Taking old recordings and ridding them of flaws introduces new listeners to vintage performances by great musicians and artists. This objective is to update the sonic quality of the song or track to have it sounding as good as music made in recent times.
This process is called remastering music.
Remastering music is essentially improving on the quality of the original copy of a song or album. Removing flaws from the music, providing a cleaner, sharper and more refined listening experience whilst trying to bringing the music up to date with current standards.
How is this achieved?
One might wonder whether the whole track or album of a particular song needs to be compromised in order for music to be remastered; if that were the case, it would be a remix.
Remixing involves altering the vocals, instrumentation, rhythm and sometimes lyrics of separate tracks while remastering is simply making music clearer, and perfecting its past imperfections.
In remastering music, the mastering engineers get the digital copies of the track or album using a digital audio workstation (DAW), listen to it and make necessary adjustments in the following order;
Firstly, the tracks are ordered to ensure a musical flow, such that each song balances with those that come before and after it.
Secondly, noise reduction is used to eliminate or subdue sounds such as hisses, hums, clicks, dropouts, bad edits, whistling, microphone pops, and lisping sounds due to poor microphone placement or old recording techniques.
Thirdly, compressing and peak limiting is used to improve loudness, eliminate muffled effects, and enrich the overall sound by sweetening the treble and the bass.
Fourthly, the equalizer is used to emphasize or reduce audio frequencies in order to achieve tonal balance and ensure that beats and harmonies come out clearer, changes are then finalized and presented for final approval.
Why should music be remastered?
It is common knowledge that remastering improves on the poor recording quality of the original music made; hence, record labels have found it to be a means by which loyal fans can buy their favourite albums again.
Most works are remastered to keep up with the latest audio formats. This helps those sound improve as opposed to sounding flat as the new audio encoding format becomes widespread.
Picture yourself attempting to listen to a 1920s digital tape on an MP3 player; due to technologies employed in the music production back in the ‘20s, there will be a number of challenges –ranging from muffled sounds to noise in the musical tracks- which might make it difficult to listen to the lyrics or even enjoy the overall sound of that music. With our technological advancement, it would be difficult to present the master copy of a song without it being remastered first.
Concerns in remastering
Arguments have been made that noise reduction can reduce the high frequency of a recording, dulling the treble sound.
Other arguments are on how an increase in the sound level can distort the original recording and fatigue the ear. Also, an overuse of equalisation produces a harsh sound which waters down the originality of the music being remastered.
Conclusively, moderation is key in remastering. The essence of remastering music is to make better and flawless songs. The purpose would be defeated if an old track comes back sounding like a broken record.