This mastering FAQ section of this website designed to answer all of the typical and various questions you might have regarding audio mastering.
What is Audio Mastering?
Audio mastering is a somewhat nebulous term but ultimately it is the final stage of audio production right before the music is released to the public. The process of audio mastering is handled by an audio mastering engineer. Once the artist and producer have put together a final mix of a song, so all of the levels are set, tracks are panned where they need to be, and everything is exactly how the artist wants it in terms of the mix, this is rendered to a single audio file such as a Wave file.
The final mix for each song appearing on the album is handed over to the mastering engineer. Now the mastering engineer’s job is generally twofold.
One, the engineer works to make that song sound as good as possible by actually enhancing the audio using effects and plugins either analog or digital such as equalization (EQ), compressors/limiters, reverb in some cases, stereo width, and others. A final mix can sound dull or flat whereas after a skilled mastering engineer gets their hands on the file it can sound more polished, cleaner, louder, and overall more professional.
Two, the engineer puts together the actual album. This includes arranging the sequencing or order of the album, setting the gaps and start/stop times for each track, writing data such as, titles, artist, or ISRC code information to the different tracks, and all around making sure that that album is set for release. This can result in creating either a digital DDP (disc description protocol) or a physical master CD which is ready to be sent off to the replication plant of your choice for CD or vinyl pressing.
A side note – check and see which format your CD replication plant recommends or prefers. Many plants these days are equipped for DDP because it’s much more convenient to send a digital folder of files as opposed to sending the physical master CD in the mail which is more expensive, time consuming, and can get lost or damaged en route.
With the reach of the Internet, many artists opt in favor of forgoing a physical release altogether. If you’re only planning on releasing your music digitally online, the second point does not apply to you. If you are planning on a physical release, then it’s the mastering engineer’s job to ensure your album will come out of replication without any errors which could prove to be a costly mistake if missed.
What Are ISRC Codes?
Refer to this page on what are ISRC codes for information on why they matter and how you can get yours.
What Audio Formats Do You Accept for Mastering?
Almost any digital format you can get to me will work, but 24-bit WAVE or AIFF formats are preferred as they yield the best results. Mastered tracks will be returned in 16-bit WAVE or AIFF formats which is standard for virtually anything you want to do with your music whether you want to burn it to a CD or release it for iTunes.
What is Headroom?
With regards to audio production, headroom refers to the amount of of space, measured in dBs (decibels), between the highest point in the audio and the point where clipping occurs (at 0 dB with a digital setup, 24 dB on an analog setup). Leaving more headroom makes my job easier and while there’s no hard and fast rule other than keeping it low enough so that no clipping occurs at any point, generally anywhere between -6 and -3 dB (digital), with no limiting, is preferable.
Can I Put Processing on the Master Bus of my Mix(es) Before I Render to Send to You?
As a general rule, I recommend that you don’t go overboard on processing on the master bus of your mix before you render the track down.`
If you do put any processing on the master bus, it should be subtle like a small bit of compression for a bit of glue that you feel rather than hear or an EQ notch to give the mix a bit more warmth or brightness.
Ideally you can get the sound that you want purely through processing on individual tracks or instrument bus/groups (or try my song mixing services). Ultimately it’s all about getting the mix to where you want it, though, and if you are getting the results you want with master bus processing, then by all means.
The only exception which I completely recommend against is adding a limiter or maximizer to the master bus before you render and send.
This kills the dynamics of a track and, going back to the point about headroom, this significantly reduces what I’m able to do on a mastering level for the track.
Every track I master plays at a competitive level and is part of the mastering process; please don’t needlessly crank up the volume on the mix before you render and send as it only limits (no pun intended) the potential of the finished track.
How Much Does Mastering Cost?
I offer some of the most affordable and competitive rates, but refer to my mastering rates section for my latest specials.
How Long Does Mastering Take?
I guarantee I’ll have your fully mastered audio back to you in full in under 72 hours. Larger projects may take longer but I’ll always let you know on a timetable.
I also offer guaranteed 24 hour mastering at a more premium rate if you’re on a time crunch.
I Want My Music Mastered by You, What Do I Do?
Every new client can begin with a free test master sample from me.
Once I get that back to you, you can decide if you want to move forward with any additional tracks or albums you need engineered at my current rates. After we have agreed on a price based on the project and my rates, I’ll send you an invoice via PayPal which accepts most payment methods.