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[Site News] Understanding Mastering

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[Site News] Understanding Mastering

Postby DMS System » Sun Apr 25, 2010 9:15 pm

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Written by Edward Vinatea.

[caption id="attachment_1186" align="alignright" width="489"]Image Early days of mastering: Lou Waxman at the Columbia Studio A with 3 54's (Photo courtesy of George Schowerer) .[/caption]
Table Of Contents

  1. [url=#preamble]Preamble[/url]
  2. [url=#what-is-mastering]What Is mastering?[/url]
  3. [url=#what-is-required]What is a mastering engineer required to have in order to provide this service?[/url]
  4. [url=#mastering-results]Realistic Mastering Results[/url]
  5. [url=#grading]Grading Mix Quality Results[/url]
  6. [url=#conditions]The Three Main Conditions For DIY Mastering[/url]
    1- [url=#daw]A Digital Audio Workstation[/url]
    2- [url=#monitors]Fairly ‘accurate’ speaker monitors[/url]
    3- [url=#mastering-room]Acoustically conditioned room[/url]
  7. [url=#conclusion]Conclusion[/url]

Image Many speaker targets to hit.[/caption]

The process of mastering to achieve good speaker translation for all existing playback systems {see illustration} can be a daunting task and a real challenge to any so called 'mastering engineer' ("M.E.").



But,  seasoned M.E.'s listening inside acoustically fine tuned mastering rooms will adjust recordings day in and day out, and compile them with similar frequency balance and perceived loudness to a final storage medium {e.g. wav computer file, CD, tape reel, etc} for proper playback system translation.



As one can see in the illustration, there are many targets to hit and the resulting master source would have to translate and sound 'on point' on those speaker systems to be considered a well done mastering job. However, these sonic results are always best when processing from great sounding mixes, that is, great mixing is the key to a great master!



Having said all that and since the subject at hand is mastering, we will not discuss recording or mixing techniques and will concentrate all our attention to the subject of mastering alone.



But it has to be said that - in my humble opinion, of course - “mastering” is often a very misunderstood and utterly underestimated process, while pretty often, mastering engineers are highly overrated in the process. To understand all of this one needs to put things in a realistic perspective first.



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Image An acoustically designed mastering room environment.[/caption]

Mastering should preferably be conducted inside an acoustically fine tuned, neutral response room, or one that can control sound reflections and it's equipped with a flat response speaker monitoring system. In addition, if an inexperienced engineer is performing this task without the foregoing and the guidance of spectrum analysis, chances are that a harmonically imbalanced master recording will be sent to the manufacturing plant for mass replication and that could have in the long run serious consequences.





The Directory Of Mastering Studios[/b] to minimize the risk of being provided with bad results or worse, getting ripped off.[/u]



That being said, bad mixes can potentially sound a bit better by a skilled engineer although never as good as well mixed records. There is certainly no chance at all that it will sound like a mix produced at a state-of-the-art facility.



If you are not sure you have a good mix, seek professional advice. A reputable mastering engineer could tell you what you really have if you ask politely and are patient enough with his busy schedule. Some give you this advice as part of their mastering fees, others as I said, charge as a separate service upfront.



A mastering engineer who wants you as a client might tell you exactly what is wrong and what needs adjustment even for free, but don't expect one to volunteer an opinion. You need to ask first. One may also not even charge you for this expert opinion because after you make new revisions, you'll probably be more inclined to hire one for one's patience, great suggestions and professional advice.



Again, don't expect this to be part of the service; the most successful mastering engineers have very good reasons not to form opinions on anybody's mixing work and they just process whatever is given, no questions asked. Some fear that they may offend the sensibilities of the mixing engineer, especially if the client was behind the mixing. Therefore, due to the nature of the business this could present to some M.E.'s a big conflict of interest, one that they wouldn't want to touch with a 10 foot pole.



I certainly will not discuss a mix that came from a record company (especially major), but I might do it if I am asked by a newbie mixing engineer. Now, if you want to attempt doing this mastering work all by yourself, please read on.

Website: EV Sonic Lab
Edward Vinatea is a mixing and mastering engineer who has worked with artists of the likes of Cindy Blackman Santana, John Davidson, The Shirelles, Geri King and many more.



Was this article helpful? Please tweet, share on Facebook, or feel free to go to the author's site to post any questions or create new discussions about mastering.

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  • Re: [Front End] Understanding Mastering

    Postby acme-studio » Sat Jun 18, 2016 10:50 pm

    This was an old locked topic thread moved from the old forum to new mastering forum now open for discussion.
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