of the speaker monitors, and the listening environment. Mastering engineers often apply equalization and dynamic range compression in order to optimize sound translation on all playback systems.
The Music Mastering Process
CREATE YOUR MUSIC
Step one of the process is recording and producing your record or track from any studio.
UPLOAD YOUR FILES
Make a compressed zip folder of your files / vocals. Send files using WeTransfer.com to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WE MASTER IT & RETURN
We master your tracks to be radio ready. Then send you the completed tracks via email.
RECEIVE AND REVISE
Download and review the final master. If you don’t love it, you can request unlimited revisions free of charge.
How Much Does The Music Mastering Service Cost?
A single song mix using our professional mastering service normally starts at just £35.00, with prices based on turnaround time.
Get in touch for a quote based on your project’s requirements as song mastering prices may vary. Stereo mastering is the final process before a song is released to the public. This is where levels are balanced, frequencies receive finishing touches, and any other problems with the mix are ironed-out. Files submitted for mastering should be in the highest resolution available, and generally in .WAV or .AIF format. Additionally, for the best possible masters, we recommend removing any pre-mastering processing such as limiting, and keeping the highest peak-level of each song at -3dB or less. This allow us enough headroom to best sculpt the dynamics and over-all sound of your songs. Finished songs are delivered as downloadable Redbook Standard WAV files.
In the 1990s, electro-mechanical processes were largely superseded by digital technology, with digital recordings stored on hard disk drives or digital tape and mastered to CD. The digital audio workstation (DAW) became common in many mastering facilities, allowing the off-line manipulation of recorded audio via a graphical user interface (GUI). Although many digital processing tools are common during mastering, it is also very common to use analog media and processing equipment for the mastering stage. Just as in other areas of audio, the benefits and drawbacks of digital technology compared to analog technology are still a matter for debate. However, in the field of audio mastering, the debate is usually over the use of digital versus analog signal processing rather than the use of digital technology for storage of audio.
Digital systems have higher performance and allow mixing to be performed at lower maximum levels. When mixing to 24-bits with peaks between -3 and -10 dBFS on a mix, the mastering engineer has enough headroom to process and produce a final master. It is important to allow enough headroom for the mastering engineer’s work. Reduction of dynamics by the mix or mastering engineer has resulted in a loudness war in commercial recordings.
The source material, ideally at the original resolution, is processed using equalization, compression, limiting and other processes. Additional operations, such as editing, specifying the gaps between tracks, adjusting level, fading in and out, noise reduction and other signal restoration and enhancement processes can also be applied as part of the mastering stage. The source material is put in the proper order, commonly referred to as assembly (or ‘track’) sequencing. These operations prepare the music for either digital or analog, e.g. vinyl, replication.
If the material is destined for vinyl release, additional processing, such as dynamic range reduction or frequency-dependent stereo–to–mono fold-down and equalization may be applied to compensate for the limitations of that medium. For compact disc release, start of track, end of track, and indexes are defined for playback navigation along with International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) and other information necessary to replicate a CD. Vinyl LP and cassettes have their own pre-duplication requirements for a finished master. Subsequently, it is rendered either to a physical medium, such as a CD-R or DVD-R, or to computer files, such as a Disc Description Protocol (DDP) file set or an ISO image. Regardless of what delivery method is chosen, the replicator factory will transfer the audio to a glass master that will generate metal stampers for replication.
The process of audio mastering varies depending on the specific needs of the audio to be processed. Mastering engineers need to examine the types of input media, the expectations of the source producer or recipient, the limitations of the end medium and process the subject accordingly. General rules of thumb can rarely be applied.
Steps of the process typically include the following:
- Transferring the recorded audio tracks into the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
- Sequence the separate songs or tracks as they will appear on the final release
- Adjust the length of the silence between songs
- Process or sweeten audio to maximize the sound quality for the intended medium (e.g. applying specific EQ for vinyl)
- Transfer the audio to the final master format (CD-ROM, half-inch reel tape, PCM 1630 U-matic tape, etc.)
Examples of possible actions taken during mastering:
- Editing minor flaws
- Applying noise reduction to eliminate clicks, dropouts, hum and hiss
- Adjusting stereo width
- Equalize audio across tracks for the purpose of optimized frequency distribution
- Adjust volume
- Dynamic range compression or expansion
- Peak limit
- Inserting ISRC codes and CD text
- Arranging tracks in their final sequential order
- Fading out the ending of each song