|Mastering is one of the most important, sophisticated, and least understood of all audio crafts. |
A good mastering process will give an albums mixes tonal and sonic balance, within and between themselves while at the same time adding level, continuity and maintaining the dynamic integrity intended.
Mastering is the final creative step in the record-making process, resulting in an equalized, leveled, and sequenced master that translates and is assembled and prepared professionally for replication, broadcast, and distribution.
When considering how much time, effort, and money has been put into a recording that is destined for release, as the final step, there is no substitute for using a professional mastering studio and an experienced mastering engineer. An ME offers a fresh and unbiased perspective in a purpose built, tuned room with the intention of having your music sound it's best at a professional sonic level.
Waltz Mastering Studio - Watertown MA
Mastering is all about the presentation of the mix and the first impression it makes. It's where production intersects marketing.
The context of each song within the album is important as is translation between different listening environments. The overall tonality and volume level relative to the genre where the music will be marketed is also a major consideration.
The goal is to have a recording that will generate excellent word of mouth promotion and additional exposure as a result of people listening and liking what they hear.
Not all recorded music needs to be mastered. Songs that are recorded and meant as entertainment for friends and family can usually go the diy (do it yourself) route.
Music that is recorded with the intention of being broadcast, replicated, and distributed, whether it's for cd, vinyl, or digital download) is usually the best candidate for mastering.
Now a day's, with the way music technology has changed, more and more *CD's and recordings are being recorded and mixed in smaller rooms that do not offer optimal acoustics and monitoring. A good ME can help make up for some of these inaccuracies.
Is it a good idea to have the same person who mixed the music also master it?
While it is not unheard of, it is generally not ideal.
In most cases the person who mixes a project usually tracked it as well, most likely in the same control room with less than ideal acoustics on near field monitors. While near fields are great for making tracking and mixing decisions, a set of full range speakers in a treated room designed for make critical decisions is most often the best bet for mastering.
The reason for this is you want to use a system that is revealing to any inaccuracies that may have occurred in the mixing environment/process, hence a different room/environment and different set of ears.
Usually by the time an engineer is finished mixing a song or album, it is hard for them to step back and look at the bigger picture because they have been concentrating heavily on the nuances that make the mix work. A fresh set of ears in a new environment and a new outlook is always a good idea.
How affordable is mastering?
How much does it cost to get an album mastered?
Let's take a 10 - 12 song cd as an example:
There are basically 3 tiers.
1 - High profile engineers charge $1500 and up.
2 - Mid level pricing $450 to $1500
3 - Lower level pricing $250 to $450
Anything under $250 - enter at your own risk.
High profile mastering engineers: ie: Ted Jenson, Bob Ludwig, Doug Sax, Greg Calbi, Bernie Grundman, Brian Gardner have been mastering great sounding albums and hit records for many years and can easily command $2000-$3000 and up per album because of their proven track record. These are some of the very best mastering engineers in the world.
Mid level engineers are usually independent dedicated mastering engineer's who have purpose built mastering rooms who put out great work as well. Some of the engineers in this tier's work is comparable to the high profile guys but don't have the name recognition and high overhead.
Lower priced engineers, have many of the same qualities as the mid level guys, but cater more toward the indy musician and bands with tight budgets. Being able to find a good ME in this category is sometimes a bit more difficult because the good ones are booked a bit in advance and you are starting to get in to territory where you get what you pay for as far as trying to find an ME that does consistently good work.
Anyone charging under $250 - $300 per album is going to be a high risk. It could be someone with a computer with cracked plugins in their bedroom using the latest version of T-rax or someone just starting out with not a lot of experience under their belt, but you never know there might be that needle in the stack.
Advice for finding a competent mastering engineer
- Get a sample of their work.
- With the top guys this is fairly easy - look on the back of your favorite sounding cd's
If you can afford them try to book a month or 3 in advance - they are usually in high demand for good reason.
- Many mastering engineers will be happy to send you samples or have samples of their work on their web site.
- Many ME's will do a sample of one of your songs for you - something like the first couple minutes of the song so that you will know exactly what you will get.
- You can also find a great ME through recommendations
- Many ME's do work online now a days so it is fairly easy to have an album mastered by a reputable ME even if you live in the far corners of Siberia.
- Find a mastering engineer who you trust and has good communication skills, and someone who can deliver what your looking for.
Preparing mixes for mastering:
- Be confident that the mixes are the best that they can be
- Leave the project at whatever sample rate and bit depth that the project was mixed at
- Do not let any peaks of the mixes exceed -0 dB fs
- Make sure there is no brick wall limiting on the mixes
- Label the mix/data files clearly
Be sure to convey and explain to the ME the sound that you are looking for, sometimes examples of similar work are good to provide as well.
Waltz Mastering is dedicated to providing affordable, high quality "Online" and attended CD and Audio Mastering.
We make it easy for clients anywhere in the world to get their project mastered with the highest quality and fastest turn around time possible.
- Tom is a 20+ year veteran of the mastering / recording industry.
- His work is featured on critically acclaimed and top selling albums
- His work has been nominated and won numerous awards and accolades over the years. Including: Grammy nom - Juno - Boston Music Awards - Billboard Charting - Phoenix Music Awards