Question: What is "Mastering"
(and why do I want it?)
The job of mastering is to bring out the best in a recording by evaluating and adjusting its perspective, tonal-balance and dynamics during the creation of the master from the source tapes. This is done to create maximum sonic and competitive advantage that will work at each point in a recording's exposure: for the artists, the industry, the press, the broadcasters and the public.
Q: Why should artists and record labels continue to spend money on professional mastering?
Bob: A reasonable question. One answer lies in the attitude that produces financially successful recordings.
Simply put, in my personal experience of 40 years in the record business, the successful people put everything reasonable they have to give into their recordings. The cost of mastering is trivial compared to the cost of the project as a whole, and it adds striking advantages when properly done. Certainly many generously funded, beautiful recordings have never recovered their cost and lots of dreck comes out of the finest mastering facilities as people throw money at trying to save mediocre recordings that probably shouldn't be released. Still, I can't think of ANY hit projects over the years where somebody couldn't be bothered making as much of an effort as was available to them. There is simply no such thing as "good enough" to most successful performers or producers. Another factor is objectivity. My career has included both mastering and recording. The old saying, "only a fool acts as their own attorney," applies to recording and mastering as well. If at all possible, I always have somebody else master my recordings. Invariably they will find things that I never noticed and the final product turns out better than I expected because it wasn't limited by MY concept of how it ought to sound.
Q: What exactly do you mean by the word 'mastering'?
Bob: Professional mastering provides effective quality-control resulting from:
Q: What is a "mastering engineer"?
Mastering rooms are highly specialized facilities providing custom, high-end monitoring, playback and signal processing. Ideally, they are designed to provide less coloration and thus reveal more universal information than well-designed recording environments.
- a skilled mastering engineer using solid, real-world experience, in a properly designed listening environment capable of revealing problems not obvious in most studios,
- experienced evaluation of how effectively a work will compete in the contemporary marketplace, and;
- the facilities and equipment necessary to make such judgments and use them to create an aesthetically satisfying, competitive, technically bulletproof replication master.
Bob: World-class mastering engineers are generally trained by major record companies or by mastering facilities working principally for the major labels. A broadcasting background is an additional, very important component that some mastering engineers can provide. A top professional mastering engineer offers these advantages to the work:
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- Engineering skills necessary to accurately evaluate and solve musical and technical problems, as well as deep understanding of the formats, computer systems and equipment, both analog and digital, that impact recording, production, and reproduction.
- Real technical know-how: Command of acoustics and psychoacoustics, signal integrity, audio processing, broadcast systems, consumer electronics and replication technology; the ability to use technologies appropriate to each project, and to integrate these complex technologies into a finished product.
- A deep commitment to music and to the experience of music within diverse technological and acoustical environments, as well as a feel for a broad range of program material.
- A thorough historical and contemporary knowledge of the repertoire of commercial recordings that permits critical assessment of the strengths and limitations of a new recording from a broad, objective viewpoint.