What is Mastering?
The right mastering can make a good recording sound excellent, and possibly turn a great one into a legend. It is the art of making a collection of your best mixes sound like an album, and the science of preserving and enhancing the details of the artists' vision. At Engine Room Audio, we will walk you through every step of the process to ensure that we have done our absolute best to help your CD stand out in a sea of releases.
The Necessary Components:
1. Great Ears!
The art of mastering is one of hearing and perspective. Mastering requires patience, focus on details and the knowledge and experience gained through hours of critical listening. For your release, mastering is the last opportunity for a qualified engineer to perform "quality control" in a revealing, high resolution setting.
2. The Right Environment:
Mastering requires an optimal listening environment. Any alterations of your original material must be performed with the best sounding tools and techniques available. At the center of this environment is an engineer with experience in the process of replication and an understanding of commercial requirements for many genres of music. The typical studio control room, your computer workstation, and even audiophile listening rooms lack some or all of these ingredients. Mastering is a process best performed by an experienced, full time mastering engineer in a dedicated facility with the very specialized tools of the trade.
Engine Room Audio's perfectly tuned mastering facility was designed by John Storyk and features some of the best gear in the business, including: Avalon, Tubetech, Manley, Sadie, Apogee, Genelec, Cranesong, Waves, Ampex, UA, and more. We use the High Resolution Sadie System as our mastering platform because it is the best.
What you need to do to prepare for your mastering session?
- Bring your favorite commercial CD in the genre of your music that you are familiar with to the session. Ideally, the CD should define what you think a good CD sounds like, and be musically similar to your project. Be prepared to point out specific songs and nuances that you consider significant. Plan to spend some time at the beginning of the session getting acquainted with the sound of our room and speakers.
- Be on time! Mastering time is relatively expensive compared to studio time. The clock on your session starts at the time of your appointment. If you are attending a "package" or "flat rate" mastering session, we have a pre-alloted time frame to complete the work, whether you're in attendance or not. Don't waste that valuable time unnecessarily.
- Don't bring the entire band to your mastering session. While we have a couch and room for a few people, the "sweet spot" of our monitors is relatively narrow. It's inevitable someone sitting outside that spot is going to be making comments without being able to properly listen to the music. Ideally, the nominal "producer" of a project should be in attendance, along with one designated band member who has gone over the entire project with the rest of the band and has a list of everybody's concerns. If the mix engineer is available and interested, their input might be valuable. While we may not be able to fix every single problem, we can at least explain what we've done (or not done!) to let you report back to the band. Unless you're doing custom mastering, this is not an opportunity to second-guess every decision in the recording process or remix your record, so there's really no need for every band member to be present. Time spent discussing mastering options is time lost to actual mastering processing.
- Make sure your tapes or CD's are clearly marked and organized. Know exactly which mix is the keeper. It may seem unbelievable, but bands have wasted entire mastering sessions just figuring out which songs need to be mastered.
- If there are alternate takes, try to clearly mark what the differences are... DATs are a particularly "fragile" medium, and prone to flaking, data errors, and mistracking. It's often possible to fix a problem in a mix by finding an undamaged version of the flawed part of the song in another mix. This is only possible if you keep a record of what the differences between takes are.
Most people are familiar with the idea of recording music in a live concert or recording studio. You make tapes, CD's or DVD's that store the individual performances, or takes. Ultimately these takes are assembled into a final master tape (or CD/DVD). This is sent to a replication plant, where copies are made. The process of creating the final master is called mastering.
It has three steps:
1. Assembly editing:
The tapes from the location recording or mixdown sessions are transferred to a digital editor or "mastering platform." Engine Room Audio uses the Sadie System for this process. The tunes are then sequenced into the order you specify and correct spacing is made between cuts. Beginnings and ends of cuts are faded to black (silence) or room tone (the natural background noise of the performing space), or the cuts are crossfaded as you wish. Pops, clicks and strange noises can often be fixed at the mastering stage, depending on their source and severity.
When engineers first began cutting master discs used to produce vinyl records, they designed signal processors such as compressors, limiters, and equalizers (EQ) to prevent overloading the cutter head. They noticed that changing the settings could also have beneficial effects on the music, especially in Pop styles. Equipment and techniques were developed to further "sweeten" the sound. Since then, this has been considered the heart of the process, where clarity, smoothness, impact and "punch" are enhanced, depending on the needs of the music. The goal is to increase the emotional intensity . If the performance, arrangement and recording quality are good to start with, then the final master sounds even better than the mixes, and even casual listeners can notice the difference. This is what albums need in the major markets: big, radio-ready sound and a competitive edge.
The finished music tracks are transferred to the media needed for mass production, usually CDR (Recordable CD). At Engine Room Audio, we generate one PMCD Redbook Standard Master Disk and up to three additional "listening" copies at no additional charge.
Rates and Services
In order to properly estimate the cost and time needed to complete your project, please call to discuss your project with our engineer. You can also negotiate a "flat rate" or "full package" including graphic design and short or long run cd replication or duplication.