Audio Mastering And Music Creation
Whether it is commercial music or audio for other purposes such as movies, you can be sure that the audio has been through quite a long process of being created, recorded, edited, mixed and finally, mastered. While the creation of music by artists still remains the most important element of the process, the music would not exist on record without the behind-the-scenes work that goes on to release this music in many different formats which can be played on modern technology.
So let’s have a look at what the process of creating music involves and what role audio mastering plays in it…
Audio Mastering explained
Step One – Rehearsing and Recording Audio in the Studio
The first step is for the artists to rehearse and record their sound at the studio with the help of the producer and recording engineer. The recording engineer can enhance the talent that already exists and can add extra spice to the vocals or instruments that are being played. Usually this is done through the knowledge and understanding of the studio as well as choosing the correct equipment for each individual piece of music. This is why it is very important to choose the right studio and recording engineer as whatever your sound may be, you want it to come out sounding the best that it can. By choosing an experienced recording engineer that has good extensive knowledge of the studio equipment, you can ensure that it will do just that!
Once the audio is rehearsed and recorded, it then goes to the next stage of the process; audio editing.
Step Two – Audio editing and DAW
Nowadays, audio editing is mostly done on the computer using a Digital Audio workstation (DAW) by an experienced audio editing engineer. This process ensures that the audio is “cleaned” up and allows for the editing of any flaws such as clicks, hums and hisses.
A digital audio workstation is commonly found in many audio editing facilities and is the centre of the studio. It will usually be a desktop computer with a graphic user interface (GUI), at least one mixing console, a control surface as well as an audio converter and data storage. DAW is the interface where all your equipment is connected and all your files are stored and its primary job is to simulate studio equipment.
Most of the audio editing is performed using software such as Avid Pro Tools, Steinberg Cubase, Steinberg Nuendo and Logic Pro.
This prepares the audio for the next phase of mixing which is done by an audio mixing engineer.
Step Three – Mixing Audio and the Audio Mixing Engineer
Choosing the right audio mixing engineer is extremely important as during this process, depending on the taste and style of the sound that the client is trying to achieve, there is a level of creativity that can be added. The audio mixing engineer can add subtle changes to the music and make small tweaks to give it a flavour of a particular style of music.
Once the mixing process is completed, there should be no more changes made and this should be seen as the final version of the music. Once everyone is happy with the final result, the audio then goes on to its last and final stage of the creation process and is passed on to the audio mastering engineer.
Step Four – Audio Mastering and the Audio Mastering Engineer
When music reaches the audio mastering engineer, their main job is to listen to what they have been given. They will usually listen to the audio a few times; maybe first just to listen, then to analyse and then to decide what must be done to meet the client’s needs and requirements and enhance the audio. Depending on how the audio is recorded, edited and mixed, it may not require a lot of input from the audio mastering engineer and may only need the very basic enhancements.
As this is the first time the mastering engineer has heard the audio, the advantage is that it will be heard with a fresh mind and fresh ears allowing for very critical listening.
After listening to the audio a few times, the idea and picture of what must be done to the audio are created and from that stage, the audio mastering engineer knows what steps must be taken to achieve this, allowing the engineer to be organised and precise when mastering. Once the mastering engineer knows the correct steps to take and can get practical with mastering that sound we all love so much!
Previously audio mastering did not involve much creativity and the mastering engineer’s job was to produce a transparent master that was a replica of the original sound, but with the advent of technology, the role of the mastering engineer has grown and now there is a demand and requirement for creative input during audio mastering.
This can breathe life into the audio and bring that something special to an already finished mix. By listening to what’s already there in the audio, an experienced mastering engineer can quickly tell what is missing. For this, state of the art equipment is required as well as a good ear and years of experience. By finding out what the emotion, rhythm and vibe of the song is; the mastering engineer can use his knowledge to add depth and colour to the audio and enhance it. Of course, as every piece of audio is different and individual, the creative process of audio mastering can be different for each client.
The mastering engineer will master the audio in his studio using his Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) specifically designed and set up for audio mastering. This has many benefits and allows the engineer to do many different things such as apply noise reduction to eliminate clicks and dropouts, adjust stereo width, add ambiance, adjust volume, etc. Removing any minor issues is usually the first point of call and is done before any other adjustments to the track are made.
If the track contains any faults that may be bigger, sometimes the mastering engineer will need to go back to the mixing engineer and isolate the problem.
The importance of having good quality equipment and monitors is also extremely important at this stage as this allows for a much finer tuning system to find all those little mistakes that previous engineers may have missed. Once the issues are resolved, the creativity can start to flow, which can be anything from changing the EQ, the base or anything else that may improve the quality and sound of the audio.
The mastering engineer can ensure that there is balance throughout all the instruments and no part of the audio becomes overbearing so that there is equality throughout the music. Sometimes the client requires more creativity and sometimes they need more transparency which must be followed down to the ‘t’ to ensure a happy and satisfied customer.
If more transparency is required during the mastering process, then there will be less changes made to the audio and if more creativity is needed, well, how long is a piece of string!
Once the mastering is completed, the engineer will usually go back to the beginning and simply listen to the track to make sure everything is as it should be and sounds just right, sometimes even leaving the track for a few minutes to have ‘fresh’ ears again and really be able to hear any last minute issues.
When the mastering engineer has decided that the audio is the best that it can be, CD markers will usually be inserted along with the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) and any other information that is needed to replicate the CD.