Mastering is the final step of audio post-production. The purpose of Mastering is to balance sonic elements of a stereo mix and optimize playback across all systems and media formats. Traditionally, Mastering is done using tools like equalization, compression, limiting and stereo enhancement. It is the final set of tweaks before music is released.
If you're not a mixing or mastering engineer, you may wonder how the two processes differ. The technical details often confuse even experienced musicians, so few people really know what happens during these final stages other than the engineers themselves.
This confusion often leads to misinformation, with some people thinking the two processes are the same, or not even necessary.
Mixing starts the audio post-production process, where an engineer defines and balances the separate tracks in a session so that they sound good when played together. Using a range of tools such as equalization (EQ,) compression, panning, and reverb, mix engineers reduce clashes between instruments, tighten grooves, and emphasize important song elements. Sometimes they may even layer samples from another session or mute unnecessary elements that don't work for the track.
Mastering completes the post-production process, enhancing the stereo mixdown by correcting and tuning the various sonic elements to ensure the best playback quality across all systems and formats before release. Using tools like compression, stereo width, limiters, maximizers, EQ, automation and more, Mastering is where the mix is perfected to make it sparkle. It is also the last chance to catch mistakes or change the way a track sounds, ready for its final release format.
Mastering can make your tracks or podcasts sparkle - more like the songs you hear on the radio. It is usually done as part of post production. Most people will hire a mastering engineer even if they record in a nice studio. Maztr makes this service instant and affordable.
If you think "Why do I need someone else to fiddle with my final mix when the music sounds exactly like I want it to sound?”, here are some of the main reasons why Mastering is an important and necessary process before music or podcasts are released.
One of the important goals of Mastering is to make sure each track plays well across a wide range of playback devices and environments. It's not uncommon to be happy with a mix in the studio but find it boomy in the car or unacceptable on laptop speakers.
Optimization begins during the mixing process, but Mastering's intelligent tools and algorithms can help you discover and rectify problems that may not have been picked up earlier. After Mastering, make sure you check your music and podcasts on a range of speaker and headphone systems at high and low volumes to get a feel for how they will sound in the real world. If you don't like something, Maztr makes it easy to remaster with new settings.
Different musicians and audiences can have different preferences when considering loudness and dynamic range. The best masters are those with a song-to-song dynamic balance, not only within each project, but also within their genre.
Classical and jazz musicians often prefer their masters to sound more natural, however this comes at the expense of loudness. Despite this, it is often preferred in the context of an album or particular audience. In fact, dynamic masters can actually have much more impact than loud masters if the Mixing and Mastering are done correctly. Alternatively, many pop and rock musicians prefer their masters loud, however this often leads to dynamic range and sonic compromises as the volume is pushed louder. These decisions are often personal choice, and Maztr's wide range of settings allow you to experiment with the different options.
During recording, small errors can sometimes slip through. Background noise, vocal or breathing sounds, pops and other noise can become more audible and noticeable at higher volumes. Alternatively, a recording artist may be happy with the original mix, but may start to hear errors or become less happy over time.
Mastering can be the last line of defence against these problems. With today's technology and advanced algorithms, the range of possible repairs and adjustments can be surprising. Mastering can’t turn a bad mix into a good one, but you may be surprised at how effective it can be.
When mastering a group of tracks in a single project, it's often necessary to take a project-wide view of the music to create a balanced and unified album. Ideally, we need to look at the way the various tracks work together, rather than focusing on each track individually.
Many albums will have a few tracks that sound different from the rest. They may be softer or louder, brighter or darker, or recorded in different environments or with different equipment. Mastering allows many adjustments to the various settings that can help these tracks work better together in an album. It can also adjust track spacing and sequence, perhaps adding slightly longer breaks between tracks where there is a sudden change of pace. In other words, mastering can help transform a collection of individual tracks into a balanced and unified album.
File formats will vary depending on the delivery platform you choose. There's a wide range of technologies used to deliver music and podcasts to consumers - streaming services, digital downloads, CDs, tape and even vinyl is making a comeback. An important part of the mastering process is to prepare streaming and distribution ready masters in the most common files formats for release, usually 16 or 24-bit HD WAVs.
At the end of the day, Mastering makes mixes sound better. It uses tools like equalization, compression, limiting and stereo enhancement to reveal and enhance a level of polish, intensity and detail in your music that you may not have believed possible. As a result, Mastering gives you one last opportunity to make your music shine by adding clarity, tone, depth and punch.