Frequently Asked Questions
What is mastering?
Mastering is the final creative and technical step in the record making process. It provides artists with a final opportunity to correct or augment their mixes, focusing on creating a cohesive sound throughout an entire record. Furthermore mastering is the technical process of preparing a single, EP or LP for physical or digital distribution. This entails the final track sequencing for a record (spacing or cross-fading of neighbouring tracks) as well as embedding essential metadata into the album (track and album titles, track order, ISRC codes, album art etc). Mastering is the finishing touch that distinguishes a piece of music between the mix and its full potential.
Is mastering necessary?
The mastering stage is paramount for the completion of any track regardless of genre or the destined release format. A professional mastering engineer ensures that the sonics of every track that he or she works on is balanced in relation to the genre, that the integral details in the track are appropriately brought to the forefront and that the final master is brought up to a competitive loudness for the given genre. Mastering provides a unique perspective for an artist for sit back and look at their project for a different and more objective perspective in a fine-tuned listen environment. In essence mastering allows the artists and the mastering engineer to be the first 'consumers' of the music and decide if the artist's goal for the project has been realized and respected.
What's the difference between mixing and mastering?
The main differences between the mixing and mastering stages of a production are control and perspective. During the mixing process, the engineer has the ability to affect and control every element of a track, big and small. A mix engineer can tweak or automate any instrument, voice, sound or effect in a mix to create the desired sounds that a song needs. In this regard the mixing process has an 'inside-out' perspective. The mix engineer is surrounded by an almost infinite number of choices and opportunities to make for a single track and choosing the correct balance and vibe will illuminate the best way out of the mix.
A mastering engineer often receives their projects as stereo mixes (2-mixes) and as such has less control over the song than a mix engineer. Mastering engineers can be sometimes regarded as the first consumers, thus an 'outside-in' perspective can be adopted for this stage of the production. Mastering engineers are focused on the overall tonal balance of a track or how a collection of tracks sit in relation to one another in the context of a record; they're looking at the bigger picture. Processing at the mastering stage must be subtle as most of a mastering engineer's moves are global and will affect the entire mix. Broad EQ strokes, surgical corrective cuts and gentle compression, for example are essential in finessing and respecting the work of a mix engineer into a professional sounding master.
Files can be simply delivered via Wetransfer or Dropbox directly to firstname.lastname@example.org or via hard drive or USB stick if you're attending the mastering session. It's recommended to deliver the final mixes in WAV format and at the same bit depth and sample rate that the track was mixed at (this should be uniform across the entirety of a project).
How should I deliver my files for mastering?
Communication before and during the mastering process is key. Building a relationship with your mastering engineer and discussing the vision of the project will undoubtably result in a better master. Forwarding reference tracks along with your mixes can provide the mastering engineer with a finer scope of your influences and a sonic frame to work within when mastering your mixes. Sending the 'mix in progress' to your mastering engineer for mix notes can also be effective in ensuring that your mix is on the right track to becoming a great master.