Mastering is an audio post-production process involved in the preparation and transfer of recorded audio tracks across platforms and distribution devices. This serves as the source through which all copies of the audio final mix will be produced either by dubbing or pressing. Mastering a song requires careful listening, very good technical knowledge to clear sound aesthetics.
How long does it take?
An experienced mastering engineer can master a song within 10-20 minutes whereas a beginner or someone just starting may take an hour or more to master a song completely. As you continue learning and gaining more understanding, you will begin to spend less time, using like 30-20 minutes or even less. This shows you have been able to quickly examine what is needed to balance or enhance the mix and how processes that allow you to do that.
The mastering process
Mastering engineers that specialize in mastering a song should be able to increase sound translation, utilizing equalization and digital compression tools on the playback systems. Good studio monitors and correct positioning coupled with a studio with great acoustics will have a very big impact on the clarity of the audio and therefore the precision of the result. There are many processes and tools which can enhance the process of mastering. Recently, there has been a change from analogue masters to digital masters and those engineers that make use of audiotapes (an example of analogue masters) are the ones that mainly specialise in the aspect of analogue mastering.
Mastering a single
Audio mastering usually depends on the exact context of the audio being processed. Therefore, mastering engineers should put in mind the anticipated result the sound producer looks for. There are processes which you might find involved in mastering a single are as follows:
Included as part of the necessary actions taken when mastering your song are as follows:
- Equalization for the benefit of optimising frequency distribution
- Expansion or dynamic range compression
- Editing slight errors or flaws
- noise reduction which will remove hums, clicks and dropouts
- volume adjustment
- fading in and out.
- Peak limit
- Dither, last step for 24-bit mastered mix file. Not needed if 16 bit is used to master the mix
- Signal restoration, as well as other enhancement processes, can be applied too during the mastering process.
Mastering an album best practices
- The transfer of the audio tracks in its original resolution into the digital audio workstation
- Correction of the period of silence of songs
- Adjusting the sequence of separated audio tracks so they will appear accordingly when finally released
- Fine-tuning the audio sound quality
- Transferring the song to a CD-ROM or final format
- Creation of a safe copy in case the master get lost, damaged or stolen.
After these processes have been completed, the audio can then be replicated or dubbed using digital or analogue masters. Remember to add a Track marker after mastering a song to be included is also information that is vital to replicating the CD such as the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC).
For songs programmed to be released through vinyl records, some other process can be added to bridge the limiting gaps because of the type of medium used. Such a process includes frequency-dependent stereo/mono equalization or dynamic range reduction.
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