One of the most often misunderstood terms and aspects of audio production relates to mastering. Most people ask what is mastering because they have no concept of what goes into it and why it is necessary. This article is going to answer the question what is mastering and remove the confusion surrounding it.
The first part of mastering which applies to everyone who gets it done generally refers to the actual audio adjustments. After the band or musician has recorded their song and all the different tracks which make up that song, those tracks are rendered down into a final mix. This is a singular file which has all the tracks mixed precisely how the artist or mixing engineer wants them to give it the strongest and best possible sound.
That single file which represents a particular song is then sent off to a mastering engineer in order to enhance that found further. This involves applying popular plug-ins and effects such as compression and equalization and reverb to that final mix file. Many of these effects can be used in the mixing stage but you generally don’t want to apply one single effect to an entire set of tracks but instead you want to apply them to one single file as this will yield a different result. The differences are not applying compression to 24 individual tracks at once, you’re applying it to one single track which has already been rendered.
The effect of a good mastering job is like removing the wrapping from the songs to hear it more crisply and with more clarity. A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that mastering simply boosts the overall volume of a song and while this is generally a byproduct of mastering, this should never be your end goal.
In addition to enhancing and improving the audio itself, the other half of mastering involves writing data to each individual song and creating an album file out of those songs. This includes things like setting the table of contents and setting the transitions between each track in terms of spacing or whether they flow into one another.
Another important part is ensuring that the entire album as a whole is in very in terms of volume with itself and all the different tracks which make it up. The engineer also make sure that the overall album file is on par with other contemporary records in terms of volume as a whole.
Those last two points ensure that there are no jumps were dropped in volume within the record itself and that individual tracks on the record when taken out of context of that record are still at comparable only levels with other contemporary songs of the day so that when someone is listening to one of your songs and a mix along with songs from other artists, there are no significant jumps or drops in volume.