What is Mastering?
Mastering is the process of getting a track ready for release, it involves processing, improving, and fixing aspects of the track in order to have it sounding great and professional enough for distribution.
In order for a song to be ready for distribution, it has to undergo mastering which ensures that it is free of errors and sounds great on a variety of sound systems. Skipping this process can ruin what could be a great song, this is why it is very important.
This is the reason why why you should definitely consider doing it. (It also pays to have a fundamental understanding of the difference between mixing and mastering.)
Other than adding final touches to a song,
Mastering involves the following TECHNICAL processes that collectively make it an important process:
This is a way of balancing out different frequencies in a given audio signal. During this process what happens is the manipulation of the audio signal in order to fix frequencies,
this is a useful tool in mastering because it brings in the element of tonal balance.
for example, a mastering engineer can utilize equalization tools to make the high notes in a vocal louder,
whilst making them moderate enough to not hurt the listener’s ears.
Therefore, a mastering engineer has to know how to read frequencies and how to use EQ to cut or boost various frequencies.
In the compression phase the mastering engineer focuses on reducing the dynamic range in the vocals.
This essentially means making the quieter parts loud enough and making the louder parts moderately normal in order for the entire vocal to possess uniformity.
Saturation is a combination of compression and distortion.
Mastering engineers utilize saturation as a sort of distortion that adds and blends in elements of harmonics to the vocals or track.
You can learn more about saturation and distortion here.
Stereo enhancement plugins expand the stereo width of the audio signal.
this is a particularly cool trick that i like to use when mastering to make the mix a little interesting.
but i’m careful to only use a reasonable amount of it because what could sound really cool today will usually sound a little ridiculous a few weeks later.
The main basic use of limiting or a limiter, is to be able to prevent the audio signal from exceeding the normal level which is usually 0 db in music production.
The Importance of Mastering
Improved sound quality
One goal in mastering audio is to ensure improved sound quality,
which makes it an essential step in the music production game.
usually mastering engineers will be able to catch mistakes that you couldn’t catch when mixing,
this is because when you spend a large chunk of your time trying to get the song mixed and have it ready for mastering,
it becomes such a repetitive process for your ears and it becomes harder for you to notice mistakes within the mix.
when i begin mastering a song i like to think of the mix as 70% done , so i have to work on the rest of the 30% to have it ready for release.
this frame of mind is what most engineers work with, therefore it becomes their job to improve the sound quality of the song.
with that said, we can all agree that this is important in the music production process.
mastering is great way to observe the various frequencies in the mix in order to handle them properly.
EQ might probably be one of the most useful tools in music production.
it will make sure that you keep the frequencies well balanced,
when i use EQ in mastering i generally check the frequencies and the first question i ask my self is
“what can i do to improve the mix?”
therefore EQ’ing in mastering is to fix any frequency issues, provide warmth, texture and tonal balance which makes it so important.
Having music ready for streaming services
with the emergence of streaming platforms such as spotify, apple music, pandora and many others,
most music reaches the ears of the public via various streaming services.
most of these services use various data compression codecs,
individually these codecs perform different functions
which makes mastering a very important step because; the uploaded song
will not sound the same when you play it on the streaming service,
which means a poorly mastered song may sound terrible on these platforms.
for a deep dive into mastering for streaming check out THIS article
This is sometimes referred to as dynamic mastering and is an element that makes mastering uniquely so important.
the goal here is to basically improve and mostly preserve the transients and to also to retain and emphasize most of the dynamic range.
dynamic range is emphasized to reduce a fair amount of loudness.
Consistency in a body of work
When it comes to a complete body of work like an Album, LP or EP mastering is so important because your songs have to possess sonic uniformity.
Mastering engineers make sure to handle long projects with delicacy
to ensure that the individual elements of the overall body of work sounds somewhat similar with respect to
volumes, vocal levels and overall warmth of the music.
This is an important aspect that puts the listener first and puts the entire body of work into perspective and gives it a professional touch.
If i were ever to make a case about why mastering in music is so important i would say it is for the simple fact that albums need to be mastered,
in-order to improve and level out the sonic direction of the various songs in it to give it a complete feel.
another reason why mastering is so important is because it makes for smooth transitions between songs in a body of work,
which gives the body of work a more cohesive feel.
You can consider mastering as the perfection phase in the music production process.
This is the final time that all the little errors in the mix will be addressed
before the release of the song,
small details such unwanted noises,
pop and clicks will be addressed and the mastering engineer will do his/her level best to get rid of these noises.
even the most skilled mixing engineer could encounter problems with a particular mix
and may rely on a mastering engineer to help them get rid of any noises completely or
simply adjust the mix well enough such that the noises are less prominent, in some cases.
ISCR Codes and metadata
an ISCR code is an International Standard Recording Code and is used as identification for sound and video recordings.
in the mastering stage these details plus the metadata (like artist name, title of the song etc) will be encoded into the song in order to have ready for sell or distribution.
this is why mastering becomes a pretty important step,
because from a realistic standpoint;
Mastering comes in as to bridge the gap between the technical part of music(which is the music production part itself) and the final preparation phase when we have to make sure the record is ready for release.
Bit Depth and Sample Rate
In the mastering phase,
is when the engineer chooses how to render out or export a particular song (with regards to sample rate and bit rate)
which are important elements in music distribution.
i wrote this post to answer the question that most beginners in music production encounter,
you might have heard of mixing but have not heard of mastering and may have wondered what it was.
i hope this post helps you to further your knowledge and serves as the right motivation for you to learn how to properly master songs if you do not how to do it already.
Mastering is a very important step in music production because it ensures that your record becomes ready for release by improving it sonically and making sure all of its metadata ISCR Codes are encoded in it to make sure it is ready for sale and distribution.
Related Articles You’ll Find Interesting
Best Books For Mixing And Mastering Audio
Is Mastering Harder Than Mixing?
How You Can Get Better At Mixing And Mastering
How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Mastering?
What Is Mastering in Music and Why It’s Important – Icon Collective
7 Reasons Mastering Music Is Important – Sundown Sessions
What Is Mastering and Why Is It Important? – iZotope
Why Does a Song Need to be Mastered? – Mastering The Mix