What is Mastering?

Introduction

Mastering can often be an obscure and often misunderstood topic. Here at Vasonic, we specialise in this art and science (to quote the title of Bob Katz’ mastering book) of mastering. So we’re here to distill convoluted information down into a concise blog post.

So, “what exactly is ‘mastering’?” You ask. Mastering is the process of taking a finished song or audio file such as an audio book, and then preparing it for distribution.

Historically, mastering engineers were responsible only for transferring recordings from one format to another. This was typically from tape to vinyl. With digital recording and processing technology on the horizon, the role of the mastering engineer shifted to include creative and corrective processing. This may include the use of an equaliser to enhance the high frequencies of a recording.

Case Study

As a case study, let’s take a typical Pop track I would receive from a client. Here are the typical steps I would take to prepare such a track for distribution:

  1. Corrective processing: This is where any artefacts or any unwanted nuances within the music can be mitigated. This generally consists of resonant-eq filtering where unwanted resonances within the record are attenuated or removed.
  2. Dynamics modification: This process generally consists of using a multi-band compressor such as the Fabfilter Pro MB to primarily control the low end, as well as a VCA compressor to ‘glue’ the track together.
  3. Creative processing: Now, this is the fun bit! Typically, this is where the ‘curve-bending’ equalisers are used. This is where the frequency content is enhanced, and the stereo image is widened. At Vasonic we have developed very special techniques using specific tools to achieve the most optimal stereo image for your track.
  4. Limiting and Clipping: Finally, loudness enhancement, limiting and clipping are applied to the track. Loudness enhancement, enables the track to ‘be loud’ just before the limiter. After limiting, sometimes a clipper is then applied so to achieve an even louder track without ruining the dynamics of your track.
  5. Dithering: Upon exporting, your track is usually converted to a lower sample rate and bit rate. To accommodate the loss of data during the conversion process, dithering is used.
  6. Meta Data: This is some-what the most ‘boring part’. Not all clients request this, however generally we consider it good practise to also populate the meta data of your track (such as the artist name, album name etc…).

Conclusion

Generally this process stays the same for all tracks we work on here at Vasonic. We are extremely fortunate to be able to work with amazing music across Southampton and across the world. We can not be more proud with the results that we deliver to our clients.

If you’re interested in our mastering services, or have any questions, feel free to contact us.


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  1. Pingback: Why is Mixing Important? – Vasonic

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