What is Audio Mastering? – Part One

Hi Guys & Girls, My name is Oscar Gaona and I am a Mastering Engineers at studios 301, Sydney Australia, and over the years we’ve been ask many of times these very questions.

– What Is Mastering?

– Why Do I Need To Master My Mixes?

– Will The Mastering Process Help My Music?

Let me start with “What is Mastering” and this will help answer the next two questions. The Mastering Process has changed a lot over the years thanks to the advances in technology & computers. Traditionally the Mastering process was only a transfer stage. Once all the songs were recorded & mixed to the artist, mix engineer & producer’s liking, only then was the mastering engineer brought into the picture and his or her job was to make sure all the songs (mixes) stayed true to the musical style & consistent through out the Album, or now days CD’s, on any play back medium. Now days the Mastering process can involve Stem mixing, adding sound FX, multi-track editing and even the occasional overdub recording. Yes mastering has come a long way but the fundamentals remain the same, this is because it’s still the last stage in the music making process before it goes to manufacturing and the CD’s are made and that means it’s the last chance to make any changes before your CD’s are pressed and the public gets to hear it.

So, what is Mastering? Firstly let me explain why consistence on a CD is so important before I get into how it’s achieved and why it’s necessary. As an engineer it’s very important to keep the listener in mind, because at the end of the day it’s the listener that will decide if the music is worth listening too and ultimately if it’s worth paying for. The last thing we all want as listeners, and fans of music, is to pay good money for a CD only to be disappointed by the experience because some songs on the CD are too loud or too soft in level in comparison to the other songs on the CD. Another example is if some of the songs are to bright (to much high frequencies) or to muffled (not enough high frequencies or too much low frequencies). I’m sure you’ve experienced this at some stage, this is what you would call a poorly mastered CD because the whole listening experience is interpreted by contently adjusting the volume level on the stereo, instead of kicking back and enjoying the music.

Consistency on an album/CD is crucial to the listeners enjoyment and hence the success of the CD/Album. You’re probably wondering why the mixing engineer is not responsible for this and the simple answer is, It’s not the mixing engineers fault or job to worry about this. Of cause a great mixing engineer will always keep the big picture in mind but at the end of the day the mixing engineer’s job is to get a great balance of all the instruments and the effects and this is time consuming enough. Also there are variables that are out of mixing engineers hands, for example there might be more than one mixing engineer working on an album and they might even be working in different studios, this will automatically give the songs a different sound. Another reason is the songs might have been recorded & mixed over a long period of time over many months or even years, in different studios with different equipment. This will also give the mixes a different tonal sound along with different mix levels. This is a very general and simple explanation but hopefully it’s explained why the consistency of ALL the mixes on a CD is important and why the mastering process is carried out after the mixing stage is finished.

Thanks for your time and I hope all this information helps you become a better musician, engineer and producer. Stay tuned for Part two, until next time I wish you much success with your music and don’t forget to have fun, it’s very important for your health!

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