Mastering is an important part so audio production. It’s the last process that is carried out to make a record ready for release.
I got a question sent to me on a music production forum about whether you could master a song twice or not.
In this post I’m going to cover this topic in order to provide some insight into mastering in general and whether or not it’s smart to master a song twice.
Music production can be a tough process and it pays to have a working understanding of what some of these processes do.
With said, can you master a song twice?
If you have the files, stems and masters of a track, there’s nothing wrong with mastering a song twice. Your only objective should be getting a song to sound better than it did in the first place.
Problems would arise if you didn’t have access to the actual files of the track and are forced to work with an already mastered wave or mp3. Mastering an already mastered wave file is difficult and you’re likely going to have difficulty in dealing with dynamic range and loudness. Mastering an already mastered mp3 is not ideal because the file format MP3 compresses audio.
It’s therefore best to get your hands on the session files of the master or stems to the final mix so you don’t completely obliterate your dynamic range and transients.
Below are the questions you need to ask yourself before you even consider mixing twice.
Why do you want to master again?
Before you even think of mastering twice, you need to first figure out why you want to master the track again.
Knowing your objectives is paramount because they’re certain things you need to understand about mastering again.
Which leads me to my next point.
What do you want to fix?
You have to be clear-cut about what you want to fix.
There are various things that mastering is meant to do. If you didn’t get those things right on the first master then you could go back into the session and see what needs fixing.
This works best if you have access to the session files.
Do you have access to the files?
If you have access to the files of the project then you can easily go back into the session and fix specific things that need fixing.
If all you have is the already mastered wave then you’ll be limited in the things that you can do.
You could apply some slight EQ to create some balance. But even this is tricky because any effect you apply will affect the entire track.
Which is why it’s important to understand whether what you’re actually doing is going to make the master better the second time around.
It’s for this reason that I advise people to get the session files of a record when looking to remaster a track.
Having the files will help you in pin-pointing specific elements that need some work.
Do you have access to the final mix?
If you have the final mixdown of a track, remastering it can be pretty easy and straightforward.
You could push in some volume, create some space, depth and clarity in a mix.
What mastering is supposed to do
Let’s look at what a mastering engineer will look to do when mastering a track.
The first thing you will obviously consider is adjusting levels and making sure that every element is in a good place, level-wise.
Mastering at this stage will deal with adjusting volumes, dealing with frequencies and ensuring that all elements are sitting in the right place.
Adjusting levels is important because it sets the tone for the final mix.
Mastering engineers also implement stereo enhancement strategies whose goal is to widen a mix and make it large.
Stereo widening plugins are employed at this stage of the mastering process.
Panning is also another useful tool that is essential in widening a mix.
Elements will be slightly panned to create space for other elements in a mix and to also spread out sounds to create a broad and wide stereo image.
Loudness is a key thing when it comes to mastering.
The goal at this stage is to deliver a master that can compete in volume with other commercially released music in the same genre.
Secondly, mastering for loudness also serves as a way to ensure that all the elements in the mix can be clearly heard, with a proper balance of frequencies.
Clarity is a huge part of mastering because you don’t want a loud mix that characterized by sounds conflicting with each other.
Each element should be able to be clearly heard without conflicting with another.
Tips for mastering twice
Below are a few tips that could help you in mastering twice.
1. Be attentive
You need to have a sharp ear that can detect whether what you’re doing to a track is helping the situation or not.
A sharp ear will allow you to improve a master and not completely destroy it.
2. Avoid mastering mastered Wave and MP3s
It’s difficult to master an already mastered wave because there’s a limit in the things that you can do to the track.
For example, using a limiter on a track that’s already limited, will dampen your top end.
A limiter being a compressor will mean that you’ll essentially be compressing twice.
Mastering an already mastered MP3 should be avoided because there’s just so much compression done in both the mastering process and MP3 encoding during export.
Mastering or remastering is easier when you have the session files to the track.
Having these Files allows you to deal with each and every element independently without worrying about messing up or altering other elements in a mix.
Mastering a song twice is possible and more effective if you have access to the stems and files of the record.