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  • Writer's pictureJimmy The Dog

Appreciation for the Masters

I'm always trying to learn as much as possible and keep up with technological changes regarding studio recording, especially with Ableton Live. I'm beginning to think I'll need to invest in a new Mac and peripherals sometime soon, but then there's still a world of possibilities out there.

One thing I have to confess is that I know little about Mastering. I've always thought it was a bit of a black art; mastering engineers tend to have specially trained ears. As luck would have it I came across a book called "Desktop Mastering" by Steve Turnidge (2012) in a bargain bookstore for all of 2 pounds!

Although a bit out of date due to the rapid pace of technology and the fact that few artists these days are CD focused, the art, or science of mastering still holds. I know a little more about it now, so to me it's a little less of a black art. However, what's clear to me is that mastering is a complete subject in itself. It's not just a matter of selecting a T-Racks master setting that sounds good on your stereo track. The mastering engineer is the guy who will give that signature sound to your final recordings and that requires him or her to have a good working relationship with the mixer (producer and/or sound engineer) of the track; if the mastering engineer suggests that the mix needs to be re-done, then a savvy sound engineer will takes his notes on board and produce a remix suitable for mastering.

Mastering is not just there to make the song louder, although that is often what it does. It's how it does this, by removing unwanted noise from the stereo track, sometimes noise which you can't hear, glitches, interference and anything that the track needs to get rid of for it to sound great. It does things like enhances stereo separation for a better sound balance, give the track breath or punch, warmth or air, making sure the lows and highs won't be unpleasant to the listener at significant playback volume. It uses electronic processes like dither to ensure that digital tail-offs are as real as possible. And that's just a short list.

More importantly, there are steps to these processes and they need to be done in a certain sequence, which is what amateur mastering guys often get wrong; 1. Low-end Frequency Control, 2. Noise Reduction, 3. Stereo Enhancement, 4. Reverb (if required), 5. De-essing (if required), 6. Multi-band Compression and Equalization, 7. Limiting, Quantization, Noise Shaping and Dither and 8. Visual Analysis

Mastering is something that quite a few mixers don't understand. These days, technology provides us with decent plug-ins that allow us to do a better job without understanding what we're doing. A little knowledge can be dangerous. As a result of poor mixes, mastering engineers are often involved in the business of restoration, rather than enhancement. Mixers have mixing ears. Mastering guys' ears are different and have to be, which is why they tend to avoid mixing jobs. Thanks to having read this book, now I know what professional mastering is, why it's important and what needs to be done before I send tracks off for mastering.

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