Frequently Asked Questions About  Mastering

What Will the Mastering Process Do?
Why Can’t I Master My Own Project?
Do I Even Need to Master?
Things to Remember When Mixing
Preparing to Send the Mixes Out For Mastering

What Will the Mastering Process Do?

Mastering will bring all your songs to the same volume level, apply EQ if necessary to make them all have the same tonal balance, apply compression to pop mixes to make their levels seem louder, and other housekeeping functions. Those functions include ordering of songs, trimming of song intros, construction of fadeouts, sample rate conversion, and other changes as needed.

Why Can’t I Master My Own Project?

You can, but it’s not recommended. Even the finest mixing engineers in the world send their mixes out for someone else to master. A fresh set of ears will generally be able to hear things in a way that you couldn’t. You also probably don’t have access to the same tools that a mastering engineer does.

Do I Even Need to Master?

No, if your budget doesn’t allow it, but it’s a necessity if you want to have airplay. Mastering adds the final touch of professionalism that is expected for that level of exposure. If your CD will only go to family and friends, you probably don’t want or need to spend the money.

Things to Remember When Mixing

First and foremost, don’t apply any compression or EQ to the final mix. These changes are very hard to undo, usually impossible, and the chances are very good that those EQ decisions will need to be different once all the songs are mixed.

Also, don’t bother with fadeouts. That’s part of the housekeeping process taken care of during mastering.

Don’t bother changing the order of your tunes. Leave them in the order you mixed them. There’s potential for introducing errors the more you move data around.

Don’t convert sample rates. Several years ago, it would have been wise to record everything in 44.1, since that was the final medium, but times have changed. Sample rate conversion is better than it used to be, so it’s smarter now to record in as high a sample rate as you possibly can. Then, if you’re going to analog tape for the master downconvert with dither to 44.1/16. If you’re going to digital as your master, leave the master in a high sample rate, and let the mastering house do the downconversion.

Preparing to Send The Mixes Out for Mastering

Some good recordkeeping on your part will save you hours of mastering time. First off, keep a good log of the tape or disc that you’re sending, including song title, length, and start and end points. If you have multiple mixes of songs, be sure to note what’s different about them. Note which songs need to be faded, and where.

Next, leave several seconds of dead space before and after each song. This gives the digital equipment time to lock up securely, and prevents any glitches from unexpectedly appearing at the head or tail of the song.

In your log sheet, note who the contact is, and enough phone numbers that they can be contacted at any time. This can be a huge timesaver.

If there are any odd noises the mastering engineer should know about, note those on the log as well. These noises should be noted whether they need to be removed or not, or they’ll result in a call from the engineer.

Following the above guidelines will help make everyone’s job easier, and the final product will be superior because everyone was aware of what was intended and not intended.