If you are involved in audio production, audio mastering is an important part. It is the last stage when you enhance the sound and make sure that there is consistency on all of the songs on the album. This is what you do when you are preparing the album for distribution.
Mastering involves the final editing of a song or an album. You can adjust the levels, enhance the stereo, and check to make sure that there aren’t any sounds that will distract the listener. The point is to make sure that the entire album will be consistent no matter what format or system is used to play it.
You need to master your tracks to make sure that it is ready for any format, including vinyl, MP3, streaming, and more. When you master the tracks, it will give you a finished or polished sound, similar to what you hear when you stream music or listen to the radio.
How Does Mastering Differ from Mixing?
Although people often confuse the two, mixing and mastering are two different processes. Mixing occurs at the beginning of post-production. It is performed by a mixing engineer, who takes the different tracks from a session and balances them and puts them together. They adjust the balance and color of the different instruments, tighten up any rhythmic patterns, and bring song elements to life with different tools, including EQ, reverb panning, and compression.
Mastering is the final step in production, and the mastering engineer takes the entire track and determines how they can improve the sound. They might work on the level and tone, and they improve the individual songs and the album as a whole.
Mastering hasn’t always been a part of the process. The process used to include curing the recording to a wax disc with a stylus that is connected to a diaphragm. Then, they used the wax disc to make stampers. The change started in 1948 with the 33-1/2 rpm, long play vinyl, and then the 45 rpm in 1949. At that time, they began reducing loud transient peaks in the recording.
When the standardized RIAA curve was introduced, equalization started happening. The goal was to cut records with thinner grooves so that they could play longer, and the curve enhanced high frequency transient peaks.
They used dynamics processing tools to detect and reduce peaks in the music, and this was the beginning of sonic adjustments. They began monitoring the sound and making adjustments for an optimum playback experience that didn’t compromise the sound quality. This was the beginning of mastering. As it became more important to improve the listener experience, people with these skills were in demand. Some of them started to focus their careers on this aspect of music.
The Basics of Mastering Audio: Finalizing the Sound
When you master audio, you make the final decisions about the sound. There are parts that you may change to improve it. You need to analyze the mix sound and make sure that the instruments sound as they should. This is what separates great songs from good ones. You listen to the lows and highs and everything in between, and you adjust levels and repair audio by removing any noise that is a distraction to the listener.
What Processors Do You Use in Mastering?
Many people who master music tracks use Digital Signal Processors to electronically analyze, modify, or synthesize different signals, including sound. Within the DSP, you have compression, EQ, and other processors, which all help you create the sound you want. Take a look at some of the most common processors:
- Compressors, limiters, and expanders: adjust the dynamics of a mix
- Equalizers: shape the tonal balance by boosting or cutting the range of frequencies
- Stereo imaging: adjusts the perceived width and image of sound field
- Harmonic exciters: add sparkle and energy into mix
- Limiters or maximizers: limits the peaks to stop clipping while the user increases the level of audio
- Metering: visual aid that helps measure aspects of the mix
- Dither: converts higher length to lower bit depth and maintains dynamic range while minimizing quantization distortion
Three are quite a few processors that you can use when you are mastering. You may not use all of them on each track, but they are available so that you can use what you need.
Use Assistive Audio Technology
Sometimes people who are mastering tracks are overwhelmed by all of the options, and they don’t know where to start. The best way to get started is by using Assistive Audio Technology. This will help you analyze the sound profile of your audio, and it can make suggestions about where you can begin.
How to Create Consistency Across the Album?
Many people listen to an entire album, and it is important to make sure that there is consistency the whole way through. The levels should be matched, and they should sound related. It is important to listen carefully and play them in succession so that you can make sure there is consistency. The listener should have a cohesive experience where they feel like they are in one space rather than jumping around through many.
One of the most important tips in mastering is preparing your tracks for distribution. The quality of your listeners’ experiences depend on getting this step right. You need to make sure that the levels are right and that the audio matches and is what is expected. You want it to be set for multiple formats, from CD to downloads and streaming.
Audio mastering is when you put the finishing touches on your music. You need to get it right so that your listeners have a great experience. If you need some assistance, you can consult with a professional, or you can take a mastering course to improve your skills. Taking the time to learn what you can to improve your mastering skills will benefit your tracks and help you make them better. You can clean up your audio to make sure that it sounds great.