||WHAT IS NOT
|In a nutshell, MASTERING is
the final adjustment of audio tracks, songs or other compositions of
sound, before they're packaged for manufacturing the final product
be sent to market.
The sales product can be anything—CDs, DVDs, LP or other vinyl records, or even cassettes—still widely used outside the U.S.
Whether product is "replicated" as in CD pressing, or "duplicated" as in the manufacture of a few hundred CD-R copies, or for that matter, pressed as LPs or copied to cassettes, the mastering process is essentially the same, preparing the recorded materials for playback from the final product format.
Technically, MASTERING needs only consist of separating audio tracks so that they play from their medium in a predictable or designed way, for example, the time between songs. Often it is useful to make a few basic changes to the audio tracks, such as "leadering," which is placing specific start and end points on each track. Some tracks may benefit from volume fade-ins or fade-outs, which should be artistically applied. Sometimes tracks vary in volume requiring adjustment of the overall level of several tracks on a CD or other medium, so that listeners are not as apt to need to reach for a volume control because a track is too loud or too soft. Occasionally, mastering might include tone compensation or "EQ" applied to one or more or even all tracks on a project, to make up for deficits in the recorded tracks that can arise from the recording or mixing process when poor monitor loudspeakers are used, if mix room acoustics interfere with or prevent proper mixing judgments and so on.
Mastering usually includes selection of a general peak-to-average power ratio of the tracks so that the playback is suitably robust but not distorted in audible ways, and ALWAYS, proper mastering seeks to support the artistic vision of the performers and producer of the recorded material. This support can include "enhancements" such as spatial adjustment; widening or narrowing, subtle reverberation, and slight re-balancing of things like vocals and instrument solos within a track, but these latter items are highly technical and subject to misuse or over use in the hands of amateurs.
Residual noise, ticks, clicks, coughs, equipment noise air handler rumble, electrical hums and buzzes, acoustic feedback and sound system squeals or ringing or other unwanted sounds may also be addressed in the mastering process.
When proper professional mastering is done, listeners will be completely unaware of it, hearing only the performance from studio or stage that is recorded on the media, with no trace of gratuitous engineering to interfere with pure musical sound and its appreciation.
|Mastering NEVER makes itself
the star of the show. Good mastering is never, ever, audible.
It never interferes with the music.
Mastering should NEVER make music loud just because it can, or because the performer or producer has been misled into believing that volume makes hits. Radio stations always employ compressors and limiters to make their programming sound loud on car radios where road noise is high, listeners are distracted, and studies covering many decades have repeatedly shown that louder stations are (incorrectly) perceived to be closer or more powerful. Radio stations compete in this way, so they all employ compressors and limiters, MEANING THAT MASTERING PROFESSIONALS DO NOT NEED TO REPEAT THE DAMAGE. Double compression of recordings causes nearly instant listener fatigue and will actually cause listeners to switch away from these compressed and distorted recordings, to recordings that offer more interest to the ear.
Mastering should NEVER apply electronic clipping distortion to recordings, as doing so permanently destroys any possibility of listeners hearing what was musically intended in the original recording. Note that this has nothing at all to do with distortion such as guitar amp overdrive—those distortions are made by PRODUCERS of music, far different than REPRODUCERS of music, which should impart no artifact of their own to the art made in the studio or on stage.
There are what I call "inter-mastering" steps sometimes taken in recording studios by ignorant or arrogant engineers. Just one example of many ways to smear crap on your sound, is the use of the Aphex "Dominator" on vocal tracks of wimpy-voiced singers or sometimes, out of habit, even on good singers, such as Delbert McClinton, whose Grammy-winning Best Record of the year was so horribly distorted that it became completely unlistenable above a whisper. In my opinion, such nefarious electronic sabotage of the music IS A CRIME, that should be punished by banishment from the music business. Radio is going to trash your music anyway. Why on earth would you want to do it yourself first, assuming you have any self respect and regard for all your hard work?
Electrical audio is about 110 years old, and for most of that time until MBAs and lawyers infiltrated radio and record companies and took over the music business, audio engineers spent their lives diligently working to improve the quality and accuracy of audio recording and playback and were encouraged to do so by their employers who competed in the marketplace using sonic quality to earn profits.
Playing the cynical, greedy games of MBAs, lawyers and bean counters has nothing to do with music. It mocks art. It devalues your hard work. It trivializes musical integrity.
False economy is the most expensive kind.
— Drew Daniels
|Here is a Re-Mastering example
clip; Eagles from 1979, Leon Russell from 1972. Both were taken
from their respective record company's CD re-releases of "Greatest
Hits." The re-mastering goal in both cases was to clarify the
mix, make the parts more audible and improve the overall sound. CLICK TO LISTEN
(The repeat of each example is the