Ready for the airwaves
Mastering is the last creative step in the production process and a crucial step that readies a mix for commercial airwaves. It’s often misunderstood and even overlooked in this day and age. Why? Because unlike other aspects of the production process, each master requires a unique treatment. For recording we always setup microphones, for mixing we always balance a collection of tracks. For Mastering – the things that are always done are critically listening to the track, creating final fades, setting the final track levels, encoding tracks – the other parts of the Audio Mastering process can vary greatly. This also makes the process difficult, it’s a specialty that takes years of training because say you’re a mastering engineer and you receive a mix that sounds really good, would you EQ the track? This is where the golden rule of audio mastering comes in – to do no harm. It’s crucial to know when to apply which processing and why. Mastering is a blend of art and science, there’s a creative aspect and there’s a technical aspect.
Most importantly Mastering readies a track for commercial broadcast and readies singles or albums for their final medium – whether it’s streaming, CD, vinyl, cassette, film. Mastering matters because an un-mastered track will not match up to commercial standards. There are also plenty of untrained individuals out there offering “mastering services”, what they actually do is apply cookie cutter digital processing, maybe it was even a preset from a real mastering engineer that’s available online. The problem with this is that your track isn’t going to be the same as that track, so for example maybe that track wasn’t quite bright enough so the preset boosted the high end, if your track is already a touch bright, your track is now ruined. Mastering also requires ultra accurate mastering grade monitoring. We have specialized B&H monitors which give us the full picture of the sound, our room pictured on the right is also specially designed for critical listening. Cheap mastering is going to be done on cheap monitors, they won’t give an accurate picture and something crucial will be overlooked. Regular studio monitors are not adequate for commercial mastering.
Real mastering requires a unique set of processing for every single track. We start every project with a blank slate and craft the master based on listening. It takes very well trained ears and decades of experience to make great masters.
We offer both attended mastering and online mastering. Sometimes clients choose to attend mastering for one or more songs on an album and then leave the rest to us. The benefit of attended is the experience – being part of the process while the main benefit of online mastering is that you can send your track from anywhere in the world without having to travel to the studio. It saves busy artists time – maybe you’re on tour or just don’t have the time for a studio session.
How long does it take to master a track? Typically the first track on an album takes the longest around 45 minutes to an hour and then the remaining tracks will take around a half an hour to 45 minutes if they’ve been recorded in the same studio.