Musicians recording their first song or album have a certain expectation. They expect to walk into a recording studio with nothing and leave with everything they need to distribute their music.
The one process that they are often surprised to need is mastering.
They didn't know that they needed it. And their mix sounds good being played through the studio's ultra-high quality speakers.
So, what can mastering really do?
These musicians often don't know. And, they'll say to their recording/mixing engineer: "Ain't that something you can do for us?"
Some recording/mixing engineers will do the "mastering" for these clients, even though they don't have true mastering software and tools, aren't specialists in the mastering process, and - having spent eight to 10 or more hours per song on recording and mixing - don't really have any additional sonic ideas to bring to the table.
Other recording/mixing engineers know that their work will actually sound even better if the music was professionally mastered, and will refer their clients to a mastering studio, like Before and After Music Group.
Still, every recording artist should know what to expect from music mastering. After all, it costs a little bit of money and has the potentially to really improve the sound of the recording. So, here is a little bit about what you can expect from pro music mastering.
Is Mastering Just About Getting Technically-Required Files?
A conversation may go like this...
Musician: "Is this what I submit to get my music on Spotify and Apple Music?"
Mixing Engineer: "No, you'll need to submit your mastered files."
Musician: "Crap. I didn't know that. Is that something you can do for us?"
Mixing Engineer: "Well, I don't really have mastering software or much experience. But, I can try to do it with Pro Tools."
Musician: "Yeah, do that. I don't want to have to go to another studio."
Mixing Engineer: "Well, you don't have to be there for mastering. Most places just accept mixed files online and have you download the final files."
Musician: "Eh, do it anyway."
This conversation clearly illustrates that the musician thinks that all mastering is about is getting technically-required files as if it was like converting a WAV file into an MP3 file.
While mastering does culminate is you getting your music in certain file formats, it's about way more than simply encoding data. Mastering is about making improvements to the sound of your recorded music!
Is Mastering Just About Making My Mix Louder?
Some musicians know that mastering can make a difference to their mix. But, a common misconception is that mastering merely makes mixes louder. Like getting music into a technically-required format, some musicians think that mastering is just about getting mixes to a technically-required or "competitive" volume.
That's not true either.
Yes, mastering does bring up the volume of recorded music. But that, too, is just one part of mastering.
I'll say it again: "Mastering is about making improvements to the sound of your recorded music!"
How Does Pro Mastering Make My Music Sound Better?
Notice the use of the word "pro" in this heading. It's there for a reason.
Mastering done by an inexperienced person in software not designed specifically for mastering (like Pro Tools) probably will not make your music sound better. But "pro" mastering - mastering done by a mastering specialist who uses tools designed specifically for mastering - will make your music sound better.
These are the improvements you should expect:
What Does It Mean to Have My Tonal Balance Optimized?
Optimizing the tonal balance of a mix is perhaps where mastering makes its biggest contribution.
On an average recording, a pro mastering studio will be able to expand the frequencies you can hear in your music. The highs (like cymbals) will be cleaner, crisper and more audible. The low end will be bigger. The muddy frequencies will be cut, making the entire recording sound closer and clearer. And any harsh frequencies will be attenuated, keeping your music from sounding noisy, even at higher volumes.
Now, sometimes, a mix comes in with too big of a low end, making it sound ridiculous in comparison with national releases. Other times, a mix comes in with too much emphasis on the high frequencies, making the recording sound thin. Obviously, a mastering engineer isn't going to boost anything that's already excessive, so s/he will adjust those frequency ranges so they are just the right proportions, perfectly balanced.
Every project is different. And a mastering professional will treat every project that way, closely listening for the opportunities to improve the sound of the music. When I master a mix, I commit myself to finding at least one improvement opportunity. And I usually find more than one.
Now That You Know...
I hope that this post has helped you better understand what to expect when you need to get your music mastered. And, I hope that you'll consider having us at Before and After Music Group master your music. We'd be so delighted to be your source for mastering services and to help your music reach its potential!
Contact us at 412-600-8241 (text or phone are fine) or email@example.com.
Chip Dominick is the CEO and head mastering engineer for Before and After Music Group