What Is Mastering & Why Is It Important? | #ProductionHub

What Is Mastering & Why Is It Important? | #ProductionHub

What Is Mastering & Why Is It Important?

In music production, mastering serves as the final stage in the creative process. The stage where a lot of additional magic happens, bringing the listener closer to your music by giving them a stronger sense of connection. In short, it can amplify the very essence of why you created this music in the first place. However, it’s crucial to know how to prepare your music for the ‘master’ to create an extra layer of enchantment to your creation.

So, time for the allusive question. What exactly is mastering and why is it important? To explain more, we spoke to our award-winning engineering team who carry with them a wealth of experience, passion and expertise. In this article they break down the process of mastering, sharing some valuable tips with you in the process.

What Is Mastering?

Mastering is the final quality check in the recording process and the initial step in the production process for an audio project, such as a CD, album, or single.

When our team receives a project, they listen to the overall sound and begin to fine-tune it for aesthetic purposes before formatting it to meet the technical requirements for manufacturing. It is important to note that mastering is distinct from the mixing process and should not be used as an opportunity to drastically alter or transform the genre or style of the music or project. While some tools may overlap, mastering has its own unique set of tools and objectives and the artist has to trust the mastering engineer’s ears and judgement.

Eventually, the goal of mastering is to keep the original intentions of the artist and producer and ‘polish’ the sound, bringing the listener closer to the emotional content of the music.

Purpose of Modern Mastering

Why would you want to get your project mastered? Simply put, it is to improve the quality of the sound – but even more importantly, it is to elevate the listening experience and foster a deeper connection between the listener and the music, devoid of any jarring disruptions.

Secondly, it is to create a cohesive thread and seamless flow throughout an album so that it feels unified to the listener. Lastly, mastering can adapt the material for various distribution formats such as CD, Vinyl, standard digital, hi-res digital, MFiT, etc.

Our engineers listen particularly to the vocal level in the mix, the level of each track in an album compared to the others, the consistency of the sound between tracks. What they actually do can vary from doing almost nothing (because the mix is already great), to making adjustments to the sound of every track.

Techniques to achieve the above might include equalisation (EQ), compression and/or limiting. Adjusting levels, pauses between tracks and fade-ins/outs are also part of the mastering process that help add colour, tone and define attributes and character.


Top Tips For A Great Master

1. Start with a great mix!

Always aim to get the best sounding mix you can – ideally a good stereo image with width and depth and a good balance between the voices and instruments.

Try not to use too much compression in your mix – leave the audio with some dynamic range. This helps the engineer by providing them with room to increase overall levels and compression.

In order to get the best out of the mastering process, it’s important to:

• Be clear in your communication;
• be organised;
• deliver mixes in a technically healthy state

As mentioned earlier, the trust between an artist and their engineer is imperative so always be open to the comments and approach of your mastering engineer. Consider new ideas before dismissing them.

2. Communication

The moment you get a quote or you’re making a booking, be clear in your communication!

• Make sure you’re accurate in your description of the job: How many tracks, including anything that has to be mastered (alternate versions, bonus tracks, interludes, B-sides).
• What do you expect to need for deliverables – DDP for physical CD pressing, standard resolution digital files, hi-res digital files, files for Vinyl cutting, etc.
• Be clear on your true delivery deadline.
• Be clear about your expectations/desires for your project – If there is something specific you are hoping to achieve with mastering, please say so before the mastering session begins so the mastering engineer can be sure to have this in mind while working on your material.

3. Organisation

Being organised is key! Wherever possible, make decisions beforehand:

• Finalise your mixes.
• Choose your mix versions - Vocal Up, Vocal Down, TV track, Instrumental are fine – in fact, are generally a good idea to provide in case they’re needed.
• Determine the running order (at least tentative).
• Send files/tapes which are clearly labeled so there is no doubt as to which versions to use.

Preparing Your Mix

Abbey Road mastering engineers Frank Arkwright, Geoff Pesche and Alex Gordon, guide you through how to prepare your songs for mastering and what they can do for you.

A Mastering Glossary – Understanding the ‘Dark Arts’

It is the job of the mastering engineer to translate words such as 'hotter', 'more punchy', 'air', 'body', 'warmth', etc into more technical terms.

Below are translations for some of the frequent terminology we encounter:

Hotter = Louder
Punchy = Compressed / more impact
Air = more higher frequencies, to ‘open up’ a recording
Brightness = adding more level to the higher vocal and instrumental frequencies
Warmth = reducing any harsh-sounding frequencies so nothing sticks out; boosting the lows and mid-range frequencies

Learn more about our engineers and mastering at Abbey Road


Lucy Launder

Head of Mastering Services
+44 (0)20 7266 7000 

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Please note that Abbey Road is a working studio and business and as such, is not open to the general public for visits or tours. For information on vacancies and internships in the UK, please visit the Universal Music website.

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