Audio Mastering

What is audio Mastering?  Is it worth the extra step?  What does the difference sound like? 

Listen to the audio below.  The "after" is when the audio has been mastered and "before" is prior to any alterations.

Diane Menges
Les Filles de Cadix
Recorded Live In Concert at First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland

  After Before After Before After Before After
Seconds 00 - 10 15 - 25 15 - 25 25 - 32 32 - 39 39 - 46 46 - 69

"Les Filles de Cadix" (Diane Menges)

You know that CD mastering is the final step before replication. You know that the order of the songs can be changed easily. Maybe some highs, mids, lows, or compression is used. Or we'll leave it flat, limit it a little, and bring up the level. You've checked out some mastering procedures (1) and you know that your music deserves to be taken seriously. But what the heck are these surprising differences... with traditional stereo mastering?

Mastering began primarily as a transfer step from tape to master lacquer - a required step toward pressing vinyl records.  As more sophisticated mastering techniques developed, compression, eq, limiting, de-essing, filtering, editing all became commonplace, since artists and labels are competitive for bigger, better sounding records. 

Today, traditional mastering can achieve better sound when the music is played on a variety of systems - from boom boxes to 10,000 watt nightclub systems, high-end mastering will soothe the savage beast

Some surprising Traditional Mastering differences are: (2)

• Reduced vocal sibilance allows over-all clarity to be added to the entire track, without creating harsh jabs of high frequencies. Sibilance was avoided in the days of vinyl and cassette tapes because it easily distorted.
• Careful sculpting of low frequencies can make bass notes more even and help prevent speaker distortion
• Vocals can be made to come forward or dip back into the mix, depending on the processing
• Enhanced width of instruments, room ambiance, reverb, tightness or warmth of certain instruments can be achieved with Mid-Side processing, as well as some phase correction of lower frequencies
• More consistent song-to-song levels.
• When we catch a slightly out-of-sync instruments on song beginnings or phrase beginnings, we can make improvements with skilled editing. 
• We can extend the sustain to the end of the song - for instance if the reverb tail is too short, we can clone a portion of the tail and make a graduated edit that seamlessly extends the ending.  
• Traditional mastering usually take between 1/2 hour and 3/4 hour per song -- but every project is different!

There is also a “new” technique in mastering called “Separation Mastering.” (3)   This technique was made popular by the famous mastering engineer, John Vestman.  


Some surprising Separation Mastering differences are: (2)

• Equalization and distinction of instruments is more noticeable and clear
• Everything has more of it's own "space" - the articulation is better

• Certain musical sections that need more precise compression, or expansion - vocal issues in particular can be solved without compromising instruments
• Multiband compression can be used for de-essing, removing harshness, tightening bass response (even removing certain resonant "boomy nodes" and more
• Flaws hidden by "masking" of poor acoustics in the recording studio can be corrected
• Copy-and-paste solutions, cross-fades, waveform redraws, de-clicking only what's needed
• Split tracks makes eq-by-section effortless.  If the chorus needs more muscle, it's easy!
• On the average, Separations take 1/4 hour more per song - but every project is different!

Know your budget, though, because these changes can take time. If you come into the mastering session prepared(4) , your project will sound it's best, and you'll feel confident about it when it hits the market!



(1)       "" Mastering Procedures""  John

(2)        “Surprising Differences Mastering Can Man”  John

(3)       ""Separation Mastering""  John

(4)       ""How To Prepare for Mastering""  John