Mastering is the final stage of audio processing in music production. On the most basic level, mastering is simply creating a master ready for duplication (cutting a vinyl record, authoring a redbook CD, or making an mp3 with tagging and title information). In the process of creating the master it has become customary to add processing in order to do the following:
- Make the multiple tracks (songs) of an album sound more cohesive (not having a really bright track followed by a dull one).
- Have smooth transitions and spacing between tracks.
- Make sure the songs translate well in all listening environments (sound good in the car and the club).
- Most importantly sound better (more punchy, more brilliant, more fat, etc.).
Just like mixing, mastering is part technical and part art. The technical side is about does things right or perfect and the art side is about doing some things wrong for the sake of feel, emotion, or groove. A great mastering engineer will make a song or album not only sound better, but maybe heighten the emotion, feel, or impact of the music.
The Loudness War started as far back as the 60s when simple technicians checked songs for dynamics and phase to make sure they would not ruin the vinyl record while cutting the master disc, to the late 90’s where distortion on the output of a master became acceptable, to today where the goal is often just to make it sound as loud as possible while squishing all of the depth and clarity into distortion and mush.
Today you will find mastering options from large multi-million dollar facilities, to on-line services, to powerful yet affordable plug-ins. With any option, knowledge is power, so become familiar with the techniques, tips, and purposes are of mastering with the resources below.