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What is Music Mastering ?

Mastering Music is the last stage of music production. Engineer appraises the material from a technical point of view, to give it a final polish before duplication. In the case of an album, all its elements are being brought together to make them sound like a united whole.

The most important part of the process is critical listening to the audio material in a room with good acoustics and on a very accurate monitoring system. In these conditions, a mastering engineer can pick up even minor flaws in the mix which can then be rectified before the material gets released.

Carefully selected mastering gears play also an important role in the process. Red Mastering uses top-notch analogue and digital equipment. 

It entails a degree of audio processing like equalisation, level adjustment, compression, limiting etc. to enhance the sound of the material and optimize its translation on various playback systems. The actual processing will vary depending on the source material, the client’s expectations and whether it is intended for an analogue or digital replication.

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Music production has undergone some major changes in recent years. It used to take a lot of resources to record material and mixing was done by a handful of highly skilled engineers. The popularisation of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) has made the process far less exclusive and much more affordable, and there is an increasing number of people who record and mix their music at home. Some of these semi-professionals succumb to a common misconception that mastering music will deal with all the problems of a bad mix. They try to shift the responsibility for the sound of their material to the mastering engineer, forgetting or simply not knowing that the formula for a technically great-sounding song is as follows;

  • 70% recording/tracking

  • 20% mixing

  • 10% mastering

If your recording has major technical flaws it is impossible or at the very best extremely difficult to fix them in the mix. Similarly, there is very little I can do if a mix itself is weak. You need to record your music as well as you can and make your mix sound as you want it. Expecting the master to overcome all the pitfalls of the earlier stages of music production will lead to disappointment.

CD Mastering vs Mastering for Vinyl

CD Mastering services must not be confused with digital mastering. The latter is a process of working ‘in the box and using plugins only. It is the most popular form of delivery of audio masters and one that our clients usually opt for. But Red Mastering Studio also focuses on Mastering for Vinyl, which is becoming increasingly popular due to the renaissance of that medium.

Owing to the years of experience, our engineer understands what the audio must sound like before being sent for cutting and for the vinyl to sound perfect. Vinyl has its physical limitations and an engineer needs to know how to use the EQ to reduce overly wide stereo low frequencies and check for excessive-high frequencies, making sure they are not too fast or abrasive. If such issues are not fixed and looked at, the vinyl will not play properly once it is cut, causing the needle to jump about at the sound of every high or low frequency. 

While mastering audio for vinyl, our engineer uses very little compression, no limiting and never clipping a/d – which is quite common when mastering digital distribution.

It also helps to have a good relationship with the cutting studio, know what equipment they use and understand its capabilities. A mastering engineer can then be confident that the audio file they send out for cutting will sound exactly as they intended once pressed on vinyl.

Audio Mastering for Vinyl technically also involves the process of cutting the vinyl. Before the era of digital mastering, a mastering engineer would not only prepare the sound for the vinyl but also cut it. Nowadays, the cutting studio receives a digital file and then the vinyl is cut.

Stem Mastering

Concerning professional mixing and mastering services, stem represents an instrument or a group of instruments so that you can control the changes you make to each sound individually. A mastering engineer will usually work with a few stems which, when added all together at equal volume, will create a whole sound as though it was simply a single stereo file.

How many stems the mix is broken down into depends entirely on the clients’ and producers’ needs and can range from two stem mastering, where it will usually be the vocals and the backing track, or it can even include a stem for each instrument.

As each stem can be manipulated and adjusted individually without compromising any of the other sounds/stems, this gives the engineer more control and makes it far easier to fix any faults in the mix, as well as apply any artistic influence that may be wanted by the client.  

Stem mastering is almost an in-between mixing and mastering audio and is not chosen as a standard service, as it is more costly and involves more work. Stem mastering is usually not needed and may be required in the case where, for example, only one track has issues that need fixing. It is also a useful service if a client cannot afford a mixer as well as a mastering engineer – in that case, they can use stem mastering, which will cover some basic aspects of mixing and provide a clean final master.

While stem master has many benefits, having access to stems can also result in changes that the client may not like. Receiving one stereo file usually, stops this from happening as the engineer cannot make changes to the individual stems. But if the client wants changes or some form of artistic input, then stem mastering can be the answer. If you have any queries or questions regarding stem mastering, please get in touch with us and we will be more than happy to help.

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