Frequently Asked Questions
What is mastering?
After an album has been recorded and mixed-down, there is a third and final process that must be performed – mastering. Originally that process was connected to the physical creation of vinyl records when they were the standard playback technology. Record playback technology requires that an album have its dynamic range and frequency response limited to accommodate vinyl media. Today, CDs and digital media bypass those limitations, but listeners have become accustomed to the sound of music that is compressed, and the realities of varying playback situations still makes dynamic range compression and limiting necessary. Mastering is also the last chance to correct any sonic deficiencies in the mixing process, often due to the mixing environment. A mastering engineer will make small changes to the frequency response of an album with equalization and perform other technical necessities to make an album ready for production and release. Sometimes special processes like M/S encoding, multi-band processing, or stereo field adjustments are made. Mastering is always necessary when an album is recorded, the only question is who will master that album.
Can the mixing engineer master our album, or do we need a dedicated mastering engineer?
These days, because of computer technology, mixing engineers do have access to software based tools for mastering. Although mastering software is not a replacement for professional mastering equipment, it can be adequate in the hands of an expert. With this said, mixing engineers almost never have a full range playback system and most do not have the type of experience that a mastering engineer has – even the most experienced mixers. Seasoned mixing engineers almost always work with an outside mastering engineer and most have their favorites. They know that mastering requires different types of speakers and tools, and they have a hard time making objective decisions at the mastering stage because they have been working so closely with the music. One of the mastering engineer’s primary roles is to be an objective listener. As a general rule, when a competent mastering engineer with mastering grade tools gets involved, an album will benefit substantially – as long as that engineer adheres to the stated needs of the artist or mixing engineer.
I have talked to many mixing engineers and found that the two main reasons they will sometimes decide to master their own albums are budget and trust. I solve both of those issues by offering competitive pricing and by bending over backwards to make sure the engineer or client gets the result they were looking for. I work with the engineer and artist closely and communication is always open and timely.
Does the artist or client have to be present during mastering?
If the client is located close enough to the mastering house, it can be done. But more often than not, the client does not show up for the mastering session. In fact, when they are not present, this slows the mastering project down from a one shot, one day process, to a multi day process where the artist has more time to listen to the mastering on their own speakers and make sure everything is to their liking before they give their final approval. Mastering via the internet can actually be a better way to go for this reason.
To make sure that the client gets exactly what they need, I keep in close contact with the band, engineer or label and send them test versions of one or two of the songs by internet upload. I respond quickly to e mails so clients will receive files and communicate with me effectively about what needs to be tweaked to have their requirements met.
How long does the process take?
This depends on the client and my schedule. But more often than not, I am available within a few days of the time I am initially contacted. Turn around time is 2-3 days plus the amount of time the artist needs to listen and report back. 5 days to a week is common.