Mastering plugins or online mastering ?

What is audio mastering | What is mastering
Choosing the best online mastering
Stem mastering
Free mastering
Mastering plugins or online mastering ?
Mastering engineer questions and answers
Advantages of online mastering
The case for professional mastering
Mastering prices
Preparing for mastering

Music production software has allowed countless musicians to produce great sounding musical tracks at home. The advent of the digital audio workstation which normally runs on a personal computer has meant with some time and hard work an entire album can be recorded, produced and mixed at home. This is remarkable and it can be done without the time pressures and costs of the recording studio. Of course there can be down sides to this arrangement, without the undeniable skill and speed of a proficient audio recording and mix engineer it will take more time to get good results.Ultimately it is also fair to suggest the results may never quite be as good as a professional engineer will achieve. However, it is evident that we live in a world of DIY culture so it is only natural when you record and mix your music productions that you will feel that you should also finalize it as well. Self finalizing is a term I use for the final processing of your music before it is committed to a pre master such as a CD-R. It is understandable, learning new skills is fun and gives a strong sense of personal achievement. For approximately the same price of mastering an album you can buy a plug in which will offer many audio mastering facilities.However whilst a new mastering plug in might be fun to learn it is certainly worth considering building a relationship with a professional mastering engineer. Recent times have seen that this is not as costly as it used to be.
A mastering plugin will have all sorts of processors built in, such as equalization, compression, multi-band compression and a limiter. But is this the best approach for ensuring that your music has been fully optimized for release either on CD or via digital distribution networks? 


"What is audio mastering?" fact :  If you cannot hear a problem you cannot correct it and if you do hear a problem you cannot know it exists for sure without highly accurate monitoring and acoustics.

Audio mastering is the final procedure in the audio production chain of events and can make your music sound better after it has been mixed. Amongst other processes it is a quality control procedure by an experienced mastering engineer who will be able to hear very quickly when there is a problem with mix balance or determine if a mix is already well balanced. The mastering engineer will have very fine grade audio equipment where he or she can hear deeply into a mix and make small but valuable sonic adjustments. These adjustments will combine to produce a greater subjective improvement. As one process effects the next, this synergy of carefully selected small adjustments will allow the music to translate optimally to all the different sound systems it will be played on. Examples would be PA systems in night clubs, MP3 player ear buds, radio transmissions and personal computer speakers. 
Online mastering as a process can be widely misunderstood and is often labelled a dark art, a black art or even voodoo. This is not at all the true picture. A mastering engineer should have had plenty of audio engineering experience and will be swift at hearing and rectifying problems he or she might hear in any given piece of music. This diligence gained through experience is coupled with high resolution monitoring, acoustically treated rooms and the proficient selection of tools. With a good mastering engineer the results add up and speak for themselves. Both analogue and digital tools will be found in the mastering studio environment.There is a direct relationship between the mastering engineers ability to have chosen the correct tools in his studio as they will have an impact on the final reuslts.

Instead of applying a mastering plugin suite, a band or artist should seriously consider professional online mastering. It remains a very important aspect of the production process. Arguably, it is more important than ever. This is because recording and mixing budgets are reduced and much production work is undertaken by an individual without the benefit of objectivity and fresh ears. Please bear in mind that without an accurate monitoring system and acoustic there is little basis for action. It will be impossible to correct what you cannot discern. Without experience and accuracy it is easy to make adjustments to "phantom" problems.We will now list some of the reasons why it is a good idea to get your music mastered after it has been mixed.This will bear much better quality results than a self administered mastering plugin.

1) Input of sub code data when authoring takes place which can ensure speedy royalty reporting when played on radio stations. 

2) Detailed listening on high resolution speakers to ensure there are no sonic defects such as pops and clicks. 

3) The dynamic response of music can be adjusted to increase perceived levels and also add dynamic punch to drums.

4) The correct frequency response of music is important for clear playback on many types of sound system and for it to sit well with other tracks in the genre.

5) Quality control will be applied when making a pre-master cd-r for a duplication or replication plant. 

6) Subjective sonic improvements and enhancements to the sound whether it is adding character, adjusting tonal response or purely technical correction. 

7) Ensure best audio reproduction across multiple systems such as radio, smart phones, laptops and car radios. 

8) Balance the levels between a collection of tracks on a single release so the flow of the release is smooth and applicable to clients desires and/or good taste. 

9) Adding sub data codes to the disk when pre master creation takes place which can ensure speedy royalty reporting when played on radio stations. 

10) If requested, provide mix appraisal to an artist, musician or record producer to help correct problems of balance which may not be noticed when music is being worked on intensely. 

11) Smoothing track "in and out" points.(topping and tailing) 

12) It may be the first time the music is played back in an acoustically treated area with full range capability, here issues with low frequency response can be easily noticed and corrected. 

13) Spacing (gapping) of audio tracks on a disk and adding tasteful, smooth fades where required. 

Online mastering has meant prices for mastering an album have come down considerably in recent years and it is possible to find good deals. When searching online consider the engineers abilities and background, loudspeakers being used, equipment inventory, acoustics and client history. Professional online mastering can enhance and improve your music in ways that a mastering plug in never will.If you find websites that have a purely graphic and text design ask yourself why the mastering engineer does not want to show the equipment choices and room.I think most musicians, bands and producers are sharp people who want to see where their music is being worked on, what the engineer has been doing professionally and what equipment is being used.


©Copyright 2011 Barry Gardner
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