"A very important stage in the music production process which is often overlooked, ignored or abused in the industry usually through lack of understanding"
WHAT IS MASTERING?
Mastering has a number of different aspects to it depending on what is required of the mastering engineer and the source material given. Mastering is also not there to fix bad mixes. A logical assessment is made on what needs to be done to make the source material ready for release.
This may include:
Audio Processing - Enhancements on audio files provided by the client via various techniques as required such as EQ, compression, limiting and mid-side techniques optimised for a variety of listening environments. The engineer is striving to achieve the ideal tonal balance for all tracks involved.
Note: Some distribution firms generate these codes for you.
Meta Data - This would include artist information, genre, general album information and possibly EP/album art.
RBS & DDP - Red Book Standard and Disc Description Protocol. Red Book has been the standard for many years to ensure CDs are guaranteed to play on any hardware device and ensures a standard for duplication plants. Recently since 2016 DDP has become a more popular method by sending a image file to disc duplication due to their error checking software and convenience of being a digital file.
Modern Streaming Services - Delivering high quality masters for modern formats and digital streaming services. Today you will find favourite services such as Spotify, Youtube, iTunes and Soundcloud have disposed of increasing loudness and now each have designed level matching algorithms. This means gone are the days where a master with minimal dynamics but volume increased to the max would sound great, while something quieter would appear to sound not so good. Dynamics in songs will play an important part in digital streaming and quieter songs with better dynamic range will have their levels boosted far greater than some which has less dynamic range. but mastered louder. This is a delicate balance, but one which means future releases will sound better and more interesting for the listener. Ultimately the sound, levels and dynamics come down to the client wishes and desires, but with the way the digital streaming future is developing, to get the best from your music pushing for loudness won't be the way forward.
Why is it important for music?
Not only does the mastering engineer offer a service to get audio files ready for distribution, but a mastering engineer is there to also provide an objective opinion and, where possible, give critical feedback on a mix for a client if needed. Consistency on any album release is very important and the mastering process is also there as a vital step to evaluate the best methods to achieve this between tracks.