Before the digital age fully took over, mastering was largely about duplication (tapes and cds). But as technology progressed, and digital recording became the standard, mastering has evolved into fine-tuning how your music sounds. Still, it’s an often misunderstood sometimes confusing term for artistes. Mastering is all about making your tracks sound as good to everyone else, as they do to you. Mastering is the glue, varnish and polish that makes your music presentable to the world. Imagine yourself at a nightclub (e.g Quilox) with friends. The sound system is bumping hard and everyone is losing their minds to the latest jam that’s been topping the charts. Per say, the DJ is your guy and you e-mailed him your new single earlier in the week. In anticipation, you begin to hear him mixing into your song and right as it gets to the drop, right where you thought everyone was going to continue to jump, the dance floor just pauses. The kicks aren’t hitting as hard as they should, the bass isn’t as deep as it should go. The synths aren’t as big as the previous song. You thought this was going to be your big moment but all you’re seeing is the DJ scrambling to mix in the next song before the vibe is ruined. This is just one of many examples as to why mastering matters and why it is so vitally important to find an engineer that knows what he or she is doing.
Below are several tips for musicians, producers, and labels to ensure you have everything you need to know about why mastering your music matters.
When youre trying to find the right mastering engineer for your project, it’s important to understand some of the basic terminology used by engineers. If you understand some of them, it will not only be easy to have a solid understanding with the engineer, but you will also easily differentiate which mastering engineers are simply going to make your song louder from the ones who truly putting the finishing touch on the project. Some of the terms to take note are: EQ, Reverb, Imaging, Compression, and Limiting. There are a handful of other advanced terms that are used, but those just listed will make you sound like a guru right from the start of the conversation. Lets keep things short and simple. EQ stand for Equalization, which has to do with adjusting certain frequencies in the song, maybe there’s not enough bass in the song or just a touch too much ear-piercing higher frequencies in the drums that need to be tamed. Reverb adds a “wetness” to the mix that can make the difference from vocals and instruments sounding like they’re right in your face, or sounding like they’re a good distance away from you when being heard. Imaging is how narrow or wide something sounds, which is important when making sure a song sounds great on either a stereo system at home or in the car, or sounding great on a mono system in a club. Compression and Limiting essentially takes care of how loud the overall mix is; a lot of acoustic songs don’t have a lot of compression, whereas a lot of electronic music for being played in the club have plenty of compression.
As brought up in the introduction, consistency is not only important across songs when a DJ is choosing to play it in a club setting or on the radio, but consistency across the entire album is essential as well. One of the key things that most musicians tend to overlook when preparing their album for distribution is making sure that a mastering engineer has taken care of putting the final touch on every song across the album. You might be saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t care about my song being played jammed by a DJ, I will be performing everything live.” To that, I say, “Bad guy!” but what happens when your fans are listening to the album on Spotify or iTunes, and some songs are vastly louder than others. What about the nuisance of some songs needing the volume to be turned up just to hear it clearly? Consistency across songs on an album will make the difference between fans having one or two go-to songs that they jump to and delete the rest, or your fans hitting play on track one and not stopping until they’ve hit the very end of the album. An album is an experience that you should be letting your fans in on from start to finish.
When looking into various mastering engineers, you will most likely come across the engineer talking about all the high end equipment that they use in their studio to make it sound like they have all the right tools at their disposal. Maybe when looking at the engineer’s website or social media pages, you see all these colorful photos of sofas, studio foam, carpets, windows looking into recording booths, and various pictures to put you in awe of the recording space. Don’t be fooled; someone that has very high-end equipment and fantastic speakers will be all for nothing, if the room isn’t treated properly. High-end speakers don’t sound as great if the sound from the speakers is bouncing all over the room. On the other side, the same can be said for a studio space where the environment is ideal for recording and comfortable for guests to lounge, but the equipment isn’t up to par with what is truly needed in order for the engineer to be able to make judgment calls on whether frequencies are too low or too loud.
Now that you know some terminologies and you understand why you want your next single or album to be mastered, as well as what sound you’re shooting for. You’ve also found the right engineer for the job, but did you know that you can help the engineer help you? Keep in mind that mastering engineers aren’t magicians. There’s a saying that goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” What this means is that if you provide your engineer with a premaster that sounds super rough on its own, then the engineer will only be able to do so much. The better the mixing of the premaster that’s given to the engineer, the better the outcome will be. It should also be noted that most mastering engineers are also willing to offer mixing and masters for an additional rate, and in a lot of cases, that is the ideal scenario if that type of mastering fits within your budget. Rather than the mastering engineer only having the premaster to put the polish on, they will have access to individual stems of the song, such as the drums, percussion, vocals, instruments, etc…Thereby allowing the engineer to polish individual elements of the song and then mixing down the levels of everything in the song to perfection.
Now that you know why the mastering (and mixing) process is so important prior to the music distribution process, it’s time to get out there and get your next project sounding pristine on any system.
%d bloggers like this: